Would you believe teenagers are the most difficult age range to place? Probably. Society and the media do not promote a positive image of teenagers and we believe this creates a barrier for people wanting to care for them. At LiKa, we love teenagers! Some of our most successful stories come from supporting this age range. LiKa foster carer and regular blogger, Joan, shares reflections on being a foster carer for teenagers with the hope it could inspire you to become one too! (Names and personal information have been changed to ensure confidentiality)
What’s been going on for you since you wrote your last blog?
Since my last blog, we are now coming up to a 2 year annual review, in that time I have had a short term placement and now my long term placement has been with us since June 2017. I remember when we were being assessed, I always said we would only want emergency & Short term placements and at the time we had no teenagers in the house.
Now we have 3 teenagers, 2 of our own and Tom who is our foster child, aged 16 who is with us until at least 18 years old.
When your first received the referral for your current placement- what has surprised you?
Tom is our second placement, the referral mentioned all of the concerns and keywords such as ‘gangs’ ‘YOS’, ‘Cannabis’ ‘Criminality’, but there was something that stood out for us. Tom, aged 15, attended school every day, he was polite in placement and has a good sense of humour. Our agency also helped identify the strengths, as these were what we as a foster family could work on, and we felt we could offer what he needed.
Teenagers are often misunderstood, Tom’s life was spiralling around him and we felt we could offer the stability/belonging he needed. Tom was gravitating towards another sense of belonging, which is not uncommon. Had we made our decision based on the risks/worries, we would not have met Tom, who has made some very positive changes in his life, and brought so much joy to our family.
What have been the challenges?
Initially, teenagers need a lot of nurturing, but in a way that makes them feel cared for, without them knowing!! Lots of quality time, listening, texting and encouragement to make the right decisions, forming working relationships with professionals but also with family members that the young people have contact with. There is an element of time required to understand their world, and what changes need to be made to ensure their safety.
The challenges working with teenagers is the small steps, positive changes, as there is no quick fix!! The same messages repeated over and over until they hear it, the time and patience. Some flexibility is required, as teenagers often need you late at night, often unsociable hours or days that they may not go into school, but then they are also independent enough, which has enabled me to continue to work whilst fostering.
What have been the best bits?
The best bits are the laughs, the banter, the crazy conversations about everything from trying to get him to read a book to me listening and understanding grime! Trying to read between the lines is also an art when Tom is guarded with information. We have been on holiday abroad and enjoyed fun days out, clothing shopping and the stresses of individual tastes, with no value for the price of a pair of trainers – is also a joy!!
What support do you revive that helps you support this young person and create change?
The support from our fostering agency has been fabulous, group supervision provides the space to bounce ideas off each other on how to deal with certain situations. However, good communication between all the agencies and birth family has been key to create change to ensure our young person feels supported and cared for, this has helped him start to make the right choices.
There are a lot of people considering becoming foster carers but don’t like the idea of fostering teenagers. Why is it you enjoy this area so much and why would you promote people to consider it?
As a foster carer you do need a level of resilience, tolerance as all teenagers can be a challenge, for our most vulnerable strategies such as an agreed safety plan in place to address any worries provides a framework and a good starting point.
A good sense of humour and a supportive network is helpful, the rewards to see growth and maturity of that young person is amazing, the changes over time, make up for some of the challenges. All teenagers at some point need an advocate, to feel cared for and part of a family, for someone to have their back and fight their corner, to feel safe and secure to help improve their opportunities as young adults.