The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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5 Things Foster Parents Should Do
Sedrick Sanchez

When I first stepped into care at age 14, I knew it wouldn’t be all sunshine and flowers. But I didn’t think it would be a cold road filled with nails. The worst part is that it didn’t have to be this bad. The foster parents could have done a few things differently to make their homes welcoming to a kid who’s already been through a lot of grief. Based on my own experience, here are five ways foster parents can help the kids that come to their home.

1. Explain the rules of the home up front and discuss disagreements calmly.

My first foster mother started out polite. She said things like, “It’s OK that you didn’t do the dishes earlier because you were running late to school. Can you please do them now?”

I liked that reasonable way of talking, but then I saw beyond the nice surface. Getting to know her was like watching colors fill in a pale white figure: At first she hid her feelings, and then they appeared. One day after school, I brought two of my friends over without asking permission first. She got home while we were in the house, talking and laughing. I didn’t think it was a big deal, but she called me away from my friends.

She said, “Tell your friends they have to go home. You didn’t ask permission, so now they have to leave. Then you and I are going to have a talk.” After my friends left, she immediately began cursing. When I tried to tell her I didn’t know she had a rule about not having friends over, she yelled, “Shut the f-ck up! Next time, I’m going to beat your ass.” I was shocked.

I called my older friend/mentor Josh and told him what had happened. He said, “I’m sorry, but you’re both wrong.” I saw his point. I should have asked before inviting people over. But she was wrong for cursing and threatening me instead of calmly saying how I was wrong and coming up with a solution. I would have been OK with her telling me that I couldn’t socialize or have company over for a week. But I felt disrespected by her cursing at me. I wanted a foster parent who would try to explain her rules to me and would listen and work things out with me.

2. Wait to hear the whole story. Discipline and guide us; don’t judge and shame us.

In that same foster home, my first one, the foster mother didn’t like to hear my thoughts. Once, a kid at school who I’d had a few conversations with began to spread false rumors about me. When we were playing basketball, I confronted him. I asked him if he’d said the lie about me and he said “Yes.” I asked him why he was telling everyone things about me that weren’t true.
He said, “Because I can.”

I told him to stop saying those things or else we’re fighting. He did it again, the next day, so I punched him in the mouth. We fought, and I got suspended for two days.

When I got home, my foster parent yelled at me, “Why would you do that, you d-ckhead? You’re grounded for two weeks!” She didn’t even let me tell my side of the story. She just listened to the version my school told her and punished me. She never asked me what he’d done that upset me.

I wished for a foster parent who would listen to my point of view before just blaming and punishing me. I accept that foster parents need to discipline us. I just wish she could have listened to all points of view on what happened and come up with a consequence. I would have liked to have been told, “In the future, if someone’s bullying you at school, talk to me and a teacher about it.”

3. Give a fair amount of allowance.

The second foster parent I had gave me an allowance of $40 a month. That was supposed to pay for my clothes, my food, and soap and shampoo, but it wasn’t enough. I fought with her son over food because I was hungry. One time I didn’t have enough money for the subway, so I jumped the turnstile and got a ticket. For four months I felt trapped until I told my agency and they moved me to another home.

image by YC-Art Dept

After that, I learned that many foster children don’t get their full allowance from their foster parents. Some adults say teenagers will spend money on stupid things, but we need our allowance for basic things.

Furthermore, allowance and money give parents and kids an opportunity to bond. Adults who feel like kids don’t know how to spend their money can teach them how. Talking about spending will help parents get to know youth and find out what their interests are. Foster parents can help educate kids for the future by showing them how to be smart with money.

4. Help prepare us for the future.

I was 14 years old when I went into care. Soon after that, I realized how much I didn’t know, like, Where can I find a job? How can I get on track to get an apartment when I’m older? I felt like a newborn baby stepping into the world without a family to help me.

To learn how to do a lot of things, I’ve asked my peers and done research online, Googling things like “foster youth benefits” and “paying for college.” I wish foster parents and caseworkers would teach me how to get the most out of the foster care system and how to prepare to live on my own.

I didn’t talk much with any of my foster parents until my current one. And usually my caseworker would just show up to see if there’s food, and then tell me the next thing that was going to happen to me. I wish someone had asked me what I liked and what my dreams were for the future.

5. Encourage us by pointing out our strengths and good qualities.

Last April, I was terrified to take my Regents exams. People told me the Regents was the hardest test they’d ever taken; some said they dropped out of high school because they couldn’t pass the Regents.

That talk scared me. I tried speaking with my guidance counselor, but he just said, “Study or go for tutoring.” That didn’t give me confidence. My last option for encouragement was talking to my foster mom. She was sitting on the couch and I said, “Hey, Mom, I’m going to be taking Regents next week and I don’t think I can pass. I feel like I’m too stupid.”

She answered, “You’re a dumb-ass.” I felt like a complete failure and a waste of a soul.

I failed the Regents and had to go to summer school. Maybe I could have studied more, but maybe if I’d had a foster parent who cared about me, I would have gained a little bit of confidence and worked harder. This point is the most important of the five to me, because you can do better when you know someone believes in you.

Motivation, hard work, and confidence are the keys to a successful career. Those things start with a foster parent giving advice and building the child to be stronger emotionally.

I wish I had a foster parent who was like a point guard, who would pass me the basketball for the shot. That pass would show she had hope in me, and I think I would rise to the occasion. Foster parents should encourage and point out the positive qualities in the youth they’re parenting.

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