When we asked Foundations Foster Parent Denise McGinnis what made her choose to foster tween and teen girls, she laughs and tells us that it wasn’t really a choice. It just sort of happened – as though it was meant to be.
Denise’s path to foster parent wasn’t exactly linear. Her journey began by doing what she always does – helping a friend. Denise had a friend who was a foster parent in need of respite care. So, Denise stepped in to help her friend. Over the next few years, Denise provided respite care to other foster families, and in 2007, she decided she was ready to become a foster parent herself.
She started with one teenager, then soon welcomed another, and when her own children were ready to move out on their own, she decided to fill their now empty bedrooms as well. She’s had a house full of teenage girls ever since. Over the last 15 years has had 28 girls placed in her home. Many of those girls have gone on to have children of their own, giving Denise 13 grandchildren!
Denise is especially passionate about fostering teen girls. Many teenage girls in foster care have experienced years of trauma and neglect, often internalizing it, and suffering long-term effects. Her experience as a foster mom has given her deeper understanding of the impacts of trauma and helps her to set realistic expectations of the teens in her home.
She finds many of the girls haven’t been exposed to some of the typical activities many children would enjoy at a younger age, such as visiting a farm, camping, or going on family vacations. Denise loves to be able to provide the girls with those missed opportunities.
Denise feels that offering these experiences gives the girls room to grow. She tells us, “What one
needs to understand is that even though most brain growth happens in early childhood, we can still reconnect by having the experiences later in life. These experiences are essential to help children and teens grow in a well-rounded adult.”
When asked why she felt there is reluctance to foster teens, she shared that many people believe that teens are in foster care because of their own actions, which is a stereotype she strives to break. Often, a biological parent encounters some difficult circumstances and can’t support their child or other times a single parent passes away without family. Denise shared one of the first things she learned as a respite provider was there is usually no one simple answer as to why a teen is in the foster care system.
She doesn’t love the job because it’s easy! In fact, her very first placement was difficult but that didn’t deter her. She believes God had a hand in that match and it helped her become an even better foster parent. At the time, Denise felt as though she didn’t connect with that teen or make the positive impact she desired. But years later, when that young woman became an adult, she reconnected with Denise and thanked her for all she did.
Denise started on this journey by helping one friend. Over 20 years later, she is still helping and supporting those around her. One story Denise told us was about how a 16-year-old, who was pregnant, came to live with Denise. The teen had her baby and still finished high school on time, and then went on finish college, as a young single mother. Denise shares this as an example of someone who was dealt a pretty tough hand and faced some difficult challenges at a young age, yet she was able to overcome those obstacles and create a positive future for herself and her baby. We’re sure Denise also played an important role in making that happen!
Denise finds one of her greatest joys is watching the girls grow, and heal, and just become the best versions of themselves. Many of the girls continue to consider one another sisters long after they leave Denise’s home. They continue to be there for one another, supporting one another as adults. They look to each other for advice about jobs or parenting, they stay in touch via texts, and look forward to get-togethers at Denise’s place. They had a home while they needed it, but they have a family for life!