- Massachusetts Department of Children & Families
Elsa O’Connor’s heart for helping teenagers came from her experience as a high school teacher in Costa Rica. Years later, when she became a foster parent for the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) and her social worker asked which age group she would be interested in caring for, the answer came easily.
“These teenage years are very difficult because of the emotional, physical, and intellectual changes,” Elsa said. “The reason I am in foster care is to make rewarding moments for them. We’re giving them what they need and sometimes they don’t even know it’s important.”
Elsa became a foster parent fourteen years ago hoping to provide a stable family environment for children whose parents’ could not safely care for them. More than 30 children have become part of her family for various periods of time. Her favorite moments are the small ones, like seeing children become comfortable enough start to forming bonds or join the family movie night. She says, while fostering teenagers comes with its own set of challenges it is also immensely rewarding.
“You have to be prepared for everything- good moods, bad moods. You have to be flexible and open to their different interests,” Elsa said. “Teens are different because you know they are young people and they make decisions that may not be appropriate for them. You have to be understanding but give limits.”
Of the approximately 8,700 children in foster care in Massachusetts, 35% are between the ages of 12 and 17. At any given time, children in cities and towns across the Commonwealth may need foster care. Whenever possible, the Department strives to match them with foster parents who live in their community. Maintaining continuity and staying in the same school with friends is especially important for teenagers as they navigate the transition from childhood to adulthood.
“Being a foster parent has taught me, in a sense, to value who I am, all that I can offer, and all that is given to me,” Elsa said. “It lets me provide for these children and adolescents who, often times, come to me without a caring adult in their lives.”
Foster parents like Elsa provide critical support and stability to children in addition to teaching life skills they carry with them.
“The best thing is watching these children grow out of the system and going to college, or being reunited with their families, or living in the community,” Elsa said. “Any child that comes into my home becomes part of my family. Each child is loved with as much love and compassion as I can possibly give.”
Have you ever considered becoming a foster parent? Want to learn more? Stop by an upcoming informational session, visit our website, or call 1-800-543-7508 to speak to a member of DCF’s Foster Care Recruitment team.
Massachusetts’ foster parent community is diverse and inclusive. Foster parents are single, married, partnered, and widowed. Some have their own children or provide in-home day care. Both home owners and renters can be foster parents. Multilingual households are always needed in urban, suburban, and rural communities.