Those Frightening Teen Foster Girls

Scary, emotional, unpredictable, scheming, hormone driven, false accusation making, window jumping runaways…who could I possibly be referring to?  Teenage girls in foster care?

These frightening beasts are without a doubt, the most feared children in the foster world.  I mean after all, don’t you know, they all are pretty scary.  And every single one of them has made a false accusation.   All they do is cry all the time and plot revenge.  They are out to destroy everyone around them with their rage and emotional instability. Right?

The phone rings.  It’s child services and they are asking you to take this teen girl.  Instantly, your mind takes you back to the first time you watched the movie Carrie.  Your mind fills with visions of teen girl rage and telepathic fire balls flying through the air. As you envision your house being destroyed with a single fiery look from your imaginary foster Carrie, you are filled with angst, fear and doubt.  So you tell them no.

I get it my friends.  I really do.  There was a time when I thought I’d never welcome a teen girl into my home.  The thought was frightening and in my mind, it wasn’t even an option.

Fast forward many years, many foster children and many age ranges later and now, we only foster teen girls…at least for now.   I add that disclaimer because our preferences have changed over the years (and they may change again), but we find that our personalities, skills and dispositions are a great fit for fostering teen girls.


10 Things You Need to Know About Teen Girls in Foster Care

10.  They are a lot of fun. When my teen girls are in the kitchen together, the laughter, snorts, silliness and antics are music to my ears.  Humor is our best tool.  Quick wit, corny jokes and being able to laugh at yourself will take you far with teen girls.

9.  They are relational. Teen girls provide an odd dynamic.  At times they hide in their room for hours on end having Gossip Girl or Chopped marathons.  When they decide to come up for air (or food) and they come sit with us, we know that wanting to watch something with the parentals really means they need to be close to someone.
They also crave stories.  We tell stories from our pasts.  We are vulnerable with sharing our mistakes of our teen years and in return, strong bonds form and they don’t feel so bad about the choices they have made in the past.  They are able to reason and you can have in depth, enjoyable conversations.  Teen girls are great company and genuinely interesting creatures.   No doubt, they have many things to teach you as well.

8.  They want to be accepted. Many teen girls in foster care have been victims of bullying for one reason or another.  Being bullied hardens a child.  Chiseling away at that hard exterior takes time, but genuine affirmations go a long way and no doubt, you will see positive, slow change in a short amount of time.

7.  They are protective. Once she loves you, she will have your back.  She will see your heart and how much you want to support, love and help her and she won’t let anyone speak an ill word of these new parents that love her.  Another teen sassing you?  Your imaginary Carrie might surface for a second.

6.  They are forgiving. Teen girls expect fairness.  An apology really can fix most mundane mistakes or hurtful comments.  However, if it’s not heartfelt, they will see straight through it.  Apologize when you are wrong.  Set the example and you will eventually get that in return.

5.  They want boundaries. Most likely, she wasn’t protected by those who should have loved and cared for her the most.  She wants rules that are fair.   She wants consistency.  She wants to please you, but she will test you now and then because she is testing your love in her own weird, teenage way.  Let her set the rules and boundaries with you.  Be clear, firm, but kind.  She isn’t your adult equal or your roommate.  You are the parent, but she is old enough and wise enough to be empowered with helping set the boundaries.

She is also terrified about the future.  The thought of being on her own is a scary thought.  She needs to soak up as much as she can in a fairly short amount of time and she knows this.  In everything you teach and with every consequence, discuss the immediate ramifications and look into the future.  What is the consequence for this behavior now and what would the consequence be if she was 19, in public or on the job?  She is almost an adult and consequences for our actions magnify as adults.  The world isn’t nearly as forgiving as foster parents or parents.  Help her see these new perspectives and think out loud with her.

4.  They know they need you.   Nearly every teen we have fostered wanted to be here.  Though they love their parents and families, for the most part, they are mature enough to see some truths regarding the needs of their family.  Truth is, most teens don’t want to leave us.  Of course, they may have moments of teen insanity just like any other teen and sure, they may throw out idle threats about leaving, but when push comes to shove, they know they need you and they want to be with you, even though they may still have pain and guilt about not being with their family.

3.  They carry a badge of shame and they need your help letting it go. Shame is a big, bad demon that so many people carry. It’s a storm cloud that just follows teen girls around and rears its ugliness often.  What that young lady needs to know is the day she stepped foot into your home, her slate was clean.  Anything she did willingly, unwillingly, choices she made or acts she participated in are forgiven and she stepped into your home a new person.  That doesn’t mean there are not legal or medical consequences for past choices, but in your eyes, she is clean, new and free of the shame of her past.  This is a new start.  She deserves it.

2.  They aren’t that scary. They get attitudes sometimes.  They might threaten to “go back home” or share some other load of attention seeking garbage, but when they are angry, leave them alone.  They will work it out.  Talk it out later.  If you push it when she is angry, that is when beast mode kicks in.  No one is at their best when they are angry.

1.  They want to feel beautiful. Without a doubt, her self-esteem is in the toilet.  This is true of EVERY SINGLE TEEN we have fostered.  Teen girls need to be built up and have their inner and outer truths brought to light.

Buy her new clothes.  Slowly encourage subtle changes.  Bring special gifts home for her.  A new dress, a necklace or a pair of shoes will make her day.  Tell her that you thought of her when you saw it.

If she came to you with the makeup caked on, find a moment where she doesn’t have it on and tell her how naturally beautiful she is. Nonchalantly, drop a quick comment about how you’d love her see her just wear mascara one day and how she doesn’t need all that other junk.  (Don’t belabor the point.  Trust me, she heard you.)

More importantly, recognize her inner beauty.  Notice her heart.  When a song makes her cry or she turns her head toward the car window, notice.  You are getting a glimpse into her soul at that very moment.

When she wants to make her mom a piece of artwork or give her a birthday gift, help her.

When she comes home upset, ask her about it.  Relate to her and tell her a story from your past.  Then offer suggestions for how to help the situation.

Introduce her to a positive social group like a church youth group or a teen program that offers a positive environment where she can enact change and you will see change happen before your eyes.

Don’t fear teen girls in foster care.  I know the thought of welcoming a teen to your home can be a frightening thought when you have primarily fostered the littles.

If you have never fostered a teen girl, I am giving you this personal challenge.   I encourage you to call your agency and share your curiosity, but also your fears.  Ask to be put on the respite list if a teen girl or two need respite.  Respite is a great way to try fostering different age groups without the full time commitment.  However, I will caution you to not judge all teen girls by one experience.  Though my experiences shared have been true of the vast majority of the teen girls we have fostered, there is no cookie cutter for teen girls. So I urge you to provide respite for several different girls.

Teen girls are filling group homes and remaining in unstable home environments with services in place because foster parents are afraid to take them.  There simply are not enough homes willing to take them.  Please don’t assume that all of them are broken beyond repair or will turn your life upside down.  Be willing to explore the option.  I think you will be pleasantly surprised with how much you enjoy being their parent.  If you want to see the evidence of your hard work as a foster parent take place right before your eyes, foster a teen girl.  It’s a pretty amazing thing to be their mom.


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Join the discussion

  • I have three teen girls right now (sisters) and they are amazing. I never would have thought fostering teens would be so rewarding/frustrating/fun/crazy/awesome! It’s challenging at times but oh so worth it! I am really glad our licensing agent encouraged us to expand our license to include teen girls. And I am grateful we took a chance and said “Yes”.

  • THANK YOU!!!!!!!

    People need to hear that fostering teen girls can be an amazing, wonderful, life changing experience. Hard? Yes. Stressful at times? absolutely. Terrifying? Check. But the joy and the love? Priceless. Thank you for helping to dispel the myths around fostering teen girls.

    As a caseworker, I have always said that my teens give me the most joy, yet the most heartache. But when you get those moments of seeing their true heart, and you get those moments when they finally let you in are worth their weight in gold. It can be a challenge. I have had my fair share of teen girls who did not do well in certain foster homes, and I have had my fair share of kids who were given up on by foster parents. Some of my teens are challenging and they try every single strand of patience and compassion any reasonable person should be expected to have. But I have also seen the pay off when a foster parent sticks with it. I have also had my fair share of GOOD kids who just simply had a crappy childhood, and needed something better, and needed someone to believe in them.

    Sorry for the ramble. But thank you for sharing this. Thank you for loving these kids through it all, and for not giving up.

  • i loved reading this . I too did fostering for 14 yrs The last 6 yrs I had 5 teenage girls living with me and I was working on a project on what happens to them when they turn 18, to many homeless teens are kids that outgrow foster care. They said it couldn’t be done , well yes it could . I could write a book that you wouldn’t believe . But if you look at my FB names some of them are my KIDS and I didn’t change my phone number and yes they do call , and I stopped doing it in 2006 . You can use my name , my kids liked me and my husband

  • Do you have any reccomendations on how caseworkers can bond with teens? Do they ever comment on things they wish their caseworkers would do? Sometimes I find it hard to bond with teens when I only see them once a month in the foster home, other times I seem to click with them..

    • The kids just want to feel heard and respected. If you really take the time to just listen to them, and let them know what they say matters, that is half the battle. Take your teen for a soda or a burger. Go walk around the park. Give them a chance to start talking. Also, the feedback I get most is they hate feeling like a “foster kid” and just want to be a regular kid. As much as you can, let them do things the other kids are doing. I also get feedback quite a bit about how important their connection is to their family and friends, and to the places they know and love. Sometimes their parents and old friends aren’t safe. But as much as you can, help them keep those connections. That’s just my take. Hope it helps.

    • You should call and check in once a week and ask is there anything thy want to talk about. Take them out to eat once every 2 months or so. Just care about how they are really doing instead of what yiu see on the outside.

  • As a caseworker, I love number 3. So many teens have made bad choices due to a lack of structure and lack of supervision. I hate when foster parents turn a teen down because they have petty crimes they have committed. I once had a teen with several felony charges, put her in a good foster home and she never had any issues and was a straight A student.. All she needed was postive reinforcement and some structure in her life! A clean slate is so important to these kiddos!

  • Thank you for writing this. Our girl is 17, and she is the best decision we ever made. Your advice is spot on and encouraging. We are better because of her, and we believe she is better too 🙂

  • Love this Jill and so true! So happy for the teen girls that are blessed to be a part of your family. I was scared to death when I felt like God was leading me down a path to care for teenage girls…I found out pretty quickly they were looking for genuine love and they are quick to see through it! Love you guys!

  • Hello, I was a teen girl in foster care and I just want to say I wish you had been my foster parents. The biggest thing that I wanted was a place that I could call home. I was rebellious but I have come so far since then. I am at a point in my life where I want to someday be a foster parent to teenage girls. You are such an inspiration and I want to thank you for stepping out and taking a risk so that we could have a better future.

    • Amber, you have no idea how much I needed to hear this today…the part about wishing we were your foster parents. We are going through one of those rough times when we feel like our efforts are making no impact. It’s hard when you see your teens move forward only to stumble again and again. I have to remind myself that this is not an easy journey for them. It’s not for us either, but for them, it’s a daily battle to stay on the right track. Thank you dear! I wish I could have been your foster mom too!

      • It’s not the foster parent fault all the time. How can you understand a child who have seen sexual abuse, physical abuse or mental abuse. Yiu can take many classes but will never understand unless you sit down and TALK to them. Understand them. Not turn yiur back every time they do weong.

    • To amber-I was put into foster care when i was 14 and i had bladder issues,so my foster parents made me wear cloth diapers and plastic pants to bed every night!I was done just like a baby at bed time,after my shower,i had to lay naked on my bed,the cloth diapers were slid under me,baby powder was applied,the diapers brought up and pinned,then the plastic pants were pulled up my legs and over the diapers.I hated wearing them and having them put on me and felt like i was a big baby!I was some times made to wear the plastic pants under a dress to church on sundays and for easter and christmas.It was just before i turned 16 that i was adopted by a loving family and my bladder issues cleared up.

  • Thank you so much for this info we are entering our first fostering relationship with a teenager and our experience in parenting so far is with our three biological boys that are five seven and nine and are 14 week old daughter! This is hugely affirming, encouraging, and helpful!

  • Thank you Jill for your information. I am going into fostering as a total newbie. I have no biological children of my own and currently single lady in my 40’s. I was looking to have under 8. My agency have asked me to consider two sisters 11 and 13. You have given me confidence to open my big heart to these beautiful girls who look to join me within a month. Exciting and good scary ?

    • Congrats on your decision. Please keep in mind that these girls have 11 and 13 years of stories that your will not know in one day. Attitudes and rebellion may occur because of past situations. Don’t give up. And remember to talk to them about the past, let them vent to someone who they see everyday versus someone they see once a month.

    • I’m in my 30’s, single, no bio kids, & am considering a specific 12 year old…may be really soon….like towards the end of this month….I’m excited and scared too! Please let us know how it’s going…

  • I was put into foster care when i was 14 and had bladder issues so my foster parents had me wear cloth diapers and rubber pants 24/7 and kept it low key.They didnt treat me like a baby and were very understanding of my situation.

  • I agree with this article wholeheartedly. My wife and I started fostering 11 months ago. We decided from day one we only wanted teens. My wife wanted teen boys because she felt her personality was better suited for it. I wanted teen girls because I raised 2 daughters of my own and felt my personality was best suited for it. Fast forward 11 months and we have 2 teen daughters; one of whom we are taking legal guardianship over and the other whom will be adopted within a year. I feel all of these needs and wants coming from these girls and it’s a blessing everyday to have them in my life. I encourage everyone to disregard the horror stories and to take the opportunity to foater teen girls. Thanks for this thoughtful article.

  • Jill that was BEAUTIFULLY written!!!! What an extraordinary person you are. The world needs many many more like you!!!

  • I’m going thru hell with my 16 yo kinship placement. We have her 14 yo brother too but he is no problem. Her mood can change in an instant and anytime she doesn’t get what she wants she is going to make u pay for it. We now have a domestic violence case open. I have helped her get a job and encouraged her in sports but things keep deteriorating. She is now sneaking out at night and being promiscuous. Her case worker is convinced I am the problem. She is very good at lying and manipulating people.I’m ready to give up as I feel there is nothing I can do to change the situation.

    • Jayme,
      You might not be able to do anything to change the situation. I have given up 2 teen foster girls in the past 6 months for the same reason. Even when you’re kinship fostering, sometimes you have to realize when a child needs a therapeutic foster placement with 24 hour live in surveillance and additional resources available. Get your life and your sanity back and end the placement. Sometimes the issues are bigger than functional households can manage.

  • I am a teen girl about to be put into foster care. My dad died, my mom left years ago, I had my own place and my ex boyfriend started staying with me but he was super manipulative and controlling. I payed for everything of mine and everything of his and he still stole $ from my bank account. He got mad the other night and told my friends to get out of my house. Even threw the big trash can outside at my friends car. He then followed us to a restaurant/ bar where we were playing pool and got in a fight with me there and threw me against the wall and started hitting me in front of the whole bar. The owner kicked him out and he went back to my house and trashed it causing 1000’s of dollars in damages. He ruined everything he could get his hands on. He even threw a brick through my 30 gallon aquarium causing water damage into the basement and killed all the fish. He stole anything worth value, TVs, gaming systems, etc. I had to call the police. He’s going to jail for battery theft vandalism and endangerment of a minor. and since I’m 16 I’m going to foster care. I am scared. I don’t know where I’m sleeping tomorrow or what the people around me will be like. I am scared the good families won’t want me and the bad families will abuse me.

  • Some of is are not liars who made false accusations. We were there because somebody was bad to us.

    I had alcoholic parents who almost killed me. Did not matter. I got taken to a lady just like you who was certain i was a nasty lying hussy. She could not wait to take my clothes and makeup away, give me the prettier without it craP. Of course she knew there was no possibility i might have heard of jesus christ and i needed to be introduced to him aSap.

    You Wonder why teens get hardened and full of hate when you are so amazing and we are so ubgrateful. You made us that way.

  • We are currently fostering one teen girl, and she did really well her first month. However, we started learning that she opens her window when we are not paying attention and invites older men over to give her cigarettes and help her sneak out.

    It honestly has me afraid that one of these men might come inside and hurt us one day. Our foster daughter is kind, and needs to be loved but I am terrified, and she denies it despite the proof we have. I don’t know what to do.

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