Monday, February 18, 2008

Questions to ask about teens in foster care

A while ago I wrote a post about questions to ask when someone asks you to take a teen into your home. This is an update on that post. Some people added things in the comments, and since I am thinking about it now, I thought I would give a more complete list, although with less commentary.

I will give two comments though. (1) BELIEVE the answers. It is so tempting to think that something a kid has done before won't happen in your house. It will. You may be able to deal with it better than a previous caretaker, but it will happen. (2) The point of asking these questions is not to weed out all the kids for whom you get negative answers. Kids in care have been traumatized and they are going to have issues. What you want to know is what those issues are and if your family can meet their needs.

1. History in care: how long have they been in care, or in and out of care? How many placements have they had? Why did their placements disrupt? Do they have a pattern of making allegations of abuse against multiple care-givers?

2. What sort of contact do they have with birth family or other families? Do they have siblings in care? If they were separated, why? Who else will continue to be in the youth's life?

3. Strengths, interest, hobbies, special needs. What is the kid good at? What does he or she do for fun? Would this youth be better matched with an active, sporting family, or a quiet, bookish family? What makes the youth laugh? Does the youth have specific religious or cultural needs? How will he or she respond to your religion or lack thereof?

4. Are they sexually active? Are they responsible about safe sex and have sex in appropriate places? Are their partners age appropriate?

5. How do they deal with conflict and their own anger? -- Sulk/hide, yell, destroy property, detach, call the social worker and demand to be moved, actually talk about it? How do they respond to people who deal with anger and conflict the way you do?

6. Attachment and relationship patterns. How do they present initially (cautious or charming?) and how do they respond to care-givers over time? What has their relationship been with other youth/children in previous homes? Do they have any long-term healthy relationships?

7. Negative or difficult behaviors -- Does this teen have a history of: lying; stealing; breaking curfew or sneaking out at night; running away; cutting or suicidal gestures or attempts; shoplifting or other illegal activities; cutting school; drinking or doing drugs; eating disorders or food issues (e.g. hoarding); abusing or being suspected of abusing pets; fire setting; threats of or actual cases of violence or sexual predation with other kids? How much trouble do they get into on the Internet? If other things matter to you, ask: how do they keep their rooms; do they keep their stuff in their rooms; how loudly do they play music; are they exceptionally picky eaters?

8. What diagnoses if any does the youth have? Does the social worker/current caretaker think they are correct? What medications are they currently taking or have taken recently? What difference did the medications make, if any? Is the youth in counseling? How long with current counselor?

9. What are their educational needs? Do they have an IEP (Individual Education Plan)? How is their behavior in school? Are they involved in any extracurricular activities? What sort of grades have they been getting? C's are good, especially if the kid has been moved a lot.

10. What sort of discipline do they respond well to? Do they have any "currency," anything in particular that can be used as a reward or that they mind if you take away?

11. And don't forget to ask if there is anything important to know about this youth that your questions did not cover.

Anyone have something to add?


  1. Yeah just also remember that what is considered a "horrid absolute terror" of a child for one may be a "normal" kid for another. That's why questions are SO important... Don't be afraid to read into things that the caseworkers aren't telling you!

  2. Really good post. Thanks.

  3. Also remember that if you do traditional foster care, you are likely to get "I don't know" for all of these answers if the kids have just been taken into care.

    If you have younger kids, I would definitely ask about their history with younger kids. Do they like younger kids? Any history of sexual abuse towards younger kids? Any other inappropriate behavior?

    Does the kid drive? Do they have their own car? Are they on any type of birth control? Are you expected to handle all their medication or can they take medication for themselves? Do they have any pets/any personal property that they will bring that is out of the ordinary?

  4. Oh I do love this post!!
    But as a CM there were times I had to field these questions out to others, so be prepared to call their other placements or teachers or other persons in their life. I feel this is also great for younger kids......


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