Foster Youth – Are We Listening to Them?

Being a foster parent is an amazing experience.

Being a foster kid – not so much.

Even in the best of circumstances – oh wait, there are no “best of circumstances” in foster care.

Kids come into care because their circumstances aren’t best. Their families need help, and sadly, help involves the children not living with their parents for a time.

This is trauma and loss in its rawest form.

Attempts are made to place children with family members or fictive kin (a person already in the child’s life such as a teacher, godparent, pastor), but when that fails, children are placed with a foster family.

Can you imagine walking into a stranger’s home, even the kindest stranger, and being expected to live there?

I can. I did.

Zoe can.

The night she came to our home she hardly knew me and had never met my family. I picked her up from a high school choir event and she’s been with us ever since. Our blessing, to be sure.

She had no choice in the moment of decision.

This is one of the most difficult things for foster youth – the lack of voice and influence.

Foster care is a whirlwind of appointments and people, and decisions made sometimes with the youth’s input, sometimes without.

What might it feel like?

When I was a foster youth, many decisions were made completely by adults without input from me, including life-changing decisions about the placement of my son.

Today we have the Foster Youth Bill of Rights which foster parents and youth sign together. When I read it, I passionately wished it had been in place many years ago when I was a foster youth. Properly observed, my experience would have been much different.

Which brings me back to foster youth today. We foster parents may be high-fiving each other over how great our kids are doing.

But how do the kids feel?

Do they have voice? Especially our older youth – are they being heard?

How many appointments should we expect them to manage in a week? How many classes should they miss at school due to foster care requirements?

I’m not saying case workers/therapists/all-other-professionals-involved-in-the-case aren’t doing their best.

When multiple family members with transportation needs are involved in appointments, plus professionals, plus kids, it becomes a logistical miracle to get everyone in one place at the same time.

Very big decisions happen in the lives of foster youth; what they think is tremendously important.

We could be the best foster parents in the world – but this is a very hard, often gut-wrenching experience for our foster youth.

We can probably all stand to work a little harder to wrap our minds around the loss of power and voice, the loss of home and family, even the loss of school and friends.

I know I can.

*Zoe is the name our foster daughter chose to use on my blog – it is not her real name.


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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.


  1. Rebecca
    May 11, 2017

    I couldn’t agree more, Lisa!

    1. Lisa Qualls
      May 11, 2017

      Thanks, Rebecca.

  2. Heather
    May 12, 2017

    Could not have written more concisely. This is what is hard to explain to non-foster parents, and sometimes, to foster parents. Thank you for taking the time to put it in words.

    1. Lisa Qualls
      May 12, 2017

      Thank you for taking time to comment, Heather.


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