The Power of One Caring Adult
He’s been called “The Teen Whisperer.”
Josh Shipp has had a remarkable life. His 17-year-old birth mother left him at an Oklahoma hospital right after he was born. He grew up in foster care and along the way turned into a defiant, oppositional and deeply cynical young man.
By the time he was an adolescent, Josh was hell bent on getting himself kicked out of foster care. He was so determined that he turned it into a science. He literally kept statistics on how quickly he could get kicked out of each home, and documented the effectiveness of the methods he used. Granted, Josh says, not all of the homes were great. He experienced bullying and sexual abuse. But his plan to be as annoying as possible met with great success. Josh lived in at least a dozen foster homes by the time he was 14.
That all changed when Josh met his match: Rodney, the foster dad who wouldn’t give up. Rodney and his wife turned out to be, Josh says, “an imperfect but amazing set of foster parents and they completely changed the course of my life.”
How were they different? They were patient and consistent. They backed up all of their actions with words and all of their words with actions. Says Josh: “A lot of foster homes I had been in I had heard, ‘We care about you. we’re in this for the long term.’ But the minute I pushed them and tried to get away because I didn’t trust them, they would fold, give up and say, ‘Well, we wanted a kid but we didn’t expect it to be this difficult.’ ”
Being a resource family is difficult. Inexperienced foster parents often make one common, and completely understandable, mistake. If a foster child tells them–by his words or his behavior–that he doesn’t want to remain in their home, they take those words at face value. They call the social worker and say, “He doesn’t want to be here. We’re giving notice. We’re not the right home for him.” But as Josh explains, there are plenty of reasons children in foster care might appear to reject a home. Wise foster parents, like Rodney, know to look behind the words and behavior for their true meaning: I’m afraid. I don’t trust you. I’m going to reject you before you have a chance to reject me.
Josh was a master of rejection. It took him a long time to open up to Rodney and give him a chance. But after a couple of years (Did we say this is a long-term process?), “when I couldn’t push them away or irritate them enough for them to give up on me, I said, ‘Okay, I’m going to give these folks a chance.’” It didn’t happen right away, of course. But Rodney’s love and care, along with the help of counselors, mentors, social workers and the community, Josh says, “slowly, painfully turn(ed) me around to being a decent human being.”
Josh’s experience also convinced him that the crucial link between a child and a successful future is just this: one caring adult. He believes that, if not for Rodney, he would likely be dead, in jail or homeless. Instead, Josh is a husband and father and has a lucrative business as a motivational speaker and author. His special focus is developing good relationships with teenagers. And by the way, Josh doesn’t just address issues of foster care. His “one caring adult” theory applies to all kids. One caring adult is the evidence-based antidote to the effects of bullying, drugs, suicidal thoughts—literally all of the challenges children face in the 21st century.
When you take the step to become a Sierra Forever Families resource family, you take a step toward changing the world. And if the full-time job of resource family isn’t right for you, Sierra Forever Families offers other wonderful opportunities to serve in its Wonder Mentor Program.
You can hear Josh Shipp’s story (and see photos of the remarkable Rodney) at http://joshshipp.com/one-caring-adult/ It’s must-see viewing for anyone who cares about kids.
Written by Joyce Miller, LCSW