By Karen Franklin
Teens in foster care are first and foremost teenagers. As you can imagine, teenagers in society today are busy with activities and enjoying life, for the most part. Those in “normal” families are at a developmental stage in their life that is basically characterized by pulling away from their family and finding independence, not by joining a family.
The majority of families would not even consider adopting a teen unless they were acquainted with him or her. Most teens would not consider being adopted unless they knew the potential adoptive parents personally.
Many teens resist the concept of adoption for a variety of reasons. They may not want to change their name, although they do not have to do so; or they may feel that accepting adoption means that they would not see their relatives again.
Teenagers may feel that they do not deserve a permanent home, or they may be concerned that if they agree to adoption, no family would step forward to provide a permanent home for them. They do not want to be rejected again — who would?
Permanency for youth is about maintaining positive relationships. Permanency is the assurance that there is someone out there with whom the youth are so strongly connected that they will always be there for youth at any time.
Permanency is knowing that youth have a family who will celebrate birthdays, weddings and graduations with them. Permanency is knowing where you will visit on important holidays. It means being connected through relationships that last a lifetime.
The purpose of this article is to encourage our community to help nurture our youth in order to prevent teen pregnancy, crime, and homelessness of teens exiting the system. We know that youth leaving the foster care system as adults without strong personal support systems are much more likely to face homelessness and other negative behaviors than those who do have these sustaining relationships.
Many youth in the foster care system have some emotional attachments to others in order to have survived this long. They have created their own “families.” These “families” may consist of friends, parents of friends, current and/or former foster parents, teachers, coaches, relatives, older siblings, neighbors, church members, etc.
It’s our responsibility as a community to ask the youth about these connections and to help them strengthen those relationships. There are often more than a dozen people currently in each teen’s life who could be approached about offering a permanent home to the youth. In addition to identifying existing resources, we have the responsibility to help youth develop lifelong supportive relationships.
Teens in foster care are unfairly prejudged as being emotionally disturbed, delinquent, set in their ways, and generally incapable of being part of a family. In spite of our misconceptions, young people do want to be a part of a family.
Karen Franklin is a permanency specialist for the Ramsey County Permanent Families Recruitment Project. She welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.