When I posed the question “what was on your wall” did you think I was referring to your Facebook wall? Well, I’m not. I need you to think further back into your history.
I have been a New Edition fan since 1983. My bedroom wall was FULL of New Edition posters, pictures, and articles – in all honesty it looked more like wall paper. Did you have posters on your bedroom wall when you were a teenager? Were the walls in your bedroom an expression of your hobbies, celebrity crushes, activities, and dreams? Gazing at the faces of those five talented teenage boys brought me happiness. I swapped old pictures for new ones and moved things around to make perfect lines and squares. New Edition photos covered my walls for many, many years.
How did you celebrate the birthday of The United States of America? Cookout? Parade? Did your Independence Day festivities end with a spectacular fireworks show? Independence Day for many teens in the foster care system comes on their 18th or 21st birthday. Last year on my daughter’s 18th birthday there was a major, unexpected east coast earthquake. My daughter felt the earth shake even though she was four hours away from the center of the quake. It is a frightening birthday she will never forget. I’m sure that the 18th or 21st birthday of a young person who leaves foster care without a permanent family connection is also a frightening day they will never forget. This Independence Day can be just as earth shattering. Because the calendar changes the young person becomes completely independent. I’m not speaking about independent in the sense that they are finally “legal” as many young people describe it, but independent as in their housing, medical assistance, and other needed services come to an abrupt end and they are forced to rely on themselves – whether they are ready or not. There are things you can do to help youth who are aging out of foster care have a successful future – donate to an organization that assists teens in foster care, become a mentor, become a tutor, provide a job, or adopt.
Approximately 20,000 youth age out of foster care every year without a permanent family. Other youth are discharged from foster care before the age of age 18 and reunite with their biological families. Their family connections are often weak and these young people may quickly find themselves without a stable place to live. Another group of young people run away from foster care before they reach adulthood. The bottom line is that teens in foster care have experienced numerous hurts and face a variety of obstacles. Many have missed out on the guidance and skill building needed to successfully transition into adulthood.
Teens in foster care often require a combination of services to become productive, self-sufficient adults — mental health services, life skills, mentoring, employment preparation, educational support, housing, and medical coverage. If we continue to wait until they are standing at the exit door or months away from “aging out” to intervene, we will continue to have thousands of young people exit care unprepared for life on their own. I believe that all young people who spend time in the foster care system after age 14 or the traditional age of a high school freshman should receive special attention, training, and support. We can do it!!!
If you spent your teen years like the average teenager, trying desperately to exercise your independence and separate yourself from your parents/families you may not understand why a 17 or 18 year old in foster care may want to be adopted. If the primary goals for you or your friends as teenagers were to obtain a driver’s license, secure a later curfew, make your own money, and seize the opportunity to make your own decisions you may not understand why I advocate for additional support for teens who are aging out of foster care. Many people believe that teens in foster care are set in their ways and unable to change or that they don’t like boundaries or can’t follow rules but I beg to differ. Despite past challenges, disappointments, and displacements, teens in foster care want what we all want – to be loved, protected, and appreciated – they want to belong.
Resilient – rebounding; recovering readily from adversity; returning to its original form after being stretched or bent
Do you recall your teen years with favor and joy? For many of us adolescence was a challenging time. Acne, raging hormones, peer pressure, and uncertainty plagued many of us. Although we may have had the body of an adult, our teen brains had not fully developed. Our views were shaped by other teens that were just as unsure of where they fit in the world as we were. We were stuck in an unfamiliar place — no longer children but not yet adults.
Stability and positive discipline help teens thrive. Rules and boundaries offer safety and security. Rules and boundaries also show teens that someone cares about their present and their future. The obstacles in adolescence are often magnified for youth who are a part of the foster care system. Think about it. Who do you trust when you are unsure of how long you will live in the place where you are right now? Who can exhibit patience and understanding to help you overcome abuse, abandonment, or apathy? Who do you believe really “has your back” when you have lived in 3 different places in the last year and a half?