adoption, family

What Are We Teaching Them?

“Wait–what do you mean? My glasses prescription can expire?!?!! That doesn’t make sense!”

Sorry, Marcus. You have to go to the eye doctor every year. You also need a yearly checkup with your primary care physician. And the dentist? Yeah, that is every six months.

This week Marcus was texting me in a panic that he had lost his glasses and was having headaches. He wanted me to look for his prescription so that he could get new glasses. Sometimes I am still caught off guard by the things my children do not know. Looking back, it makes sense.

Marcus went from 2014 until 2016 without a doctor’s appointment in foster care. He never went to the dentist. For whatever reason the state he was in somehow claimed to change insurance based from town to town. Marcus bounced around continuously. Therefore he pretty much never had health insurance.

His last placement (after the Juvenile Detention Center) was with something called “intensive foster care.” This meant that a specialized agency was contracted by child services to care for him. A worker met with him weekly and a highly trained foster parent provided a home. In theory it looked great. The program was supposed to provide skills for older teens who would soon age out of the system. They had strict regulations and monitored each worker intensely.

In practice, it was pretty awful. His intensive case worker changed every few months. Marcus never saw a therapist. He never saw a psychiatrist even though he was prescribed psychotropic medication.

His foster parent was not supposed to take him to medical appointments or attend the case review meetings. She really wasn’t required to do much except feed him. She couldn’t even give him Tylenol without calling the agency for approval first. That just meant no medication was available if he spiked a fever after business hours. Maybe the lesson was not to get sick on the weekends?

When Marcus came to us we were required to drive him back to his home state each week to meet with his worker. Marcus was 17, so his case worker had a limited amount of time to impart the all-important “life skills.” A frantic worker would meet my husband and Marcus at Panera Bread every week for lunch. He spent three weeks focusing on reviewing a module in his binder called, “water safety.” Yes, they worked on pool safety while eating lunch (that my husband payed for) at a restaurant on dry land. Luke used to joke with Marcus to “try not to drown in the drive home.”

In the meantime we had to fight to get Marcus his driver’s permit. We were willing to teach him but technically the DMV requires a legal guardian. I doubt many caseworkers are headed to the long lines at the DMV with their teens. They also require an original birth certificate which child services refused to release to Marcus. Don’t worry, after lots of advocating we got it all figured out.

However, here I sit explaining to my 21-year-old how medical care works. Sometimes I think we’ve missed so much time to instruct Marcus he may never catch up. Have we really prepared him for the world? What else have we missed or lost along the way?

So the question remains. What are we teaching teens in foster care to prepare them for the world? If they age out without a family to turn to, how will they learn?

In this, Luke and I are lucky. Marcus knows he can turn to us if he needs to. I thank my stars that our son can come to us. If we have taught him nothing else, I know we have taught him this.

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.


21 thoughts on “What Are We Teaching Them?

  1. I know a woman who wants to develop a good place for aged-our kids. And I know a group that matches volunteer mentors with kids who
    will soon age out. There’s a county program that has kids meet together in their teen years to learn skills. There are so many good people trying all kinds of approaches. Yet, because lots of foster kids move from home to group home to another home to another county, they just don’t get what they need.
    Each one needs to have one person they can trust who will help them, provide answers, be available. You’re doing that for Marcus. (We have a couple of those, too.)

    Liked by 2 people

  2. C says:

    You are familiar with my past a fair amount so you can believe that there is so much I do not know. One thing that brothers me is that I don’t know how to use make up or do my hair. I am very self conscious about that. Calling people or businesses is stressful because I don’t know the questions to ask I don’t know my options. I do have resources though. Medicaid provided me with a nurse case manager to help me learn to navigate things. I have a therapist who if I can get over my embarrassment and ask a question, she will help. I believe they should have a class in high school that teaches some of these things as well as stuff like how to change a tire and were the water shut off valve is in you house. An updated home ec if you will. I would venture to say that knowing he can come to mom and dad is the best lesson he has ever learned. I also don’t buy into preparing for the world. The world is ever changing and everyone’s world is different. My world when I was five is not the same now. It’s also not the same as yours. Preparing for life is something different entirely. How to be, how to exist, how to love, what are the values you want to live by those are so much more important. I know the foster care system can’t do that and that there are more problems there but your kids are starting to thrive you are doing a lot of things right! That was long…sorry!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. skinnyhobbit says:

    I was never taught all these either. Eye prescription, annual wellness checks, dentists. I had to learn, usually via shocked adults my own age telling me/making fun of me, and reddit…While my parents ensured they had all that…


  4. Jack says:

    Please be really careful when criticizing foster parents, case workers, etc. They do hard, important work within a crazy system. It’s possible that Marcus was getting more help than he has reported. Consider what Sean and Mary have said about you.


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