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Introduction: Leaving Foster Care Behind
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All human beings form a powerful attachment to the first person who takes care of them. For most people, that’s their mother. No matter how unpredictable or violent or emotionally unavailable the primary caregiver is, children try to make that relationship work. Their survival depends on it.

This attachment lasts as we grow up, and foster youth often return to birth parents who hurt them. Many also seek out love relationships with people who hurt or neglect or let them down in familiar ways. Research shows that if a young child grows up in an atmosphere where terror and unmet needs are the norm, he or she is more likely to seek relief from stress or trauma with eating disorders, cutting, dissociation (mentally checking out), fighting, and other harmful behaviors.

But none of that is inevitable. This issue includes stories of writers who have found ways to recover from early abuse or neglect by a parent. Some of them now steer clear of parents who hurt them; others try to set boundaries and preserve a relationship that doesn’t re-traumatize them; and others form healthy relationships with foster moms and other caring adults. Everyone who heals and grows up to be strong and whole and capable of healthy connections tends to have one thing in common: another person who shows them that it’s safe to trust.

A safe and nurturing relationship with a foster parent, a therapist, a mentor, a boyfriend or girlfriend can be transformative. If traumatized youth can learn “my abusive mom/predatory stepdad/drug-addicted grandmother is not like everyone else” and experience ongoing support, encouragement, and love, he or she can break the cycle of abuse—and will be more likely to raise children who don’t get put in foster care themselves.

image by YC-Art Dept

In this issue, we interview a therapist who says that talking through disagreements and difficult feelings is one important way an abused person learns that people can disagree without violence or the end of the relationship. That new attachment to a safer person helps a person regulate her feelings, explore new things with more courage, and form better relationships with new people. Therapy is a good place to do this, but it’s not the only way.

No matter how you get there, it is important to experience a healthy relationship before you have your own children. Many youth in care want to be parents, which makes perfect sense. They want someone to love them. They want to do a better job than their parents did. They want a family that doesn’t break apart.

But foster youth who become parents face long odds of getting the family they’ve dreamed of. Foster youth tend to have babies earlier, and babies born to teen mothers are likelier to have poor health, go to prison, and be teen mothers themselves. And nearly one out of three babies (29%) born to mothers in foster care in New York City from 2006 to 2012 went into care themselves.

There are many reasons for this sad cycle of foster care. Some are logistical: Children’s Protective Services (CPS) staff are already there in the young parent’s life, noting any parenting slip-up. A foster youth was probably traumatized as a child, and being a parent can place stress right on those hurt places. Even older parents from stable families say they feel unprepared for the reality of a tiny, crying, incomprehensible being who is completely dependent on you. It’s certainly tougher if you’re young, don’t have a support system, and didn’t get good parenting yourself.

But it’s not all gloom and doom for foster youth who want to start a family. The issue also includes several stories from Rise, a magazine written by parents who’ve had cases opened on them by CPS, and in some cases had their children removed. The writers of these stories grew up in care themselves and they have worked hard to heal so they can improve as parents. We hope their stories show our readers in care that parents can mess up even if they love their children very much. And they can get better. The important thing for young parents is to reach out, get help, and keep trying. If we learn to let the right people in, we can find the safety and trust we need to love ourselves and others.

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(FCYU-2015-07-04)

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