Imagine being rudderless on a rough sea. Imagine rock climbing with no safety harness. Imagine boxing with no gloves. Imagine scuba diving with an empty tank. Imagine a house without a foundation. Now, imagine being a teenager...with no family.
Parents are the rudder, the safety harness, the gloves, the air, the foundation of our transition from childhood to adulthood. Sadly, there are dozens of teens in San Luis Obispo County stuck in the foster care system. These kids have battle scars. They’ve switched schools, towns, houses, and lost friends, family and all sense of familiarity along the way. Some experience stress reactions, learning difficulties, mental illness, or behavior issues because it is so hard to heal or grow without parents in your corner to guide you, support you, or catch you when you fall.
For those of us fortunate enough to have good (or even just good enough) parents, we experienced them showing up for us when it mattered most. They tucked us into bed when we were sick, they lectured us to clean our bedrooms, and they showed up to sports and school meetings. They also posted our art on their fridge; bought us pizza on Friday nights; grounded us when we screwed up; hugged us when we cried; and calmed us when we were scared. When teens don’t have these everyday connections with parents to build their sense of self-worth and manage their fears in this crazy world, facing adulthood becomes that much more difficult.
Teens in foster care have the same milestones as every other teen. They’re anxious to graduate high school and wonder when or if they’ll get their driver’s licenses. But they also face bigger challenges that their non-foster teens don’t. They worry about where they’re going to spend the holidays or how they’ll keep a roof over their head when they leave foster care. Often our teens resign themselves to leaving their foster homes for the loneliness of a housing program, the temporariness of a friend’s couch, or the sketchiness of a rented room in a stranger’s house. Even if they are housed, their need for parents doesn’t suddenly disappear when they turn 18.
San Luis Obispo County is good at connecting our foster youth to necessary mental health therapy--many of our teens have been in therapy for years. As a clinician working with teens in foster care, I know the greatest healing force is not a dazzling new therapy technique; it’s a committed parent. My best work doesn’t involve helping a teen develop a trauma narrative or a deep breathing practice--it’s done when I am helping a teen develop an enduring connection to a caring parent. Long term foster care isn’t enough. We need loving people to claim these almost-adults through the permanency of guardianship or adoption.
So imagine you are the one who shows up to his soccer game, throws him a graduation party, teaches him how to drive, sweats with him through family therapy, holds his new baby, celebrates his first real job, welcomes him home after a bad breakup, or calls him out of the blue to tell him that you love him. Parenting one of our teens is a legacy more lasting than anything I can do as a therapist. A teenager needs the rudder, the safety harness, the gloves, the air, and the foundation of a parent now and for the rest of his life. Imagine he has a parent, and it’s you.
If you're interested or have questions about adopting or becoming a foster parent for a teenager in need, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.