Vol. 13, No. 2 • May 2009

I'm Glad We Changed Our Minds about Fostering Teens

by Angie Clontz

When my husband and I became foster parents in July 2005, we told the agency we were willing to take in children ages 0-21. Deep down, however, we really wanted young children—infants to age six.

Our Introduction to Fostering
Before long we were blessed with our first placement, a 5-year-old. Less than a month later we received an 11-month-old boy. Then our 5-year-old moved to another home, leaving us with the now 14-month-old.

Just before Christmas, we learned this child would be going to live with a family member. This was very hard—we had fallen in love with this little bundle of joy.

We became foster parents to help children in need, and we were told from the beginning that the children leaving would be very hard. But we did not understand how hard it would be to let them go until we had to.

After this child left, we told our social worker we didn’t want another placement for a while. Our grieving period was very hard. It brought back memories of losing our child when I was only 6 to 8 weeks pregnant. We even thought about giving up foster parenting because it is so difficult when a child leaves.

The Start of an Adventure
Two months later, we received a call from our social worker. They were looking for a placement for a 13-year-old girl. My husband and I told her we would talk about it and call her back. At first, we agreed to say “no.” But we could not make the call.

We said to each other that since teenagers tend to keep you at arm’s length, it might not hurt so much when they left. We called our social worker back, told her yes, and picked up our 13-year-old daughter on Valentine’s Day. That was the start of an adventure for her and for us.

A month later, my husband received a call from our social worker stating that they took a 16-year-old girl into care the night before and placed her in a group home. The social worker said this girl was not adjusting well to being in the group home and asked if we would take her.

We said yes. In truth, we were a little mad at the agency. Why would they automatically place this girl in a group home instead of calling us first? Later on we learned from other foster parents that agencies do this because “no one wants teenagers.”

On the Right Path
When we picked up our new 16-year-old, our 13-year-old told her not to worry. She assured her, “Mom and Dad will make sure you get everything you need. They will give you all the love you could want.”

At that moment, my husband and I knew that no matter how young or old a child is, all they want is someone to love, care, and believe in them.

A Different Kind of Parting
Eventually our 13-year-old went to live with family. On the day she left, we took her to her family’s house because we thought it would be easier for us to drop her off. We were able to meet her Aunt and Uncle and their family. It was great, but our hearts were still breaking.

We said good-bye and told her we loved her. Walking to the car, we heard her calling our names. She was running, crying, and yelling that she loved us and wanted to keep in touch.

When I turned around, her biological mother was right in front of me, crying just like me. She said, “Thank you for caring so much for my daughter.” We said her daughter was a blessing and that we would keep in touch. Later, she invited us to be her daughter’s god parents and to come to her first communion. We did, of course.

Graduation and Beyond
A few months after she turned 17, our remaining daughter told a judge she wanted to stay with her foster parents. That was a strong confirmation for us that we were doing the right thing in being foster parents.

At her high school graduation, our daughter told her birth family that if it were not for us she would not be graduating or be where she is now. That filled us with pride.

After graduation our daughter joined the National Guard and was accepted into college. This filled us with pride, too!

While at National Guard boot camp, our daughter called every Sunday night to say she was homesick and missed us. I would cry with her. One night I told her I was a little surprised she was homesick—I imagined that since she had been taken from one home, being away from us would not be that hard.

She replied, “Mom, you and Dad have shown me what a home is.”

What We’ve Learned
Through all this, my husband and I have learned that teenagers just need someone to love them unconditionally and be willing to give them a chance. We also learned that teenagers do not keep you at arm’s length—they will open their hearts to you if you open your heart to them.

Being a foster parent to a teenager is very difficult, but very rewarding. We would not trade our experiences for anything. We love each of our daughters and are still in touch with them.

We are in the process of adopting our 18-year-old daughter. We pray the adoption will be complete before her 19th birthday.

Our girls have been a blessing to us and our family. We would encourage more people to open their homes to teenagers because they need people to love, care for, and believe in them just like younger children.

Angie and her husband Floyd are foster parents in NC.

 

Copyright 2009 Jordan Institute for Families