Having 4 children of our own aged between 3 and 10 years, we thought a young person within that age range would be the perfect way to start our fostering journey. We were imagining our first foster child being under 10 and fitting in perfectly with the family!
2 days after panel we got that all so important phone call! ….. next thing we know a strapping young man aged 15 years was in our living room and after a basic introduction the social worker left. For a few minutes I was a little frozen, maybe a tad shocked or was it bewilderment at the prospect of looking after a teenager when my kids weren’t quite there yet.
Needless to say, we have never looked back. M was with us for a year, the learning curve was steep but amazingly rewarding and this young man added a dimension to our family that was unexpected, different but so enriching. We went on to foster many more teenagers ranging from 13-18 years and can honestly say it has been a pleasure. It has undoubtedly been tough and challenging at times but we are trained to help peel back some of the outer layers these children have built around themselves for survival. Once you begin to gain their trust and form a positive nurturing bond, you start seeing the child within emerge. They have so much value to add and you in return can help by providing safety, stability, nurture and support for them to make sense of their chaotic backgrounds.
Teenagers are very different from looking after, let’s say, a 4-year-old with high needs. Teenagers can verbalise their emotions much more coherently and are sometimes able to find other ways to cope with trauma. They can find support outside of the home in peers and take themselves away for personal space if needed. On the contrary a younger child will be totally dependent upon you for support and nurture. They will struggle to understand and express their emotions and this can be quite challenging and full on.
We have specialised in teenagers over the past 14 plus years and can honestly say, it has been very rewarding. We keep in touch with many young people we have cared for, helped into independence and feel proud that in some small way we have added value to their very difficult lives; it’s nice to see them thriving and moving on. It’s particularly pleasing when they remember their time with us in a positive manner.
Looking after teenagers may appear to be a daunting prospect and it’s probably not for the faint hearted but we have found that with all the attitude, resistance and challenges it brings, the little nuggets of progress make it all worthwhile and you could be that one stabilising factor in these young people’s lives, even if for a short period of time.
Sash & Saj