3 Things youth in foster care want you to know before you start fostering
Last updated: May 25, 2022, at 12:10 p.m. PT
Originally published: May 19, 2022, at 5:36 a.m. PT
Washington’s foster care system served over 8,000 youth in 2020. Being removed from their home and placed into foster care can be traumatizing for children. Having a foster parent ready to welcome them into their home as a positive support system in a young person’s life during this difficult time can be a game changer. We caught up with two youth in Y Foster Care homes recently, and these are the things they want you to know if you become a foster parent.
1. Take time to get to know them
Becoming a foster parent isn’t about saving or changing a child’s life, instead it is about getting to know them and supporting them in being their best selves, and that takes time. Youth who enter foster care have dreams, hopes, and wishes for their lives, and finding out what those are will help a foster parent know how to support them.
Stella, 11, has been in multiple homes since entering care. Her dream is to be a businesswoman. She hasn't decided yet if her business will be in fashion or makeup, but she does know that she plans to go to Paris, the city she most wants to visit, for fashion week.
Stella describes herself as loyal, unique and a happy person. In addition to having her own business, Stella hopes to one day be a mom and participate in sports. Stella wants her foster parents to know that she is hard-working and hustles for what she wants. She is strong and not to be underestimated. Stella enjoys making deep connections with people, and when she doesn’t feel a deep connection it is hard. Stella is grateful to her foster parents that have helped her to be her best, even though she feels that sometimes it is hard to be her best. Her foster parents support her regardless.
Vaughn, who entered foster care at 2-years-old, and then re-entered at 8-years-old, describes himself as funny and loyal and says that “the world is not ready for my genius yet.”
Vaughn hopes to one day work at a zoo. He has a passion for animals and says he always has. Vaughn loves that animals will love you no matter what and he says he trusts them most. He has had a pet fish, bird, rat, cat, and a dog. When asked what he wishes his foster parents knew about him before he entered their care, Vaughn says he wished that they wouldn’t think they knew everything about him. There is much more to him than what is written in his foster care records. Vaughn hopes that future foster parents will treat their foster youth as their own and take the time to build a relationship with them.
2. Prepare to support them in school
An important way to support youth in foster care is to support them in school. Foster youth are three times more likely than their peers to be held back in a class. In 2020 the average graduation rate amongst foster youth fell to 55.3%. However, this falling rate is not due to the youth, but the system that surrounds them, trauma, and other various reasons, many far out of a youth’s control.
Youth in foster care have ambitions and goals just as Stella and Vaughn do. Vaughn has felt supported when his foster parents were involved with his school and checked in with his teachers. Vaughn believes that teachers know a young person best, based on the amount of time teachers spend with their students during the week. Having a supportive group of people around Vaughn helps him to work towards his dreams.
Foster youth need a strong support system to help them through a traumatizing experience and a core part of that support system is the foster parent. By having strong foster parents that invest in the youth in their care and supports their education and goals, we can work to raise the graduation rate for youth in foster.
3. Learn how to make your home welcoming and inclusive
Vaughn describes his first time entering the foster care system as scary. He didn’t understand what was going on and felt there were random people and stuff happening around him that made him feel “weird.” He describes each home he has been in as different from the last. The roles, concepts and how things are done change from home to home.
One way to reduce the shock of change is, as one of our YMCA foster parents shared, to make things consistent for youth between their home and their birth family’s homes. She believes that for youth to be successful they can’t just be successful in her home but need to be able to be successful everywhere. One way to do that is communicating as much as possible with the youth’s biological parents and/or past homes if possible. Vaughn agrees, and urges foster parents to be in communication with their birth families to stay engaged in their lives.
It is extremely important that youth feel safe and accepted in their homes. Families who take in youth need to be accepting of all youth, wherever they are in their journey. If youth enter a home where they aren’t accepted for who they are, being LGBTQIAA+ for example, it can add additional trauma, and this is why it is so important to be open to all youth who walk into your home when becoming a foster parent.
Becoming a foster parent can be magical in many ways, but before a youth enters your home, remember that Vaughn, Stella, and every youth have dreams, hopes and wishes that are not stated in their files. There is more to each of them, and they want you to take the time to get to know who they are.
Learn more about Fostering with the Y >>
WA foster care: data and reports – FPAWS
Education outcomes for foster youth are going in the wrong direction | Foster Success Indiana