Teens in foster care are a forgotten and overlooked group of innocent people. Sadly, this is most often because of unfounded fears and misinformation.
I would like to talk about my personal experience with them and address the most common fears I’ve heard over the last 30 years regarding fostering teens.
Everyone loves a kitten, no one wants a cat
It would appear that many adults are quite intimidated by teens in foster care, so I want to take this opportunity to remind everyone, whether you adopt or give birth, all babies turn into teens.
A lot of the intimidation I see has less to do with age alone and more to do with misconceptions about where teens in foster care come from (more on that later). Other fears are simply from a lack of experience with this specific age group.
“Fostering teens will negatively influence my existing children”
When discussing the prospect of fostering teens, a lot of people have concerns about potential negative influences. “What if an older foster child has a bad influence on my younger children?”
My response to that question is this. In my years of working with families, I’ve found that siblings, both foster and biological, tend to be less influential than peers at school and other social circles.
If you are concerned about negative influences in your child’s life, friends from school, church youth group, gymnastic class, etc. are traditionally more cause for concern.
Honestly, if you were to speak with a family who is currently fostering teens, you would probably find that they’d confirm your suspicions about influence – but not in the way you’d expect.
They would probably tell you stories of how helpful their teen foster child was; stories of how they taught their foster brothers and/or sisters how to help out around the house, have a conversation with adults, how to read, etc.
I have heard countless stories from foster parents gushing about how a teen showed their younger foster siblings how to be a good big brother or sister. The influence was positive!
Let me explain further about the differences between the teens you are seeing in the news vs. teens in foster care.
Where do teens in Foster Care come from – DYC versus DHS
The media loves anything that will improve ratings. As a result, the teens you see in the news are NOT the same teens I am referring to above.
There is confusion over two acronyms – DYC vs. DHS. DYC stands for the Department of Youth Corrections. DHS stands for the Department of Human Services (Some states have CPS: Child Protective Services.)
Department of Youth Corrections – “DYC”
DYC works with youth who have committed a crime. Typically, these are pretty specific and serious crimes.
Most likely, these teens are being tried as adults because of their age and the seriousness of the crime they committed. Should you have concerns about the prospect of bringing a teen from DYC into your home? Of course. Should we turn our backs on them? No way!
I would advise those who are considering serving teens from DYC to be extra thoughtful about whether or not they are well-suited for the job.
Department of Human Services – “DHS”
Now, on the other side of things, DHS works with children and teens who have had crimes committed against them. The parents I was referring to earlier who are fostering teens are helping teen victims, not criminals.
These are the teens that I want to raise awareness for. These are the teens who desperately need a foster family to show them what love, safety, and stability looks like.
Every Hope & Home family who has experience with fostering teens will tell you what an incredible opportunity it is to love this under-served population. Was every day perfect? Of course not. Was it worth it? Absolutely.
Teens have struggles and bad days just like any human at any age, but they are incredible, resilient, and inspiring human beings. Getting to restore their view of love and family is beyond worth it.
The bottom line is this – if you are feeling a tug on your heart to do foster care, I want you to pray about welcoming a teen into your home for a season. Fostering teens is an incredible “mission field in your back yard” so to speak.
If you aren’t sure where to begin, a great way to experience a lot of different age groups is to help out with respite foster care. Simply put, respite is short-term foster care to give full-time foster parents a break. This is usually needed on the weekends or for a couple days at a time.
Again, I really want you to consider going outside your comfort zone and fostering teens. You might be surprised at how much you enjoy it and just how much your whole family loves it.
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