Take a moment to recall your adolescent years — the time in your life where you were finding your identity, making mistakes and learning from them. Who was the adult that helped guide you down a successful path and where would you be without them?
Hundreds of teens “age out” of foster care each year, often without the support of caring adults. For many of these teens, the answer to the questions above are
often left unanswered and their future may be filled with uncertainty. Finding families to foster these older children before they “age out” is critical.
It takes a special kind of parent to bring a teen into their home, provide them guidance and care while teaching them the skills necessary to be successful in adulthood. There tends to be a stigma that comes with fostering teens. Often times, this stigma stems from them having experienced years of hardship and living in many different homes. As a result, some teens may have higher needs and struggle with building attachments. For foster parents, Joan and Paul, this stigma was motivation to help.
Joan and Paul have been licensed foster parents with Arizona’s Children Association (AzCA) for five years and have fostered 25 youth. Before they came to AzCA, the couple worked for an elementary school for many years and knew they wanted to make a lasting difference for children in foster care. According to Hannah Schweizer, their resource family specialist at AzCA, Joan and Paul have truly made an impact.
“Joan and Paul are genuine in their passion for helping kids develop into the best versions of themselves. Their empathy, compassion, and resiliency extend far into the future of the kids who come into contact with them. In a gentle and humbling manner; they serve as excellent reminders for our capacity to positively impact others.”
“Fostering older kids has taught us that teens are still in need of a family setting, consistency and love,” Joan expressed. “They are given many team members [Behavior Coaches, Court Appointed Special Advocates, Therapists, Case Workers] throughout their journey in the foster care system, but they lack that continuity of having someone they can always count on that they know is going to be there for them. We fill the parental role that they crave even though they may not be aware of it. Just like younger children, teens need a solid foundation and support system
they can rely on.”
When a youth in foster care turns eighteen, they have two options. They can choose to remain in foster care until they turn 21 and meet the requirements that include: meeting with their Case Worker on a regular basis, attending school or gaining employment, and continuing services to meet their goals. The other option is to “age out” of foster care and venture off on their own. The majority of youth choose to leave the foster care system and take on adulthood without a plan. Our families who foster teens are their biggest advocate and help our teens develop living skills and a sense of responsibility to make their transition a bit smoother. The influence of our caring families can truly be pivotal to the success of our youth.
“Understand that teens may push back against connection, but they truly want that in their lives. Older children, many times, are much younger emotionally and cognitively due to those missed mile stones when they were younger,” Joan said. “Even though it may not seem like it when you are in the middle of filling that parental role for them, you are making a difference in their life by being there every day for them, 24/7.”