Sometimes we build walls and borders to keep things in, and sometimes we make those walls and borders to keep things out. As a person who has experienced pain, disappointment, and rejection, I have built some walls. Building walls keep things where they belong.
Experienced Wall Chipper
Being a teacher in an impoverished area has taught me a lot about walls. They are built brick by brick. The older you get, the taller the structure you have had time to make. I have seen impenetrable walls chipped away tiny pieces at a time. It gets frustrating sometimes when you are on the outside. You just want to be inside so that you can make a connection. Some students have worked hard for many years building, and they seem almost impossible to penetrate, but I know the secret. I have found a tool that will tear down every structure, height, thickness, or strength.
The Secret to Walls
The key to tearing down walls and genuine connection is consistent, unconditional love and time. When beginning to tear down the wall, you must remember it has been built over some time. Old divisions are always the hardest to tear down. These walls can be stacked with bricks of neglect, rejection, loneliness, disappointment, abuse, pain, trauma, and the list can go on and on. The strength of a wall is always determined by the materials used to build it. When built with various bricks, the tear-down process is the same, but it may take longer.
We all have some experience building walls. Some are just fence-high and we let a few chosen people through a gate. I have often thought about those who have strategically built theirs without a gate or door. I have crossed paths with a few builders that should have been in the best time of their life, but they were miserable behind a wall. Most teenagers build barriers under the best circumstances. Teens deal with an absurd amount of emotional and mental stress. Processing hormones, expectations, and social drama can result in acting out and lashing out at those who love them and making them feel safe, to be honest. Now imagine dealing with all of that without stability. Foster children are more likely to lack stability resulting in vulnerability. Teens that are living in foster care need love the most. They are struggling with adult problems through no fault of their own.
The Awful Truth
For most teens in foster care, the natural nurturing of loving parents is not their reality. According to the Adoption And Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS report), the 2019 data shows that 26 percent of children in foster care are teens. The top two reasons for this are neglect and drug abuse by the parents. 28 percent of those teens in foster care will age out of the system, never belonging to a family. The National Foster Youth Institute (NFYI) reports that 50 percent of teens aging out of the system will become homeless in the future, with 20 percent becoming homeless immediately after leaving the system. They also explain that states vary in ages from 18-21 before leaving the system. This same report explains that children who enter the foster care system after age 12 have a 2 in 5 chance of being legally emancipated at age 18 from the system. These teens, in most cases, are on their own and no one’s radar. They may not have a family or support system that they can fall back on. It is very easy to understand why some of these teens choose gangs, drugs, alcohol, or even solicitation. They just want to belong. They need guidance and a foundation on which to build.
Facing the Future at 18
I remember being 18 and scared to death. I was heading to college, going into major debt, and trying to handle the adulthood thrust at me. I had a loving family and friends. I had acceptance and a safety net I knew in which I could fall. I cannot imagine the overwhelming anxiety someone aging out of foster care alone must feel. When youth age out of the child welfare system with a limited network, without the foundation of good role models, or concerned adults, they have an increased risk of facing many challenges. Youth.gov has reported that these challenges include the risk of unstable housing or, worse, homelessness almost immediately or at least in the first year of their emancipation. The likelihood grows if they are disabled, have a mental illness, belong to the LGBTQ community, are uneducated, lack job training, have no healthcare coverage, engage in risky or limited social interaction, are involved in the justice system, abuse substances, or have delayed maturity.
The Fields Family
The Field’s Faith and Unconditional Love
I interviewed a family recently about their adoption story. In the beginning, the couple had decided on being foster parents. Due to some health reasons, they had been unable to conceive. Kayla loved her step-son Madix but felt God had more children in her future. Kayla had come from a broken home and wanted to give love and support to other children that felt the same as she did not many years ago. The Fields family grew by three overnight. Barely making ends meet and living in a two-bedroom apartment, Kayla got the call she had prayed for but was scared to death to receive. Kayla and her husband had only been married a year when their world changed. Kayla expresses her mixed emotion with the following words:
“We knew that any day or any time, we would get that call. On November 15th, around 1 o’clock, my sister-in-law called me. “Hey, there are three children who need emergency placement. Can you do it?” With tears in my eyes and a head full of anxiety, I agreed. I immediately called my husband and told him that we would need groceries and blow-up mattresses. Again, only a two-bedroom apartment would put us having six people in the household. My sister-in-law picks me up around 5 o’clock to travel to Lexington to meet the social worker to pick up [the] children. On the way there, Katie tells me that one of the children has severe special needs and is wheelchair-bound. I instantly started freaking out on the inside. I had no idea how to take care of a special needs child. I was only 22 years old. With faith, I nodded and told her that shouldn’t be a problem. I got this. We received Aubree at the age of 14, Dusty at the age of 11, and Skyleigh at the age of 5. We adopted them when Aubree was 16, Dusty was 13, and Skyleigh was 7.”
Bumps in the Road
Kayla explained that this new family came with many learning experiences and some immediate needs. This emergency placement became something more in their hearts. It became one of God’s greatest blessings. When nonverbal Dusty called Kayla “mama,” she felt she had her confirmation from God. These were her children, and her husband agreed. He felt the same conviction and confirmation. In Kayla’s words:
“These teenagers have been through the fire and more than likely have a lot of traumas from their past experiences. These children need love the most and just want to feel accepted. [. . .]. All children, no matter what age, deserve a good home and need parents to help guide them toward a successful future. Teens are harder to open up to you than a small child, but with a lot of love and trust, they will eventually show they’re an open book. Aubree is a big blessing in my life, and it took many tears and many hard conversations with her. When she realized that we wanted her just as much as the other children, she changed her way of thinking. That trust set a foundation in her life to get her to where she needs to be. She deals with trauma daily, but she is at a point in her life where she has goals, and we’re going to help her get there. I love them as they are and know that these children have been through a lot. We need to show them they do have a purpose for being here on earth, and people do care.”
Change the Future
When you are deciding, do I adopt, or what are my criteria for adoption? Please remember to be led by your heart. Many times, we place our expectations and guidelines in the way of thinking we know what is best. Consider adopting a teen. Yes, there will be walls to chip away, but the reward will be worth it to you both. All teens deserve a good foundation and support system. Truly, love is more important than material possessions. Consistency and stability are worth more than big houses, designer clothes, or the latest iPhone.