I am a new Foster Parent who is willing to take in teens that need foster homes. Can you give me a few pointers on some of the things that I should focus on to help a teen transition into my home?
— Excited and Anxious in Newbury Park
I would suggest starting by taking a deep breath and remembering that first and foremost a teen or a child needs to know that you care deeply about building a safe nourishing relationship. A teen who is in the child welfare system is most likely going to have major trust issues based on a history of adults not showing up in healthy ways for him or her. Your number one goal is to build a trusting relationship with her. Start by focusing on her likes and dislikes. Ask questions that help you to know who she is as these kinds of questions allow her to know that she is so much more than a foster child.
We all want to feel that we matter to people, especially to the people who brought us into the world. Foster children do not feel this for the most part. Instead, they often feel rejected, unworthy, abandoned, and alone. I hope that soon, after you begin to build a relationship with your foster teen, that you can make sure that she understands that what happened to her was not her fault and that she deserved a better life than what has been provided for her, (if she shares some of the details of her past).
Possibly you might say something like the following, but you have to be genuine and mean it or a teen will see right through your insincerity.
“I am so sorry for what has happened to you. You deserved to grow up in a home that was able to provide you with everything you needed, such as a parent who was there for you emotionally and physically and provided you with adequate food and water. I know that I may not be able to understand everything that you went through but, for now, I am with you and I will listen to you. I will comfort you and I will acknowledge you because that is what you deserve.”
Your teen’s birth parents might very well have loved her. However, due to their own limitations from their life, they probably didn’t know how to show her that she was important and mattered. You can do this by taking an interest in what is of importance to him. If he likes fishing, then get fishing magazines and make time to go fishing.
The best way to show a teen they are important to you is to honestly share with them that they are unique and special to you. It really does not take much to help a child feel important. It does, however, take a conscious effort on your part to be emotionally present in their lives and take an interest in who they are as a person. That means not looking at them always as a fostered or adopted child or teen but just looking at them as a person who needs acknowledgment to grow, even if they are only in your care for a short period of time. Remember that you are planting a seed that will grow in its own time.