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What It’s Really Like to Foster Teens (And Why You Should Do It)

Fostering Teens

Whether biological, adopted, bonus or foster, parenting teenagers is notoriously challenging. While teenagers may seem like a tough age group to care for, the reality may surprise you. Fostering teens can offer unexpected rewards, and the need for your help is great. 

In the United States, each day there are over 400,000 children in foster care. More than 40,000 of those children are taken care of in areas served by KVC. Their ages typically range from newborn to 18 years old, with 35% being ages 11 and up

The primary goal of foster care is reunification, and almost half of these children will be safely reunified with their parents or primary caregivers. About one-quarter will be adopted, many by their foster parents. Still, more than 15,000 18-year-olds age out of the foster care system each year without reuniting with their birth families or being adopted. 

What it’s Really Like to Foster Teens

Kristi Ferrell

Kristi Ferrell, Director of Permanency at KVC West Virginia, has a special place in her heart for teens in foster care, and loves to support parents considering fostering teens. “I hear people say, ‘We want the babies,’ and remind them that those babies do grow up and become teenagers,” she says. “Teenage kids need love, just like babies. They’re trying to find their place in the world. They need someone to show they care.”

Many future foster parents have a misconception about teenagers being more difficult, and babies being easier. But it’s important to remember that challenging behaviors don’t necessarily begin only during the teenage years — and, furthermore, joyful moments are present at all ages

That’s another reason why KVC is dedicated to helping parents around the clock with our foster care hotline. No matter the age of a foster placement, you’re never without help.

“Sometimes I see teenagers come into care and they have that attitude that everyone’s against them,” Kristi notes. “It takes care and consistency to let a child know, regardless of their age, that they’re not going anywhere and they’re not giving up. When they know they’re in a safe and caring place, that’s when they really start to thrive.” Nurturing foster homes provide teenagers with opportunities to improve grades, get involved in school activities and make new friends.

A teenage child was the perfect fit for single foster parent Cynthia. “I work full time,” she explains. “Having a kid who’s old enough to come home from school and take care of themselves for a few hours is helpful. I also knew how much of a need there was for teens.”

Cynthia’s seen the challenges and rewards of fostering a teenager. “It resonates with me,” she notes. “I thought there was no way I could foster a preschooler or kindergartner, but an older child could work out. If you can get enough information to have a decent idea that the child will be a good fit with your family, it can be so rewarding. My foster daughter is a great kid.”

A great benefit to fostering teenage children is their growing independent living skills. For example, teenagers can prepare food for themselves and take care of personal hygiene. In addition to that independence, caregivers also get to enjoy helping with job hunting, shopping and other outings better fit for older children. 

Taylor Steiner

KVC Nebraska Foster Parent Recruitment Coordinator Taylor Steiner is all for empowering teens in foster care. “The hope is that you can be that person they come to and guide them through life,” she says. “If the child is little, you’re not really a friend in the same sense. With a teenage child, you can be that connection.”

The Urgent Need for Caring Adults to Foster Teens

Reports show that only 58% of teenage children in foster care live with a family, compared to 95% of children under 12. KVC Health Systems is actively recruiting foster parents who are willing to care for children 11 years old and up.

When Cynthia saw a news article about the shortage of placement families in the foster care system, she felt like she found a place to step in and help. She’s had a wonderful experience with the 15-year-old girl who is placed with her. 

The need is also great for foster homes willing to take in sibling sets. “We often see siblings with an age difference,” Taylor says, like a six-year-old boy with a teenage sister. “Keeping siblings together is helpful in establishing consistency and normalcy.”

The Future for Teens in Foster Care

Without a stable home and nurturing care, teens who age out of foster care often struggle. Reports show only 3% of these youth continue into postsecondary education. Children emancipated from foster care may have a higher risk of getting involved in the criminal justice system due to a lack of support networks, low employment skills, or unstable living arrangements. More than one in five of these kids experience homelessness at some point within their first year after aging out of care. Additionally, 25% of 19-year-old former foster youth show a higher incidence of health problems than non-foster care youth, including hospitalization due to illness, accident, injury, drug use or emotional problems.

“We’ve seen a foster care family help their placement get consistent part-time work which might blossom into a full-time job if she chooses that avenue after high school,” Taylor notes. “Other families have built enough trust with a youth to purchase a car and help them learn to drive. Some foster families go so far as to set up a savings account for college education. We see a lot of heartwarming stories at KVC.”

“My foster child has melded really well with my extended family,” Cynthia shares. “She’s enjoyed visits with my mom and gets along great with my niece and nephew. My niece and nephew think of her like a cousin. They’re thrilled when she comes to visit. This teenager has blended so well from an extended family standpoint.” Creating these kinds of family relationships is a huge benefit to teens who may be lacking a support network. 

Preparing to Take on Teenagers

Before she became a social worker, Kristi was a high school teacher. “Teenagers have a sense of humor and they love to have fun. They enjoy people teaching them and paying attention to them,” Kristi says.

If I was talking to someone thinking about being a foster parent, I would tell them young adults and teens aren’t as scary as you think they are. They want you to think they’re scary, but they’re not. They’re a kid in a bigger body just looking for love. – Kristi Ferrell, KVC West Virginia

Looking at fostering teens through the exciting lens of building relationships and teaching important life skills can give potential foster parents a good perspective. “We all remember what it was like when we were teenagers,” Taylor says. “There may be some hiccups, but there is also the opportunity to find guidance at an impactful time of life. I don’t think foster parents know the magnitude of impact that they can provide for youth.”

While there may be challenges in foster care, KVC is here to help. “KVC has been amazing,” Cynthia recalls. “They are supportive and present. My foster placement attends therapies and KVC helps arrange transport when I can’t get out of town. All the things that would’ve made it hard to maintain a placement with my schedule, KVC takes care of it.”

Curious to learn more about foster care? Dip your toe into the water and learn more about becoming a foster parent. You can also learn why these KVC families love to foster teens in this recent blog.

Become a foster parent with KVC Health Systems.