Providing Their Own Permanency: Foster Teens Warily Eye Marriage, Parenthood

Early in my career as a social worker, I was extremely technically efficient. I had cases. Those cases involved children who had problems. Those problems had solutions.

I was pragmatic, action- and task-oriented. One year, while volunteering with 18-year-olds who were aging out of the foster care system, I was humbled to the point of rethinking my life choice as a social worker.

I helped them open up checking and savings accounts. They learned how to deposit money into their accounts, sign up for college classes, learn to drive, learn the city bus route schedule, buy groceries, clip coupons, get car insurance, renter’s insurance, and all kinds of other daily mundane activities.

I was on fire! I was moving and shaking, and they were learning all these things and singing my praises. I loved social work. I loved working with children in foster care. I loved my job and my life.

Nearing the end of that year, I invited these youths to my house for dinner. We talked about all the things we had all worked together on. They seemed to be really proud of themselves. Then one young man asked me how he was going to be a good husband … if I thought he could be a good husband and good dad?

I was shocked. This was a curveball. I asked him why he was asking me that, me being a female and never having been married. I was speechless. His reply was that no one ever adopted him and so he really didn’t know if he could be loved because no one had ever loved him enough to adopt him.

My throat tightened and a huge lump appeared.  I asked him to tell me a little bit more about what he was feeling. He explained that since his mom and dad didn’t love him enough to straighten out from drugs and that no foster families had adopted him, that he just felt not good enough for anyone. He was worried no woman would ever want to marry him, think he was nice looking, want to have a family with him, would want to marry him.

One of the other young girls chimed in and agreed. She was scared no one would ever want to be with her, would want to spend time with her, getting to know her, much less want to get married.  I was out of my league, unskilled, uneducated, unprepared for this type of conversation.

I wanted to cry and not cry all at the same time. My face was on fire. My skin was burning. I had four young adults looking at me, all waiting for some wonderful words of wisdom about love and life and marriage and motivation and hope and true, long-lasting, love.

All four agreed that they never were good enough for a “forever family” and that had been reinforced for most of their life. No forever family at Christmas, Halloween, Thanksgiving, New Year’s Eve, Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, birthdays, first day of school, last day of school, graduation, prom, summer vacations. They all shared with me that many foster children believe there are no “forever families” waiting for them. No one thought they were good enough to be wanted.

The conversation awkwardly stopped, and I asked all of them if they believed in hope. They all just sort of looked at each other. I explained the concept of hope and the importance of keeping it in their hearts.

I explained that many people were in worse situations than they were but many had survived and thrived because of hope. I shared with them that I had absolutely no idea if I would ever find someone who would want to spend time with me, listen to my stories, talk with me, be with me, much less marry me. Personal disclosure seemed appropriate at this point…..plus I couldn’t remember a thing I learned in school at that exact moment.

I shared that the trepidation they were feeling was kind of normal in a way, that many young adults wonder about romance and marriage and having families. I pointed out that they can be forever families for themselves and their children.

I told them I thought they would all find a soulmate and get married or be in long-term relationships and have families and that they would be great parents and great husbands and wives.

I  am happy to report all four are married and all four have children.  I always thought of the term “forever family” in the context of the adopting family in the present, not the family of the future that can be a goal of children in foster care. I love the concept of “forever family” in that it gives hope during a time of survival and also in a time of revival.

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About Dr. Marian L. Swindell 3 Articles
Child advocate and tenured associate professor of social work.

6 Comments

  1. Yes! I really enjoyed reading your story. Hope/optimism, while an emotion, it’s also a skill. Believe it or not, it’s taught. We are not born hopeful or full optimism. Someone in your life must take time to show you what it looks like and when to apply it. I’m so glad you were that someone in these young people’s lives!

  2. What a wonderful and touching story! It’s amazing to see how our young adults thoughts and dreams can be shaped in such a positive way! The forever family has me smiling with hope and joy!!

    Thank you,
    Robert Sanders

    • Robert:
      Thank you so much for your kind and encouraging words. They inspire me to continue the work that I do with college students and with children in need.
      Thank you once again.

  3. Wow. What a touching and beautiful article, and I learned something new and powerful reading it. Thank you

    • Dear Leah: Thank you for taking the time to post a response. Your sweet response is greatly appreciated…. thank you.

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