When I was in foster care I was lucky enough to live in group home where I was able to make a Christmas list. Our group home was good at finding donations to make it possible for us to receive some nice things. We also live in a community that is very giving with their donations for those less fortunate. I never really knew what to put on my Christmas list. I wasn’t used to asking people for things, not from my family and especially not from “strangers”. Since I hadn’t known my foster parents long, they didn’t know what to get me. It’s hard to buy for teenagers, especially teenagers you may not know too well. Here are 10 simple Christmas gift ideas for teens in foster care.
- New clothes and shoes- A child in foster care doesn’t get much of a clothing allowance. Especially when you factor in sometimes needing higher priced items like shoes and coats. Getting clothing donations was great but I always hoped to get some new clothes for Christmas. It’s hard enough fitting in while in high school, especially as a foster kid so feeling good in some new clothes or shoes is a self esteem boost.
- Prepaid phone- Now days everyone needs to stay in contact. Teens especially those in foster care need to get out into the world to figure things out but I recommend any teenager having a way of getting in contact with you at anytime. A prepaid phone is a great way to keep that contact while also giving a little responsibility. Since it’s prepaid they can rack up a bill. Also since they have a “bill” there’s more incentive to maintain a job to keep it going.You can get a prepaid phone for as little as $20.
- Book- An educational or inspirational book is always a great gift. As a teen in foster care they may have to go out into a tough world and figure some things out. They will also face tough times mentally and work on discovering who they are. Sometime a great book with a little insight can give a different perspective. I was given a book gift called “Wild At Heart” that I remember to this day. Also educational books about life situation will get teens prepared for the real world. Books can be expensive and can sometimes be found cheaper on the internet.
- Journal- A Journal is a great gift for teenagers in foster care. Writing is a great way of getting out emotions in safe way. There were many times when frustrated with my situation that I would write. With this I was also able to look back on my experiences. There were many reminders of good things I had forgotten about or maybe taken for granted at the time. There were also tough times that when I looked back on gave me the strength to push forward during other obstacles.
- A class or lesson- Going into the world I never really felt like I had a trade. Some people are tech savvy, others mechanically inclined, or maybe how to build something. If you’re foster kid is pretty good at or interested in a trade, you can get him classes or lessons to learn more. A hobby is therapeutic and can also earn some extra money when things get tight.
- Gear from a favorite sports team- Sports fans with favorite team usually love anything that has their team on it. It pretty much doesn’t even matter what it is. If you can find out your foster child’s favorite team check out the sports store or website.
- Spa day, makeover, or nail certificate- For those with young women, a spa day, makeover, or getting a certificate to get their nails done are great gift ideas. Maybe she’s in need of a new hair style. Some young women have never had the chance to be pampered or do extra things like getting their nails done. What girl doesn’t like to be pampered?
- A Blanket- One of the most memorable gifts I received was a blanket. It was a gift that I used often and still have to this day. Blankets can always be used and can meet a real need. Blankets are something that you can also take with you. Hopefully it’s a gift that can carry good memories with through their foster care journey.
- Gift card- Many people don’t like to give gift card because they aren’t personal. At the same time I’ve never known anyone that doesn’t like to receive money. There are gift card to different places such as restaurants, or to iTunes, and Google play stores if you know your teen has a preference. Gift cards are always a great fall back gift in any situation.
- A simple toy- Sometimes we over think gift giving. Teenagers like to act adult like and not like kid stuff. Give a teenager a simple child’s game, a toy car set or one of those finger skateboards and bet they don’t play with it. They may not when they are sitting in front of everyone but I bet they will at some point, and love every minute of it. Teenagers, just like adults, sometimes want to relive those kid moments. some may have never had a chance to have them.
My favorite part of Christmas is giving gift to others. It always feels good to give somebody a smile, let them know they were thought of, or even help them out. Gift giving for foster children doesn’t have to be complicated. Many are just thankful for a safe home and being thought of.
Sometimes in foster care situations you will feel as people just don’t understand. That can be said of many things in life, but if you’re involved with this lifestyle then you have an idea of what I’m talking about. I’m not talking about one certain thing or one certain side of it. Whether you’re a foster kid or a foster parent there’s going to be things you go through, things you have to do, that most people that haven’t been in the situation just wouldn’t understand. As both a foster kid and a kinship parent I have been judged. Sometimes it was justified, but often time’s people don’t look below the surface and think about the why. Maybe there’s a reason these things have happened or things are they way they are. I know this is the part where you say, “you know the real reason and that’s what matters”. Honestly knowing the story and knowing (or really hoping) what I’m doing is best doesn’t make me feel any better about it.
The reason I ‘m writing about this is based around when foster parents have to punish or be more strict with their foster kids, and how that is viewed by others. When people look at a foster family especially the foster kids they look at them differently, rightfully so, because of what they have gone through. With many foster kids though there are issues, some that are not seen or known, that lead foster parents to treat their foster kids differently than their own kids and maybe their other foster kids. Sometimes it’s about teaching life lessons because that is more important than “child” things.
I will say that I’m a strict parent; especially kinship parenting. My experience with this would be with 2 older teens. They came to live with me being behind their social age. They had lived in foster care then adopted into a volatile situation that didn’t allow them to develop like normal kids. Understandably they want to do things that they didn’t have a chance to do. Some of it fine but some of it is not, even if they never got a chance to do it. I make a bigger deal about a situation then I would normally when they make a big mistake. I may not allow them to do things that other kids get to do. For all these things some people from the outside criticize, but I won’t change. I can’t change and I do have a reason.
Often times people think about the now without thinking about the future. But, we all know how fast that future approaches us. I can tell you from personal experience on how you go from foster kid to just another person in the world. Utility companies, the landlord, jobs and life in general don’t care about if you were a foster kid or what you went through as a child. Beside the ones closest to you, most don’t care about what struggles you’ve conquered or what may be going on in your life in the present.
With that being said, I go back to many foster kids have some sort of issues. As a real parent would it be my job to try and help them fix these issues to help them be more successful in life or should I think about everything they’ve been through and let it slide? Should I teach them a life lesson or should I cut them a break? Even though I’m not their parent it is my job to parent them. One of the aspects of being a parent is putting your children in the position to succeed. Sometimes that means teaching life lessons, putting them in situations and keeping them out of situations.
Now you may be saying “sometimes they just have to learn it for themselves”. That is true to an extent, but some life lessons stick with people for the rest of their lives. Some mistakes can’t be undone or taken back. Many foster kids haven’t had the opportunity to make mature decisions. It’s already hard enough getting started in the world especially as a foster kid. In the grand scheme of life you’re judged by your decisions, character, responsibility, and work ethic. As a parent and a kinship foster parent it’s my job to put my kids in the best position to be successful in whatever they want to do, and though it is never easy, I know that all my kids will have a chance to be successful in their own right. Being judged or not agreed with, I think we all should try to understand. These struggles have impacted many parts of life and will continue to do so. Do you feel that they are judging you?
One of the difficult things about being a foster kid is seeing the kids around you have things that you may not have or even have the opportunity to get. It could be a variety of things from cool clothes, new shoes, the latest video game or even having a pet. Some of it may have to do with the rules of where you’re staying or you don’t have parents to buy that stuff. I recognized early on that if I wanted those things then I had to go and get them for myself. I realized really quickly that I was going to have to work harder than most of my peers to get some of the things they had and to even be successful. I had to get a job, but getting a job isn’t the easiest thing to do as a foster kid.
First off there’s that foster care stigma that follows you. I lived in a small town, about 180 people, so new people are recognized quickly. My foster home was well known and everybody knew I was in foster care. You may live in a larger area or you may not look like a foster kid, but I’m sure it will come up at some point. Unfortunately many people negative preconceived ideas when it comes to foster kids. As an employer many think troubled kid, stealing, issues in life, not being reliable or not having a reliable ride. A couple of those may even be true. My first boss told me after I had worked there that she wouldn’t have hired me without the recommendation of the superintendent that I had gotten. She had preconceived ideas of the employee I would because I was a foster kid, and it wasn’t a good one.
Speaking those preconceived ideas of a foster kid, the not having a ride part can be a problem. It’s not easy to get your license as a foster care and you have to have money to buy a car. If you think about it the order of how you have to do things really works against you. Luckily I had a situation where I worked close and had someone to take me. Many kids do not. One thing you can learn in life really quick as a foster kid. Most people you have to interact with CAN’T care about your situation or that you’re in foster care. It’s bad for business. An employer isn’t going to keep you around if you can’t get to work all the time on time just because you’re having foster kid problems.
It’s a good lesson to learn, but also a tough one. In life, foster kids are going to be babied. When that water bill comes in you can’t tell them your life story and get a pass. As a foster kid, if your want to be successful you may have to work a little harder than the next person. When you do get to that point where you’ve reached your success, it feels that much better looking back on where you came from.
To many kids turning 16 is one of the most exciting days of their lives. With turning 16 comes getting a drivers license. It’s the license of freedom almost every teenager looks forward to getting. Hours of driving with family members to get enough hours under the belt finally paying off. Unfortunately for many foster kids it’s harder to obtain the goal of getting that freedom. For many foster kids turning 16 does not mean getting a drivers license.
When I was placed into foster care the summer I was getting ready to turn 16. I didn’t have my permit at that that point. My parents used it against me and used it in favor of their abuse. They would talk about how all the other kids would see me riding the bus while they were driving. Pretty soon I would be the oldest on the bus. I’m sure they also used that to control from me being able to leave the house as well. They said I didn’t behave well enough to get my permit and would have to earn it. The problem was no matter what I could never do good enough to earn it.
After I settled into our foster home I was told that I would eventually be able to get my permit. I had to wait for the proper documents from my caseworker but was eventually allowed to take the permit test. I hadn’t had a chance to read the permit book yet but I decided to take the test anyway just because I was so excited. I eventually passed the permit test after having the time to study.
Just because I had my permit didn’t mean I could start practicing driving. I lived in a group home and I wasn’t allowed to drive any of the vehicles. It wasn’t a typical family situation where we had a family car. There could be up to 8 foster kids in the home and maybe foster parent bio kids so we had 15 passenger vans. I knew I had to buy a car and be able to pay for insurance if I wanted to be able drive. Finding a job as a foster kid can sometimes be pretty tough for a few reasons but I eventually found a job and started putting back money. After a lot of work and putting most of my money in savings, I found a pretty nice care that I could afford. Next came finding an insurance company. Since I was a foster kid I didn’t have a parents insurance to be added to. I had to start my own plan which I remember costing me $189 a month not including the money I had to put down! Now I had a car, insurance and a job. Still I was not able to drive.
I had to take a driving class as one of the stipulations before driving. This was for a couple of reasons. The main reasons being it was a requirement from my group home and I needed a certain number of driving hours before being able to take the driving test. Another good reason to take a driving class is because you get a discount on your insurance. After passing the class and getting my driving hours in with the instructor, I was able to take the driving test. I was extremely anxious with having the person ride along with me watching me every move. It caused me to mess up and I failed my first time around. My second time around was a little better, but it took me a third time to pass the test. Finally I could drive!
I do want to point out that even though it took me three times to pass, I have 0 accidents and 0 tickets. I had many obstacles on my path to getting my driver’s license. Many foster kids face the same situations sometimes with more difficulty.
After writing a post about things I disliked hearing in foster care, there were a lot of comments regarding foster children being told by their foster parents, that they should be thankful. This is something that has been said to me many times before, but not something I had a strong opinion on myself. There are many things said to you or about you as a foster kid so I found it best to have a tough skin. This was mainly in reference to the question: If a foster kid is not being “grateful” for what they have or not realizing that others have it worse, is it a bad thing to remind them that they need to be grateful for having it better that some others? After asking the question “Should foster kids grateful for being in a good home?” on social media, I received a lot of feedback from both former foster kids and foster parents with opinions across the board. I think there are a lot of different factors that come in to play that affect a person’s opinion.
For many I think it was the word “grateful” and that if it was coming from the foster parents then it shouldn’t be said. There were many that pointed out that kids shouldn’t have to be grateful to be in a safe loving home, it is a right. Many people said they like the word “thankful” because it sounds better. We all can find something to be positive to be thankful for. Some just had the opinion that if a foster kid is a good loving home then they should be grateful. There wasn’t as much feedback from former foster kids vs. foster parents but I did notice a majority of former foster kid agreed that these kids should be grateful.
When we were being abused we would often be told about how bad foster care is. They tell me about being attacked by both the parents and other kids. They said I would only be used as a check and used this idea to control me into not telling what was going on. When we went into foster care I didn’t know what to expect but the worst. I remember on the way to our first home mentally getting ready for battle, to protect my brothers and me. After we got there, got settled and I could tell the situation was going to be safe, I was grateful (or thankful) that we got placed in a good home. When it was time to go to our next home I was even more on edge. I figured after all the stories I’d heard we couldn’t get lucky twice. We end up and Coyote Hill Christian Children’s Home, which is something I am grateful for to this day. Foster care isn’t good no matter what setting you’re in, but sometimes it could be worse I’ve been told by many people that I was lucky, I should be grateful and thankful. They are right.
Not everyone’s situation is the same. Many foster kids don’t live in good foster homes. I foster parent shouldn’t come at a foster kid with anger and tell them they should be grateful. This is especially true if it’s coming from a foster parent providing a stable, loving home. At the same time I do believe that it is not out of place to remind for a foster parent to remind their foster kids to be thankful or grateful for what they do have going on for them. Yes, in the perfect world a person or child shouldn’t HAVE to be grateful for being in a good home but the truth is there are a lot of bad homes, biological and foster homes. Raising my 16 and 14 year old brothers has given me perspective on this topic. They’ve been placed in good homes and bad homes and now have gotten to come live with me. I do my best to give them a normal life and not to toot my own horn but we do it pretty well. As with all teenagers they act out, say and do things that need to be checked. I remind them how well they have it now compared to their past and others in their situation. As their brother/ parent it’s my job to teach them to be thankful for things. This goes along with work ethic, relationships and life in general. There’s nothing wrong with a parent or foster parents reminding their kids of the positives, sometimes it’s all about how you say it and if you’re providing the loving, stable home behind it.