Fostering an older child can be extremely rewarding! However, it does come with some different challenges than fostering a younger child, and it’s important to be aware of those differences.
Older foster children come with more developed personalities and behaviors, and depending on how that meshes with your personality, it might take more time to feel connected to them. Babies and toddlers, and even preschoolers, have a cute factor that can help to speed up that connection. Since younger children have more physical needs, what they need from you is more obvious from the beginning. For older children, it is necessary to feel your way into a solid parent/child relationship over time. This is true both for you and for the child, as in most cases, they may not understand their need for a parent and may be used to filling that role for themselves, and in some cases, their siblings.
Many older foster children also need the same kind of training and parenting that you would provide for a younger child. Despite their age and even how self-sufficient they may appear, they might not have been taught basic skills like personal hygiene, organizational and problem-solving skills, or how to prepare food. They may need help catching up on these skills.
Fostering An Older Child Will Be Different In Some Ways
Older children are also more likely to have been exposed to abuse or neglect for a longer period of time. Because of this, they are more likely to exhibit behavioral issues or other challenges. They also need longer to trust you and trust your care for them. Foster an older child is a balancing act between waiting for them to come to you and pushing your way in, so that you can give them what they need (even if they don’t know what that is). This includes involvement in their education, knowing their friends, and even extra-curricular activities.
The most important and hardest thing to build with an older foster child is trust. Their personal experiences have taught them that adults can’t be trusted. With time, patience, honesty, and a lot of grace, you just might have the opportunity to see them flourish under your care.
What other questions do you have about fostering an older child? Let us know in the comments!
Kristy O’Neal is mom to two sweet, funny, wonderful kids and works full-time in information technology. During her spare time, she likes to browse Pinterest and thrift stores, create things, and hang out with her kids. As a foster parent, Kristy cares about advocating for the needs of kids in foster care and supporting foster families. You can read her thoughts on these and many other topics at her blog.