It’s exhausting being a teen in foster care. That exhaustion increases during the first few weeks of school. It’s important for foster caregivers to understand this and provide the teens and tweens in their care with plenty of “space and grace” as they navigate all the stresses of back-to-school, according to Korah Loyd, who spent years in foster care herself.
Korah generously shares her experiences and hard-earned wisdom to help encourage kids in foster care to persevere, because their whole lives are ahead of them. She’s faced more in her life than any young person ever should, and channels those experiences to help youth advocate for change and themselves.
She shares the following guidance for foster caregivers of tweens and teens during the back-to-school season:
- Give tweens and teens “space and grace.” Going back to school is hard for nearly every child, and it is really hard for kids in foster care.
- Let youth be. Don’t feel like you have to label them or fit them into a mold. Just let them be who they are, how they are.
- Let tweens and teens make some decisions for themselves. For some, it will be the first time they have ever been allowed to make their own decisions about what to eat, when to eat, what to wear, when and where to do their homework, etc.
- Allow for identity development. This is a time when tweens and teens experiment with different ideas of who they are and how they want to interact with the world.
- Be calm.
- Be patient.
- Don’t be controlling or demanding, especially during the first few hours after school. It is very likely that the tween/teen you are caring for is exhausted.
- Encourage tweens and teens to enjoy their hobbies, like cooking or sports or art. If they don’t know what their hobbies are, offer to help them explore things that interest them.
- Really consider the impacts of taking away a tween or teen’s cell phone. Their phones are their links to life outside of foster care and losing it, even just for a few hours, is very stressful.
- Allow plenty of time for rest, and let tweens and teens rest in whatever ways are restful for them. This means sleeping, yes, and also it may mean a long walk, or time spent simply zoning out, or reading, or watching videos on social media, or maybe just time with the family pet. Tweens and teens often know what they need to do to recharge. Give them the space and time to do it.
Finally, it’s helpful for foster caregivers to remember that they are there to support young people to navigate through emotional pain, new social boundaries and awkwardness, educational challenges and fears, and the typical changes that happen in every young person physically and emotionally. Foster families have an important role helping tweens and teens in foster care as they mature and develop into the people they are and want to be, while also ensuring young people can heal through “space and grace.”
Korah Loyd is a foster care alum who now lives in Seattle and works in youth advocacy, case management, nonprofit program management, curriculum development and training, community program development and legislation and policy change. She has appeared previously in Reuters news. She is pictured above as a toddler.