The Impact of Foster Care on Teens

Although foster care can be a beneficial experience for children and their foster families, youth in foster care often have difficult beginnings. Everything in the foster care process, from being removed from their original home to aging out of the system, impacts the futures of these children.

When a child has experienced neglect, abuse, multiple placements, a lack of education, or any amount of loss, they have a greater risk for substance use disorder (SUD), mental health conditions, and other emotional, mental, and social problems. All children in foster care are in a vulnerable stage of their lives where they may feel powerless and lack confidence. Children’s brains require support, positivity, and stability to develop properly.

The Impact of Foster Care

As kids mature into teenagers, their surroundings play a vital role in their development. Their well-being is based on factors like medical care, education, and a safe and loving environment. Without those essentials, a child’s social functioning and behaviors may suffer, leading to issues in understanding and finding their way.

Unfortunately, an estimated 90% of children in foster care have experienced trauma at some point in their lives. Trauma alone can lead to immense, lifelong impacts, but there is rarely only one instance of trauma for children in the system. Removing a child from their home is not just confusing and sad but traumatic. From there, placement in a new and strange home can add to that trauma, especially when that home is unsafe or unstable. If the child is moved again, they are at further risk of negative outcomes.

Without stability, building trust in mentors, teachers, parental figures, and friends is confusing and difficult for teens. They find it difficult to figure out where they belong. Additionally, when teens in foster care are moved many times and don’t have long-term, steady adult influence, they often move into adulthood without preparation.

When a child ages out of the system without a permanent family structure, they are at a greater risk for homelessness, trouble with the law, mental health disorders, and SUD.

Teenagers and Foster Care

Foster care and teenagers do not always play well together. As foster children get older, the likelihood they will be adopted decreases; therefore, teens tend to have rapidly-shifting placements or age out of the system before achieving stability. This leads to problems in adulthood, many of which begin to show during adolescence.

When a teenager has endured trauma and confusion their entire life, not only are they going to struggle in the future, but their current state can also mean they are less likely to be placed in a stable home. Transitioning into adulthood is difficult enough for teenagers in the best of environments, but with so much working against them, these teens have more to worry about.

The foster care system also tends to focus on adoptions, which may not be the best option for teenagers. Transitioning into a new family, culture, and way of life becomes more difficult as a child gets older. They may have a harder time forming connections with adoptive families when they have memorable connections with others.

Adoption at this stage could lead to a major disruption in their social system. Yet, teens in foster care also frequently experience isolation, depression, and loss due to instability in their placements. What teenagers need more than adoption is stability, routine, and a sense of control. This can be found in long-term foster care which allows them to remain in contact with others with whom they have made prior connections.

Long-Term Care and Stability

Long-term placement also tends to be reduced for teens in the foster system, yet this is what can truly help adolescents more smoothly adjust to adulthood. Having a foster family who accepts a teenager for who they are, helps them with their struggles without judgment, and works with them to achieve their goals can make a world of difference.

Stability in a teen’s life can increase their chances of high school graduation, college education, stable housing, and even earning a stable income. When a teenager is adjusting to adulthood, having support from their foster family encourages them to take control of their lives and build their confidence.

Although being a foster parent to a teenager may not seem like your first choice, it can benefit your life as well as theirs. The bond you can create with a teenager may not be the same as it would be with a younger child, but it is just as important and impactful, if not more so. Foster care does not need to be a source of trauma for a teenager. It can be a safe space for them to feel comforted and confident as they move into their adult lives.

Foster care for teenagers can be unstable and worrisome, but it doesn’t have to be. Fostering a teenager can be a means of clarity, stability, and comfort. If you are fostering a teenager who is struggling to face their new circumstance or their past, Havenwood Academy has a place for them. We are a long-term, trauma-informed program that uses individual, group, and family therapy, among other treatment methods to ensure the teen girls in our care grow into mature and stable adults. We want your family to flourish. Let us work with you so that you and your teenager can come together through healing. We treat attachment disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, SUD, and more. We will work with you and your teenager every step of the way to find the right path for the family. Call us at (435) 586-2500.


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