The topic of child welfare looms large in my novel Our Orbit. It tells the story of an Appalachian girl who crosses the tracks to become foster daughter to an educated family. Love and conflict ensue as all the burning social issues of our time raise their sometimes ugly heads. In gratitude to those who helped me learn about the many demands and great rewards of foster care, I am sharing information on this topic throughout the month of May 2015, National Foster Care Month.
Today’s very insightful post comes from blogger, bio & foster mom, Jill Rippy. Her words brought tears to my eyes. Based on personal experience, a teen foster child tends to become the central figure in much of my writing. Visit an example here of what can seem so frightening about these “characters,” whether real or fictional. Then get the true story from Jill.
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.
Visit The Foster Life, website of today’s guest poster, Jill Rippy.
Thank you for learning about issues involved in foster care! For additional information—
Visit the official site of National Foster Care Month 2015. That’s right now!
Visit the National Foster Parent Association.
And always feel free to share your insights in the “Comments” section below.