Written by Jaymi Matranga
On the morning of April 29, 2020, we met a 14-year-old girl via FaceTime. She was standing against a tree with a black hoodie over her face, and a social worker in the background encouraging her to be respectful. We introduced ourselves and asked how she felt about moving a couple of hours away to be placed with us. She said, “F*** it, why not. Go with the flow.” This teen girl wasn’t exactly sober, and we weren’t exactly confident that we were making the right decision…. but we said yes, and so did she. That night, she arrived at our doorstep. We all took a leap of faith into the unknown.
Fast forward almost a year, and through the good and the bad, we are now family. We love our daughter and couldn’t imagine life without her. Recently we took a small road trip so that she could see her biological grandparents and so that they could meet her 6-month-old son. She said that she wanted to make a quick stop – to show us the tree that she was standing at, where we met over FaceTime almost a year ago.
We stood there together, smiling, and full of so much love, gratitude, and hope. And, as chance would have it, shortly after this trip we met another 15-year-old girl over FaceTime who came to live with us a few days later.
As we have welcomed teens in foster care into our home, we have implemented a few easy things that can help make a teenager feel welcome:
- Try to refrain from asking a million questions right away – and don’t put them in a position where they feel like they have to ask you many!
- A great way to do this is by creating a basket of essentials that they will need to get them through the first night! Even if you already have these in your bathroom or other places in the house, it eliminates the need for them to ask you where everything is on their first day.
- Have LOTS of snacks!!
- Allow them to decorate their room and make it their own.
- Give them a way to play music! We put an Echo Dot in her room. Music is a great way to bond and is so important to the majority of teenagers.
- Try to get clothing sizes beforehand, if at all possible. Some kids come with nothing, and it’s helpful to have an outfit or two ready to go, to buy time until you can get to the store together.
- Allow the kids & teens to call you whatever they are most comfortable with – and ask them how they would like to be referred to and introduced to others in public. Some kids don’t want to be labeled as “foster kids” in public, and others may prefer it!
- Allow them alone time so they can slowly adjust to the move. Some kids aren’t ready to bond or open up the minute they arrive… give them time to gather their thoughts before pressing them to join in on “family time”.
- You can write in a cute notebook with warm, gentle, and welcoming language the names/ages of other people and pets in the house, as well as any other basic notes, so that they can revisit it if they forget or are nervous to ask you to tell them again.
I hope this helps you prepare your home for the amazing teens who are in need of a safe family!