Beyond the Files: Understanding the Lives of Foster Care Teens

The time is 3 o’clock on a Friday afternoon. The DCS placement specialist phone number pops
up on my caller ID. They ask if we would be willing to keep an emergency placement for the
weekend. The child is a 14 year old girl with a history of neglect, trafficked by her mom in
exchange for drug money. On paper the teen looks terrifying, depression, anxiety, PTSD, she
was in a physical altercation with her mom earlier in the year, she ran away weeks ago and was
picked up by DCS this morning. To be fair, if all of our mistakes and misbehaviors were listed on
a word document as well, we would probably look a little scary too.

I agree to host the teen for the weekend, so I go to make sure there is fresh bedding and the
bathroom is clean. I start the diffuser with a citrus scent which research has been shown that it helps ease anxiety and emotional distress. Walking into a stranger’s home is a very stressful and
awkward situation for teens, so I try to ease anxiety as much as I can. I prepare a welcome
basket with toiletries, tampons/pads (our teen girls always start their period after being at our
house), and a variety of snacks. Hot Cheetos and Takis are the most popular chip flavors with
our teens, so I buy those in bulk.

Dinner is about to be finished and my go-to meals for these nights are tacos or spaghetti. I have
learned to not take things personally with meals. Most of our kids, their nerves are so fried,
they don’t eat much at dinner. Come 10 o’clock, they are ready for a second dinner. Meals are
flexible at our house because I just want these kids to eat something.

We gather up dirty laundry and start it washing. We then rummage through our little home foster closet. We have collected suitcases, clothes in all sizes, PJs, shoes, and other basic items. If there is nothing available in the size we need, then it is off to Walmart we go.

The way to a teenager’s heart is through her stomach. For sure! I cannot tell you how many
times our girls have opened up while I am cooking dinner and they are sitting at the counter. Our kitchen counter has been the place of many heartbreaking and sweet conversations. Just
tonight our 14 year old emergency placement asked if I would take her on as a permanent
placement. It absolutely guts me to have an anxious teenager trying to sell her good qualities to
me in hopes that I will keep her beyond the emergency stay. “Our home is currently full, so I am
not sure what DCS will decide,” was my answer to her hopeful question. Teens can sniff out a lie
so I just tell what I know.

Our extended families thought we were absolutely crazy when we started taking teenagers and
I actually liked it. We are one of the few foster parents who prefer having teens to babies. I have
paid my dues with the diapers and formula stage. I love mentoring teen girls, using my nursing
degree to give accurate health and wellness information. Every teenage girl that comes through
our house gets the safe sex talk whether she wants it or not. I get eye rolls every time, but for
girls who already have the all the answers, they sure have a lot of questions for me related to
their bodies and health conditions. If they are on medications, I make sure they know why they
are taking their medications and how to get a refill before they leave our home. There are so
many quick nuggets of wisdom that we can share with the teens no matter how long their stay.

Teens have such a bad rap but truly, they are my favorite age group! Don’t be afraid to foster the
teens. Our state has so many teens that need to be placed and not enough homes that
will take teens. We have 2 girls that have aged out and we still hear from them from time to time.

Our next girl ages out in a few months and I am not ready! We have helped complete so many
tax forms, FAFSA forms, college applications, Hi-Set test study sessions, practiced interview
questions, helped create resumes, nursed broken hearts over failed relationships, and helped
mentor a new teen mom. The teens need an advocate, friend, and reliable person they can text
when they have a question or problem. Teens can be rough around the edges, but it is so sweet
when a teenager chooses for you to be their “mom”! Those first hugs, being introduced as mom
to their friends, and I love you mom are the best! The random notes of appreciation make me
cry single every time! We are “Gigi and Pop” to the cutest 6 month old, because we are too
young to be grandpa and grandma. Never in a million years did I see our life going in this
direction, but now I cannot imagine if it had been any other way.

~Author Rachel Mabry

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