What do youth appreciate about foster parents?An interview with teens in care
What do young people in foster care in North Carolina appreciate about their foster parents? To find out, I spoke with youth in care from different parts of the state at an event called SaySo Saturday. (For more on SaySo Saturday, see below.)
The youth I spoke to were between age 15 and 19. None had ever been adopted, but some voiced a desire to be included in a family at some point in the future.
Before I talked to the youth, I mentally prepared myself for negative responses, because my own experiences with foster parents were not all pleasant. However, when I share with you what I heard I think you will be reassured about the impact you are making.
Life Skills and Bonding
One person I spoke to said she appreciated being taught how to cook by her foster parent. This young lady said the thing she appreciates most about those opportunities in the kitchen were that they offered her sacred moments of mother-daughter bonding—something she had eagerly sought but never received from her biological mother.
Along with moments of bonding, youth also expressed their appreciation—and this was a surprise to me—for the discipline they received from their foster parents.
As 17-year-old KD put it, “I really appreciate how my foster mom lets me do what I want—to a certain degree. She lets me do fun things, like going to the movies, but she still gives me good discipline. And I didn’t have that at some of my other foster homes.”
KD says he feels this discipline has helped keep him out of trouble that he would normally be involved in.
Although it may seem as if your foster or adopted youth is easily angered, agitated, and frustrated with you, know that they greatly appreciate you for your genuine concern. This is something some youth have not yet experienced while in care.
Acceptance and Inclusion
Youth want to feel included and to be treated as if they are family, not as the “black sheep” of the family just because they are in foster care.
For example, 17-year-old Machi told me what he appreciated most about his foster parents is that they call him “son.”
“I’ve never been called ‘son’ before” he says. “Everything except that . . . So I was kinda shocked when they first said it. But then they called me that so much that it became like a second name to me. They always make me feel a part of the family when they call me that.”
Most of the time, youth in care can relate to Machi’s experience and would like to be called “son” or “daughter.” However, be sure to ask their permission before you begin doing this; you don’t want to make them more uncomfortable than they may already be.
As you are aware, some youth find it difficult to open up or to trust due to their past experiences, which have caused them to form protective barriers.
Luis, a 16-year-old I spoke to, said it best: “It’s not that we don’t want to open up and trust [our foster parents]. It’s just hard because of what we’ve been through. And sometimes, the foster parents don’t make it easy to try to build a relationship with them because they try too hard.”
His advice? “Just be patient with us and really care about having a relationship with [us], and that’ll make it easier for us to come to you and build relationships with you.”
To help resolve situations like this, offer support to your youth. Offer a listening ear if they would like it. Maintain an approachable but respectful demeanor so youth will know they can come to you when they are comfortable.
All this will showcase your care for the youth without being forceful, which makes it easier to establish a solid relationship that is built upon trust.
Even if your youth seems to dislike your parenting style, take comfort in knowing that you offer them something they may have not yet experienced. Because of your consistency, love, and care, they will remember you and appreciate you more than you will know.
Megan Holmes is a foster care alumna; she attends North Carolina Central University, where she majors in Spanish and Social Work.
SaySo Saturday is an annual youth conference that provides youth who are or have been in substitute care in North Carolina the opportunity to network with other youth in care and participate in essential life skill workshops. We also draw names for door prizes and elect SaySo’s next Youth Board of Directors. SaySo Saturday is held every year on the first Saturday of March.
Other Annual SaySo Events
It’s My Transition. This one-day seminar is for older youths (16+ years of age). Three are held annually. Each seminar focuses on two of the seven LINKS outcomes.
LINK-Up Youth Conference. This one-day life skills conference is for youths ages 13-16. Workshops and games are facilitated by SaySo’s Board of Directors and adult supporters. Conferences are usually held in January and August each year.
SaySo Survivor. This is a weekend leadership retreat that allows SaySo members to explore their resiliencies and move from surviving to thriving.
SaySo, Strong Able Youth Speaking Out, is a statewide, North Carolina-based association of youth aged 14 to 24 who are or have been in out-of-home care. This includes all types of substitute care, including foster care, group homes, and mental health placements. It’s mission is: “To work to improve the substitute care system by educating the community, speaking out about needed changes, and providing support to youth who are or have been in substitute care.”