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"Teenagers"…Breaths catch, hearts splutter, shoulders stiffen. That single word is one of the most heart-stopping words in the English language. It is the developmental stage every parent nervously jokes about and anxiously anticipates. Couple the adolescent years with the challenges of foster care and you have a fearsome combination…Or do you?
The newspapers are filled to the brim with articles about the opioid epidemic and the soaring numbers of infants entering care directly from the hospital. This is absolutely true and the need for infant homes is great. But what about the older kids? Did they disappear? Are they no longer entering foster care? Where have they gone?
The reality is that older kids are still here, getting a little bit older every day, a little bit closer to eighteen, the age of majority, the age at which they can choose to go it on their own, or can make the decision to “sign in” and continue to receive support from the Department of Children and Families through voluntary service agreements. Unfortunately, with the influx of infants and younger children, many of these amazing teens are lingering in group and residential care programs. They do not necessitate this level of care, but due to the shortage of homes, priority given to placing infants and young children in home settings rather than group settings, and the general population’s fear of the teen years, these young people are lingering needlessly.
A foster parent offered up one of the best descriptions of teenagers that I’ve ever heard. “Teenagers are like 401Ks. You invest, invest, invest, and just wait. If you are patient and keep adding, they mature and you see the return down the line.” Think about that. The teen years are a time when kids need stable, secure adults so dearly. They require guidance, role models, and safety nets. Teen years are reminiscent of toddler years, just with a typically larger person, higher stakes, and in depth conversations. Teens have greater independence, but need a safe place to return to, just like a toddler who goes to play in the living room, but runs back to Mother’s skirts to check in and feel secure.
Foster parents of teens witness some of the most intense things. First loves, first heartbreaks, exams, dances, first jobs, college or trade school applications, and the eventual move to a first apartment. Our teens often drift away, as is traditional for the teenage population of all demographics, but they bounce back into foster parents’ lives to show their growth, their successes, and to gain courage for the next shifts in life. Teenage years are challenging, but the reward is certainly proportionate to the investment.
If you are interested in learning more about fostering a teen or fostering in general, please call our Home Finders Jared and Courtney at 508-821-7774 or complete our online interest form.