Vol. 9, No. 1• November 2004

Books to Help You Get a Handle on Fostering Teens

by Becky Burmester

My husband Joe and I made a major change in our foster parenting. After nearly two decades fostering infants and toddlers, we have decided to try sharing our home with teens.

This has not been a decision casually reached. We have worked closely with several adult birth mothers and their babies and realized that caring for the infants was a band-aid approach. The mothers were in desperate need of role models.

The youngsters were confused by the inconsistency of nurturing. And Joe and I felt we were only making a very small difference.

Since mid-July we have been licensed by an agency that only works with teens. They have a new program designed to work with pregnant and parenting teens. Our role will be to provide a home (real life, warts and all) to a young person and to that young person’s child. We will have the opportunity to work on independent living skills and on parenting skills. We have two adult children, a toddler, and a preschooler, plus several children who lived with us for awhile who stop in for visits.

I have been reading EVERYTHING I can find on the experience of teens in care. There is some excellent material available that I wish to share with you.

Ready, Set, Fly! by the Casey Family Foundation is an excellent resource for teaching life skills. This booklet is filled with ideas and includes listings of the ages each item is best suited to. Some items were things that we had done with our older children, but many were things we’d never thought of doing. As we seek to impart independent living skills, we will frequently consult Ready, Set, Fly! It can be downloaded and printed for free by going to <www.caseylifeskills. org/rsf/RSF.pdf>. Also available in Spanish.

Youth Communication (www.youthcomm.org) has a number of booklets that are included in the “Quick Insight” series. Each booklet contains several articles, each written by a young person who is/was in the “system.” These are true stories by teens. Included at the back of each booklet are suggestions for using the booklet with adults and with teens. I am thinking now that my next need will be for a support/brainstorming group to keep me excited about the possibilities rather than overwhelmed by the immensity of the task. I’m the Mommy Now: Life as Teen Parent and I’ve found a Home: Foster Families that Work are two booklets in the series that I have read and plan to reread. The booklets are $8 each.

Represent is a periodical written by and for youth in care. Published six times a year, each issue has a theme. The May/June 2004 issue focused on teen adoption. There was also a section about life after leaving care. One page was devoted to suggestions for independent living instructors and social workers on using the articles with a group of teens. Represent is available by subscription for $18 per year. Write to: Represent, 224 W. 29th St, 2nd Floor, New York, NY 10001. Make checks payable to “Youth Communication.”

Finally, The Last Chance Texaco by Brent Hartinger is a young adult novel about life in a group home. The author draws on his experience as a counselor in a group home to create the mostly believable tale of Lucy Pitt and her experiences at Kindle Home. This book is marketed to youth who are age 12 and up and somewhat reluctant readers. The story moves quickly. Much of the action and the dialogue rings “teenage true.” Kids really do these things. I can imagine using The Last Chance Texaco as the basis for a discussion of what it is like to be in the “system.” Young people who are not in the system—and foster parents, too—could gain understanding by reading this book and using it as a starting point for discussion.

Obviously, I have been busy reading. What have you been reading? On what topic are you wishing you had a written resource? Let me know! (t: 919/870-9968; [email protected]).

As foster parents we are more capable because we reach out and continue to learn, so please continue reading and keep in touch.

Copyright 2004 Jordan Institute for Families