Fostering Teens Naturally
By Intisar Seraaj-Sabree
Although stigmatized in society, parenting teens in foster care comes naturally to Cherira Washington.
Raised by a non-biological mother, although she was not in foster care, Washington comes from a family with several members who are foster parents. Now Washington herself is a foster parent with Seraaj Family Homes, Inc. (SFH) in Towson, Maryland.
Although Washington has only fostered with SFH for a year, she has been a foster parent for 10 years and has fostered seven adolescents. Before SFH, Washington fostered through a sibling group foster care agency, through which she fostered a group of siblings for seven years.
During her decade of fostering, Washington found she prefers to foster African American female teens.
“I just want to see young African American females do better in life,” said Washington, as an African American woman herself. “I’ve always related to young females and I’ve always gotten along with them, although I’m older.”
Originally, she wanted a foster son who would grow up alongside her 19-year-old biological son as a friend and a brother. When her previous foster care agency asked her to try fostering an adolescent girl instead, Washington obliged.
After this experience, fostering adolescent girls became a pattern for Washington. She realized that having a foster child who was the opposite sex was an advantage. Her son would not feel like another child was taking his place in the family, and Washington’s foster daughter would not have to fight for a place in the family dynamic.
Then Washington gave birth to her four-year-old daughter, and she began to prefer fostering older girls for the same reason; none of her daughters would have to fight for a place in the family if they were spaced-out in age.
Although Washington does it with ease, parenting teens in foster care is negatively branded, possibly due to the years of trauma they’ve experienced in addition to the stereotypical teen angst. However, Washington allows her foster children to show her who they are instead of labeling them as soon as they enter her home.
“I always tell them, ‘Whatever happened before you got here, I don’t form opinions [about].’” said Washington. “I’m only going to go on what you show me.”
In order to have a successful experience fostering a teen, Washington also advises foster parents to do the following:
- Decide what’s best for you and your household; know what behaviors you will tolerate.
- Create a structured environment by telling them your expectations and by listening to their expectations.
- Do things together so they don’t feel isolated or like they’re being punished.
- Be well-informed and openly communicate.
“The worst thing is that something could happen that you didn’t know about [or] that you could’ve stopped from happening,” said Washington.
On the other hand, Washington also advises foster children entering a new home to cooperate.
- Don’t compare your new foster parent(s) with previous foster parents or to your biological parents.
- Be open to different experiences because this home will be different.
- Learn the rules and follow them.
However, Washington knows that fostering teens isn’t for everyone, and advises people to be honest with themselves about what they can handle.
“I feel like I’m doing someone a disservice if I can’t [be honest about what I can endure],” said Washington.
Washington is no stranger to admitting when she’s overwhelmed with a youth’s behavior. Thus with honesty, open communication, and structure as the key ingredients, Washington has had successful experiences while fostering teens.