Foster carers will know that the children arriving in their care will be often lost, confused and traumatised. They undergo experiences that adults would find extremely hard to cope with. Above all, these children are disempowered – dependent on care and attention from a stranger. It is little wonder that the whole process can leave them feeling stigmatised. And this can be a feeling that remains with them for life. Fostering children is all about helping to rebuild confidence and feelings of self-worth. Only by doing this can children begin to think about personal ambitions. Can anyone blame a child for having little or no ambition when their world has collapsed around them? Often there is a sense of isolation that can be a brake on thinking positively about what the future might hold. Perhaps the most important influence a foster carer can have is to create the sense that the future can still be full of promise. But this is tough when foster children so often feel alone, apart and different. Being part of a group is a deep-seated human need. When people have shared adversity, there can at least be a sense of recognition and understanding. It was Alexander Pope, who said: “A fellow feeling makes us wondrous kind.” And this is why, bringing things right up to the present, the launching of a new digital platform for teenagers in care – as well as care leavers – is so timely. If you are being fostered, the likelihood is that in your school you will be in a minority: probably of one – you. Finding that you can be part of your own “wondrous kind”, can create a sense of tangible empowerment. IMO – ‘In My Opinion’ – is the name that has been given to the digital platform. here teenagers can find their own tribe and share stories and experiences. It’s all about fostering a sense of belonging. We have perhaps been a little slow in recognising this will meet an important need. After all, it’s impossible to think of any kind of special interest group that does not have an online presence. IMO has been made possible through the support and creative input of the Children’s Commissioner for England. But what really counts is that from its inception, it has drawn upon the collaborative energy of an advisory network of teens. All these youngsters are either in foster care or are care experienced.
The benefits of IMO have been well expressed by the Senior Digital Engagement Officer, Michelle Browne, at the Children’s Commissioner: “IMO gives teens in care and care leavers the space to tell the world their story. It offers a powerful insight into what life in care is really like, told from the perspective of those directly experiencing it. Many of the stories we receive highlight the myths that sadly still exist about the care system. Contributors to IMO are often motivated by the opportunity to share their successes, strengths and achievements, and show others what they are capable of. these positive posts challenge negative perceptions and fight against the stigma experienced by looked-after children.”
Clearly, The watchword is very much participation. And IMOs byline – ‘write, speak, share’ – makes it clear this is given great encouragement. Another powerful element is the inculcation of a sense of ownership. Youngsters own their individual experiences and are invited to share them with others. A website like this just has to be doing good when one of its contributors – a seventeen-year-old can say –
“Care has made me the person I am today, and I wouldn’t change it for anything!”
A particularly good feature of the website is that it links children in care councils across England so they are aware of campaign work – as well as support.
Teenagers can be difficult. Hardly needs saying so. It’s what has to be expected when caring for youngsters going through the turbulence of adolescence. Being able to divert a lot of that hormonal energy to a website like this can only be for the good. When you visit the site, it quickly becomes apparent that this is somewhere teenagers can congregate and swap stories. And also get access to a lot of valuable resources. And this can only improve as they have support from some hugely influential organisations. These include Merlin Entertainments, Google, Audible, Headspace and the BBC.
IMO is also going to allow foster children to acquire role models. Whilst the numbers of foster children continuing on to higher education is woefully small, one care experienced youngster can inspire many. Last summer, for example, Sophia became the first care experienced person to graduate from Jesus College, Oxford. The site features a video made by Sophia, which has information covering scholarships, accommodation, mental well-being exams and discrimination. To hear about her experiences at first-hand visit –
And for more information about IMO visit https://imohub.org.uk/
It has to be the goal of everyone involved in fostering provision to improve the educational prospects of children coming into care. There is evidence to show that making progress on the educational ladder is very much linked to improvements in mental well-being as well as physical health. It is a sad fact that for a large number of the roughly 72,000 youngsters in care in England, their life opportunities are substantially lower than for young people as a whole. It is also a fact that youngsters who have been in the care system between the ages of ten and seventeen are five times more likely to have found themselves excluded from school. This means that overall, they confront a significantly higher risk of teenage pregnancy, homelessness and unemployment. Considering that a meagre six per cent of care experienced young people will go on to university compared to around fifty per cent of their peers, much work has to be done.
When thinking about how best to help children and young people in foster care, education has to be at the heart of any solution. More initiatives such as First Star – launched at St Mary’s University are needed. This is a programme specifically tailored to addressing the academic and emotional needs of children in care. Once on the programme, students spend four weeks on the University campus during the summer. Here they receive academic tutoring, training in life skills – as well as emotional support. A specialist team is on hand to help students consolidate their learning in English, mathematics, science and IT. This is to help prepare them for the next academic year.
The First Star programme was first initiated in the USA by Peter Samuelson – a film producer. So far the results achieved there have been particularly impressive. Last year the scheme was operating on thirteen campuses and catering for around 350 youngsters. Ninety-nine percent of the First Star Academy students who finished four years of the programme have since gone on to graduate from high school. Most impressively, ninety-one per cent have continued in higher education.
All fostering service providers should applaud and promote IMO because over time this will become a platform able to showcase the efforts and successes of care experienced young people.
We make no bones about it – there is an urgent need to find foster carers willing to look after teenagers. It was recently reported that almost thirty-eight per cent of all youngsters in the fostering system is between the ages of ten and fifteen. So a large proportion of vulnerable youngsters need to be found stable, caring foster homes. The notion has to be challenged that all foster carers are only interested in looking after younger children. This may be so. But it is the job of everyone in fostering provision to make people; who might not otherwise thinks so, that there are advantages to fostering a teenager. For a start, a teenager is likely to be less reliant on a foster parent. You also have the chance to play a key role in what will be a critical point in their lives. This means providing support whilst they choose their GCSEs, being there for them when they are taking exams and then helping and guiding as they think over what college or career options they have. Teenagers can be very receptive to the influences of a foster parent’s life experience. It can be hugely rewarding experiencing a young person responding positively to the personal ‘life lessons’ of a foster carer.
And finally, if a teenager is being difficult or awkward this is natural. They are learning to develop a sense of personal identity. This is why their behaviour can seem unpredictable. They are uncertain. And this is why they need you. If you can see this reality, your responses as a foster carer will be different. Finding a way through and knowing you have communicated with a teenager successfully, is incredibly rewarding. Every time you do this you will realise you have shaped that youngsters way of looking at the world. And then – hopefully – going on to find a place of security in it.
Recapture your youth…
Having a teenager around the place can be like discovering the elixir of youth. Just as you thought your world view had shrunk to the point where you were on the way to joining the ranks of the ‘Oldies’, you will quickly be initiated into a world of youthful energy. If the last band you had followed sold their last single a couple of decades ago, doesn’t matter. The world of Spotify, Instagram and streaming are close at hand. Youth culture can be a tonic: it’s fast-paced, edgy and could well make you quicken your own step. Teenagers have an enthusiasm for life and an energy that can be infectious. There’s no doubt that looking after a teenager can be challenging a lot of the time, but what can be more rewarding than rediscovering a zest for life.
Fostering Care Fortnight is almost upon us – 14th to the 26th May – check out #changeafuture.
Want to know more about this special annual event? Then there is more information available at https://www.thefosteringnetwork.org.uk/fcf19 If you are care experienced or a foster carer, there are a lot of different things you can do to help make a difference. As The Fostering Network says:
“We believe that foster care changes futures – the futures of fostered children and young people and the futures of the foster families who care for them. Have you ever had a moment in your life which you can look back on and see that your future changed at that time? Perhaps it was a teacher telling you that you were really good at something that is now your career? Or a relationship which led you to move? Or a trip overseas which gave you a different outlook on life? What was your moment? Fostering has the potential to be life-changing for fostered children and young people.”
Because there is such a shortage of foster carers we place great emphasis on ‘word of mouth’. This is a very effective way of attracting new applicants into fostering. Our foster carers are excellent ambassadors for fostering because they have such amazing fostering experience. And many of them have been fostering with us for over ten years. We run regular coffee mornings and would be delighted to see you and anyone you wish to bring who might be interested in fostering children. And don’t forget that any one of our carers who can refer a friend of theirs will receive a ‘Rainbow Bonus’ of £500 once that person has accepted their first child or young person.
Call Team Rainbow for the latest fostering opportunities in your area.
We are currently recruiting in London, Birmingham, Manchester and the South Coast area.
You can call us on 020 8427 3355 or instead if lines are busy use our National Line 0330 311 2845 to have a ‘no-obligation’ consultation about fostering children. Perhaps you are already working as a carer through an agency or local authority. If so, and you are thinking of a move, call for details of the bonus scheme we have. There is a lot more information on this at –
Finally, should you have more general questions about fostering – such as How do you foster in the UK? What are the different types of fostering? How do I apply to foster a child? Or what benefits can I claim as a foster carer? We are here to answer your queries. Don’t forget you can also visit our dedicated web page
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) Page http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/frequent-asked-questions/