Foster Teen Parenting
A Glance From Within Before You Enter Their World
Nothing prepared me for fostering teens!! I was given nine weeks of training from the Children's Home Society before taking my first foster child. There was a great deal of information to digest in a short span of time. It left me with the innocent impression that I was ready to tackle the job.
The class was executed beautifully and all was done to teach us as much as possible in a classroom environment. However, until you have actually encountered the 'foster teen', it is impossible for you to really get an accurate view of the situation at hand.
Each child comes with its own individual 'set of baggage' and you never stop learning. Their trust has been broken time and time again and they anticipate that you will be no different. Never think for one minute that, since you raised teenagers of your own, that you are ready for a foster teen. You will disillusion yourself, setting yourself up for failure before you begin.
"OUR GREATEST NATURAL RESOURCE IS THE MINDS OF OUR CHILDREN."
Eugenia S. Hunt's work is Copyrighted
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No one has permission to copy or use this article other than for presentation on this Squidoo Website.
How Will The Teenager View You?
Let's Start At The Beginning
The first crucial lesson for you is to realize you will not be thanked by this teenager in your care. Do not expect them to be grateful to have you or anything you have to offer. You are not their biological mother. That woman is the only parent the child really wants and nothing you do will ever take her place in their lives.
Teenagers tend to run away over and over just to get back to their mothers. It matters not how good you are to them, or how bad their mother was to them. She is still their mother.
Allow them to talk openly about their mother. Let them know that you understand you can never take her place and you know how much they love her. Assure them that it is okay to love her.
The Voice Of A Foster Child
From One Of My Readers...A Former Foster Child
As a former foster child, it was refreshing to read about the perspective of the foster parent. You had some great points, which I wish more foster parents could see. Bless you for your gift to kids like me (21 years ago).
One of the most frequent questions you are asked as a foster kid is... "What did you do to get put in foster care?" EVERYONE assumes that you did something wrong.
When a foster child enters care there is fear, resentment, and loss. I feared yet another change in my life, I resented authority, and I had lost everything I knew and loved. I walked into foster care with a small bag of clothes, having to give up all my animals and most of my belongings. I entered my 2nd, and permanent, home angry. I acted out, trying to get my foster mom to give me up so I could go back to my first foster home (the mom there developed cancer, so I had to go).
I was one of the lucky kids. In the end, my foster dad gave me away when I was married, their son was the ring bearer, their daughter was my flower girl, and my foster sister my maid of honor.
It doesn't always turn out that way for everyone.
How Much Support Will You Receive?
You will be able to count on the Case Worker assigned to your foster child to visit at first. As time goes by, though they are supposed to come once a month, there will be months when their load is so great that they cannot possibly get to your home. However, if there are problems that arise where you are in need of them, they are just a phone call away. Do not hesitate to make that call.
It will be your responsibility to make doctor's and dentist's appointments. And, though your case worker will set up counseling for the child, it may take some time. Therefore, it is beneficial to everyone to make the calls yourself, take the child yourself, and sit in on the initial session, talking with their doctor when possible, so that you learn how to cope with your child's individual issues.
Establish a good support system with your immediate family and close friends. Interact with them and have the teens interact with them, forming a bond for all concerned. There were many times my friends were there, not only for me, but for my foster teens as well.
Always remember, it is the case worker's job to be there for the child first. They are not going to take your side against a foster child. You have to be willing to stand alone at times when there are problems of the child's own making. You will have to be willing to stand alone for this child, as well, when they need you in their corner. You have to be willing to make decisions in the best interest of everyone within your home. These decisions are not always easy and sometimes you have to be the 'bad guy' to execute the proper choice for all concerned.
As an example, I took a girl who was a runaway, having done so multiple times. She was with me two years the first time. Due to her actions, I finally removed her from my home. I received some disagreeable comments from the case worker but I stood firm because it was affecting the other foster teen in my home.
A year later, she called, begging to come home. So, I gave her another chance. All went well for six months and then she ran again. I refused to continue with the foster teen, removing her from my home for the second and last time. I received a great deal of trouble from her case worker for this but it was affecting the other foster teens in our home adversely. I had to do what was best for all concerned.
This decision was very difficult for I loved the girl and she begged to come back. However, I knew her and I knew the problems within our home when she was there...I had to be the 'bad guy', make a difficult decision and stand firm, even against the case worker and my own heart.
"I FIND THE GREATEST THING IN THIS WORLD IS, NOT SO MUCH WHERE WE STAND OR WHERE WE HAVE STOOD, BUT IN WHAT DIRECTION WE ARE MOVING."
Getting To Know The Teen To Be Placed With You
How Much Time Can Be Spent With Them Before Placement?
I was lucky because my supervisor believed in allowing time for the foster parent and the foster teen to get to know each other before the teen was placed in the home. She felt it was very important, in placing a teenager, that there be a degree of compatibility between the foster parent and the child in question.
Whenever possible, I made several trips to spend time with each placement before I brought them home with me. I also compiled and read all information available on each placement so that I knew as much as possible about their background before making the final decision to take the child.
As I said, however, I was lucky. That is not usually the case. Many times the child walks in the door and you have to begin right there, on the spot.
Rules For You To Live By
Foster teenagers need the undivided attention more than the little ones do...they crave that attention.
- If I had to do it over again, I would only take one teenager at a time. My runaway teen was wonderful when it was just the two of us. Her brother was still with me when she ran away. During that two weeks, he was absolutely great!! Our adopted daughter has been much better since I gave up foster care to give her my undivided attention.
- As I have said, don't think for one minute you can take their mother's place. You have to treat them as a mother treats their child, love them as your own, but establish a friendship with them instead of a mother/child relationship. And you can't be afraid of your own hurt when you have loved them and then have to let them go. It hurts but YOU will survive it and they NEED and DESERVE that love.
- Remember they are all excellent actors. They will be the model child and you will want to believe the first days are evidence that all is well and they are adjusting within your household beautifully. You will think you have a little angel. Do not believe it for a minute. They have learned at an early age how to manipulate you, the world, and the foster care system to their own advantage. This is known as the 'honeymoon period' and you cannot let your guard down. Once they really settle in, you will know it.
- Do not expect them to react as your own children. Most of them have seen more than we even think about and each will react in a different way. Many of their reactions have been learned from their experiences. Some can be changed but, more often than not, you will have to learn to save the guns for the big battles and allow the little things to take care of themselves.
- Again...Never expect them to appreciate all you do for them...they really don't want to be there. That is why, when they turn 18, they explode into all sorts of activity that isn't good for them. They have been made to live with strangers and been pushed around by a legal system which sends them here and there according to the law, not their own individual desires. Even their needs must be lumped into one set of rules for all concerned. They will not appreciate you or thank you...get over it. IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU!
- You will hear the term TOUGH LOVE...believe it! When our adopted teen decided to move out after graduation, feeling she was grown and did not need rules, we had to let her go. When she had nothing to eat by September, I refused to buy groceries for her. She could come by home for a sandwich, etc, but I refused to enable her outside of that. It was so hard. When she did come home and started calling me names within three weeks and disobeying the rules, I had to ask her to leave. Very Hard! When she called crying to come back, I said no, and had her call her father...she needed to know that I was not going to give in to her again unless she changed her actions. That was so painful. But it worked! Of course, you can't handle your foster teenage quite the same way as we did her...she was adopted and over 18. However, when foster children are with you, it is hard to make them suffer the consequences of their own actions because you hate to hurt them...they have been hurt so much...you won't do them any favors by letting them get by. TOUGH LOVE!
- NEVER feel sorry for them...and NEVER allow them to feel sorry for themselves. They have you and they have their own abilities. Teach them to use them. There is no need for pity. No one ever succeeded by feeling sorry for themselves because of their present circumstances. If you don't like where you are, study hard, make good choices, and change your life yourself.
- Try to never introduce a foster child as "my foster child." Just call them by name and that is all anyone really needs to know. Don't make the child feel singled out.
- If you become angry at the child, send them to their room until you cool off. Don't give them orders...learn to talk to them directly, explaining what is needed and always explain why. Many times, they just really don't understand...they've never been taught. Sometimes the simplest things I would expect our daughter to know and just do, she had no clue about. When her actions weren't as I wanted, many times she would say, "Please, I really don't know what you mean," and she really didn't. Many of them have been taking care of themselves for years and haven't had anyone to really teach them the things our children knew before the age of six.
"GREAT MINDS HAVE PURPOSE, OTHERS HAVE WISHES. LITTLE MINDS ARE TAMED AND SUBDUED BY MISFORTURNE; BUT GREAT MINDS RISE ABOVE THEM."
Teaching Tools That Apply To Every Foster Teen
Needed For Success Within Their Daily Lives
"You will need eyes that not only see them when with you but can watch them through closed doors."
- From the very beginning, establish rules, with all consequences, if not followed, and enforce them from day one. If they can be posted in writing, that helps. Give them chores that are their responsibility just like you would with your own children.
- Establish a homework time and make certain you are free to help them...use the dining room table so that they are interacting with you, not closed up in their bedroom.
- Talk to them...find out what they are really interested in, whether it is sports, music, art, anything. Then get them enrolled and keep them as busy as possible.
- When a child is focused, making good grades, happy, and adjusted, strongly discourage the case worker's desire for the teen to be adopted. Unless the teen wants to be adopted, it will only damage the adjustment and trust already in place within the foster home, resulting many times in a runaway teen.
- Trust is a huge factor for a foster child, especially a teenager. If you say you are going to pick them up at school at a certain time, don't be late, be early. With these kids, the first time you are late, the trust is broken and you won't get it back. Don't promise unless you are positive you can keep the promise. And teach them that your trust is just as important and also hard to win back. One of my girls took money to McDonald's one day and when I received my change from her, it was short a dollar. I ask her why. She said that was all the girl had given her. I ask her why she didn't count it to be sure because she was responsible for my money and I had trusted her with it. Thirty minutes later, I was in my room with the door closed. A dollar bill slipped under the door. Neither of us ever mentioned it to each other but she could be totally trusted from then on with money.
- Remember how you felt as a teenager about your wardrobe. It is very emotionally degrading to be a foster child to a teen. This is compounded by going to school "looking" different...they already "feel" different. Help them to fit in by helping them buy clothes that are appropriate and still look like their friends. I didn't have anything new myself (took them to the cleaners and prayed they stayed together) for five years, while a foster mother. But my kids always looked the part and made friends easily. Teen pressure is horrible for any teenager but harder for these kids.
- Remember, a teenager wants to be treated like an adult and it is your job to teach them what it takes to accomplish that.
- Sometimes it is easier for you to do everything for them, such as washing their clothes, making doctor's appointments, and running errands. However, you do them, nor yourself, any favors when you continue to do for them. Teach them, as soon as they are old enough, to handle their own lives.
- Open a savings account for them and then give them an allowance out of your state board check. Teach them to put a percentage, agreed upon in advance, into their bank account and then allow them to decide what to do with the remaining money. However, let them know up front that if something comes up of unusual origin such as an extra trip to the movies, etc., that it would be wise to save some back for these unexpected needs. When the statement comes each month, sit down with them and teach them to balance their account.
Training Ourselves To Be Available
Their Needs Must Be Our Primary Concern
When you accept the role of foster parent to a foster teen, you will be their greatest advocate for direction. You are now the person responsible for teaching them the day to day lessons needed to become a productive adult. Take your new position seriously.
- Be aware of their background. If they throw a tantrum, take that into account. Never give up on them just because they are acting out. Find out WHY they are acting out and help them get control of the problem. Our daughter had witnessed her biological mother having tantrums and throwing things, breaking dishes, etc., all over the house. When she began throwing things in anger, I reminded her of what she had witnessed in her mother. She thought it over and the throwing stopped.
- Our foster son, who was 12, was ADHD. I never sent him to the doctor with a case worker...I always went with him and worked with the doctor myself to find the best meds for him. Once we found the right combination, he made straight As and had no further behavior problems at school or at home. The case worker does not know the child like the foster parent does.
- When a foster child goes to visit with their parents, don't send them with a case worker or a driver...go with them, just the two of you, so that they can talk about their visit and their feelings on the way home. They need the comfort of knowing you care about what they are going through. They could talk to the case worker, too, but again, she doesn't live with them and deal with their daily emotional and physical needs as you do.
- Always remember they are teenagers and need their space...be sure they have a place to be alone when they need to be.
- When they need to talk, make yourself available NOW, not later. Choose a private section of the house that is quiet and set apart for their "talking place". Let them know it is available and all they have to say is "can I talk to you in that place," and you know they have need of you as soon as possible, in private.
- Give them your trust. When they abuse this gift, take it away and make them earn it back. But give it back in due time. You may have to repeat this process many times before they realize the importance of this gift from you and find they no longer want to lose it. After numerous chances, our daughter finally said, "It is harder to get your trust back than it is to keep it in the first place." Now, that was what I wanted to hear.
- Plan a vacation from time to time together as a family. They need to get away just like you do. You can get permission from the state to take them on vacation. They need to feel as much a part of your family as they can and time having fun together will be good for all of you.
- Take them to church. If you don't go, start going! If they want to join a youth group, that's great. But understand they may not want to. They know the kids in the youth group will not relate to them in the same way...they have never been confronted with what these children have to live with every day. But take them to service and sit with them...answer their questions and discuss God with them openly. Every one of my foster children were baptized while living with us, of their own choice, with exception of my 17 year old. She was with us in the Independent Living Program for two years. The year after she moved out, she and her husband came by one night to tell us they had both just been baptized. She now takes her little boy to church every Sunday. You never know...the time you give them in church may be the only Christian background they will receive.
"WE HAVE, ALL OF US, SUFFICIENT FORTITUDE TO BEAR THE MISFORTUNES OF OTHERS."
Never Ending But Ever Growing!
What Can We Do For America's Children?
It has been proven that when a child is left in an unfavorable environment, growing up with parents who, too, were raised in the same environment, they will, most always, follow the same path. Thus, the problem exist from generation to generation.
Simply removing the child from the environment does not necessarily break the chain. The old habits have to be removed, replaced by new values, and new ways to live must be learned. If this is not accomplished, the child will simply return to their old way of life once given the choice. Without education, they have no way out of the never ending circle of life, as they know it.
The Department Of Children And Families have developed a case, to a point, and won state affiliated education beyond high school for the children who want it. They have also created a program called Independent Living for those who wish to remain under the state's care, after the age of eighteen, when they "age-out" of the system, while attending college.
Incentives are now offered to foster parents to aid in adopting the special needs children who are placed for adoption by the courts. The child continues to receive Medicaid for medical expenses and is offered four years of paid tuition to a state affiliated college. The foster parent continues to receive eighty percent of their original board check from the state until the child reaches the age of eighteen to help with expenses. However, once of teen age, a child often has no desire to be adopted and either acts out to cause removal or simply runs away from the placement home.
Unfortunately, so many choose not to remain in Independent Living, as well, because they want to be free. But free to do what? Flounder from one dead end job to another, eventually barely able to feed themselves, much less the children who always come to these situations. And the cycle begins anew.
At the age of eighteen, the "aged-out" foster child is removed from foster care, where they have had total financial support, with someone else making all decisions in regards to their lives, and sent out into the world alone. How many of us could totally support ourselves with only a high school diploma, no help from anyone, and attend college full time? Not to mention, carry with us the baggage from the childhood these children have endured. Most do not make it even if they have enough courage to begin.
I do not pretend to have an answer to this never ending but ever growing problem in the United States. Even with our guidance and help, our adopted foster daughter has encountered so many pitfalls both in her relationships and her life choices that boggle the mind. She is lucky, however, because she has us to fall back on when she fails and a natural desire to succeed, trying over and over, until she achieves her goal. But there are so many others in need of our prayers and support.
If only the little ones could be adopted sooner, once the courts have established the need. Then maybe so many would not be lost in the system. It happens every day because there are more and more little ones in need of new parents like you and I. There are not enough hours in the day for case workers to handle the rising numbers alone.
I always remember Jesus' words, "Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God." How would He handle this problem? What would He say to us? What would He have us do?
"WHEN WORK AND SKILL WORK TOGETHER, EXPECT A MASTERPIECE."
"Aged-Out" Foster Care Teens Need Our Help To Establish Happy, Productive Lives.
Opportunities Of Help That Could Make A Difference
With just a few hours of your time, you can help foster care teens successfully enter the adult world.
Each of these suggestions can have a big impact on the life of an "aged-out" foster teen. Decide which opportunity to make a difference works best for you.
A. BECOME A MENTOR
Mentoring gives foster care teens a listening ear and a friend to guide them through their struggles. Mentoring relationships begun while foster care kids are in their mid-teens can be beneficial as the kids become more independent. Consider these mentoring possibilities:
- Mentor through the internet. VMentor.com allows mentors to form relationships with a foster care teens aged 16-23. This virtual mentoring system matches teens and mentors according to their interests and career aspirations. Each week, mentors communicate with their teens completely through email.
- Mentor through a local organization. Many local foster agencies provide mentorship programs for kids in foster care. These programs are often flexible, and allow mentors to set their own appointments according to their schedule. Simply call your nearest foster care agency to find out what opportunities are available.
- Mentor through a college program. College can be a challenge for foster care teens that don't have home support. Ask the guidance office of your local college if the school provides a mentoring program for incoming foster care freshmen.
B. SUPPORT EDUCATION
Many foster care teens desire to go to college. But, few have the resources to succeed. Try one of these easy ways to help foster teens succeed in higher education:
- Encourage your community to start a foster scholarship fund. Write or call your community leaders and encourage them to set up a college fund for local foster care teens. If your state already has a tuition waiver program in place, scholarship money can be used to pay the living expenses of studying foster teens.
- Donate school supplies. Foster teens need pens, paper, calculators, backpacks, and other supplies. Contact your local foster care agency to see what items are most needed.
- Give bookstore gift certificates. College textbooks can cost hundreds of dollars each semester and are not always covered by financial aid. Giving foster students college bookstore gift certificates can be an easy way to help students succeed in college.
- Provide tutoring. Students "aged-out" of the foster system need help developing learning skills and study habits. Volunteer to help tutor foster care students in any subject you're comfortable with.
C. PROVIDE TRANSPORTATION
- Few "aged-out" foster care kids have a car of their own. Rides to medical appointments, job interviews, school functions, and places public transportation doesn't service can be a huge help to these teens. Call your local foster care agency to find out which foster care kids are in need of a ride.
D. DONATE SUPPLIES
Foster care teens may have lived for years with only a couple suitcases worth of personal belongings. When they begin living on their own, they'll need supplies to set up house. If you want to donate, try one of these options:
- Donate household goods directly to the foster care agency. Contact the foster agency before you begin collecting to see what the teens need. Consider donating household items that you want to replace, but that are still in good shape. Cookware, beds, and furniture may all be useful. Try exploring yearly retail dorm-room sales (usually in late August) to find deals on household furnishings.
- Send care packages to "aged-out" teens. Work with a friend to put together boxes, or donate through a formal organization. The Orphan Foundation of America accepts large donations of goods, as well as individual donations of gift cards to national chain stores. They also enable donors to include an encouraging note with the gift cards they send.
E. DONATE SERVICES
- Whatever your profession, consider donating your time and talents to help foster care teens. If you're a dentist, provide free or discounted dental care. If you're a copywriter, offer to make brochures asking the community to support foster care scholarship funds. If you're a restaurant owner, distribute gift cards. If you're a banker, help foster teens set up a savings account. If you're a manager, consider hiring foster care teens that may have a hard time finding work. Whatever your talents, please use them to make a difference.
The system is what is it...a system...it really doesn't work as we wish it would. Too many foster children do not have people who care enough to fight for them. Those of us who have fought, wore out quickly from the raw emotion of what we have seen.
Eugenia S. Hunt
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Who Is Mom To The Zoo?
Born in the small town of Pendleton, South Carolina, in 1950, I was the oldest of two, five years my sister's senior. It was a wonderful place to grow up where the entire town raised its children. I was always surrounded by people who loved and looked out for me. I graduated from High School with the same people who were in my kindergarten class. At 58, my childhood friends are still my friends. I feel so fortunate to have known such a childhood.
After college, I worked at Clemson University until May 1972. At that time, I married and lived in Glyfada, 22 miles from Athens, Greece for two years...via USAF. We then moved to North Dakota for another two years before returning to South Carolina.
We divorced after 16 years and two children. I remarried two years later and moved to Florida in 1988 and together we have raised my husband's son and daughter and my son and daughter...one federal officer, one pastor's wife, one sixth grade school teacher, and the other, after working for Florida Power and Light since age 19, is now with AT&T. In 1996, I adopted my stepdaughter. We are blessed with four grandsons and one granddaughter.
In 1999, we became foster parents with the Children's Home Society and had a number of children under our roof in the next 5 years. In 2001, we adopted a 13 year old girl, whom we first met at the age of 11, and is now 21. I also have spent more time in a courtroom than I care to think about, fighting for the rights of the children in our care. In 2004, I turned in my license so that I could be a full time Mom to our special needs daughter and keep our infant granddaughter five days a week while her mother was teaching.
Bill, my husband, is a retired USAF Air Traffic Controller. He is now working out of the country, on Ascension Island, with Computer Science Raytheon, as their chief controller, contracted out of Patrick AFB, Florida. This enables him to continue to do the job he loves, air traffic, and aid the military. He flies in and out on furlough and I handle things here at home. I jokingly call myself a Single Married Woman.
Actually, I am a retired Accountant/Credit Manager, now a housewife, where I enjoy writing, singing, piano, and sewing. I have had numerous poems and short stories published and have sung in churches and for church organizations for years, as well as weddings, a couple of variety shows, and even at my daughter's, and later my son's, weddings, one of the hardest things I have EVER done. We are members of a Baptist church where I am a soloist and sing in the choir. I am also a member of the Women's Bible Study Group and work on the Mission's Committee.
And, last but not least, we have two singing dogs, Raven, a thirteen year old Skipperkee/Chow with bucked teeth and attitude and Whisper, a nine pound poodle, who thinks himself a Doberman.
My life has involved many changes and avenues that I would never have dreamed of and has given me challenges that I never thought I was equal to. But, I have found that God has a plan and, if you follow His lead, you can handle anything he puts in your hands. However, you have to first learn to listen to Him. No matter what we want from life, it must come in His time. He has given my husband and me more than we could have began to imagine back in high school and we have found that what we thought was so important for our futures back then was nothing to what we have done so far. At 58, I have learned from our foster children, to look forward to the future and the next challenge with enthusiasm and excitement. If they can trust and love us after what the world has dealt them, we can surely tackle whatever lies ahead with ease. Life is a series of learning experiences and I continue to find life to be both a challenge and a joy which grows with each passing year. I learn more and more about myself with each passing day!