Friday, November 16, 2007

What About The Teenagers?

Did you know that, of all the children in foster care, about 25% of them are between the ages of 13 and 18? In general, older kids and teenagers tend to stay in foster care longer. If they aren't able to return to their birth families, teenagers tend to stay in foster care until they "age out". The worst part is, many teenagers in foster care know that they probably aren't going to be able to find an adoptive family before they age out. Many kids who age out of foster care don't end up doing well. (Imagine being 18, and finding yourself suddenly, completely on your own?) Some become homeless... and being young and on the streets, as we learned last week when we talked about homeless teenagers, can lead to dangerous things like drug use, prostitution, and crime. Others, who manage to get into college, still feel all alone... with nobody to call them to nag them about their grades, nobody to send care packages, nobody to ask them to come home for holidays and semester breaks.

So why should someone consider adopting a teenager? The Oklahoma Youth Advisory Board came up with a few good reasons:

1. No diapers to change.

2. We sleep through the night.

3. We will be ready to move out sooner...but we can still visit.

4. Your don't just get a child, you get a friend.

5. We will keep you up to date with the latest fashion.

6. No more carpools; we can drive you places.

7. No more bottles, formula or burp rags required.

8. We can help out around the house.

9. We can learn from you.

10. We can teach you how to run your computer.

Of course, its a lot more complicated than that. All kids in foster care come with their share of emotional baggage... after all, the reasons they are in foster care in the first place are experiences that would be traumatizing for any of us... abuse, neglect, losing your entire family to move into a series of strange foster homes, etc. But teenagers have lived with these experiences longer, and often have more trouble trusting adults. The best candidates to adopt teenagers are people who have a lot of patience, are willing to understand what a teenager has been through, can also understand that a lot of behaviors you see in a teen may just be more extreme versions of normal teenage behaviors, and be willing to stick with a teenager and ride out their adolescence with them.

1 comment:

Yondalla said...

You know I am all about the teens. Love the teens.

A couple points about the list though: in a lot of places foster kids aren't allowed to drive until they are 18. In other places they can, but only if you the foster parent take legal responsibility for them. This is, of course, what we do when we allow our legal children to drive, but it is something that you shouldn't do for any kid you haven't known a year or so.

Second, they aren't going to help around the house any more than any other kid. They will create more housework than they do.

BUT, they are wonderful people. The last six months before they leave CAN be hell, and they are anxious and often want to get out
of the system before they are ready (even if they are allowed to stay), but from 15 (or so) to 17 1/2 they are marvelous. They need a mentor more than a mommy.

And one more thing: if you work with a good agency, you can know what you are getting into. They have a known history. This means you can learn what sort of kid and what sort of issues you are good at dealing with.

It can be deeply satisfying.

And it is true that they are past that icky body care thing. They clean and dress themselves; they can even prepare themselves a simple meal when you occassionally.