INSIGHTS FROM A FORMER FOSTER YOUTH

TAHNE is a recording artist, currently living in Nashville.  She shared the following “backstory” that has led her to where she is today; a foster girl to fierce woman on a mission to empower.  “I was born in a small town in Wisconsin.  By the time I was 11, I was in foster care due to familial circumstances.  At 14, I was in juvenile prison and was sentenced to five years, but I ended up getting out in nine months because of someone who really impacted my life in a powerful way.  After a year of being in a treatment facility to transition me back into the real world after being institutionalized, I was placed in a Family Works foster home that changed my life.  They showed me the love that I needed and they pushed me.  They gave me so much hope and they believed in me.  I went to twelve different schools growing up, and I was in and out of so many different homes, but once you have the right people surrounding you, anything is possible.”  TAHNE uses her past experiences to create honest and inspiring music that asks tough questions, spreads love and invokes change.

TAHNE was gracious to share her insights with us on the various topics below as a way that we all can get a glimpse into what her experiences were like and what we can all do to better serve the youth in our care.

Self-destructive behaviors:  Many tweens and teens in foster care display behaviors that are labeled as self-destructive (self-harm, property destruction, running, stealing, etc.); can you describe your experience with out-of-control behaviors and some of the reasons you think might be behind why youth commonly resort to those actions?

  • Each individual experience is different… but what I can say is that anger is the result of trauma. It’s the emotion we use to avoid uncomfortable feelings, such as fear and sadness, and until that trauma is healed, anger will always find its way back to the surface.

Building Trust with YouthKids often struggle to recognize who the people are in their lives that they can lean on.  How can we help youth see that there is a whole team of people behind them?

  • I believe the biggest hurdle is helping them recognize that the team of people who are “behind them” are actually standing with them and for them.
  • Remember this, you must give trust to get trust. I know this is scary and difficult when working with trauma and the unknowns. Each individual situation will need to be approached uniquely.

Some of the ways to start building that trust:

    1. Put time aside to vibe and hang with them on their level, while doing the things they enjoy most.
    2. Just listen. Giving people a safe place to feel seen and heard is essential. If you feel called to give feedback, input or advice, ask their permission before offering it. If they decline, let it go because one day they will be open to your input once they know they can trust you.
  • As a human, we want to be surrounded by people who add value to our lives. Being a teenager is all about becoming independent. Teens focus more on their peers than their parents and because of this I frequently remind my own kids that the top 5 people they spend their time with is who they will become. That line in itself has given my teens the clarity they’ve needed to choose good people to surround themselves with.
    1. Get to know their friends without judgment. It will tell you a lot about who your child is, what they need, and it will give you much needed insight on how you can reach them as people.
    2. Pay attention to the things that excite them so you can get them more involved within the community. A happy human is an empowered human through community.
  • Our job as parents is to help our teens understand how their decisions have a direct impact on the outcome of their lives at any given moment. The tricky part is doing so without making them feel they are “wrong”. Naturally we all want to do the right thing. Have more grace than you already do. They are delicate souls, no matter how thick skinned they might seem.

Feeling like a Family Member:  You have described that your personal growth started to happen when you felt that you were truly a part of a family.  Describe situations in your foster care experience where you felt you were part of a family versus those time when you did not.

  • When foster families introduced me as their daughter rather than their foster daughter/child.
  • Being included in all of the family events is also so important.
  • Choosing activities that I was excited about built a lot of room for bonding as well.

Do you have simple advice for foster parents in how they interact with children in their home that will build that sense of belonging as a true part of the family?

  • Structure is key – but leave room for the teens to still be teens.
  • They are human. Treat them as you would want to be treated. We all want to feel seen, heard and valued. No one is perfect and nobody has all the answers. We can only share the wisdom and knowledge we have gained along our own journeys. But we cannot expect others to receive it.
  • PARENTS! IT STARTS WITH YOU FIRST! You have to live by example to inspire change at home! I cannot stress this enough! By living intentionally, you indirectly inspire your family to do the same. Healthy choices encourage a healthy mindset – which results in a healthier YOU… and when you are healthier and happier, you have the energy and ability to encourage and inspire your children to live healthier and happier lives too.

Unconditional Love Changes Lives:  What does unconditional love mean to a child when they are in foster care?

  • Loving them through it all. Good and bad.
  • Not giving up on them like everyone else has.
  • Feeling seen and heard.

The Goal of Reunification:  This is always the ultimate goal at the beginning stages of treatment planning for youth.  But sometimes it becomes clear that this goal may not be obtainable, or it might not the best option after all.  What are your thoughts about how to support children in these circumstances, especially when they often have minimal control of the decisions?

  • This is a difficult one for me because even though I knew my “home” wasn’t a safe or desirable place for me, it was familiar, and therefore it was comfortable.
  • At the end of the day, by building that trust I talked about earlier, along your journey with them, they will know in their souls that they are not alone.
  • Making sure they have a way to reach out if they need anything.

The Importance of Personal ConnectionsPlease touch on your experience in the correctional facility where you finally felt heard and accepted.  How did that personal connection make a difference in your life?

  • I was sentenced to 5 years on felony charges and incarcerated at Southern Oaks Girls school by the time I was 14 years old. It was a former women’s prison, just to paint a clear picture for you. Every week there was a group of young women who would come to visit the facility every and hang out. After several weeks of declining the staff’s invites to join the group, I finally had the courage to say yes. That evening, a young woman sat across the table from me and for the first time in my life I felt truly seen and heard. She just listened and showed up by showing me the true meaning of unconditional love when I needed it most. It is because of her (and people like her) that I was able to finally see my own worth and begin taking steps towards healing so that I could be a light in the world just like she was for me.

Even when a foster placement does not end the way we hope it will, personal connections do not have to end.   Do you have advice for how foster parents can stay connected to youth even after they leave their care…and why does this matter?

  • As a foster parent, you are making a lifelong commitment to unconditionally loving another human-being. You wouldn’t just drop off your own daughter/son at school and never look back – now would you? So I think it’s safe to say the answer here is to love on. We all need love. Just keep on loving… and then love a little more.

What is your personal experience with second chances?

  • Which time? Lol! But really though, they are necessary… I give them and I get them. Still.

Resilience:  People always say that kids are resilient.  You described this as “everyone hitting potholes, – times when it seems you are not enough, but that is part of the important journey that was meant for you”.  Can you describe how your “potholes” have become a part of your story and the person you have become, and how you have learned to balance the good parts of your life with the imperfect parts in a way that allows you to find joy?

  • Life is filled with ups and downs (aka “potholes”). I believe that the ups are there to fill us up so we have the courage to keep going, and the potholes are there to help us overcome the difficult parts and turn them into good. There is something to learn from every circumstance that life throws at us.

Self-Care:  This is something foster parents need to work on for themselves and also be able to model/teach to the kids they are raising.  What are your tips for discovering healthy outlets?

  • Have fun being active! You don’t have to be the gym go-er to challenge yourself and achieve accomplishments – BUT I find it is helpful to surround myself with a community of people who inspire me to continue to show up for myself. Plus it’s fun making new friends and widening your tribe! (Back to that top 5 people thing.)
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