It’s a familiar refrain. An older foster youth approaching their 18th birthday says they want to live on their own.
“I don’t need a family.”
For the people who care for and about foster youth, these words hurt to hear. It’s often painfully obvious that a young man or woman isn’t ready to be on their own. So, why are they so insistent?
If they’ve grown up in foster care, they may feel they’ve had no control over their lives. So, the idea of independence is especially appealing. They want to make their own decisions and can’t see how living in a family will allow for that.
It’s developmentally normal for them to want more freedom. Other youth their age are typically moving toward greater independence, heading to college or getting a first job. They want to be like other kids.
They lack the maturity to understand the many ways in which they’ll still need adult support. The brains of older teens, not just foster youth, are still developing. They aren’t great at understanding the long term consequences of their behavior. It’s hard for them to anticipate the situations in which they’ll need the help of a caring adult.
Understanding why older youth in care are so insistent about their need to be independent is important. It helps us see things from their perspective. If we understand where they’re coming from, we’re better able to guide them through this tricky process of growing up.
Written by Diane Kindler