Think back to when you were 15. I bet you were worried about zits, your clothes, your homework, driving, your friends, your dating life, your friends dating lives, your future. Most of us were not worried about packing up all our belongings and moving to another foster home.
One of the major worries for teens in care is what will happen to them once they turn 18. A fear most of us don’t live with everyday. We know we will still have our parents after 18 and they won’t send us packing the day before our birthday. I can’t imagine anyone sending a child packing just because they are 18.
In Canada, it’s called aging out of care. Once a child is 18, the foster parents no longer get reimbursement for them. If you have a crazy notion that foster parents make any money on fostering click on this link to my other post that breaks down the financial side. Even after seeing that, you can only imagine how difficult it would be for some foster parents to continue to financially support a child beyond 18. That is the end of my attempt to empathize with foster parents who kick out a child at 18 just because of their age.
Let me tell you I am not one of those women who cry and weep and need counselling because my child is moving out. I am thrilled for the new adventures my children want to go on when they grow up. I feel as though we have done all we can to teach them right from wrong and help them to see good paths for success. I am proud of my kids when they feel they can make it on their own. Like a mother bird helping her babies leave the nest. I’m not the bird that wants to tie a rope around their feet so I can drag them back when I miss them. I want them to fly and see the world. I want them to find purpose and do great things. I know God has a plan and purpose for all of my kids so why would I want to hold them back? Wow, suddenly this post is more about mothers who don’t want their adult children to move out! I have digressed.
Let’s move on to the point. Teenagers.
Teens act the way they do and do silly things out of a need to belong and to feel accepted. They want to be part of something great. Teens want to feel good about themselves and proud of themselves. They also want others to feel proud of them. They want to be listened to and loved. They want to learn how to be independent and successful. Our family can help with all of those things. So could yours I bet!
Not many people are willing to take a chance on a teenager. Not many want to take on the risk. Their worries about drugs, alcohol and sex send them to a place of fear. I have worked with many teens and I remember being one. They are not all that bad. There are a few that have suffered so many traumas that they can do nothing but sabotage themselves and try to hurt those around them. I don’t believe most teens live out that reality. I believe most teens have a ton of great things going for them but need someone to help them down the road.
One study of youth in detention centers found that 48% of the youth had been in foster care. Now that is not a statistic that helps my case but I added it because it highlights the need for more people to take interest in our youth. Many of the youth in care are not living in families but in group homes. There is no family for most of them. Once they leave the group home, there is no where for them to go for Christmas or Thanksgiving. Who will help these kids? If you think it’s a job for someone else, think some more. There could be a special teen who needs you.
A few weeks ago we got a call asking if we would take a 15 year old. My first reaction is usually no. (Insert cheer from friends and family here) Who would want to take in an extra teenager? Extra drama, more food, more showers, more deodorant, more driving, more expensive clothes and more attitude and tears. Doesn’t that sound like fun?
My initial reaction is often a knee-jerk one when it comes to welcoming another teen. Currently, we have four. Adding another teen could cause strife within the family that could drain us.
OR…….. it could be a blast!
I choose the latter. We have met her twice now and she has spent all weekend with us. What I see is a sweet girl who has had years of damage. She has endured pain for certain. I see a girl who wants to be part of our really great family. A girl who fears for her future without us in it; without anyone in it. She is sweet, funny and loves little kids. She is easy going and doesn’t mind adventures.
We have always challenged our kids to welcome anyone who God puts in our family. Some of our kids are able to do that easier than others but in every hello and goodbye they are learning to love. They know that we don’t just say we love others but we actually do it. I know that my kids all learn the important lesson that we don’t do what’s easy, we do what’s right. We are here to help others and show love.
I fear for the society that gives up on teens out of fear. They have so much to offer. They need people to say “yes” and to stick it out through the tears and trials until they can fly the nest which may not be on their 18th birthday. Often foster children have had a later start to life as they were busy dealing with trauma along the way. There was so much relief in this girl’s eyes when I told her we would not force her to leave at 18 and she would always be welcome in our family. Every child/teen deserves that chance. The chance for a future with a family. The chance to be supported into adulthood. The chance to be loved.
I can hear the “haven’t you helped enough children yet?” questions already. There are many people who like to remind us that we have done enough. What we tell them is we do what God puts in front of us. It would be much easier if we could add a teen once our daughter moves to college in the fall but the need is now, not four months from now. There are benefits to having our older daughter here for those four months so they can bond a little before she leaves.
So on that note, we welcome Em. Thankfully, she is transitioning slowly and will be fully moved in by the end of the month. For our other 7 kids at home, it’s nice for them to get used to her slowly.
We may not be changing the world but we are changing lives one at a time.