‘I could never foster a teen. They’re just too difficult, aren’t they?’
A commonly held belief of many in society is that teenagers are awkward, problematic, unreachable, have their minds already set. Yet, aren’t teenagers’ children too? Don’t younger children present certain challenges or have combative natures or struggle to regulate their emotions? Why is it that we are so quick to demonise a person and not recognise their internal struggles behind their behaviours, especially when in the eyes of the law they are still just a child?
In the UK, there is a national foster carer shortage, but not because people are unmotivated to help; people enquire to foster every day. The shortage arises from enough suitable offers of care. The biggest gap is loving, safe and nurturing homes for teenagers because this myth prevails, ‘I could never foster a teen…’
Why couldn’t you? Let’s look at the top 3 myths and see if we can challenge them.
1. ‘They’re just too difficult’
Fostering of any kind is difficult. A job of any kind can be difficult. Life can be difficult. Being a teen is an awkward time, you need only think back as far as your own adolescence. There is a restlessness that comes with growing maturity. It can make a person indecisive, uncommunicative, unmotivated, hard to predict. This can all amount to someone being described as ‘difficult’.
But for the vast majority of teenagers, they will experience a loving and secure attachment during their ‘difficulties’. They will understand the boundaries and they can test them because they are guaranteed unconditional love as they find their identity.
For a child in care, however, the challenge of finding their identity is significantly harder when they feel they can’t depend on the adults around them. Most children in care will have experienced situations we cannot imagine, and they are in our care not because of what they have done but because of what has been done to them.
So, yes, teenagers may present foster carers with certain challenges (what child does not), but fostering is a challenge. And without a carer to support these children during their adolescence, their life will be a whole lot more difficult.
2. ‘I’ll have to have cared for teenagers already’
A lot of people worry about the experience needed to care for an older child and yet it does not trouble them to think about navigating the world of raising young children. But in terms of fostering it is largely the same; it is desirable to have experience with children of the age you’d like to care for, but not essential.
The more experience you have with children whether in a paid or voluntary setting or informally caring for friends’ or families’ children, the better prepared you will be, but if you have the insight, resilience and commitment fostering needs, then we would be glad to hear from you.
The proverb, ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ is especially true in the case of foster children and while you may be the foster parent providing the majority of a teenager’s care, you do not do this in isolation. There is a whole team built around supporting you and the child. We have resource workers who can provide outreach support, a psychotherapist who can offer you insight into the needs of the young person you care for, social workers on hand 24/7, a community of foster carers with a wealth of experience and knowledge behind them and access to any training which might provide more understanding and techniques.
So, to foster most adolescents, you do not need to have cared for teenagers already.
3. ‘I have children in the home already, I can’t foster someone older than them’
This is an interesting myth and really, only you can decide if your family are prepared to take in an older child, but it is fair to say that the fostering regulations do not prevent this. We have many families who have fostered older children when their own were small. Often the birth children come to regard them as a sibling.
Dynamically, only you will know what suits your family best, but all teenagers in care are in need of the same fundamentals as your own children; love, understanding and care.
If you feel you could foster a teenager, we’d like to hear from you. Contact us and enquire today.
We care, could you?