Every parent knows the challenges of raising a child change as the young person develops into a teenager. While the specific areas of concern may change, each youngster still needs lots of hands-on attention. And a teen, especially one who has been in the foster system, may need a different level of attention entirely – and sometimes even new types of guidance.
Families are Desperately Needed to Foster Teens
There are 800 older foster youth in Michigan who “age out” every year, which means they turn age 18 and leave the child welfare system without achieving permanency with a family. In June of 2018 in Spaulding’s service center, (comprised of four counties) there were 80 youth between the ages of 10-17 that were in need of foster care placement.
Unique Challenges of Parenting a Foster Teen
Parenting a teen from the foster system comes with its challenges. Many teenagers have experienced traumatic events. They know little of continuity and likely have experienced rejection and isolation. Many have complex emotional needs.
Families that respond to the need for teen fostering initially may lack the confidence or skill set necessary to create a nurturing environment for them. Family members often step in when needed, regardless of their level of preparation. Others may be completely unprepared, but take a teen in, only to later regret that decision. In the process, they may create more rejection and disruption in the teen’s life.
To support all families and caregivers who are fostering teen-age children, Spaulding is partnering with four nationally recognized agencies to create the CORE Teen program. These agencies are the ChildTrauma Academy, the Center for Adoption Support and Education, the North American Council on Adoptable Children and the University of Washington.
Spaulding for Children, in partnership with the ChildTrauma Academy; the Center for Adoption Support and Education; the North American Council on Adoptable Children; and the University of Washington was awarded a 3 year Foster/Adoptive Parent Preparation, Training and Development Initiative cooperative agreement with the Children’s Bureau, Administration on Children, Youth and Families. The project will develop a state-of-the-art training program, equipping resource parents with skills necessary to meet the needs of older youth who have moderate to serious emotional and behavior health challenges.
Spaulding’s CORE Teen Program
After reaching out to families, youth and content experts, partners of the CORE Teen Program identified the parental characteristics and skills that best serve foster teens. Spaulding then worked to create a course of study to build awareness among foster parents and others of these specific characteristics and competencies.
The curriculum includes a Family Self-Assessment, 14 hours of classroom instruction, and “Right Time,” an online instruction guide that serves as a ready reference in real time situations. The curriculum is presently being tested at four different locations across the country.
Feedback from those being trained indicate that they find it extremely helpful.
“Loved how we learned how to thread the self-assessment information into conversations with families.”
“The process is amazing from start to finish. The trauma information is user friendly.”
“The self-assessment is spot-on with providing feedback and resources.”
“But, I know how to raise kids.”
While parents know and have seen a great amount of what can’t be taught in a classroom, parents of teens in foster care may want to “relearn” certain parenting behaviors. Some of the new principles may even feel counterintuitive, but teens in foster care often have different needs.
For example, the use of “grounding” as a punishment is very common for teens who’ve made a mistake in judgment or behavior. However, when a foster teen is grounded, it underscores isolation and may be counter-productive for changing behavior. Instead, parents may want to consider alternative activities they can do together with their teenager.
Another might be the use of “time-out.” Many teens who have been in foster care feel as if they have long been isolated from others. And while they may need a break from the offending activity, a better choice might be replacing that with “time-in” as a family. That way, a child learns that they are still part of the family, even when they have made a mistake.
Spaulding has found in developing CORE Teen that parents raising foster teens need additional parenting strategies. The new program helps parents put these new concepts into action, as well as provide resources for when the unexpected happens.
“We like to think of it as a tool box and we are adding new tools for a different job,” said Sue A. Cohick, CORE Project Director, Spaulding for Children. “Parents may need to adjust their expectations, or not place (their expectations) on the teen. The best thing you can do for them is to create an environment of support and acceptance. Your home can provide a level of stability these kids may not have known before. And that allows them to grow and develop.”