Written by Washington Foster Team
As a foster parent, it’s all too easy to think about your role as something temporary — providing support for a child until their biological parents are able to care for them.
But the reality is, the love you share with that child has a legacy that can change their lives forever. That legacy is especially true when it comes to foster care as it relates to teen homelessness.
A recent study by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago has found that trauma and instability at a young age is one of the many reasons why teen homelessness occurs. Unfortunately, these are common occurrences for many children in foster care who don’t have a consistent foster family to support them.
The study indicates that 44% of homeless teens identify themselves as having come from foster care. The good news is, you can help change those statistics. You can help to prevent youth homelessness through stability, unconditional support, and understanding.
Provide Stability And Unconditional Support
When Chapin Hall researchers asked teens how they ended up without a place to live, nearly half said entering into foster care marked the beginning of their journey into homelessness.
Imagine being a child who has lost their parents, their home, their school, their friends, their daily routine.
Now think about how much easier it would be if you were welcomed into a loving home versus a crowded group home or a family who didn’t have the patience, empathy, and love it takes to foster a steady relationship.
Through unconditional support and love, foster families provide a sense of continuity in a child’s life when everything else can seem like it’s unraveling.
Put Yourself In Their Shoes
“In fact, 51% identified their own preferences for being self-reliant, not “being a burden,” preferring to self isolate, or having “too much pride” as playing a role in how pathways unfolded.” — Missed Opportunities in Youth Pathways Through Homelessness
The majority of children in foster care end up there, not from abuse, but from neglect.
To be a successful foster parent, it’s important to understand it’s likely your child is used to fending for themselves and being left alone. Those “behavioral issues” are more than likely a wall the child has put up to protect themselves from the heartbreak they have become so used to feeling.
As you think of ways to make your house feel like their home, put yourself in their shoes. Think about this: If you were an outsider, what would make you feel more welcome as a part of the family?
Studies have made it clear that reunification offers the best outcomes for both children and their biological parents. When children are reunited with their parents, it gives families the second chance they need to create a loving and lasting life together.
Foster parents who welcome connections with biological parents and support reunification combat teen homelessness by keeping families together.
Get Help When You Need It
There are many things that you can do to support reunification and improve outcomes for your foster child. Yet, sometimes you’ll feel as though you may not have all the answers. Luckily, as a foster parent, you don’t have to do it alone.
Work with your agency and support systems to get answers to your questions, coordinate respite care when needed, and learn more about advocating for your child and their futures.
Find out what support systems are available in Washington State and learn about the process of becoming a foster parent by downloading our free resource: The Essential Guide To Becoming A Foster Parent In Washington State.