Hi, my name is Chrissy,
I have a daughter Elizabeth she is currently 8 years old. We would love to share with you our experiences with fostering teenagers.
I have over the years fostered many teenagers. Five to be exact. No I am not a machine, nor am I oblivious to the challenges everyone faces when parenting/raising or fostering a teenager. My experience have been varied and I would like to share with you the positives to taking on a teenager.
Many shy away from taking a teenager into their home and here are some of the reasons why…
- We have all heard the stories from many in the Fostering community that their young person is always missing from placement. They never return or never home on time.
- We hear stories about how they address us and their environment.
- Using the house like a hotel.
All sound familiar?
Well let me shed some light on the positives. My first teenager was very distant. Had a life of her own before coming into my care. She had her own set of friends. Went to school independently. Was accountable for herself. She followed her own set of rules and made her own boundaries. She did what she wanted and went where she pleased.
After coming into my care and loving in my home. I am sure she was overwhelmed with the rules and safer caring policy. I am sure that this all seemed alien to her. I am sure that all of a sudden she has to follow rules, boundaries and had to make sure she informed me of her whereabouts. Theses things were non negotiable (keeping in with the placement agreement and safer caring policy set out by the agency and Local authority) I am confident that this provoked feelings inside her we could never understand.
Not only did this YP not ask for this situation but now she has to follow rules from a stranger and claims that it’s to keep her safe. Something she has been doing herself for many years.
I first was met with this challenge within the first year of fostering. I can tell you that it isn’t much fun when you have never been faced with a teenager before. But I embraced all that was available to me. Went on as many courses as I could. Gained confidence in my abilities. Then applied this to my young person.
To my amazement and joy, with every day that passed life got easier for myself and my young person. We established a great relationship of mutual respect and trust. We lived separate but joined lives, and in time we became close. She trusted I was there to help guide and care for her. She trusted to come to me. She trusted that even if she made mistakes, we would be able together to resolve them.
We did make positive steps. We worked together in making agreements about home times. We worked together with house chores.
We shared stories together and went for meals. We shared in liked interests and explored new ones together.
I helped her emotional development, through communication and role modelling. Slowly but surely I saw what can only be described as a metamorphosis. It was beautiful to watch her grow and blossom. I saw with my own eyes her mature.
My YP taught me a lot about the here and now. The world of teenagers. Allowed me access to how they view the world today, and how much it differs from when I was a teenager. She gave me much more than I expected.
I am grateful for that early experience and will hold that close to my heart as I will all my placements.
I guess I wanted to say that there is so much more to teenagers than meets the eye. Don’t see it as a challenge but a chance to grow.
If you’d like to find out more about fostering then get in touch on 0208 347 8741 or download our guide here
Fostering doesn’t only change the lives of children in care, it also affects the lives of the foster carers birth children.
Princess’ mum became a foster carer, this is her story.
When I was 16 I didn’t care about much else but hanging out with my friends and family, listening to music, animals and beating all my guy friends at the latest PlayStation games just to prove that girls can do anything boys can, but better! So it was a big surprise for me when my mother told me that she wanted to be a foster carer. I wasn’t all too sure what that would mean, but I knew my mother was very excited about it as she told me with a big smile on her face. She absolutely adores children and helping others who are in need, so of course it was perfect for her. But honestly I wasn’t too sure.
Being the youngest out of five I was always used to being the centre of attention and the one everyone spoils, so the idea that someone much smaller than me could be living with us for a while was bizarre to me. I had lots of questions ‘ what will these children be like?’ , ‘What if someone my age comes and we don’t get along?’, ‘Will they stay with us forever?’. My mother told me that it would be a lovely thing to do to help a child who may be in a situation where their childhood wasn’t as great as mine was and she reminded me just how much I loved and enjoyed my niece and nephew. Which was true…apart from the changing of their nappies and having them draw all over my bedroom walls I did love children as much as my mother and my whole family did too. I imagined myself being a big sister to them and teaching them all the things I know like how to balance a spoon on your nose and the importance of taking in part in games but never getting sour grapes if you lose…just get them back next time by being better!
So when the time came and we fostered a brother and sister who were under the age of 5, I was nervous but excited to get to know them. It was such a lovely experience, especially as I had never been a big sister before but now I had to help my mother look after two little ones who looked up to me.
They were funny and had so much personality and I felt myself filling up with so much love for them and just wanting them to have a great time whilst they were with us. When we were eventually told that they were going to be adopted, I was shocked and upset as it meant they would be leaving us soon. I wouldn’t be a big sister anymore. I spoke to my mother about how I was feeling and I’m glad I did as she assured me that it was a good thing and that it was always going to be short term. She also mentioned to me that they would be going to two nice people who have always wanted children and we should be happy about this. I sulked for a while and went to my room blasting out some emotional music and was thinking to myself ‘this isn’t fair!’ But when I met the adoptive parents my feelings changed and I saw that the kids really liked them. They were happy. The parents thanked us for everything we had done with the kids and that my mother was a great foster carer and they had enjoyed this time with her helping them to get to know the children. I beamed at my mother and thought I have never been so proud of her. It was true she was amazing at what she did.
Now over ten years later my mother is still fostering children and me being at home still has made me witness just what it is like to be in family who foster.
My brothers and sisters don’t live at home anymore however they are also fully involved when we foster children or mother and child placements. We are a close knit family so we like getting everyone together including the foster placements (children or mother and child), for picnics in the park, dinners and occasionally a game of bowling which will always begin with my brother thinking he can beat everyone and then soon realising he has the lowest score! Every foster placement we have had enjoyed being involved and treated like they were family, which I think is very important if you want to be a foster carer.
For me now I mostly help my mother with caring for the children we may have whether it be to babysit, to cook dinner or to help them with homework… but certainly not maths it’s always been my worst subject! So I am quite involved with the everyday care which is not an issue to me as it’s always been a part of my life for a long time now.
Fostering has affected me by making me a better person I think. Not that I wasn’t before, but it’s really made me sensitive to others situations and has made me realise how important it is for everyone to be cared for and to live somewhere where they feel safe. Which I think are little things we tend to take for granted. Just seeing children and young people progressing and making good changes in their lives, smiling more and genuinely being happy makes it all worth it.
This is also in the case of mother and child placements. Seeing mothers figuring out what’s best for their child/children and gaining advice from my mother or myself and putting it into action; then finally getting their children back in their full care. It’s enough to make you happy about what you do and experience just how rewarding fostering is.
We work hard with mothers and at times this can be challenging, as a lot don’t like the idea of someone telling them how to look after their own child. Which I feel is understandable. However being patient with them and reminding yourself just how they must feel living in another’s home and having people involved heavily in their life, helps you to connect with them. Thus they feel they can see you more like a friend who only wants the best for them and especially their child. Which hopefully results in them making better choices and leaving placement with smile on their face as they walk out the door with their child.
Overall I would say fostering is an amazing thing to do. My advice for anyone who wants to foster is to go for it ! If you love children and feel you can bring some sunshine to their life for however long you have them, then do it. Yes it can be hard at times accepting others in your home, or having another child amongst the ones you have already (including emotional teenagers like I was haha) but you will get to see just how wonderful it is to make a great impact on someone’s life.
Fostering and the Christian faith seem to have many close parallels and flow one from the other.
You don’t necessarily need to have a strong faith in order to feel compassion for a fellow human being and especially a vulnerable child. There can an innate desire to help where possible, and to share some of the home comforts we take for granted.
Of course taking strangers into your home is not a trivial thing, and it will impact upon all the current household. There needs to be agreement from everyone that the fostered child will be welcomed and integrated into the family and any house rules.
Certain core Christian values seem to support fostering. Everyone’s right to privacy and security needs to be recognised. People need their own space wherever possible, and rules such as always knocking on doors before entering should be adhered to.
We have found eating our main meal seated together as a family a great integrator, and a way to discuss any household issues. Other activities together, such as a simple game of cards further the bonding process, and allow expression whilst having fun.
The opportunity to attend church on a Sunday of course is always there, but never forced upon the child. Should they practice any other faith, then naturally this is to be respected and supported in a practical sense as needs be.
Fostered children are often coming from chaotic backgrounds, so it will be a culture shock to enter a calm, disciplined Christian household. Patience is needed to manage this transition, and allow the child time to adjust and find trust in this new environment.
We have found routine a wonderful settler where the child knows what to expect and the standards that are expected in return. Bed times are regulated to ensure sufficient rest for school the next day, and any tablets or phones are switched off some time before bed to aid good quality sleep.
We stress the importance of not lying as a fundamental value, and always feeling able to express an opinion or voice any concern.
It is always a useful exercise to allow the child to draw up their own house rules and these can then be amalgamated with any existing rules to provide a clear pathway forwards. Children are encouraged to help around the house, assisting in everyday chores such as washing up or cleaning. This teaches useful life skills as well as a sense of responsibility in contributing towards the house running.
Being a Christian means helping others to be the very best they can be, after providing the safe haven they needed. A child’s interests should be encouraged, and progress praised in any new developing skills.
Living in a foster home promotes respect for others. We can all learn from each other, and in time grow as a family unit. It’s not always an easy process, particularly when the child is first placed in a foster home. Sometimes the placement will break down, and it will be in the best interests of everyone that another home is found. The carers need to be flexible to this, yet steadfast in their willingness to help, and provide security.
We are all God’s children. He loves us all and will provide for us all in time as we place our trust in him. Fostering is a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate that whilst living a Christian life.
Richard is a foster carer with Greater London Fostering.
Call 0208 347 8741 or email [email protected] if you’ d like to find out more. We welcome people from any religious or non-religious background.
The decision to become a foster carer isn’t an easy one to make. Fostering will have an impact on not only the child in care, but your life and your family’s life too. There’s a lot to think about so it’s natural to have concerns. Every day I talk to people who are interested in fostering and there seems to be a certain level of reluctance to ask certain questions. Maybe they think it’s cheeky to ask about money? Maybe they don’t want to appear like they couldn’t manage if they were to foster.
How will your family feel about sharing their home with someone they don’t know? How will you fit in the endless meetings, contact and school-run alongside your own career? What if the child you foster doesn’t like you? There is a lot to think about. So let’s talk about what’s stopping you from fostering…
Money, money, money
Feel like money could be a problem? Nobody fosters for the money, but the extra income you get a carer certainly helps. Part of the decision to foster should be to consider how it will affect the level of income you’ll be receiving. It might be the case that you decide to reduce your contract, to work part time. Foster carers should be financially stable without the fostering allowance. That’s why many of our carers continue to work part time or full time.
Think you can’t foster because you work? Ultimately, we ask that our carers are financially stable without the fostering allowance they receive. A lot of our foster carers continue to work, either full time or part time. It’s just important that you have a support network of family and friends who can help you.
Help (I need somebody)
Feel like you won’t be able to manage on your own? The short answer is we don’t expect you to! When you become a foster carer, you will be assigned a social worker, who will support you throughout your fostering experience. GLF also runs regular support groups and training courses.
You might be worrying about whether you meet our requirements. When it comes to the things that are a definite ‘no, you can’t foster’, there aren’t as many as you might think.
Whats love got to do with it?
Think you can’t foster because you’re not in a relationship? You don’t have to be in a couple to foster. You can be married, in a long term relationship or single. Families come in all shapes and sizes, so you won’t be judged for the size of yours.
Think you can’t foster because you’re gay? It doesn’t matter if you are gay, lesbian, trans-gender or heterosexual. We live in a diverse culture and we want this to be reflected in our fostering community. Your sexuality really doesn’t matter to us. What’s important is the experience and support you can bring to your role as a foster carer.
Think you can’t foster because you’re too old or too young? You can become a foster carer if you are over 21 years old and there is no upper age limit. As long as you are fit and able enough to look after children, then you can foster.
There are thousands of children needing foster families. These children come from all sorts of backgrounds, cultures, religions. We need foster carers to reflect this diversity. So, regardless of your age, ethnicity, employment or relationship status and as long as you have a spare room and the time, the reality is you could probably foster.
If you are thinking about it then get in touch, ask a question, start the journey. We’re ready and waiting for your questions!
Louise is a recruitment officer at Greater London Fostering.
It’s only my second blog post and I’ve suffered writers block already, typical! Tonight I have asked my fiancée Scott for his thoughts on what I should blog about. He is the decisive one of us both! Without a pause for thought he tells me I ‘should write a blog post about R’ (one of his favourite foster kids). ‘Ok’ I agree, ‘what shall I write about her’ I ask him? ‘Well’ he tells me ‘you must tell everyone how she kept trying to aggressively bite us’ (she did)’ but that now she is such a lovely little girl very happy, sweet and caring’ (she is). Thanks’ Scott!! Never a truer word said as oh my god could that girl bite! OUCH! I won’t even mention the hair pulling or scratching. But goodness me this is a blog to hopefully encourage people to foster so I am not going to get into too much detail on all the bites and scratches we acquired from this little one!
Writing about R who was 18 months old when she came to us is, I guess the perfect way to address one of the most difficult aspects of fostering which is saying goodbye!
People often say to me they couldn’t do fostering because they couldn’t cope with the goodbyes. Well they have a point!! It’s actually brutal and I wish I could say otherwise!
Goodbyes can be incredibly hard and incredibly sad. Fostering kids can, and often does, mean parting ways eventually. Children living in your home as part of your family, calling out your name when they get hurt, crying for you through the night, screaming for you first thing in the morning, having you as their world and their soother and cleaner and chef and taxi service and cuddler and joker and everything else that comes with children living as part of your family in your home………and then they have to leave! How is it possible to actually cope with that you may wonder? I don’t have the answer to that and it’s a question I have often asked myself having been through 9 goodbyes to 9 lovely foster kids.
“Showing foster children how to say goodbye and how to cope with goodbyes can be just as important as teaching them not to be afraid in life”
For me, with my foster children each goodbye has been as sad and as hard as the last. I believe that with most things in life our little ones learn from us and even with something as ordinary as a goodbye, the way it’s done prepares them for life which can often be full of goodbyes. We all have to die sometime, most of us will leave a job, a school, move to a different neighbour, split with a partner etc etc. Goodbyes, loss and bereavement surround us throughout our life. Remembering that foster children may have experienced traumatic goodbyes in the past perhaps being taken away from parents or split from siblings, mean it’s even more important that time and effort goes into each and every goodbye in foster care. Showing foster children how to say goodbye and how to cope with goodbyes can be just as important as teaching them not to be afraid in life, teaching them happiness, self-care, confidence and kindness. An art form, a tradition, a rite of passage, a greeting I am not even sure what exactly a goodbye is but one thing I do know is that for foster kids moving on its surely a right that they get one! As foster kids look back on their childhood they need to know that somebody cared enough to make that effort to give them a goodbye! That someone cared enough to be sad they were leaving! It’s not much to ask for is it?
“She was our second foster child and I felt sheer disbelief that we had been entrusted to such a tiny little person of only 18 months old.”
R was with us for 9 months it felt like she had been with us forever. Let me start at the beginning in order to get to the end and yes sadly there is an end and a goodbye!
As is often the way in fostering we didn’t know anything about R before she arrived and she quite literally out of the blue turned up on our doorstep one spring afternoon! Accompanied by two social workers, a few plastic bags, a suitcase of cuddly toys and a smile to light up the whole of London.
That grey Vauxhall Corsa pulling into our driveway, me peering through the car window in to the back seat and seeing a little cheeky cherub with chubby cheeks, ginger curly hair and a big angry red rash on her chin peering back at us with a huge beaming toothy grin. It’s like it was only yesterday!
She was our second foster child and I felt sheer disbelief that we had been entrusted to such a tiny little person of only 18 months old. That evening when Scott my fiancée came home and saw her sprawled out in the cot I had temporarily installed at the bottom of our bed he confessed he felt totally shocked too! She was just so tiny and so delicate it wasn’t possible to be more in awe of anything or anyone in the world. We both sat gazing at her for at least two hours as she slept. What we wouldn’t do to be able to go back in time and have that time all over again.
We didn’t know much back then other than she had been taken away from her Mum for neglect and then placed with a foster carer who hadn’t been able to meet her needs and then she was passed to us. An incredibly sad state of affairs for a little girl not yet two and it was quite understandable that she was very confused, frustrated, aggressive and quite wild!
“Where’s my Amee I want my Amee” she would say when I wasn’t there. “Lut you Amee” she would tell me at bedtime as she couldn’t quite pronounce love.
That nine months passed by in minutes. We fed her, we changed her nappies, we potty trained her, we took her to ballet lessons, to fairy School, to playgroup, to the park, on holiday to Scotland. We did it all as if she were our own little girl and we let ourselves forget she wasn’t! She changed in front of our eyes and slowly stopped biting and being aggressive. She trusted us and she grew into a sweet kind little girl who loved animals especially dogs. Wherever we went whatever café or restaurant we were sat in she had this terribly embarrassing habit of announcing to all the public that I was “her Amee”. “AMEE” she would start of with when people smiled at her “AMEE” she would tell them and point at me. Then it would turn to “MY AMEE” in a more firm voice as whatever random person had started to show interest in her “MY AMEE” would turn to a warning tone as they ventured closer as if warning them to stay away. It was incredibly heart-warming and so cute and made us laugh so much. Being her Amee made me feel wonderful and proud.
We knew for the last two months of that period that she was leaving us to go home to her paternal grandparents. I guess we tried not to think about it and buried our heads in the sand. We were so happy for her that her family on her Dad’s side had come forward to claim her but so devastated that she was going to leave too.
“Where’s my Amee I want my Amee” she would say when I wasn’t there. “Lut you Amee” she would tell me at bedtime as she couldn’t quite pronounce love. Her love wasn’t just for me either she loved Scott too and often flatly refused to go to sleep until he had come home from work. “SCOTTTTTTT” she would call out from her cot if she heard him coming in “SCOTTTTTTTTTTT” and as soon as he went in her room she would quickly lie down and softly say “nose touch, kiss, chin tickle, lut you Scott”. That was always the routine. Our routine. To this day Scott and I never say the words I love you to each other, we always say “lut you” just like she did.
“We didn’t know how things would work out for her and we felt so afraid for her future that it was so totally out of our control.”
It was selfish of us to want to keep her and I admit we were jealous that her real family were getting her back but in our defence we are only human not pre-programmed robots. Controlling your feelings and emotions when dealing with real live children can be an actual mammoth task, a huge burden and I am not sure anyone can prepare you for the rollercoaster of feelings that you expose yourself to in fostering.
Not a day goes by when we don’t think of her, watch videos of her, and laugh at something she said or did the memory like a ghost just within reach but not quite enough to touch. And it hurts so much but I would do it all again in a second…………Why? Because fostering changes these kids’ lives? It takes them off that twisted out of control path and gets them back on track. It doesn’t work every time I know that but with R it did and we were so proud to have been part of the team that worked incredibly hard to get that little girl’s life the way she deserved it to be.
We didn’t know how things would work out for her and we felt so afraid for her future that it was so totally out of our control. Afraid we may not see her again, and afraid that things wouldn’t work out her at her Gran’s or that they wouldn’t make the right decisions for her future.
“There are so many ways of saying goodbye you only have to use your imagination.”
That final day arrived and I suppose I was in shock more than anything that this little person who stormed into our life like an aggressive out of control tornado was now leaving us as almost abruptly as she arrived. Everything was planned the way it should be when children move on from the care system. Her Grandmother spent a week with us learning her routine and then I spent 2 days with them easing R into life with them. I even spent ages photographing all her teddies and made it into a word document with their names and everything I knew about them so that her Gran would know them all. When R had arrived to us nobody bothered to tell us the names of any of her toys and I had to name them all and give them personalities. The afternoon that I left her there I didn’t know what the future would hold for her. She was two year’s old and I couldn’t explain to her that I wasn’t coming back, that I wouldn’t nose touch her tonight or kiss her or chin tickle her or read her Goldilocks and the bears. I just had to say it that word, goodbye and then leave! I tried not to cry and tried to force myself to smile and be happy so as not to frighten her or confuse her. I left her in the arms of her Nanny. She was happy and surrounded by her aunties, her Grandad and her Dad but not just them she was surrounded by love and it’s where she belonged and I knew that.
At only 2 year’s old it was hard for R to understand she was leaving and that in turn made it very hard for us knowing that she would be confused when she couldn’t find us. Age should be irrelevant and even when children are too young to understand goodbyes must still be put in place as all children grow up and want to know about their early life. There are so many ways of saying goodbye you only have to use your imagination. I would love to know how you have said goodbye to your foster kids or if plan to foster how would you say goodbye when the time comes for your children to move on? For R I wrote her a book a little story. My friend Ellie illustrated it for me. One day I hope R will read her book and know she was so loved and wanted and that we cared so much about her and that we still do. I hope that knowing this will make her feel valued and give her the self-worth to be happy in life and follow her dreams.
Foster care can be the difference between a child at risk and a child with their whole life ahead of them. We were honoured to be her foster carers and be that difference for her.
Lut you R
There is a crisis in fostering, with 10,000 new foster carers needed. Rather than putting resources into recruiting, training and developing new foster carers, some agencies and local authorities prefer to spend this money incentivising existing foster carers to transfer.
A recent report by Association of Directors of Children’s Services describes this practice as immoral, and we agree.
Greater London Fostering and myself believe that these one of payments represent a loss to the fostering community, and whole heartedly promise never to pay them and encourage other independent agencies and local authorities to stop encouraging foster carers to transfer..
We however believe that a foster carer has the right to work for whoever they want to, and should be free to transfer, however, this should be down to the level of support they receive, and the relationships they have, rather than a short term financial motivation.
The ADCS report was thin on criticism against local authorities. In my experience, there is often pressure applied to our foster carers from local authorities, with vague threats of children being removed, or support not given unless they transfer.
I think this practice is as immoral, as golden hellos, and call for la’s to also promise not to poach foster carers from independent agencies.
At the end of the day, we should be putting all our efforts into recruiting new foster carers, rather than wasting money on the carer transfer merry- go – round.
Richard Norwood, Director Greater London Fostering