Proactive Tips for Your Teen Placement
Are you considering fostering or adopting a teenager? Teens need loving and stable families, too! Take some time as a parent or couple to think about and discuss the information below. Teens, more than any other foster child, need parents who are prepared to meet their needs.
Teenagers are some of the most traumatized children in the foster care system. They have been in care for years, have had multiple placements, multiple losses, and subsequently show their grief in challenging ways. The children that we serve here on our campus are with us for a reason. Most of them have been unsuccessful in foster homes and need more intense treatment for their more intense treatment needs. The transition from group care to a foster or adoptive home can be very challenging for our girls. The environment we provide is structured, tailored to sensory needs, and our girls are surrounded by clinical staff. The environment is also full of other girls and lots of age-appropriate drama and excitement. Shifting to a family, particularly one with no other children, adds instant and intense intimacy to relationships with children who often do not have full ego strength. It is important to know up front that these placements are the hardest for families and also fail the most often. More than half of the children placed from our residential programs into foster or adoptive homes disrupt in the first six months.
Here are the top reasons cited for placement disruption: runaway behavior, major school issues, kids not attaching to parents and asking to leave, physical aggression, sexualized behavior, supervision issues, psychiatric hospitalizations, unsafe internet/sexting, drug use, not connecting with parents because kids are connecting more with their friends (which is age appropriate), children not meeting the expectations that parents have, and/or strain on marriage.
Here are the top reasons cited for placement success: parents with previous mental health experience, parents who were able to sustain 6 months of very challenging behaviors at the beginning of placement, financial security, parents who were relaxed about their physical space (not worried about mess and clutter), parents who genuinely re-arranged their lives to accommodate the needs of their teen girls (flexible schedules, able to take leave time from work, able to facilitate all of their child’s appointments and therapies), families with a stay at home parent, parents with a strong marriage, and/or families with a great support system near them.
If you are considering placement of a teen girl from one of the residential programs at The Settlement Home for Children, here are some guidelines to help in planning:
· The time period from a family expressing interest to actually having a teen placed can be lengthy. You home study is submitted to the child’s legal team first, and they all must agree before moving forward. Even if you are the only family interested in a child, a selection staffing will still be held to assess your appropriateness of fit to a child.
· We recommend foster to adopt placements for our teenagers over straight adopt placements. Our kids have had multiple failed placements in the past and possibly failed adoptions. Foster to adopt placements allow for more supervision from the agency with the benefit of longer support, if needed.
· If selected, we request that you read a teen’s entire case file. During that process, families will list out all previous behaviors seen by prior caregivers. Families will plan for how to manage those behaviors in their own home.
· Once a family understands a child’s trauma history and has planned for behavior interventions, the legal team for the child will share you as a potential family with the child. We may share your PowerPoint presentation, or we will ask you to make a physical photo album.
· The transition time for older children is longer than for little ones. Best practice is to have a teen visit your home 6-10 times over a period of time, including several visits lasting longer than the weekend.
Here are some additional tips in helping prepare for this big transition in your life:
· Assess your own needs before committing to a teen! As a parent, if you need to feel appreciated and validated, teens are most likely not the age group for you. Successful parents of teenagers from the foster care system have strong relationships in their personal lives. They are not reliant on parenting to fill gaps for them. They are resilient and are able to bounce back quickly when their teenager is disrespectful or discourteous. They work hard to not take things personally. They have an awareness that parenting a teen is less about re-creating all a teen missed out on as a child and more about helping them successfully transition to adulthood.
· Start planning for what it will look like for your teen to maintain a relationship with their biological family. Even if they are not supposed to have contact, kids find ways to connect to their relatives. How will this look in your home?
· Set a home schedule – Kids from a residential setting are used to eating, sleeping, and all of their activities on a schedule. Start this schedule before placement so that it is part of your routine. Use a chalkboard or dry erase board. Make sure that everyone knows that the schedule is subject to change, so that everyone can stay flexible.
· Pre-placement visits – as many as possible with at least one week-long visit (even if you have to drive them to school). Begin setting limits during pre-placement. Have a lot of down time in the home, which gets a teen used to not being constantly “entertained”. Start daily household expectations and chores on visits.
· Have a plan in place for afterschool care, summertime, and school holidays.
· Start family therapy by your second pre-placement visit. This must be with an outside therapist, and must include the child and parents.
· Start setting house rules, especially rules around technology like internet and cell phone, expectations for how much time they spend with you, expectations for hygiene/chores/cleanliness. Children should have input and should be part of the process of creating the rules.
· Establish a communication contract to plan for when there is conflict. List only things that both children and parents agree to, and parents and children can both sign it.
· Identify an individual or couple’s therapist for you to have on hand when things get stressful.
· Identify family friends and appropriate friends of your teen early in the process. It’s challenging for teens to have to spend weekends in a respite home, and much more normalizing to do overnights with safe people they know from school or through you. This allows for a much needed periodic break for both of you.
· Plan for an abundance of self-care for those first six months. They are challenging. Even when families consummate an adoption, many consider disruption at some point during the process. Please anticipate that you will absolutely have second thoughts, that this will be challenging, and that you will be unhappy at some point in this process. Alternatively, know that when placements pass the six month mark, when families use their supports and plan for unexpected turbulence, the result is stronger relationships that allow our teens to enter adulthood with a family to support them.
· When families adopt they are relieved to be through paperwork. We strongly recommend you register with the Centers for Children and Families (http://www.centerstx.org/) who hold the post-adoption services contract in our region. You will be assigned a caseworker who will check in every six months. The benefits are help with respite after adoption, service planning, referrals, counseling, therapeutic camps, parent trainings and support, 24 hour crisis support, and even help with residential placement services if the need ever arises.