The outcomes for Wisconsin teens in foster care are troubling. Children who grow up in foster care often find themselves placed in multiple homes, bouncing from house to house. 20% are in 4 or more placements. This lack of stability creates additional challenges for kids already struggling with trauma and/or mental illness. Teenagers in foster care are at greater risk of aging out of care with no family or dependable support system in place. Only 35% will graduate from high school. Less than 5% of all teens in foster care will attend college. The chances of them becoming homeless or incarcerated are significantly higher than their peers. Imagine being a senior in high school, anticipating graduation and having no one to help you apply to college or trade school, find a job or look for a place to live. Imagine your graduation day. Now imagine nobody showing up to cheer your name.
Teens in foster care deserve more from us
It seems fair to say that most teens can be challenging and mentally exhausting. If you have raised a teenager you know this to be true. If you have experience with preteens or teenagers at all you know they can also be amazing, wonderful, and yes, even grateful at times. For most parents, it is the proud moments and small successes that make it all worth it. The first day of high school, receiving an award, participating in sports, making new friends, passing a driver's test, overcoming difficult situations. These are all events worth celebrating in a teenager's life. Events that should be shared, applauded and given a well-deserved hug or pat on the back. Sharing good times and bad with a parent or family member is natural for most kids. Unfortunately for teens in foster care, many will never have a special, dependable or trustworthy adult in their life. What if the trajectory of just one teen's life could change, because of you?
One person can make a huge difference. Is not just a slogan.
Although it can be hard to feel like you, as one person, can make a difference, the truth is, you can. There are hundreds of testimonials here at Community Care Resources of the positive impact one adult can have on a child. We have single foster parents, married couples, LGBT foster parents, parents in their 30's and others in their 60's. Each of them is making a difference every day in the life of a teen. In fact, most of the foster parents at CCR that welcome teenagers into their family are caring for more than one teen at a time. Believe it or not, foster parents say creating a larger family unit is often in the best interests of the kids. Foster parents caring for more than one teen in the home feel it often creates more opportunity for healing and personal growth. Parenting one teen or multiple teens means preparing a young adult for independence, introducing them to all aspects of being a responsible adult post-foster care. It doesn't matter who you are, where you come from or what you might feel your limitations are. You have more to give a child in need than you know. You have skills and life experiences worth sharing with a teen. The growth and healing that can happen before your eyes and the lasting impact you can have on the life of a child are like no other experience.
Mental health concerns are on the rise with teens in foster care.
Wisconsin foster agencies are desperate to find homes for youth 12-18 years old.
This is not unique to Wisconsin, it is a challenge throughout the country. There are nearly 8,000 kids in Wisconsin foster care and 30% of them are teens. County foster agencies and private agencies alike struggle to place teens in homes best suited to support those who need treatment care that is a step up from traditional foster care. Due to the lack of foster home resources, many of these kids end up at residential treatment facilities outside of their counties or even their state. If we can keep them connected to the community they know, that’s one less loss for them to endure. Recruitment of new foster parents is not localized to one area of Wisconsin. The need is statewide, in every corner, in every county.
The families most likely to be a good fit for fostering are committed, patient and flexible with the ability to provide structure and boundaries. Foster parents who can take the time to understand their trauma, childhood history and help discover what's driving their behaviors. With the help of a master's level, Clinical Case Manager, foster parents are part of a treatment team. Each child in care has an individualized treatment plan and both foster parent and child meet weekly with their Clinical Case Manager. Many are receiving additional support services such as individual therapy, group therapy and/or additional services in school.
Be the home where healing happens!
Although every foster family is different, the families best suited to fostering teenagers tend to be:
- Families with one parent at home
- Adults with flexible but confident and effective decision making and follow through skills
- Capable of handling conflict and challenges in healthy ways
- Willingness to provide opportunities for recreational and extra-curricular activities
- Ability to dedicate time, utilize listening skills and provide care with patience
- Have personal or professional experience with trauma
- Willing to support biological family relationships when appropriate or required
- Open to establishing life-long relationships in ways that support youth who age out of the system
Families who foster with Community Care Resources represent the diversity of the state and the diversity of the young people receiving care. There is a variety with race, gender, culture, sexual orientation, and financial status. Having a diverse pool of available foster families helps us match kids with the people who can best meet their specific needs. The placement process is a team effort led by our placement coordinator. The team works diligently to create placements that will be successful for both parents and children. Unfortunately, we are unable to place the vast majority of kids referred to us by county agencies each month due to the lack of available homes. It is a state-wide crisis that continues to increase, especially when placing teens.
"Fostering a teen is one of the BEST things I’ve ever done. It was not on my radar, I didn’t think I could “handle” a teen. I thank God every day for sending him to us and changing our mind!!! I’ve said multiple times that’s he’s the easiest one to parent. I love being his Mom!" Amy from Calumet County, Wisconsin
Deciding to become a foster parent to teens is a major commitment
- Understand why you want to become a foster parent. What will fostering teens mean for you and your family? It is critical for partners to be at the same place in the decision to move forward. It may be helpful to write down what’s motivating you or to create a list of pros and cons.
- Talk to other families who have made the decision. They can be your greatest resource during your discovery process. Their wisdom and experience may answer many of your questions.
- Start with small steps. Make a call or email CCR. Our recruitment specialist will walk you through the process and explain what fostering teens really looks like and what you can expect. Attend a foster parent information meeting. Meet our staff in person and talk with other foster parents. Spend time on the individual pages of our website. Read our FAQ's, learn how to qualify, and educate yourself on what treatment foster care looks like.
- Listen to your partner or family members, be patient and try to understand their point of view. Remember that it may take time for your partner or older children to come around to the idea of fostering. Convincing your spouse or partner to become a foster parent is never a good starting point.
- Ask yourself if you are willing to make a minimum two-year commitment. Many teens are in foster placement for 18-36 months.
One of the most difficult parts of caring for a teen who is struggling is knowing how to effectively communicate with them to offer support and help them work toward recovery, especially if you’re a foster parent or guardian to a teen who you haven’t established trust with yet. In addition to required, extensive trauma-informed care training, the professional, highly experienced team at Community Care Resources is available to support foster parents 24/7. Weekly in-home visits and a 24-hour hotline make getting help with your child easy to attain. It can take time to build trusting relationships with teens but consistent, open communication and patience will show them you care. Constant reminders that they are welcome in your home and it is a safe place for them to communicate effectively will help in the process of adjusting and forming a trust. Creating a caring and supportive home environment will help your teen feel safe without judgment.
Preparing a teen for independence involves mentoring and coaching
Unlike caring for younger children, fostering teenagers means preparing them for independence. Getting them ready and stabilized for the next phase in their life. In place of tying shoes, helping with bath and bedtime and keeping little ones on task and organized, you can expect to teach an older child life skills. Temper tantrums may be replaced by slamming doors, communication shutdowns, or threats to run away or self-harm. Or it may involve great conversations, enormous progress and trust. It involves structure, oversight, and supervision. When fostering a teen the focus is on listening, patience and consistency. Teaching older children to be independent and preparing them for life on their own can be enjoyable and bring numerous rewards and big successes. Helping and supporting any of the following should be expected.
- Time management
- Money Management
- Grooming and Self-Care
- Stress Management
- Obtaining a Drivers License
- Building Healthy Relationships
- Household Cleaning and Laundry
- Grocery Shopping
- Job Searching
- Apartment Finding
To consider fostering teens, you must be honest about your own relationship skills and willingness to be helpful. Building relationships with your foster teens will be critical to the success of a placement. We would love to speak with you about the finer details of fostering teen girls or boys. Please call or email us anytime, we look forward to helping you explore fostering and providing the answers to foster care questions you have.