22 Apr Some Honest Thoughts
Today my heart hurts. Today I am frustrated. I’m fielding calls from other agencies wondering if we might have any connections for the possible placement of a traumatized teenager. Meanwhile we are advocating for multiple teenagers in the same situation. Teens in facilities because there isn’t a foster home willing to take them. Teens whose behaviors are escalating the longer they feel rejected by everyone.
There is a great need for families willing to foster and adopt teenagers and for Court Appointed Special Advocates willing to volunteer with teenagers. It’s hard to make it sound like an appealing thing because the fact is it’s usually far from appealing.
What’s the convincing argument to get a foster home to accept a teenager? First off, they are a teenager – geesh! That’s a big ask right there. Add in they are traumatized and angry. They may punch a hole in the wall because they have no idea how to handle the anger they feel over the situation they find themselves in. Expect to get calls from the school because they don’t complete assignments and often get in fights. Are you sold yet? Your reward will be surly behavior and possibly being cussed out. Ready now? It’s rarely a warm and fuzzy situation but how do we expect that from children that have often faced prolonged abuse or neglect? From children who have experienced the trauma of being removed from their home? From children whose lives have been upended, often over and over, as they “disrupt” placements? From children that feel each placement change validates that no one wants them. From children whose brains aren’t developed enough to make reasoned decisions even though they may have the bodies of adults already? From children who live in a constant state of FIGHT, flight, or freeze? From children who face constant rejection?
Who is willing to adopt a teenager who wants nothing more than to be part of a “normal” family when the teen’s behavior constantly seems to be screaming the opposite? These kids have trauma and they have been let down a lot. Adoptive parents must prove to teens that they can’t push them away because these kids stopped trusting a long time ago. And consciously or unconsciously, children often push away those they want to pull closer because being the rejector is easier than being the rejected.
Who advocates for the teenager who has had 38 placements? Who advocates for the teenager that says, “*&%$ you! You can go now.”? Who advocates for someone who “acts out”, “disrupts”, and is “disrespectful”? Who gives up hours of their time each month to search for ways to improve the lives of a teenager in care? It’s a frustrating way to volunteer your time and can leave volunteers feeling like they are just spinning their wheels.
BUT IT’S NEEDED!!! Foster parents, adoptive parents, and volunteers are critical to changing the course of the lives of teenagers in foster care. Critical to helping teenagers in care heal, grow, and thrive. To stopping the foster care to prison pipeline for these teenagers. To stopping the foster care to homelessness pipeline for these teenagers. Investing in these CHILDREN is messy and difficult and frustrating and heartbreaking. And impactful. To the teenagers and to future generations.
A Facebook friend posted the other day, “When you teach your SON, you teach your son’s SON.” It made me feel all warm and fuzzy about the things we pass down through generations in our families. But looking at it in the context of teenagers in foster care takes on a whole new meaning. Because we (society, the community) are teaching those teens something, and it isn’t often something very nice.
Where does that leave us? Facing the reality that if we want to make a difference in the life of a teenager in foster care, if we truly want to Change a Child’s Story, it isn’t likely to look like a heartwarming scene from a movie. It will be messy and hard and heart wrenching and you may want to run away screaming at times. The impact you make will correlate to your ability to stick it out through all the bad parts.
Are you, brave soul, sold now?
To find out how to become a foster or adoptive parent in Arkansas, contact DCFS (https://dhs.arkansas.gov/dcfs/fcadoptinq/fca_inquiry.aspx) or Foster Love (https://fosterlovear.org/) or The CALL (https://thecallinarkansas.org/). To find out how to become a Court Appointed Special Advocate in Pulaski or Perry Counties, email [email protected]. For anywhere else in Arkansas, visit https://www.arkansascasa.net/.
Angie Jones is the Acting Executive Director for Pulaski County CASA. Angie has been involved with CASA programs for the past 8 years. She has a heart for teenagers in foster care and has worked in conjunction with Pulaski County CASA on training protocols for working with teenagers. Angie also volunteers with teenagers through her church.