Fostering Teenagers – Breaking Down The Myths
On 31st March 2016 there were 43,680 children aged 10 years and over in foster care representing over 60% of all looked after children. This highlights the continued need to increase the number of foster carers available and prepared to care for teenagers or those approaching their teenage years.
Many people won’t consider the idea of fostering teenagers because of the negative public image associated with them. They may be seen as aggressive, noisy and uncooperative. But a brash exterior often hides feeling of insecurity, fear and confusion. As a result of these misconceptions, many individuals who could provide a young person with a nurturing home are deterred from fostering teenagers. This is a great loss for the many teenagers and those approaching their teenage years who require a foster carer who is keen and committed to making a difference to a young person life and providing them with the stepping stones required for them to reach independence.
At a time when there is an urgent need for foster carers of teenagers in the UK, we have put together the top 10 myths associated with fostering in general and fostering teenagers:
Myth One: Teens in care are troublemakers
There is a myth that teens in foster care are troublemakers who have been relegated to a foster home because their own parents cannot manage their behaviour. This is is a serious injustice to these young people. Teenagers are usually 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.
Myth Two: Teenagers have fully formed personalities
In reality, teens in foster care are at an age when they can really benefit from the guidance they are provided. Recent research even suggests that a young person’s brain is still developing into their early 20s. The impact and influence of a good routine and a loving, nurturing environment may lead to profound positive effects on the young people in your care who are at a stage of their life where they are making key decisions about their future.
Studies over the past quarter century have provided amazing insights into how the human brain works. While this area of study initially focused on brain diseases such as schizophrenia, it has moved to examining how normal brains function. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) allows scientists to watch the brain in action and one of the astounding things they learned was that the human brain continues to grow and change until the person is well into their 20s.
This underlines the fact that teenagers have their brains primed to learn how to modify their behaviour. In foster care, they are protected and feel safe enough to allow their brains to exercise this new capacity to control their actions.
Myth Three: Foster carers must be old and experienced
To be a foster carer, you do not have to be a veteran of life with years of experience in handling the day-to-day challenges of fostering teenagers.
It’s not age but energy that is so important in fostering. People as young as 21 can be foster parents so long as they have the maturity needed. Ideally, foster carers are at least 25 but in some cases, being 21 years old is sufficient.
Upper age limits do not exist. Any impediments to fostering in your elder years are based on health limitations. One of the primary requirements that foster carers must meet is that they are in good health.
Myth Four: You must be a home owner
There are those who think that you have to be a homeowner in order to foster teenagers. If your image of a foster family involves a family home that is large and spacious – and owned, with or without a mortgage, you’re accepting the myth that a foster carer has to own his or her own home.
Whether it is a teenager or a young child that you are fostering, the same rules apply. Each child in care must have a separate bedroom that is theirs and theirs alone. This means that your home must be spacious enough for a foster child to have his or her own bedroom. It doesn’t matter whether it is owned or rented. It can be rented privately or through social housing.
One of the first aspects that is checked when you express interest in fostering is the amount of room you have available for a foster child or children. The arrangement for your possession of your home is not a factor. However, you should check with your landlord to ensure that fostering in a rental unit meets their approval.
Myth Five: You must have experience caring for teenagers
If you have never had your own children or have never worked with children, chances are that you have heard, and maybe believed, the myth that there is no point trying to become a foster carer because, after all, you don’t know anything about teenagers.
Do not accept this myth. You do not need to have had your own teenagers or have had experience with teenagers. What you do need to have is a strong desire to open your heart to young people who need to be loved and protected.
Sure, if you have teenagers of your own, you know the demands involved in caring for children on the cusp of adulthood. If you have not had children and are nervous about taking on a new career as a fosterer, fear not. You are part of a team. You will network with other foster families who will be more than eager to share their experiences and advice. You will also have a social worker and other experts on your team, should you have any questions or concerns.
Myth Six: You cannot have another job while you foster teenagers
Fostering is a 24/7 job. You are on call for much of this time even though teenagers spend time at school and with friends as well as being occupied with exploring their world. If you are a single foster parent, working a full-time job may be a bit of a challenge. You will have to evaluate your working hours and your fostering commitment to ensure that you can fit both into your life. You may be able to work if the hours suit the hours you need to be available for fostering.
Your fostering commitment calls for the ability to provide a home and affection to the young person in care. Beyond the daily routine of running a safe and healthy home, you must be available for meetings with the social worker, teachers, and other personnel involved in protecting the young person’s welfare and well being.
A foster couple has a lot more flexibility about working another job while fostering. One of you can always be available for the child’s needs while the other one is at work outside the home.
There is another factor that can be considered when you are fostering and that is, fostering may be a sporadic job. You are not guaranteed to always have a placement. When there is no placement, there is no payment.
Myth Seven: You cannot love a foster child like family
While research suggests the first three years of life are the best time for children and parents to form that strong bond of love, studies have also shown that love and attachment are not necessarily biologically driven.
Bonding can take place at any age. It takes trust and time. When the foster teenager comes into a foster home, it is doubtless a stressful experience for the young person. Foster parents need to demonstrate qualities of patience and understanding.
A foster carer must anticipate that it will take time for the teenager to overcome their anxiety at being part of a new family. Whatever circumstances takes children to the point where they are taken away from their parent or parents, it is bound to have an impact on the young person when it comes to forming bonds with foster parents.
The foster parent has longer memories of their experience with their natural children but this does not mean that they cannot love children they have not known as long as they have known their birth children. People who take on the life-changing task of fostering have huge hearts and they know that love begets love and they know that love is not finite.
The decision to foster demonstrates an altruistic personality, which can signify a natural ability they are able to love and help others. Such love from the carer can take hold and the bond can be created with the foster teenager and blossom into a loving parent and child relationship.
There are myths about fostering that apply not only to fostering teenagers but to fostering in general. Here are two of the most prevalent.
Myth Eight: Only couples can foster
This myth may be one of the oldest and most pervasive. Don’t let this outdated myth prevent you from considering taking children into your home to be fostered. To foster, your marital status is not a factor at all. Foster carers can be single, married, or living common law.
Your family composition is not an impediment to fostering. If you have a large extended family under your roof, the primary concern is that there is enough room for the young person to have his or her own space. Anyone 18 and over living under your roof undergoes a background check to ensure that the foster child is being placed in a safe home.
If there is just one person in the role of foster carer, the same approach applies. Is there a spare bedroom for the child? Is the single carer healthy and able to pass a DBS check?
This is closely attached to another, somewhat related, myth.
Myth Nine: Only straight people can foster
Thinking you have to be straight to foster is tied to the myth about having to be part of a couple. Your lifestyle is not a factor. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender – single or as a couple – all are welcome, and encouraged, to become foster carers. The ability to love, protect, and care for children is not tied to the foster carer’s marital status or sexual orientation.
Be careful with myths. Most of them cannot survive the bright light of reality. With 70,000 children in the UK in care, there is an urgent need for a diverse range of foster carers from all parts of the country.
Fostering is rewarding and the financial cost of providing the care, counselling, special needs support, food, shelter, clothing, spending money, and any of the other needs, are covered by the fostering agency or local authority.
Don’t let old moss-covered myths prevent you from becoming part of the life-changing chance to provide a caring home to teenagers who need guidance and protection as they enter their adult lives.
For more information on fostering teenagers or any other type of fostering for that matter, you can contact us here or phone us on 0800 012 4004. You could be that foster carer who changes a child’s life and life chances. We look forward to hearing from you.See more articles…