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Challenge: Perfectly Imperfect Parenting

My foster son just turned 18. Here's why we're not asking him to leave

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Imagine never knowing what a job felt like, how to support yourself financially, or having the skills and tools to navigate the real world. In the foster care system, turning 18 usually means never going back home, not being adopted, and then having to figure out your life. This is the case for many children who are aged out of foster care. The day they turn 18, most foster kids are thrown into the real world, and many end up on a new path of survival. Homelessness, drug addiction and difficulties finding or keeping jobs are just some of the trials these children face. Most 18-year-olds are figuring out what college they want to attend, or some might even stay at home for a couple of extra years to get their footing in life while their parents help them. However, children in the foster care system are not given this option.

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In the last four years, I have fostered 19 children between the age of 2-11, and it had always been what I was used to. At the start of the pandemic, there was a shortage of foster parents, with a growing number of foster children. I received a call asking if I would be willing to take in a 17-year-old boy who would only need to stay with me for 12 months. Being hesitant at first but knowing the struggles the pandemic had brought on, I quickly said yes. Little did I know at the time, Zay would come into our lives and change them for the better! At first when he arrived he did everything in his power to try and sway my decision on taking him in. He was angry because for the 7th time - he would be meeting a new family. He told me many stories to try and scare me away, but no matter what he would say to me, I sat and listened. Many people that take the path of being a foster parent are looking to take in the younger children and overlook the teenagers. I am grateful that I took my teenager Zay in last year. Throughout the year I have watched Zay open up, and let himself become a part of our family. And now I have the opportunity to watch him grow into an amazing young man.

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Zay turns 18 tomorrow, and we are excited to celebrate, knowing that his birthday will be filled with hope and excitement. Zay is a part of our family, even after he ages out of the foster care system. He will live with me and finish high school, and he will have the opportunity to stay here for years after he graduates until he is ready to be on his own. And, when it comes time for him to learn about all of life’s responsibilities, I will be there to help him.

Tomorrow is a blessing, and I am grateful that I get this opportunity to continue to help Zay, and give him the life he deserves. I urge anyone looking into becoming a foster parent to not overlook taking in a teenager. You truly will be changing a child’s life.

Blessings,

Peter Mutabazi

Writer Samantha Jordan contributed to this essay.

Related TODAY story: Meet the foster dad opening his home to kids during the pandemic

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