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Taking in an abandoned gay teenager

DEAR CAROLYN: One of my kids has an acquaintance who needs a place to go. She's a gay kid whose parents are moving this summer, and they've told her she won't be going with them. She's 16 and they're not interested in hearing from her again after they move. We've met her once, but I'll be damned if a kid is going to sleep under a bridge while we have a whole house. So now, what do we need to know?

Taking In a Kid

TAKING IN A KID: You don't need to know this, but I'm crying a little.

You do need to know if she wants to live with you. I'm calling her Tess, because I can't call her the acquaintance or the gay kid.

You also need to establish legal guardianship. Calling the school is where I would start given administrators' ready knowledge of child-welfare bureaucracy, and/or your local child services. And of course you'll need to call Tess' parents.

You need to talk to your own kids about what's happening well before Tess moves in, and give them a chance to say out loud how they feel. It won't change your decision (unless there's a valid danger), because needs outweigh wants and right things are right things and you're the parent here, but kids facing a significant change at home need to know they will be heard and respected. I also recommend talking to a family therapist for a session or two, whom you can then have on call as you navigate this.

Teenagers present specific challenges anyway, having one foot in adulthood and the other in childhood, but kids who come from traumatic environments can have added emotional stuff to navigate, which means you likely will, too. The best way not to be undone by it is to know it's coming and have your resources ready.

You might want to let Tess know that in your eyes, she is part of the family and therefore both subject to family rules and entitled to family privileges — but also that if this feels like too much for her all at once, then she can treat this as a visit till she's comfortable with the arrangement.

I'll let readers weigh in, but my last thought is, thank you. Thank you for showing up.

READERS' SUGGESTIONS:

— First, you are a superperson! Thank you for taking Tess in. Second, it might not hurt to talk to a group like PFLAG to find local resources to help Tess process this all.

— Be prepared for Tess to be at a developmentally different stage from your similar-age kid. Without a supportive home situation, she likely had to grow up faster. Being without a safety net forces self-reliance. She's still a kid in some ways, of course. But she may also chafe at your rules, and find it hard to trust that you have her best interests at heart. You may have to work out how to treat the kids differently, but not unfairly.

— I wish there was some way to prosecute or fine or do SOMETHING about parents like this. I hope you can get her emancipated ASAP. Also get her Social Security card and birth certificate if possible, and start a bank account ONLY in her name.

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