With few homes available for foster children over 12 years old, especially older foster teens, the future holds little promise of the type of future most 18 year-olds look forward to according to the results of the 2011 Midwest Study from Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.
The seven-year study indicates that when youth at the age of 18 become too old to remain in foster care, and find themselves struggling on their own without the support of a family, the odds of them successfully launching into adulthood are minimal. According to the study, 23% of them do not have a high school diploma or a GED by age 21. Half are unemployed, and those that are employed have a median annual income of $5,450. And nearly 30% are homeless by the age of 24.
Unfortunately, teenagers are typically the hardest foster children to place with a family. The majority of families that seek information on foster care are interested in fostering toward the goal of adoption. And a teenager is not who they’re looking to add to their family.
Carolyn Bishop, Vice President of Texas Programs for Arrow Child & Family Ministries explains the need: “A lot of the openings we have are with families that want to work with babies to toddler age. We have a huge shortage of openings for older foster teens, and so it’s making it hard for us to help CPS find appropriate placements for those kids.”
Granted, raising any teenager has it challenges, but Scott Lundy, CEO of Arrow Child & Family Ministries, who is raising three adopted teens himself, says there are three important components to successfully fostering a teenager.
“First, you’ve got to have a love for, and a proclivity to work with teenagers, because teens are different. Second, you have to be willing to connect with the child, because everything is about relationship. You can’t just let them do their thing in their room, and assume everything must be okay as long as they’re not doing stupid stuff. You have to take the time to check in with them on a regular basis, and not accept “fine” and “good” when you ask them about school and their friends. You’ve got to go deeper than that. And third, you need to be able give the child an appropriate level of autonomy while maintaining boundaries.
“These kids are going to mess up just like we did, and they’re probably going to mess up more than we did, because we had a stable upbringing all the way through our life that got us through adolescence, and they did not. These kids are going to push back more than normal, and part of this is based on the pattern they’ve experienced in being removed from their home, and then being moved from place to place. But what each of these kids desperately need is a family that will commit to helping them work through this tough period in their life so they can prepare for adulthood.”
Angela Humphrey, a foster parent with Arrow Child & Family Ministries, is one of those few foster parents who not only opens her home to foster teens, but specializes in fostering teenage boys. She says the most difficult aspect of fostering a teenager is gaining their trust, because so many people in their lives have let them down.
“Don’t expect a kid to be thankful and loving just because you’ve opened your home,” said Humphrey. “That comes with gaining their trust, and that takes time. Making it work takes love and patience with a lot of understanding and forgiveness.
“We lose so many of our young men to the streets and jail. I like knowing we lose some to education, jobs and becoming great parents. Watching some of my boys graduate from high school, go to college, become productive citizens, and then receiving phone calls from some just to say ‘I didn’t get it then, but I do now,’ that’s the most beautiful thing of all.”
To learn more about the need and how you can help, attend the next information meeting at the Arrow office near you. Details are available at www.arrow.org/meeting.