Becoming a foster parent to a teenager can be a challenging yet rewarding experience. By offering your heart and home to a teen in need of a family, you are in a position to provide some of the most valuable gifts anyone can offer -- the gifts of care, compassion and love. But due to the nature of their situations, foster children often have difficulty trusting others. This can be especially true for teenagers, who may have been in and out of the foster care system for most of their lives. Yet, in many ways, caring for a foster teen is no different than caring for your own child -- a foster teen needs to know you will be there for him no matter what.
Maintain a realistic attitude. Expect your foster teen to have inevitable difficulties adjusting to her new home and family. According to Joan Siegel, director of health services at the Good Shepherd Services youth agency in New York City, a foster teen's idea of family is usually shaped by dysfunction and influenced by what she has learned from her previous experiences. Foster teens may be suspicious or reluctant to open up, even if you have the best intentions.
Listen to your foster teen. Keep an open mind and be willing to hear what he has to say. Foster parents should be willing to talk to their foster teens about anything. Avoid providing unwanted advice. According to Youth Success NYC, a website dedicated to providing advice to teens in foster care, foster teens often just want to be heard.
Rely on your social worker or case manager. Your social worker or case manager is an expert in the foster care system who can provide you with advice and guidance when the going gets tough or when you just need to talk things through with a professional.
Work to establish a trusting relationship. Help your foster teen learn to trust you by being reliable and consistent. Keep your promises and stick by your words. If you promise to take your foster teen to a friend's house after school, don't change your plans at the last minute.
Include your foster teen as a part of your family. If you have other children, talk to them about your foster teen and ask them to interact with your foster teen as they would with a good friend or sibling. This does not come naturally to all children and may require encouragement, patience and persistence on your part, but it can ultimately help your foster teen develop a sense of value and belonging.
Discipline your foster teen as you would your own teen. Explain your house rules and what you expect of her. All teens need rules and will test the limits at times. Clearly outline the consequences for breaking the rules. Tell her you trust that she will respect your boundaries.
Join a foster parent support group, advises the New York City Administration for Children's Services. A support group can be especially helpful if this is your first experience in the foster care system. Even if you are a seasoned foster parent, you can benefit from hearing the experiences of others, obtaining advice and having a safe place to vent to people who know what you're going through.