Foster carers go into fostering – so almost all say – because they like the idea of a challenge. And these can be many and various in the unique world that is fostering. And fostering a teenager certainly does come with its own distinct challenges. But these are often far outweighed by the benefits. And these apply both to the teenager and the foster carer.
It can be helpful if people have some previous experience of working with young people. This could be as a teacher, nurse or youth worker. They may have grown-up children of their own resulting in firsthand and personal experience of teenagers. Such experiences can be valuable, but they are not essential for someone wanting to foster a teenager. There are, however, personal qualities that foster carers need. They must be honest with themselves when applying and know they genuinely possess them – for they will certainly be called upon. They include being tolerant, having the ability to listen, being able to demonstrate empathy and having a good sense of humour. Apart from these considerations, it’s important to have self-confidence and a willingness to learn – as well as work with professionals experienced in recognizing and meeting the needs of teenagers. These will include social workers and probably teachers as well. Foster carers – irrespective of the ages of children – always need to be strong advocates for those they care for. Someone fostering a teenager has specially to bear this in mind as the youngster will be at a critical stage in his/her education. The kind of commitment and support provided by a carer can make a profound difference to their life chances.
When you apply, our fostering agency will want to know what relevant life or professional experiences an applicant might have had. It will be made clear that participation in ongoing training – post Approval – will be expected. Our agency wants its foster carers to see themselves as professionals – always keen to learn more and add to their skills. Rising numbers of young people of all ages are coming into care with problems and emotional difficulties. These will be unique to individuals, but there are common factors. Many teenagers, regrettably, have experienced placement breakdowns. This means that they may have been deprived of the stability and certainty all youngsters need. This can make the behaviour of teenagers particularly challenging. We run regular courses that are all about helping foster carers understand the kinds of complex needs – as well as insecurities – teenagers have. It is only through acquiring an understanding of these, that foster carers can develop the resilience needed to provide effective care. This may seem daunting but, in our experience, the more skills – combined with support – carers have, the greater their confidence. And this is important for a teenager will pick up on how confident, or otherwise, a foster care might be, and this can affect their behaviour positively or negatively. And, depending on circumstances, the stability of the placement itself.
Being a foster carer is a long-term commitment. It requires energy and what everyone knows who has ever fostered a teenager, it can be tiring! This means we get our applicants – as well as our foster carers – to be mindful of their own general health. And that means awareness of the importance of a good diet, exercise and getting enough sleep. People’s individual circumstances will have a significant impact on their wellbeing. You don’t have to be particularly well off to foster, but it is important you enjoy reasonable financial security. It’s likely you will be eligible for benefits, but as a general principle, you will need to be able to support yourself, as well as the teenager you are caring for.
What else might be expected of someone fostering a teenager?
We all have expectations depending on what our circumstances might be. Fostering a teenager will mean understanding they will have been subject to different expectations. These might have been those of their own family home – or indeed those of another foster home. And there might have been more than one of these. Then there will be the expectations the current foster carer will have. It’s easy to see how confusing and disorientating it can be for a teenager who has had to cope with different settings – sometimes in quick succession.
Long-term placements are most likely to provide the security and stability a teenager naturally needs. So, we expect, with the training and support we give, Rainbow foster carers to become effective at setting boundaries. Doing this enables a teenager to be clear themselves about ‘house rules’, the kind of behaviour that is acceptable and that which is not. Fostering a teenager will also require the need to be flexible at times – some rules may need to be phased in as a teenager settles into a new home. There will be issues common to the experiences of practically all teenagers where discussions will need to take place. Some of these are ‘computer screen time’, access to mobile phones, homework, alcohol, drugs and sex.
Understanding the processes at work.
Becoming an adult can feel liberating and sometimes scary. Such feelings can alternate many times during a single day. On top of these, the physiological changes teenagers undergo exert their own profound effects. Teenagers at the same time feel pressure from school, their peer group as well as ideas about their own identity and how they will fit into a complex and rapidly changing world. Many teenagers in foster homes must also deal with having come from very trying situations. These could have involved parents struggling with financial, alcohol or drug problems. In the worst cases, there might also have been domestic violence or mental health issues – and sometimes all the above. Appreciating confronting just one of these problems would tax the average grown-up, it’s easy to see how a teenager dealing with a combination of them will struggle. Fostering a teenager successfully depends on understanding just how traumatic such experiences can be. Their anger and frustration can be seen in context which is a prerequisite to making progress.
Increasing the chances of a placement being successful.
We make it clear to anyone fostering a teenager that the first twenty-four hours of any placement can feel slightly strange – for all concerned. It’s obviously important to be welcoming, but a balance needs to be struck. A teenager will need time and space to settle. Adopting a low-key approach in the first few days is usually best. Finding out what favourite meals might be, is a good way to signal interested and concern. It is also worth remembering that in the early days of the placement, everyone might need help and support to get their bearings. Social workers will be on hand to provide this whenever it is needed. Part of being an experienced and professional foster carer is knowing when to call for support.
Rainbow Fostering is recruiting
Many of the most vulnerable children and young people in this country urgently need your help. They don’t have a family to help and protect them. So many are completely alone. And there are more children coming into care every day. If you are at a crossroads in your life – or want to repurpose the qualities of care you’ve discovered you possess – then pick up the phone to Rainbow now – call 0330 311 2845
We’re recruiting: Rainbow Fostering London; Rainbow Fostering Birmingham; Rainbow Fostering Manchester and Rainbow Fostering Hampshire – depending on where you live, contact one of our offices to start your fostering career.
Rules and advice in relation to the coronavirus pandemic are changing – especially now the lockdown is being eased. Make sure you remain safe please visit – https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/coronavirus People considering fostering always have many different questions so it’s a good idea to see these on our FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) page – http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/frequent-asked-questions/ And for an interesting blog, we can recommend – http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/foster-notion-true-value/