Uninterested in fostering teenagers? Think again.

By Elisa Nguyen
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Teenagers in foster care often have an independent spirit that has given them a reputation of rebellion, causing many potential foster parents to rethink whether they are suited for the role.

One foster parent residing in Fort Frances (speaking on the condition of anonymity and who will be referred to as FP throughout the article) demonstrated that this isn’t always the case.

FP loves to foster teenagers for the exact reason that others may be reluctant.

“Teenagers are interesting critters. I think they’re in a league of their own. But I actually like them teenagers. I’ve run into a few and they think they’re so much smarter than you are. And I always tell them, ‘I invented this shit. You’re not going to teach me anything that I don’t already know.’ So I don’t know, I just like the teenagers. I like their feisty kind of sassy little ways.”

FP said that while she often gets the “talk back,” it doesn’t bother her because she was once “a bit of a sass” herself.

Her passion for providing a safe and supportive home for foster children began when she was asked to foster her two grandchildren, said FP. Children placed with relatives is called kinship care. During the year she took care of her grandchildren, FP was approached by the foster agency, which asked if she was interested in taking in other children.

“I wasn’t really sure, because I was really nervous. You never know what you’re gonna get when you end up getting foster kids, because you never know the situation that they’re coming out of.”

“After I had taken a couple of classes [for foster parents], and I talked to my husband and I just thought, ‘What the heck, we have none of our own kids at home and we have a big house and why not give it a try.’”

Not knowing the specifics of the foster child’s circumstance, the timing of when reunification will happen, and the potential emotional impact on everyone involved are all common concerns that foster parents consider before welcoming a foster child into their home.

There are unique challenges, FP said, recalling an experience when she was blamed by the primary caregiver for the circumstances the family was in. But FP said she can’t think about anything else she’d rather be doing.

To her, providing a safe home to foster children is the greatest reward.

“One lady said to me, you know, ‘You’re such a bitch for having my grandkids,’ and I just, I looked at her and I said, ‘I’m sorry.’ And I just said, ‘You know, it doesn’t have anything to do with me. I wasn’t the one who took them. And I just want to make sure the kids are safe.’”

“And then one grandparent worked at one of our local stores here. I had taken one of the girls to get her some snow pants because she didn’t have any. The grandmother saw the grandchild and she grabbed her and she hugged her, she grabbed me, she hugged me, and she thanked me so much for taking care of her grandkids. So you do get a mix.”

“But seriously, I don’t have anything to do with who I get in care. I mean, you have a choice—you can pick a boy or girl or brother and sister—whatever, that’s not up to me. I don’t care if they’re big, purple, orange or green either. So it doesn’t matter. I just look at keeping them safe.”

One of the benefits to fostering teenagers is their independence. “They get up and do their own thing,” FP said, adding that it makes it easier to maintain her regular work schedule.

Oftentimes, special discipline strategies are required to help them manage their emotions and behavior. Although FP’s priority is their health and happiness, that doesn’t mean there aren’t ground rules.

“And I say, ‘if you need anything, just ask.’ I don’t make them eat anything they don’t like. And you need to tell me if you’re not happy. Just tell me, ‘I don’t like the way that you said something to me.”

“I always say to them, ‘That isn’t the way things are done here. I don’t know how things were done at home, but because you’re in my house, it’s my rules.’ And yes, they see it takes some work, but most times they do come around to the way that I think that my household should be run.”

“My one rule is we need to have dinner together. We need to set up the table and we need to eat. So I’m not a super duper religious person, by any means. So it’s not anything to do with that. It’s just a matter of, ‘How was your day?’ ‘What happened in school?’”

“Most of the time you just get the shrug. ‘Oh, it’s fine.’ ‘Everything’s good.’ You know, stuff like that. But at least they’re talking.”

Throughout the entire process, the challenges of daily discipline and family visits, the hardest part is always letting go, FP said. “It’s hard because all of a sudden, you have always fallen, then the next thing you know, you don’t have anybody.”

“Even with the little bumps that you end up having, I know it’s just because they’re pissed off basically at the things that happen in their life. It’s always nice to see them come into their own.”

“They’re sassy little brats but I love them,” FP said with a chuckle.

For inquiries about how to become a foster parent, contact Michelle Tighe at michelle.tighe@krrcfs.ca or 807-274-1065 ext 5030.