Loving Foster Youth Even When You Can’t Be a Foster Parent

A friend of mine named Stasia is 29 and has just been married for a year and a half, but I heard her express recently that she considers herself to be the parent of a 21-year old.  I couldn’t help wanting to hear more, and Stasia explained that seven years ago, she’d moved back home to Cedar Rapids, Iowa to start a ministry. She was young and single, without enough income to top the poverty line, but decided to open her life to a hurting girl in the foster system who had no other steady adult presence in her life.  The consequences of that choice years ago—a choice that Stasia proved any caring person can make—continue to echo for both of them.  I asked Stasia if she’d be willing to share a bit more about it, and here’s what she wrote:

I couldn’t be Taneesha’s* foster parent in the traditional sense, because I was making less than $12,000 a year, did not have a home of my own, was single, and was living with my parents. But I was able to be her mentor.  We went grocery shopping together, to church together, discussed the challenges of adolescents, and worked out at the gym.  Both she and I considered myself to be her foster parent.

During the three years that I mentored Taneesha she went through several foster home changes, moved in and out of youth shelters, and even changed case workers. I became the only consistent adult in her life and as a result, I was able to recognize and help her change behavior patterns that were contributing to her prompt dismissal from various homes.  But our mentoring relationship was about more than that. It was a place where she was able to experience a healthy unconditional consistent love that gave her a place of stability in a world that was whirling in chaos.

Taneesha also taught me a lot.  Every Sunday we would attend church together. About once a month we would visit a different African-American church in the community.  I learned that not all African-American churches are the same and I learned how to worship God in new ways.  She also taught me how to reach out to members of my church who were less fortunate and gave me tips on how best to be their friend.  Through our relationship, I also learned more about my family and how family of origin impacts how we see the world.

I’ve often heard people say that they cannot be foster parents because they do not have the resources, the life experience, or the time to do so.  I could have easily said that I was too young, too busy, too single, and too poor, but what I discovered was that these traits that I saw as weaknesses were actually strengths.  My youth enabled me to connect with her and to hear her in a way that other adults, who had broken her trust, could not.  Because of my busyness, I invited Taneesha to join me in my everyday chores and so I unintentionally showed her how to live and take care of oneself on a budget.  My being single made it so that I was free to decide to include her in my life rather than having to make that decision with my partner.  And my sense of poverty guided me so that I didn’t have wealth to unintentionally flaunt and she knew that I wouldn’t be able to afford to buy her a new coat, so she wouldn’t ask.  In fact, at one point she saved her money so that she could buy me a new coat!

I’m not trying to say that wealth, marriage, time, and age are negative assets for being a foster parent/mentor, indeed they are not.  But, rather what I’m saying is that we need to broaden our view of what it means to be a foster parent and recognize that some people we would never even consider to be foster parents in the traditional sense may be great foster parents in the non-traditional sense.

Taneesha and I recently met and she offered to give me a ride in her new car.  We discussed dating and all of the things that matter to a young 21 year old woman.  She shared how she would like to be involved in a younger woman’s life the same way I’ve been involved with hers.  She inspired me to once again think about mentoring a young person who is in the foster care system and I hope that she has inspired you!

*Name changed.