The Realities of Fostering a Teen
No matter the age, every child deserves a family. All 14,000 children in Georgia’s foster care system deserve a safe, nurturing place to call home. Yet, perhaps more than any other age group, teens ache for stability and acceptance. The teenage years are a time of changes, peer pressure and confusing feelings. Teenagers are often experiencing the first taste and test of independence and responsibility. They need to feel safe in order to emotionally lean on parents or adults for stability—even if they don’t realize it. In short, everybody needs somebody… even teenagers. Especially teenagers. After 30+ years connecting children to families, we understand it can be intimidating to think about fostering older youth. We also understand the unique magic that happens when a family says “yes” to fostering a teen. Taking this leap doesn’t come without challenges, but the results are deeply tangible and wholeheartedly rewarding for those who welcome teens into their home.
“We foster to serve kids. It’s part of our passion and life purpose. So, why limit to a certain age range?” – Jennifer WarawaShane and Jennifer Warawa have fostered through UMCH since 2014, and they’ve grown to realize the huge need for foster parents to care for teenagers. They’ve experienced this unique magic. In June 2018, the Warawas welcomed 13-year-old Andy* into their home in Duluth, Georgia. Andy came from a family with much older biological siblings and absent parents, and he was experiencing neglect and lack of structure. “Andy had love in his house before, but there wasn’t a lot of support,” Shane said. Although Andy carried a well-mannered and calm demeanor, he was indifferent about grades and personal hygiene. His only apparent desire was to play video games, but for good reason—video games were this 13 year-old’s escape from worrying about paying rent or buying groceries. Because of Andy, Jennifer and Shane suddenly had the huge opportunity to become mentors and encouragers. Fostering younger children revolves around potty training, feeding schedules and nap times. But, fostering an older child can help a young adult develop personally and learn the life skills which circumstance has caused them to miss. Fostering an older child is a chance to instill better decision making that can ultimately redirect the course of his or her life. “You can’t change a teenager,” Shane said. “But you can help them adjust and make better decisions on their own.” In his first months with Shane and Jennifer, Andy easily fell into the routine activities of their lives. He began to attend church with them. He met their adult friends and now interacts with them frequently. Andy and Shane have a similar interest in movies and watch many together. Andy owns responsibilities around the house, like walking the dog or taking out the trash. (The Warawas set up a system to financially reward Andy for completing chores each week, which consistently motivates him to complete the tasks.) Shane and Jennifer brought Andy into their lives and gave structure to a teen who was silently (and probably unknowingly) longing for it. Previously, Andy’s grades and attendance caused him to fail seventh grade. Now, with a tutor and guidance from his foster parents, Andy recently scored a 95 on a math test—his most challenging subject. Originally, he felt unprepared for the test as it approached, but he willingly skipped sports practice (a favorite weekly activity) to attend a tutoring session. This simple but important decision led to Andy securing the 95. Because he’s developed the mindset and discipline to apply himself to reach a goal that he sets, he’s well on his way to making an A in the class. “Andy is discovering new things that he didn’t know he is capable of,” Jennifer said. “Before, if he didn’t know how to do something, he would just give up. Now, he takes the steps to ask for help when he needs it.” Although Andy’s growth didn’t happen overnight, he’s come a long way since he first met the Warawas. “He needed time to see the possibilities. When he starts to see what’s possible, then he’ll start to wonder what other great things he can accomplish,” Jennifer said. Teenagers long for an adult to care for them. To rationalize with them. To listen to them. To be proud of them. To connect with them—not out of obligation but out of choice. When you foster a young adult, you are in the position to inspire life change during a most critical stage of life. And you also see the rewards of your efforts by watching these teens excel with a newfound purpose, cultivated by your care and attention. “It’s not meant to be easy,” the Warawas said. “But every time we see Andy make a positive decision on his own, it’s rewarding.” Are you inspired by the Warawas’ story and feel called to welcome a teen into your home? Visit FosterNow.org to begin your foster journey. *Name changed to ensure privacy