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The Unique Discipleship Needs of Adopted & Foster Teenagers in Student Ministry.

Updated: Mar 31, 2020

If you are a youth worker, chances are good that you have adopted and foster teenagers in your group — and they may have gone through incredible hardships. Their background has affected who they are in a profound way and can make it difficult for them to fully embrace God. As you seek to engage them in discipleship conversations, here are four unique attributes you will want to be aware of:


Let me say that more emphatically . . . they have experienced trauma. Regardless of their specific background, these teenagers have been separated from their biological parents at some point. That, in and of itself, is traumatizing. And many of them have also experienced abuse, neglect and abandonment as a result of their birth parents. So, as we think about how to integrate adopted & foster teens in to our student ministries, let’s remember that they are often hurting, traumatized kids in desperate need of our help. 02. THEY MAY HAVE PREDISPOSED BARRIERS TO GOSPEL CONCEPTS. I once had an adopted teenager say this to me . . . “I don’t believe in love. That’s just a word — its meaningless!” She came from a background of frequent neglect and abandonment from people who had supposedly loved her. Her past experiences with love tainted her entire belief about the very concept of Love. So how do you then embrace the fact that God loves you when you don’t believe love even exists? The Gospel is filled with words and concepts like love, forgiveness, father, adoption, identity, forever, orphan etc . . . These concepts, depending on a teen’s past, can form barriers to them embracing the Gospel. As youth workers we need to be aware of this as we seek to disciple this unique group of teenagers. 03. THEY MAY BE SLOWER TO OPEN UP AND ATTACH RELATIONALLY. Trust Issues are huge among adopted and foster teenagers — and for good reason. Many of these kids have been lied to their entire life. Their trust has been broken repeatedly and over time they have become extremely slow to trust others. This becomes very important in a small group setting where students are asked to open up about their thoughts and feelings. They may just not be willing (or able) to do it — and they may just not be willing (or able) to connect with an adult small group leader who is trying to building a relationship with them. 04. THEY MAY BE UNCOMFORTABLE WITH SIGNS OF AFFECTION. Depending on their specific background (especially if there was abuse) adopted & foster teenagers may be quite uncomfortable with any physical affection directed toward them. This could even include physical “rough-housing” that frequently goes on with the guys in youth groups all over the country. You will want to be extremely careful with any physical touch until you know them well enough to know what they are comfortable with and what is appropriate. SO WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? I would suggest that you don’t “go it alone.” Embrace strategic partnerships and seek out connections within the community that will help support you. Here are some ideas of how to do just that . . . 1. The Adoptive / Foster Parents — Student ministry should be all about partnering with parents. Talk to mom and dad and see how you can help support them in the discipleship of their son or daughter. 2. Adult Adoptees — Are there adults in your church who were adopted or who grew up in foster care? Set up a time to talk to them about their experience. Allow them to advise you on how to best speak to these teenagers about God. 3. Community Connections — In your community there are dozens of adoption and foster care ministries whose mission it is to help vulnerable children. Are there ways you can partner with them? Can you learn from their experience? Are there services they offer that could help you? Perhaps our greatest calling as Christians is discipleship. And as youth workers we get to live out that calling with teenagers. These kids are in desperate need of loving adults who can guide them in their spiritual journey. Thank you for being one of those adults! Arthur C Woods

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