Shared parenting past the age of 18: Three stories

by Jennifer Nehlsen •

What does shared parenting look like for older teens in foster care? To answer this question, let’s consider the stories of Anna, Cora, and Delilah. Although their names are fictional, the stories below are based on the actual experiences of foster care alumni in North Carolina.

Ultimately, resource families for older teens need to be open to what is needed and wanted at that moment because it can, and probably will, change.


The months leading up to her 18th birthday were filled with anxiety for Anna. She was in foster care and placed in a group home that was unwilling to keep her past her birthday. She had graduated high school a semester early, was working full-time at a local grocery store to save money, and she was trying to find someplace to live when she turned 18. She had applied to and been accepted by the local community college but had deferred enrollment because she did not know where she would be living. Homelessness was a strong possibility. Parental rights had been terminated years before and Anna did not have, nor did she desire, a relationship with either parent. She did have a relationship with a grandmother, grandfather, and younger sister.

Through a strange turn of events, Anna was introduced to a family with prior experience fostering teens. She moved in the day after she turned 18 as part of the Foster Care 18-21 Program. This program was the answer Anna had been searching for—somewhere to live that could help her transition to adulthood with a cushion of support.

Her resource family committed to the goals of the program:

  • helping Anna move towards greater independence,
  • meeting her developmental needs,
  • advocating for what Anna said she needed,
  • helping Anna develop meaningful adult relationships and supports, and
  • helping her make her own decisions and learn from her mistakes.

As Anna and her resource family got to know each other, Anna was able to express her desire to remain connected to her younger sister and some family members. It helped that the sisters both had phones and the hour drive between homes was not an insurmountable barrier. Since Anna did not yet have a license, her resource family committed to providing transportation for visits between Anna and family members. Anna felt comfortable introducing her resource parents to her family members but opted not to send them a holiday card featuring her and her “new” resource family sisters. She didn’t want to upset her family of origin.


Cora was 15 when she moved into her foster-to-adopt placement. Parental rights had been relinquished and Cora was adamant that she did not want contact with her family of origin. She was adopted by her foster family when she was 16.

When Cora was 20 and in college with the help of the NC Reach program (, she searched for and reconnected with her family of origin. She brought her adoptive mother with her the first time she went to visit her birth mother. She introduced her adoptive mother as her foster mother because she did not want to hurt her birth mother.


Delilah was 16 when she moved into what became her final foster home. She had already been in a series of placements over the prior 3 years. She didn’t want to move to a new town and her fourth high school, but there were no other options. She was being discharged from her group home. She did not want to be adopted because she had a relationship with her family of origin.

Delilah just wanted a safe place to stay until she turned 18. She talked to her mother on the phone almost every day. Because Delilah had her own phone, supervised visits with her family of origin were the responsibility of DSS, and APPLA was the permanent plan, her foster parents did not participate in any shared parenting. Delilah wanted to keep her family of origin and her foster family completely separate.

Delilah moved out of her foster home on her 18th birthday to an apartment with friends but remains a part of the family. Now 22 and expecting her first child, Delilah turned down her former foster parents’ offer to invite her family of origin to her baby shower. She still wants to keep her two families separate.

Insights for Resource Families

The experiences of these young women and their resource families makes it clear there is more than one way to do shared parenting for older teens. Prior to turning 18, court orders need to be followed and efforts to achieve the permanent plan need to be documented.

When they age out of foster care, these young adults need the adults they choose to have in their lives serve as role models and supports. If they choose to enter or remain in a placement with a resource family, that family needs to respect their opinions, let them make decisions about connecting with their families of origin, and teach them about healthy boundaries and relationships. As resource families, we need to be there to provide support if those relationships do not turn out as expected or past trauma comes bubbling up to the surface. Resource families need to be willing to put their own needs aside.

Ultimately, resource families for older teens need to be open to what is needed and wanted at that moment because it can, and probably will, change.

Jennifer Nehlsen is the Guardian ad Litem Regional Administrator for NC’s 26 western counties. Jennifer leads a staff of 44 who recruit, train, and support 1,200 volunteers to serve as the voice for 3,200 abused and neglected children in this region. To learn more about Guardian ad Litem, visit