We all know that fostering is a vocation, and one that isn’t for the faint-hearted. If you are a foster parent, you are doing an amazing thing and should certainly be proud of yourself.
However, one of the saddest facts about fostering that many people fail to recognize, is the false stereotypes children in care receive. No matter how good and genuine their intentions, so many people go into foster parenting naively. Assuming that the child in your care will be a bright-eyed, blonde-haired 2-year-old with a sweet temperament and no emotional or behavioral issues, can lead to a rude awakening when it comes to getting your first placement.
So many budding foster parents request “babies and young children,” thinking that this will be the case, leaving a gaping shortage in the number of people who are willing to care for older children and teenagers.
The stereotype is this : “I can’t foster a teenager. They’ll be too naughty, I can’t cope with a handful. They’ll probably wreck the house, be abusive and run away all the time. I only want to foster a nice, young child I can care for . . . ”
Now, I’m not saying that a teen in care won’t be all of these things – they probably have had a very difficult life and as a consequence, will act out and be “naughty.” But when I hear people totally dismiss them and assume these things about them, I can’t help but get upset and disheartened.
There are so many benefits to choosing to foster teenagers and older children, not least the fact that the demand is sky-high, and so these teens really do need you! Here are some of the reasons people should start being more open to caring for teenagers . . .
You can show them what a real home is supposed to be like.
Many children in foster care will not have experienced what a “real home” is like. The average foster child is not used to cooking with their mum, eating at the dinner table as a family, having a scheduled time to do homework, etc.
When you foster a teenager, you can give them a glimpse of what a loving family home is supposed to be like.
You can guide them through their tough teenage years.
Your teenage years are tough. You learn so much about yourself and the person you’re going to be develops during this time. So, imagine going through all of this without your parents? No mum to give you a hug when you go through your first heartbreak, no dad to help you with your homework, etc. When you foster a teenager you get the chance to be this figure for them, someone that they can actually trust and talk to about what they are going through. This is one of the most difficult but rewarding and important aspects of fostering.
You can teach them Important life lessons
There are certain things you don’t learn in school, but from you mum and dad or family. Things like :
- Building relationships
- Learning about world issues and politics
- Learning about Money management and taxes and bills etc.
- Figuring out what career you want to pursue
And all of the other important things we all have to sort out. Most foster teens have no idea about any of this because the system doesn’t always not prepare foster youth for adulthood. Fostering a teen gives you the chance to give a child life skills that they will appreciate and need long after they have left your care.
You may become the only family they have.
Can you imagine aging out of the foster system and having no one. Not having a single family member to guide you into early adulthood? Wouldn’t it be awesome to watch a teenager:
- Grow into an adult
- Support them when they go to university
- Be there when they graduate
- Give the advice before their first job interview
- Be there for the birth of their child
You will be the person that will teach them and guide them to be the best possible adults they can be? Being a foster parent to teenagers means you can give a lonely, lost teenager someone to rely on, and a person to help them through life.
You can show them what love is.
The sad truth is that a number of teens in foster care have never been shown love. They’ve either never had anyone tell they are loved, or they’ve never had anyone prove it. I once heard teenagers in the care system compared to senior dogs in a shelter. Those are the ones that get left behind because most people don’t want them, but if you take them in and love them, you can change their lives forever. While this is a cruel comparison, it’s sadly often true. Fostering a teen can mean you can be the final stop in their care journey through the child welfare system, and the last chance to show them a loving and caring home.
So, would you foster a teen?
Whether it’s helping them get the best grades in school, encouraging them to stick to their hobbies, or helping them pursue their dreams, there are a number of aspects to fostering a teen that make it one of the most rewarding things you’ll probably ever do.
No, it’s not easy, and many teens may not trust you instantly and will push you away, but securing the trust of a child who has never trusted anyone before is an immensely gratifying task. You’ll not only change the life of the teenager, but also your own.