Connections matter during the transition to adulthood

by Amy Huntsman •

I have seen too many young people leave foster care without a trusted adult to help guide them. Sometimes they’ve spent years in group homes with no consistent caregiver. For some, the court and child welfare system has not allowed them to have an ongoing relationship with their family. For others, their trauma hinders them from being able to trust adults.

But I’ve also seen lots of success stories in which resource parents and other supportive adults have played an important role.


Take Kendra, for example. Now 23 and an alumna of foster care, Kendra says her last foster mother was very supportive. When she was 17, her foster mother spoke with her often about being a responsible parent and encouraged her to look into career paths that would support her now and in the long run.

Kendra appreciates the way her foster parent, in combination with her Foster Care 18 to 21 program social worker and her birth family, helped her adjust to her first apartment. She also says the constant support she felt from her social worker was imperative. “In the program I had all the help I needed,” Kendra says. “They were always there when I needed them the most.”

Asked if there was one thing she wanted to say to resource parents, Kendra replied: “If you say you’re going to always be there for a young person, you have to mean it. When young people reach out for help, they really need it. Reaching out isn’t always easy—for anyone.”

What teens in foster care really want is acceptance and an adult connection that is supportive, honest, and real.

Our Responsibility

In my experience, young people exiting the system can be very guarded. Because of what they have been through, many feel rejected. Some personalize a sense of abandonment while others are able to overcome it and find motivation to persevere. Resource parents are critical to helping teens in care be seen, heard, and feel normal after their tumultuous, traumatic childhoods.

I encourage the teams and social workers I work with to look outside the box to connect older teens with supports. Children who have been in foster care for a long time often had their connections to family severed due to unsafe conditions. However, by the time they are 16 or 17, circumstances in their family may have changed.

It is our responsibility to ask if there is still a valid reason for those family connections to be broken. If not, we need to help reconnect and rebuild them. This is what supporting our young people looks like. It’s also a way to help to break cycles of neglect and systematic dependence.

Lack of Connection Means Real Risk

Without resource parents and adult supports, young adults exiting foster care are very much at risk. Youth who age out of foster care are at increased risk for homelessness, young parenthood, and unemployment (Rosenberg & Abbott, 2019). Despite access to education funding, less than 3% earn a college degree (National Foster Youth Institute. 2017). As many as one in four are incarcerated within two years of leaving the system (Pew, 2007).

But as Kendra’s example shows, statistics are not destiny. Better short- and long-term outcomes are possible.

Listen to Kendra

Kendra entered foster care when she was 15. She had four placements in 2 years before she found the foster mom who would see her successfully into adulthood.

With support from her adult connections, Kendra graduated high school and completed an educational certificate to be a CNA and home health aide. She has an apartment in her own name and a beautiful car she financed on her own. Kendra has a daughter who just started kindergarten and is the light of her life.

Kendra’s advice to teens in foster care and those who support them is to have an open mind. To that I would add:

  • Don’t judge a teen who appears to have a chip on their shoulder—what you’re seeing is the pain they carry.
  • Don’t criminalize them if they break a window or you catch them smoking marijuana—they are just experiencing a normal teen life.
  • Don’t keep biological relatives away, even if they treated the young person poorly in the past—teens deserve the chance to form their own opinions.
  • Understand that academics may not be their biggest priority—they may be more worried about last week’s missed visit or if they will have to move again.

What teens in foster care really want is acceptance and an adult connection that is supportive, honest, and real.

Amy Huntsman is a licensing supervisor and adoptive parent from Asheville, NC. She has been working with children and families for over 20 years and is the proud mother of two girls, ages 7 and 8.