By Mike Rippy
When my wife and I started fostering, I admit, I was somewhat reluctant. We learned pretty quickly that we were not made to foster little kids. We found our teen foster niche pretty quickly and boy has it been a journey.
Here are 15 things I have found to be true in my foster experience with teens:
- Teens in foster care are typically the same as any other teenagers. They have the same struggles, but just might need more help making sense out of their past. We know some teens who come from good homes and have never been in the system, yet they have significantly more life struggles than any of our foster kids.
- They will test your foster motives. If you are looking for extra income or are not genuine, they will see it. Be genuine or don’t foster.
- Be honest with them about everything. They’re old enough to understand their case and participate in it. They will educate you about their situation.
- You are not their savior. Don’t go into fostering thinking you are saving them. Just guide them and be there for them.
- Teens in foster care will not fix you and your problems. Figure out why you are doing this. The kids need you to support them. They don’t need to support you. Get your head on straight before you take a kid.
- Teens are really helpful. They understand that they are a part of this family and can help do their part to contribute. They aren’t helpless.
- They are fun to hang out with. You can joke, watch movies, listen to good music and find your similar interests with them.
- If they are old enough to drive, they can chauffeur you around to complete their driving hours.
- They make genuine, lifelong memories with you. Some of my favorites are taking them on trips to Florida, New York & Chicago.
- They can help cook. In fact, they need to learn to cook as part of their independent living skills. Put them in charge of dinner a couple nights a week.
- They like talking to you about their life. And they have had very interesting lives. Get them to trust you and they will tell you all about life.
- Teens will bond with you in their own time. You can’t force a bond. Just let it happen when it happens. Let them enjoy being a teenager. Sometimes they don’t want to talk to you about anything deep, but just want to be around you.
- They can do their own laundry and clean up their own messes.
- If you foster teens, you need to either have two or four at a time. Three has never worked for us. There’s always an odd man out with an odd number of kids. We have had four additional kids at two different times and it was honestly the best. They straighten each other out, rat each other out and entertain one another. You may bond more with one or two of them, but the others are still pretty happy and feel like they belong.
- You can typically stay in contact with them if they go back to their family, age out or sign themselves out of foster care. Most of our kids have come back to us in some capacity. At the very least, we stay in contact through social media because some of them now live in other states.
These are my top 15 things you need to know about fostering teens from a foster dad’s perspective. They may not be the same for all foster parents, but having had 16 teens come through our home, this has proven true with almost every one of them. Don’t let fear stop you. They are just kids. You also need to know you will make mistakes along the way, as I have, and it will be a learning experience. Don’t be afraid to mess up. It’s trial and error. You will learn a lot about yourself through the kids who become a part of your family.
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