Boy staring ahead. The text reads Fostering older children & teenagers, what lies beyond the label?

Fostering teenagers & older children; ‘What lies beyond the labels?’

Estimated reading time: 11 minutes

Fostering teenagers and older children are challenging. However, foster carers who do, see what lies beyond the labels; they see the child. Over 50% of children in care are over ten years of age; more than half are boys. Sadly, the highest reason for children going into care is child abuse and neglect.

Teenagers and young people are also the hardest to place in foster homes. Often, it’s because of a label attached that has no bearing on the child; or the trauma they endured. But they tick a box. The motivation for this is unclear; however, labels put off potential foster carers. Thankfully, foster carers who foster teenagers, see what lies beyond labels; they are the difference these young people need.

Teenagers often get bad press in adolescence…

Teenagers often get bad press as adolescence kicks in, and their body clock ticks in preparation for adulthood. Also, most parents of teenagers can relate to the theory of young people who sleep their life away, whilst grunting occasionally. But we love them; they are our children. So, we wait patiently as adolescence passes, and teenagers eventually emerge as confident young people; whom we love and face the future together.

The future, for many teenagers, is because they had love and support from families to guide them. For them, leaving school is a celebration, and sixteen is the age when the clock starts to tick to independence; it is exciting.

However, for older children, and teenagers in care; adolescence is not the clock that ticks loudest. The loudest tick is the time they have left in the care system. They know, that without foster carers to guide them, the label changes. They are no longer children in care; they are care leavers who become scared and vulnerable.

Our government has recently decided that teenagers, leaving care and over sixteen, will no longer get support. Furthermore, they will place them in ‘unregulated accommodation; often miles away from the families and communities they belong to. Sadly, they know no one, and no one knows them. And the lure of criminal exploitation grows.

teenage boy sleeping with a clock in view.

Article 39 – The #Keepcaringto18 campaign.

Article 39 is a small, independent charity that fights for the rights of children living in the state and privately-run institutions (boarding and residential schools, children’s homes, immigration detention, mental health inpatient units and prisons) in England.

I support Article 39 in their campaign #Keepcaringto18 as they call on our government to make it law that every child receives care, until at least their 18th birthday. The name, Article 39 is from Article 39 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which grants, every child, who has been abused or suffered other rights violations; the right to recover in environments where their health, self-respect, and dignity are nurtured.

The government told the High Court in February 2022 that it estimated it would cost £500 million to ensure that all children live in a regulated care setting. It was too much, they said. They chose to protect only children aged fifteen and under. Older children no longer have support.

Changing the perception, about fostering older children & teenagers.

I recruit foster carers for the Not-for-Profit sector. Originally, I worked in recruitment for an Independent Fostering Agency; but the ethos didn’t fit.

I am passionate that all children should have equal chances in life, and choose to look past a label, made by those, who don’t see the child. I have met many young people, professionally and personally who did not fit the labels they wore. These young people were often a challenge, but a good one because they challenged me. As a result, I learned from them, and them from me and I never regretted having them in my life.

However, I learned that labels stick, especially in foster care recruitment. Some foster carers wanted to foster older children and teenagers; however, some agencies said they only had teenagers with ‘challenging behaviour.’ Others described teenagers as having ‘complex needs,’ and suffering from ‘behavioural problems.’

Fostering older children with complex needs is a specialist type of foster care.

Sadly, many young people in care do have complex needs due to trauma and abuse suffered, before and whilst in care. They need specialist and skilled support, from people with lived professional experience. It is hard to say, but these children shouldn’t go into foster homes with families; they are not ready. They need specialist care and when they are ready, they need specialist foster carers to provide 1:1 therapeutic foster care and Step- Down foster care. These foster carers know the scale of support these children need; they do it well and are amazing people.

Sadly, some children in care live in children’s homes for years and become institutionalised. The transition to independence, in a family home, is for them, a challenge. These children need foster carers to give them consistent care. They need patience and empathy, and over time children start to feel a sense of belonging as they learn to trust. For them, the ticking clock of adolescence leads to a happier and safer future, in a loving family home.

What lies beyond labels for children with disabilities?

If the foster carer and child do not match, the placement breaks down. Once more, children experience rejection; subsequently, repeated rejection manifests into a label of ‘behavioural problems. After a while, children expect rejection. Letting them down is normal. Sadly, this happens repeatedly, and they become wary.

Many teenagers in care were once part of sibling groups and separated due to their age. Many foster carers want young siblings; however, they don’t want older siblings; they are seen to be challenging. It’s shocking, and older siblings move into children’s homes, and remain until, once sixteen, the label changes.

Many older children and teenagers have suffered bereavement or disabilities. Others have learning and behavioural problems; they have ADHD, Autism or Asperger’s syndrome. These are labels but what about the child beyond the label? Why not remove the label and say it how it is? These children need foster carers with experience in care to match their needs, in a safe and loving home. More importantly, homes in the community they belong to and love.

Young girl sitting with legs crouched to hide her face. Text reads what lies behind the label?

My disengaged students with a heart…

I taught disengaged teenagers who were in mainstream education and in danger of becoming NEET. My subject was childcare, and I aimed to engage my students who had social and behavioural difficulties and were low-ability students. Also, they were not capable of working in large classroom environments. They were a challenge, and I quickly understood the scale of the challenge as they looked at me as if I were crap from under their shoes.

I knew they expected me to last a day, at most. So, I took their cigarettes and energy drinks away and introduced life, to them, as future childcare professionals. I do like a challenge!

I taught them about real life; from real content because they had to learn and feel empathy towards others. So, I told them about the tragedy of Peter Connelly, (Baby P), legislation in childcare and why the murder of Victoria Climbie was so significant in the need to change legislation. The girls engaged, they listened and wrote everything down, for hours in a calm manner. However, the silence as they wrote was palpable as they began to understand.

My students became the protector.

I knew they were shocked. They thought they were hard, however, the life these children lived, and the abuse suffered were felt within. My students became the protector. They needed to understand that childcare professionals need to ‘feel’ the importance of protecting children. They also learned that life wasn’t about what thought we thought we knew. It was learning the facts and how our behaviour affects others. And when used in the context of caring for others, we create empathy. Also, their clock was ticking…

The girls would leave school soon, and we needed to plan. So, we set off creating CVs and they began to understand the importance of behaviour, as a childcare professional. The school, St Catherines in Bolton, was delighted, and the girls flourished. Collectively, we all saw beyond the labels; we just needed to find each other, engage, and create change, based on facts.

‘It was an honour and a pleasure to send my students to your course, and I would like to thank you for going above and beyond your role as a tutor every week. Your course enabled them to rebuild their confidence, and their ability to continue and further their goals. Without your childcare course, my students would not be in work experience placements in childcare settings.’

Diane Charnock – Engagement Centre Manager, Bolton, St Catherines Academy.

Older children move from the communities they know.

Older children in care often move to expensive children’s homes; many of which are owned by the same groups who own Independent Fostering Agencies. The cost of these providers, who also own some alternative education provisions, charges over £6000.00 a week per child. It is also not unheard of that these fostering agencies charge Local Authorities higher fees for fostering older children and teenagers; especially those with labels.

Sadly, we have a lack of support networks, due to cutbacks and local foster carers. This means that children in care are moved; often miles away from the communities they belong. They move to a community where they know no one, and no one knows them. Sadly, the risk of criminal exploitation grows…

Young boy sitting alone and staring ahead.
Young people move to where they know no one, and no one knows them. Can you foster?

Fostering older children and the danger of social media.

Foster carers receive training about social media. It’s been a part of our lives for decades; we know the benefits it can bring. We also know about the dangers of social media. But, for vulnerable young people, who know no one, and want to meet new friends on social media; they soon realise new friends are often not what they seem.

We have lived within austerity for a decade, and now we have a cost-of-living crisis. Also, living with a pandemic meant we became conditioned to accept life as it was. We learned to get on with it. Perversely, austerity brought many communities together as we adjust to our lives with support from charities, and food banks. Thanks to social media, we are aware of quick-fix solutions, and the dangers they bring, and we don’t go there.

We simply do what we must do, to get by. However, we are adults, and we protect our own. We know the criminal elements in our communities who lurk for vulnerable children and young people. However, we cut the ties that connect and keep children safe from exploitation in foster homes where they are loved.

image of a hand with strings attached to each finger.
Cutting the strings of those who exploit.

Verve CIC – recruiting foster carers to look beyond labels.

Normally, teenagers don’t have much to say; they don’t feel the need to. They are blessed with families who watch over them as they sleep their lives away, waiting for the occasional loving grunt. It’s what teenagers do.

However, older children and teenagers in care don’t have that luxury. Their clock is ticking, and they need support. The problem is, they need foster carers willing to guide them and lead the way. Only then, can they face a future of certainty; whilst reducing the influence of those who exploit…

Verve recruits foster carers for the Not-for-Profit sector because we do not agree with the profit made from vulnerable children in care.

You will need a spare bedroom, be over 21 years of age, see beyond labels and see the child. I did, and I loved every second of the challenge. Also, I saw the young people they became and helping them achieve their dream makes me proud.

If you want to have a free and impartial chat, about fostering older children & teenagers, contact me on the form below. Together, we can make a difference.

teenage boy sleeping with a clock in view.

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Can you foster?The most in-demand types of foster care are Sibling foster carers & Mother & Baby foster carers to keep families together.