Foster care for teenagers can be challenging

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Foster care for teenagers can be challenging

The first in an occasional series looking at the particular issues surrounding foster care for teenagers. It is becoming harder to find placements for teenagers as their behaviour can be challenging. And there are reasons for this: life for all teenagers is stressful enough, but if you are a teenager in the care system, it will have stresses and strains that can be really tough to deal with. If you foster, or are thinking of fostering teenagers, there are a few things to have in mind. A teenager may arrive in your home feeling grateful and safe. This is obviously an ideal start, but sadly, this is not the usual scenario. For young people generally, the teenage years are a time of experimentation – how to go about building relationships. Teenagers in foster care have to deal with the challenge of trying to create a relationship with their foster carer(s). If their experience is of placement breakdowns and being looked after by a number of different carers, this can make it far harder. There are many different ways that the young person may have arrived in placement. Each journey is unique, but all too often it will have been an arduous and upsetting journey. Uncertainty and apprehension are commonly felt; this can make young people, understandably, distressed, aggressive and resentful. This is why it is so important that foster carers have an understanding of the processes at work that drive patterns of behaviour. This can help them to be resilient in the face of what can be challenging and difficult conduct. But should such behaviour be surprising? If, as adults, we had recently experienced abuse or neglect – and perhaps witnessed scenes of domestic violence, we would have feelings of anger and resentment. How much harder is it, then, for an isolated teenager to cope with such feelings?

Foster a knowledge of the factors at work
A key factor affecting all teenagers who come into care is a feeling of uncertainty. They may have a history of repeated placement breakdowns, which will have created a damaging psychological blend of cynicism as well as uncertainty. Resilience from the foster carer(s) is key: they will have had training, but the reality of a disgruntled and non-communicative adolescent arriving at their door is something different. So is there an answer? Happily – yes – for there are many exceptional foster carers who mange teenagers every day. And the best way to achieve this is, again, to recognise the processes at work. At the outset of a placement, it should simply be realised that it can take a time for a teenager to settle, and accept this rarely happens in a few short weeks. Adolescents may well take considerably longer to feel confident and trusting in their new situation: especially if they have faced trauma and upheaval. Another very useful attribute for a foster carer is a well developed sense of pragmatism. This can enable them to manage their own expectations and not feel rebuffed by a non communicative and sulky manner – the usual hallmarks of all teenage behaviour.

The overriding goal is placement stability: once a teenager begins to feel a sense of acceptance and has got past the stage of provocative behaviour, things should start to improve. It is worth noting, that bad behaviour can often be about ‘testing the placement’ to see if the foster carer(s) can be relied upon. For a successful outcome, foster carers need ongoing support from their agency or local authority; supervising social workers obviously play a key role – and as long as everyone has the goal of ensuring the placement remains stable, progress is likely. And it should not be forgotten, that turning the life of a troubled teenager around can be deeply rewarding. As a foster carer you may become the first person a youngster has ever come to trust. That should feel rather special…

And the good news at the end of this rainbow…Spring is on the way!

Follow up our ‘Rainbow Rewards
Rainbow will be pleased to pay a bonus of £500 if you are able to refer someone to be a foster carer. This will be paid after your referral has been approved and the first placement has been made. Please note, if you are already an approved foster carer and already care for a child (children) on a long-term basis, you can very easily transfer to Rainbow. You also will be eligible for a bonus. It is a straightforward process – Rainbow Fostering provide all the necessary support and guidance – please call for details and find out about the benefits of joining our vibrant and welcoming community of foster carers.

If you foster, keep up to date with the issues that matter
Refer to our special news section on Rainbow Fostering’s web site. It has articles of interest if you foster – and even if you don’t! Simply visit

Foster an adolescent

Foster a teenager

And please feel free to contact us with your own views or fostering experiences.

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