When I was 13 years old and in my third foster home, my foster mom lined me and a couple of my other foster sisters up in the kitchen and proceeded to lecture us on how “no one wants older kids.” A few years later, I ended up getting adopted. But, only one short year after being adopted, the family who adopted me decided it wasn’t working out, leaving me to be back on my own. Those words I heard at 13 years old began to ring in the back of my head once again — “no one wants older kids.” Unfortunately, this seems to be a reality in our country.
Statistically speaking, older children, ages 11 through 20, make up slightly less than half of the youth who are in foster care in the United States. According to the Kids Count Data Center, in 2019 alone, 22% of youth in foster care were between the ages of 11 and 15, and 14% of youth were between the ages of 16 and 20. However, according to Action News Now, families are becoming less willing to open their homes to teenagers in foster care.
Many do not realize that both a five-year-old child and a 15-year-old child can share an equal amount of years experiencing trauma. Caregivers for kids in foster care don’t know everything about what a child has experienced. It’s not about how easy it will be for the caregiver. It’s about how easy a caregiver can make it for the child. New and existing foster parents forget to consider prioritizing the child in the situation when they hesitate taking a child in based on their age.
Since nearly half of the youth in foster care are older and foster parents are reportedly becoming less likely to accept older kids into their homes, this inevitably makes the issue of having enough foster homes for the kids who are in the system far more monumental and dire. Nearly half of the foster youth in our country alone are struggling to find housing stability simply because of their age. To bring aid to this immense crisis, it’s important to consistently provide in-depth training to potential and current foster/adoptive parents on what can be expected from each age group, placing a greater emphasis on the positive aspects. Most people believe that younger kids are easier to help. But the age of the child doesn’t dictate the simplicity of their transition into a new home and family. It’s the intentions and perseverance towards what’s best for the child in their care that make the biggest difference.
There are plenty of ways that fostering an older child can be just as rewarding as fostering a younger child. Older foster children need the same gentleness and understanding, need similar parenting, and can be taught life skills that are beneficial to their development. There’s also a chance that foster/adoptive parents and caregivers could bond over more things with them since they’re older, too.
Older kids are not defined by their age, so their age shouldn’t be a factor in deciding whether or not to care for them. The Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) needs to begin educating all caregivers on older foster children and their needs, so that there is not this unanswered fear that dictates which children actually receive the help they need. The DCFS can bring in more seasoned foster parents to share their experiences and provide more services to help foster and adoptive parents feel better prepared for potential situations. Unless changes are made, the system will only continue to fail those who are involved in it.