Why foster teenagers?

Foster teen

The most common myth about teenagers is that they are in care because they are 'troublemakers' whose parents cannot control their behaviour. In fact most teenagers are in care for the very same reasons as younger children; it's not that they are difficult to handle but rather because they have been abused or neglected by their parents. 

Being a teenager can be a confusing, emotional and challenging time for any child, and going through family breakdown or upheaval can make life very difficult for some. It is vital vulnerable teenagers get the support and stability they need to help them become well-adjusted adults. Teens in foster care are at an age when they can really benefit from the guidance they are given.

We want to highlight the positive benefits of caring for older children and encourage those interested in fostering, to specifically consider this age group. Here are a few stories from our carers who highlight the positives of fostering older children…

Mary Grace and her husband Rob from Carlisle were Homestays carers for eight years, helping young people aged 16 plus on their journey to independence, before starting to foster teenagers earlier this year.

Mary Grace said: "I always wanted to foster but because we both worked full time when we first enquired eight years ago we realised the Homestays supported lodgings scheme would fit better with our lives. But when Rob retired a couple of years ago we took a year out to travel and then decided to apply to foster full time and started our training last August.

"The reason we chose to do teenage fostering is mostly due to our lifestyle; we enjoy rock climbing, walking and cycling and we love to take our campervan into the Lakes and we thought a teenager would enjoy this too.

"Fostering teenagers is really rewarding because they are at a point where you can assist them with a new narrative; they are at that stage when they can reflect on their lives and we can help them to put a different perspective on things. As they gain in confidence it is really good to see them go out into the world and blossom and to be able to see how our influence has helped them to do that.

"We do everything we can to widen their grasp of the opportunities out there and the possibilities they have for the future. A lot of this is done through listening, talking and making suggestions and making sure they feel valued and loved.

"We've had nothing but good experiences fostering teenagers and when there have been challenges the support is there - you have a team around you which includes your own support worker and foster carer mentor, as well as transition and 'pathway' workers and the education team. 

"While Rob has grown up children of his own, I never had my own children but what is important is your life experience and being open, friendly, kind and patient. Fostering teenagers helps to keep me young and you never stop learning because the children are all very different, so you have to adapt to each child who comes into your home. 

"We've become really attached to all of the young people who've come through our door and it has been a pleasure to be part of their lives. The joy for us is to watch them grown and navigate the world and know that you were part of that."

Mary Grace and Rob and Cody the dog

Whitehaven's Fiona and Bob are long term foster carers to two siblings aged 15 and 17. 

Fiona said: "We'd always talked about fostering and we saw an advert on television and we also got a leaflet through the door and so we finally rang up. 

"We decided to look after older children because we hadn't had kids of our own and so I didn't have experience of babies or toddlers. But we had lots of experience looking after our nieces and nephews most weekends and we definitely thought caring for children full time was something we could do.

"Because we had two spare rooms we were able to foster siblings and the council had matched us with our two children even before we went to panel and they moved in with us a couple of months after we were approved.

"Before that we met them a number of times and they even came for a sleepover so they were comfortable with us before they moved in. But the very first night they were very distressed and it really hit home with us how difficult it had been for them - leaving behind their previous foster carer, their friends, teachers, school and everything familiar to them.

"But they adapted well and made friends quickly at their new school and within days they asked if they could call me mum - they really needed a 'mum' in their lives. Both of the children really love school and have a 100 per cent attendance and both plan to go on to university. 

"All teenagers have a lot to cope with but for teens in care they have the added pressures that brings. But I look at other families and feel really lucky as both of our children are more alert to risks or dangers than their peers.

 "Any child just wants to feel safe and have a secure base whatever their age and as foster carers you can have a big influence on the children - and they influence us as well! It's is a completely different world now for teenagers and our foster children have helped us to navigate all that. 

"I always thought I might be at a disadvantage fostering because we don't have kids of our own but you learn how to deal with your own children and respond to their needs and we've had some excellent training to help us, as well as great support from social workers and other carers. 

"Teenagers often get a bad reputation but I've also done respite care for other teenagers too and I've only had positive experiences. They have been sensible and polite but still need nurturing and reassurance. With teen fostering sometimes you need to know when to back off and not react or comment and to let them come to you. You don't need any special skills, just to be a good listener, have patience and not to be too precious about things. 

"The reward for us has been to see the children grow in confidence and to see them develop into quirky, intelligent and smart individuals. I can't imagine our life without them now and they know we are here for them - this is their home for as long as they want it to be."

Fiona and Bob Diamond