Adolescence can be a challenging stage of life for both the teenagers as well as their parents.However, during this time of life, when a young person’s foremost task is to find his or her identity, teens will reap the benefits, later in life, from parents who contribute positively to identity and self-esteem. Many teens are blessed with the support of their families into their twenties and beyond. Teens, who age out in foster care, however, seldom receive such support as they transition into adulthood.
Over the past decade, more than 200,000 teenagers have aged out of foster care at age 18, often without achieving supportive permanent family connections. Consequently, too many of them face challenges upon leaving foster care—challenges that don't just affect this cohort of young people, but that affect us all.
Teenagers, by the very nature of the fact that they are adolescents, are difficult to place in foster care; most foster families would rather receive young children into their homes. And while young children indeed need the protection and nurture of foster parents when their families or origin cannot provide adequate care, teenagers have a desperate need for someone to make a commitment to them as well. Often, younger children are adopted by their foster families when the parental rights of their biological parents have been terminated; thus they find that permanent family that will make the lifelong commitment to them. Teenagers who cannot return home, on the other hand, will not be adopted as a rule; thus they find themselves alone with all the damaging emotions that accompany loneliness and rejection.
Then, once a teen leaves foster care, he or she is at alarming risk for dropping out of school, becoming pregnant, or being jobless, homeless, or incarcerated. By age 24, it is estimated that over 50% are unemployed, more than two-thirds of the young women have children, nearly 60 percent of the males have been convicted of a crime, and 27% of males end up in jail; more than 25% of these unfortunate young adults become homeless at some point after leaving foster care.
Parenting teenagers, while challenging, also has its rewards. When a teenager feels respected he or she can become a good friend—engaging in sports, games, conversations, and mutual interests with the caretaker. Adolescents need less supervision than the younger children, and for that matter, can even contribute to fulfilling the family’s tasks and responsibilities. While many potential caretakers would predict that the behaviors young children display when acting out the emotions of their trauma of neglect and abuse would be relatively easy to deal with, in reality a teenager who is acting out his negative feelings may exhibit behaviors some may find to be not so difficult. For instance, temper tantrums, encopresis, enuresis, and other base behaviors of young children may be more difficult for some to deal with than foul language, defiance, moodiness, and the like which a teenager is more likely to present.
If you are looking for a ministry where there exists a large gap in provision for a desperate need, providing foster care for a teen boy or girl—who has been neglected and/or abused and has not been able to return home and needs someone to make a commitment intended to last into adulthood—may be a challenging but rich and rewarding experience for you.