Perhaps not surprisingly, we receive more offers of foster care for babies and very young children than we do for older children. However, a large proportion of the children referred to us by local authorities for fostering placements are aged 8 years and over. It is a well-documented fact that the older a child is, the harder it is to find a foster home for them, and this is mostly due to concerns about behaviour.
Naturally many prospective foster carers are anxious about how they would manage an older child with behavioural difficulties. Unfortunately, the negative portrayal of teenagers in the media only fuels these concerns with stories about gangs, drugs, violence, truancy, radicalisation and going missing from care.
However, as many of our foster carers will attest to, fostering older children can be extremely rewarding. Foster carers are able to see clearly how their patience, empathy and care can actually help to set a child on a better path, with better chances for a brighter future.
Training to Foster
Before starting anything new, it’s natural to feel nervous and to wonder if you are up to the job! If you look about you at the work other people seem to do so easily – cake decorating, building a house, teaching a geography lesson, driving a forklift truck…. anything - and imagine yourself trying to do that job it feels incredibly difficult and very daunting, doesn’t it? That’s because you haven’t been trained to do that job! If you were trained on how to decorate cakes or drive a forklift truck, and then did it for a while, in no time at all you would make it look effortless too!
Fostering is no different. Family Fostercare provides all our applicant foster carers with comprehensive ‘Skills to Foster’ training, completely for free, before they are approved to foster. We also make sure that foster carers' skills are kept current and relevant to the children on placement with them, so we continue to provide free, individually tailored training opportunities throughout our foster carers’ time with us. This training equips our foster carers with the knowledge, understanding, skills, tools and strategies to manage everything that their role as a foster carer might throw at them!
If you meet an experienced foster carer and ask them how on earth they cope with fostering older children, they will quite often say something like “Oh, they’re just children!” or “You just care for them!” or something equally humble, because using the skills and strategies from their training has become second nature to them. Whilst we think that our foster carers are all complete superstars, they aren’t super-human - they’re mere mortals with the right qualities and the right training to do the job! They are probably a lot like you, and if they can do it, then with the right training and support from us, you probably can too!
There are however some qualities that our foster carers (especially those who foster older children) tend to have in common:
- They believe in the power of love, understanding and care to fix problems.
- They are able to see the best in children, and believe the best of them - to see through a teenager’s troubled behaviour to the child inside, with all their qualities, talents and potential
- They have the patience and resilience to do what they can every day to gently help bring out the best in the children they care for.
This account from Tracey Lewis, Family Support Worker at our Dudley office, is a good fit with this theme of 'seeing the child behind the behaviour'. Tracey has shared this story about how some of the materials in our children's Welcome Box affected a young boy she has been working with, and how it helped Tracey and his foster carer see the child inside.
Humphrey Bear Works his Magic!
“I carried out a welcome visit a few weeks ago to a child who had only been in care for 4 weeks.
In his notes I read that he had just turned 13 and having spoken to his carers was told that he was very street wise and had an unhealthy interest in guns and ammunition. I kept this in mind when putting his welcome box together but still included our Humphrey bear and his story book and one of our Project Linus quilts amongst lots of other things.
The boy in question was very grateful for all the information and gifts I had put In the box and we explored them all together. He lifted Humphrey from the box and asked ‘what’s this?!’ I explained that all our children get a Humphrey bear no matter their age and he smiled and held onto the bear. He told me he had a bear upstairs on his bed and what his name was. He asked me if he could give Humphrey a name that went better with his own bear’s name and after a few suggestion he decided on a name that was also the name of his grandad.
I then sat with this 13 year old street wise young man who loves guns and we read the Humphrey story book together. He admitted at this point that he struggles with reading and writing and so the simple text was easier for him to read and understand.
Afterwards we took his box up to his room and we introduced Humphrey to his bear, we even made them shake hands, and he placed them very carefully on his bed together. This boy had not unpacked completely still having bags lined up along the bedroom wall with his belongings in. As we talked he told me that he had found out that a friend of his from school was also in care and had been for a long time but he had had no idea! He said they talked to each other about their situation and helped each other.
I saw the foster carer of this boy a few days later and he told me that he had loved his quilt and laid it out on his bed. He also told me that he had seen the boy leaving for school a day or two after my visit with his Humphrey Bear and the story book in hand. When he asked him what he was doing he explained that he was taking it in to school to show his friend that is also in care as it had really helped him to understand things and he wanted to help his friend!
I think this is such an important story and highlights that no matter what our children have been through that are just that - 'children’ - and we should always remember that, no matter how they behave or what we read about them. (I also feel this proves that our Humphrey is doing a fantastic job!!)
Tracey's story is a heartwarming one, and hopefully that young boy is at the start of the path towards a brighter future.
If this article has inspired you, and you are:
- only human; but
- believe in the power of love, understanding and care to fix problems
- have the patience and resilience to stick with it
- can look past behaviour to see the best in children
then you might just make a fantastic foster carer and we’d love to hear from you... right now, because NOW is the “Time to Foster, Time to Care”.
PS. Since we last posted on Tuesday, 144 more children will have been taken into care across the UK, and a total of 216 since the start of Foster Care Fortnight. The UK desperately needs more foster carers. Family Fostercare are anxious to meet people who think they might make good foster carers. If you think you could, please find out more today.
PPS. If you would like to find out more about the ages of children in foster care take a look at this report on the Office for National Statistics websites by the Department for Education.