Monday, September 04, 2006

Foster Care for Teens

Everynow and then I do a search hoping to find more blogs written by people who are fostering teenagers. I did that again this morning. Once again I found a list of really wonderful people who are or want to adopt. They are hoping for not too damaged, not too old children. Cuteness is not required, but greatly appreciated. Some have tolders in the house. Some are waiting. All want to be parents.

And nothing could be more reasonable. Why would anyone go into foster care? What possible reason could ANYone have for actually wanting to give temporary care to teenagers? The idea that one would do it for the money is laughable, or cryable. Even if the monthly payment is more than the average monthly expenses (an unlikey prospect), it will be eaten up when they run away taking a cell phone and ripping a window screen rather than walking out the door (FosterAbba & FosterEema), or when their older brother visists and steals another child's new handheld gaming system (our story).

So if not for the money then why? Probably because you want to be parents. You want to love a child who will, eventually, love you back. You have accepted that you will miss something, but their entire lives are precious, and you want to miss as little as possible. A baby would be wonderful, but can you survive the heartache of loving them and losing them until you finally get to keep one? What about a pre-schooler? Certainly there will be more damage, but they are still small and hopefully you can still reach their hearts. You will have missed the precious beginning, but in the end you will be the only parent they have clear memories of.

Maybe, maybe you can take an older child: six, eight, even ten. Such a child will come with a history. Such a child will be hard to parent. You will have missed all the early years, but they are still children. You will still get to be a parent. There will still be evenings in which you get to sit on the sofa, reading a story, and smelling that just-from-the-bath smell as the child snuggles under your arm.

Some will be willing to take children who are not yet legally free while they wait for one who is. If it increases their chances of getting a child who is free, then they will do it.

Oh but who is so insane, so codependent, so willing to subject themselves to abuse that they will take teenagers?

You will never really break into their hearts. They may come to love you at some level, but they will never let down that wall that protects them from being hurt by you. There will be moments when they will let you in. After months or a year they may relax and trust you, but they will never completly let their guard down. They will always be ready to walk away and not look back. Always.

Why would anyone offer a home to such a youth? Why would anyone agree to be a stopping place, a temporary safe harbor in some teenager's path to adulthood?

Most people say that it is something they could never do. I am not some sort of super-hero. There are plenty of things on my list of things I can't stand the thought of doing.

Take, for instance, going to a PTO (aka PTA) meeting. The very thought makes my stomach clench. I don't know why. The college where I work takes the freshmen on a wilderness experience as part of orientation. I went once. I went so that people could not tell me that I did not know what I was missing. I do know, and I don't like it, and I'm not going again. (My not going does not make a lot of sense. I enjoy the wilderness. I enjoy the students. Why don't I enjoy being in the wilderness with students? I just don't, okay?)

But I can be a foster parent for teenagers. I don't just mean that I have the bedroom and a job that gives me just enough flexibility in my schedule. I mean that I can do it and be a happy person at the same time. Not happy at every minute, but happy.

But that is no reason to give to other people. And I would so like to be able to give a reason to other people. I would so like to have a few more people on this particular journey to share stories with.


  1. Blogger is being bratty once again (now that I have some time to spend with it of course). If this won't post I'll email it.

    Some of it is about wanting little and cute of course but I think much of it is plain old fear.

    I read your posts and Lion Mom's and I stand in awe. I don't think I could start out with a teen and do it now and I'm not sure I could have even when younger.

    It's a gift the two of you and others have. And there must be others; just not enough of them. I hope some of them respond to you.

  2. I don't think people want little because they are cute. I think they want little because they want to be part of a child's life, as much of that life as possible. And I completely get it.

    And you are right about the fear. The older the child is the more history there is. Nothing about that is going to be easy.

  3. Anonymous8:36 AM


    One day I plan on starting a blog for our family, but for now I am content reading yours. :)

    We are a couple of gay 31 males that started out wanting a cute little 7-10 year old to adopt. A couple of the foster mothers in the area got together and decided we needed an unruly 13yo boy that was living with one of them at the time. He turned out to be a great kid ...eventually. After that, our social worker decided we could handle ourselves and started bringing more teenagers, as there are few in our region that will take teenagers.
    We did have a 16 month old girl for a couple of weeks, but she was 10x the work of a teenager.

    I would also like to thank you for the work you are doing for young gay children. It's a scary world out there and you make it a little more welcoming.


  4. Chad, I can't tell you how happy it makes me to hear from a gay man who is doing foster care for teens. I don't even know if I can explain quite why it makes me so happy...but it does.

    If you start a blog, please tell me about it. If you don't, please comment often!

  5. I don't have a blog (I spend too much time reading other people's blogs) but I do foster teens. I have been fostering over 8 years and have had 33 kids - mostly teen girls. There have been a couple of infants and toddlers here but all but 1 of those was short-term.

  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


Comments will be open for a little while, then I will be shutting them off. The blog will stay, but I do not want either to moderate comments or leave the blog available to spammers.