Fostering teenagers – really?!

Jo and Ste webJo is back with another update, this time she tells us about her decision to foster teenagers.

If you read, enjoyed or shared my last post for Capstone, then chances are you’re one of those wonderful people who are supportive of a person’s choice to foster and understand their reasons to get involved. For this, I thank you – you are amazing.

However, will you be as enthusiastic when I tell you that my husband and I have specifically chosen to foster teenagers?

It’s a statement that gifts us a wealth of surprised/stunned/mortified faces upon delivery. After all, most people don’t even want to share a home with their own teenagers, do they?!

We realise that it’s a ‘niche’ group we’ve selected in terms of the fostering process, but it’s a demographic we were set on supporting long before we even decided to foster. We’ve both always worked with teenagers in our careers in teaching and coaching, and we’ve both always volunteered with such kids in our spare time projects as well; both via the virtue of our qualifications and through the genuine pleasure we get seeing these kids grow up into young people with futures that are hopefully a little brighter as a result of the impact we make. Yes, teenagers are often moody, have to get their own way and have trouble putting themselves across in a socially acceptable way, but then, I’m guilty of all those things too! And as for my husband, well – he married me!

I write this blog as I read through messages from some of my teenage scholars who I manage on an education programme at a local semi-pro football club. They’re amazing and I adore them, but I’m replying to said messages with instructions that I’ve already given out twice within the last hour, I’m deciphering responses that defy any concept of coherent Standard English, and I’m met with hesitance and a little apathy despite the fact I’d actually contacted them about something I believed (heaven forbid) they might enjoy.   It’s hard work.

Personally though, I find baking harder work. Why do I mention this? Well, we all have skills. Some people will no doubt make brilliant parents because they can bake, sew, paint murals in nurseries and sing songs to soothe away pain. I can’t do any of these things, and nor do I want to. I’m less Mary Poppins and more Liam Neeson in Taken, but honestly, who do you see teenagers responding better towards? I know where my skill-set lies and I’m not afraid to use it. If there are teenagers out there who desperately need someone who has the resilience, focus and determination to help give them a second chance at the childhood they were denied and the adulthood they deserve to have, why wouldn’t you want to help if you were able?

Funnily enough, I was initially trained to work with the opposite end of the spectrum – I was a play leader and a primary school teacher in my post-grad years. However, most people who go into fostering want to go for those lower age groups when they seek to take on children. Perhaps it’s viewed as more enjoyable? Maybe they feel younger kids are easier to manage? Very few carers are willing or able to reach out to the teenage referrals though, and so these kids end up nowhere, and often go on to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. How is this fair? What will become of their own children if they have them? These are questions that, given my history, experience and skills, mean that I simply cannot justify giving up on a teenager.

I should be clear and state that I can’t go as far as saying that I find teenagers ‘easier’ to deal with than little kids. Not the case! Even after you’ve built a good relationship with them, which my husband and I have always been able to do, teenagers will almost always either passively or aggressively disregard any advice you give them and will refuse to accept the notion of a bigger picture; instead holding on to their priorities, opinions and convictions in the here and now with an unfaltering grasp. Frustrating as this all is, it is exactly the reason I love working with them. They might not know what they want, but they sure as hell know what they DON’T want, and they won’t let those things hold them back.

Don’t you agree, we could learn a lot from our teenagers?

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