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Teenagers in Foster Care

How and Why…

Those unfamiliar with ILYA (Independent Living for Young Adults) since its beginning may ask why we focus on youth ‘aging out’ of foster care. Here are some basic foster care facts to help answer that question. In a subsequent issue, we’ll talk about the special issues faced by young adults as they exit the foster care system — and what ILYA does to help.

The term ‘foster care’ often brings to mind an image of a baby, toddler, or a sad-looking school-age child. Not everyone is aware that teenagers, too, must sometimes enter foster care. In fact, approximately 40% of Delaware youth in foster care are ages 13-18. This percentage is consistent with national figures.

Older youth come into foster care for many of the same reasons that younger children do: abuse or neglect in their homes. When such concerns are reported to the child protection officials at the Division of Family Services (DFS) by teachers, school nurses or staff, neighbors, relatives, caring friends or the youths themselves, placement in a foster home is often the only option.

Some of these concerns include:

Children of all ages can be subjected to undue physical, emotional, and/or sexual abuse by their caregiver.
A caregiver may fail to protect their teenager from sexual abuse or exploitation, either because they do not believe the youth or because the caregiver is dependent on the alleged abuser.
Teens’ families can become serially homeless and there may be no safe place for a teen to live other than foster care.
The drug epidemic has robbed many children of their caregivers. When parents are addicted and dysfunctional, and there are no grandparents or other family members to step in, foster homes may be the only option.
Similarly, the incarceration of caregivers may leave offspring with no options other than foster care.
When an elderly grandparent or relative who has been the sole caregiver passes away, there may be no one else to offer care.
Sometimes, a child who enters foster care before the teenage years has suffered such significant trauma that 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 refuses to let the youth remain in the home. When resources to address the disrupting issues are unsuccessful, foster care is, again, the only option.
As always, thank you to the First Unitarian Church community for all your generous support, especially your response to our recent New Apartment Kits donation drive.