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When foster care is mentioned, what often comes to mind for many is an image of an innocent baby or toddler, or a sad-looking school-age child. Yet fewer people are aware that teens account for a significant number of those who enter foster care every year. On average, approximately 40% of children and youth in foster care in Delaware are ages 13-18. This percentage is consistent with national figures.

Older youth come into foster care for many of the same reasons that the younger children do – abuse, neglect and/or dependency in their homes. Such concerns or suspicions can be reported to the child protection officials at the State’s Division of Family Services by teachers, school nurses, coaches, neighbors, relatives, peers, caring friends or the youth themselves.

Some of the reasons include:

Just like younger children, teens can be subjected to undue physical, emotional, and/or sexual abuse by a caregiver or a caregiver may fail to protect their teenage child from sexual abuse or exploitation.
Teens’ families can become serially homeless and when the situation continues after numerous motel vouchers have expired, there may be no other safe place for a teen to reside other than foster care.
The drug epidemic has robbed many children of their caregivers. When parents’ addictions prevent them from being responsible parents and there are no grandparents or other family members to step in, foster homes may be the only option.
Similarly, the incarceration of sole caregivers may lead to foster care for their child/ren.
When an elderly grandparent or relative who has been the sole caregiver for a teen passes away, there may be no one else to offer care.
A child has suffered such significant trauma before teenage years that the lingering mental health issues prevent them from being adopted and they are still in foster care after they turn 13.
There are times when the parent/teen conflict becomes so severe that the parent/s refuses to let the youth remain in the home. While resources can be provided to address the disrupting issues, occasionally the rift can be irreparable.
More recently, with youth being more open about their sexual identity, some teens who see themselves as gay, lesbian, or transsexual enter foster care after being rejected by their birth families.

Many teens who are or have been in foster care are very embarrassed and ashamed by their circumstances, even though they are not at fault. This is one reason why we need to be very careful to consider confidentiality and to understand the youths’ hesitancy in talking about their background when we interact with youth in our ILYA programs.