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Wisconsin foster care has over 7,400 kids in out of home care at any time. Ages of foster children range from infant to young adults. If you are interested in how to become a foster parent, one of the biggest decisions you will make is the age range of the foster children you wish to care for. The need for loving foster homes in Wisconsin is desperate. It is important to know your own strengths and weaknesses and what age group will be the best fit for you and your family.
One of the first questions you will be asked by a CCR new foster parent adviser is "What age group are you interested in fostering?" Saying you are open to fostering children of any age is not realistic. (Just being honest) Few foster parents can foster all ages successfully. Strengths and weaknesses will surely come into play when parenting foster kids, no different than if you are raising or have raised kids of your own.
Enjoying certain age groups or feeling you're "better" with specific ages is okay and encouraged. There are too many factors involved for a new foster parent to say they will care for a foster child of ANY age. Obviously caring for a toddler requires a different schedule and requirements than does fostering a 12-year-old. New foster parents must be able to meet the day to day needs of kids and the needs are great.
Considering your flexibility, availability for appointment requirements, drive times, unexpected illness or days off school, holidays and summer vacation, are all factors to think about when considering your age preference.
There is usually no middle ground with this decision. Either foster parents want teens or they don't. We find that prospective foster parents afraid of teens don't really understand what the kids need and what amazing things they can offer this age group.
The majority of teens in foster care haven't had a dependable adult in their life. No adult to trust. No structure, consistency, or support. They are alone and may very well be facing adulthood alone. Teaching life skills, independent living skills, applying for jobs, navigating relationships, learning to drive, all these things require a trusting adult to help teach and guide a teen.
Often times, meeting the emotional needs of a teen can be draining for any parent. Teenagers can certainly test and challenge the best of parents. Patience, good listening skills, trust, belief in a child, and meeting them where they're at are critical to helping a youth heal from past traumas.
Their needs are great and complex but for many foster parents, they love the challenge of breaking through, making progress, and providing hope for a bright future.
There are thousands of amazing testimonials from foster parents that have helped change the future of a teen. Unfortunately, the abuses and horrible actions of a very small minority of foster parents is what most of us hear and cling to. Stories of amazing progress and bright futures are rarely talked about unless highlighted on Ellen or social media.
Stories of parents developing lifelong relationships with kids they fostered. Meeting their spouses and children years later. Sharing holidays with former foster youth. If you really want to change the life of a child, foster a teenager.
Teaching a child how to dress, fasten a seat belt, or how to use words instead of actions are all extremely important and part of typical parenting. Bedtime rituals, morning routines, and eating habits almost always require time and patience from any parent. If these day to day exercises and challenges are what you enjoy then fostering younger children might be a great fit for you and your family. However, you must remember, kids in foster care will often come with extra challenges.
Many new foster parents think that fostering kids while they are young, allows for more teachable moments. Parenting a child before they are set in their ways or have developed bad behaviors like older kids is a common interest of people exploring fostering. Believing that younger children don't have the behaviors and emotional struggles that older kids and teenagers have is a HUGE misconception. In fact, it can be quite the opposite, depending on the child.
Is patience your middle name? Do you like hands-on parenting and meeting the ever-changing needs that little ones have? Toddlers and young children in foster care often display a variety of delays and behaviors that can be challenging. Delays with language, processing, hygiene skills, food associations, and inappropriate expressions of frustration are commonplace.
Fostering preschool-age children can be challenging for those not up to the task. Because kids in this age group can often be delayed and cannot always articulate how they feel or what they need, days can be long and frustrating. Behaviors can be heightened or age-inappropriate depending on the abuse or neglect a child experienced. Trauma stunts a child's growth and development and foster parents must understand that this age group will require more from them than what might be expected.
The greatest need in Wisconsin and throughout the country is for kids over the age of 5 and sibling groups. That is true at CCR as well. The average age of boys in our care is 10, the average age for girls is 11. This population is often the least requested for no specific reason, other than folks preferring "little ones" or teens. Many kids in this age group come into care with younger siblings.
A rewarding part of fostering kids in grade or middle school is getting them involved in extracurricular activities and helping them navigate the challenges of school. Remember, until foster care, many kids have not had an adult active in their education, developed healthy relationships with classmates or teachers, or been involved in sports or after school activities.
Getting a foster child involved in an extracurricular activity not only occupies their downtime and frees them from electronics, but it also teaches them valuable life skills.
Extracurricular activities expose kids to so many things they have never experienced. Our foster parents have great stories about witnessing kids coming out of their shells, improving relationships with peers, and building confidence.
This age group is rewarding for many foster parents because there are so many positive changes happening at once. Progress is obvious, kids are developing passions and exploring new interests all the time. If there are siblings involved, kids can now share new interests with their brothers and sisters which help relationship development within the family.
Many foster parents start with one age group and wish to try another age later down the road. At CCR, we do ask that parents have a large enough preference window that will allow for opportunity of placements. For example ages 10 and under, kids between ages 8-13, or teen girls. It is very helpful to have a wide window so that you have ample opportunity to get calls with potential placements.
If you are only interested in babies, you may be waiting for a very long time. Most infants remain in county foster care and are rarely referred to a private agency. The exception may be if the baby is part of a larger sibling group.
The choice is yours. Know your strengths and weaknesses and be confident with what you can offer a child or sibling group in your care. Keep in mind other children in your home, your availability and schedules, and what you know you can offer a child with a traumatic background.
Call us anytime to learn more. 800-799-0450