Fostering teenagers and older children labelled as ‘challenging’ is a challenge many can do without. Thankfully, foster carers who foster teenagers see what lies beyond the labels; they see the child. This is important, over 50% of children in care are over ten years of age; more than half are boys. Sadly, child abuse and neglect are the main reasons they are there.
Teenagers and older children are the hardest age of children to place in foster homes because many foster carers cannot see beyond labels attached. Often, labels have no bearing on the child or the trauma they have endured in their young lives. But labels tick a box, and their purpose is unclear; however, labels put off potential foster carers.
Teenagers and older children often get bad press.
Teenagers often get bad press as adolescence kicks in, and their body clock ticks in preparation for adulthood. Also, most parents of teenagers relate to the theory of young people who occasionally sleep their life away whilst grunting. But we love them; they are our children. So, we wait patiently as adolescence passes, and teenagers eventually emerge as confident young people we love. More importantly, we look towards a secure future together as families.
The future for many teenagers is because of the love and support given by a family who lovingly guides them. For them, leaving school is a celebration. Sixteen is 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 announces the time they have left in the care system. Also, without foster carers to guide them, their label changes. They are no longer children in care; they are ‘care leavers’ without support; they become scared and highly vulnerable.
Our government recently decided that teenagers leaving care and over sixteen will no longer have support. They plan for care leavers to live in ‘unregulated accommodation, often miles away from the families and communities they belong to. Sadly, these are communities where young people know no one, and no one knows them. As a result, the lure of criminal exploitation grows.
Article 39 – #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.
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. Verve supports Article 39 in their campaign #Keepcaringto18. This campaign calls on our government to make it law that every child receives care until their 18th birthday.
The government told the High Court in February 2022 that 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.
Verve: changing the perceptions of fostering teenagers.
I recruit foster carers for the Not-for-Profit sector, which includes Local Authorities. Originally, I worked in recruitment for an Independent Fostering Agency; but their lack of 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 challenging but good because they challenged me. As a result, I learned from them, and them from me; 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 behavioural problems.’ Maybe, if we looked beyond the labels, we would realise that ‘complex needs and behavioural problems’ are a product of children being placed with foster carers who only see labels.
Fostering teenagers with complex needs is a specialist type of foster care.
Sadly, many young people in care 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, many children in care have grown up in children’s homes and become institutionalised. The transition to independence in a family home is a challenge for them. These children need foster carers to give them consistent care. They need patience and empathy; 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?
Many older children and teenagers in care have suffered the trauma of grief. Other children have disabilities, including those with learning and behavioural problems or ADHD, Autism or Asperger’s syndrome. These labels describe a diagnosis; it does not describe the child beyond the label.
Many teenagers in care belong to sibling groups and are separated, often because they are older. Some foster carers only want younger siblings, especially if they are on long-term placements. They don’t want older siblings; they have labels that say they are challenging, and rather than run the risk of losing the foster placement, older siblings move into children’s homes. Sadly, they often stay there until they are sixteen, and the label changes.
Often foster care placements break down because the foster care does not have the skills to meet the child’s needs. Once more, children experience rejection. Subsequently, repeated rejection manifests into a label of behavioural problems; it’s to be expected. However, past and lived experiences of rejection mean that children expect it. Letting them down is normal. Sadly, it happens too often; subsequently, children learn to manage their behaviour; accordingly.
My disengaged students with questions for everything…
My subject was childcare, and I aimed to engage my students with social and behavioural difficulties and low-ability students. I taught disengaged teenagers who were in mainstream education and in danger of becoming NEET. Also, they were not capable of working in large classroom environments. They were a challenge; I quickly understood the scale of the challenge as they looked at me like I was crap from under their shoes.
I knew they expected me to last a day at most. So, I took their cigarettes and energy drinks off them and introduced a life, for them, as future childcare professionals. I do like a challenge!
I taught them about real life and shared content because they had to empathise with others. So, I told them about the tragedy of Peter Connelly (Baby P). I explained the importance of 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, and they began to understand.
My students became the protector.
I knew they were shocked. These young ladies thought they were hard. However, they felt these children’s lives and their abuse deep within. My students became the protector. They began to understand that childcare professionals must ‘feel’ the importance of protecting children. Also, they realised that life wasn’t about what we thought we knew; it was about learning facts. More importantly, they understood how behaviour affects others also their perceptions of themselves. When we care for others, we feel empathy; thus, we desire change. Also, their clock was ticking…
The girls would leave school soon; we needed to plan. So, we created CVs as they began understanding childcare professionals’ vital roles. Their school, St Catherines in Bolton, was delighted, and the girls flourished. We all looked beyond the labels attached to us; we had found each other and engaged and created change based on facts. My girls faced a future as protectors; they recognised the need for change and confidently moved forward.
‘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.
Many older children in care live in expensive residential children’s homes.
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, charge over £6000.00 a week per child. It is also not unheard of for fostering agencies to charge Local Authorities higher fees for fostering older children and teenagers, especially children with labels.
Sadly, a lack of support networks due to cutbacks and local foster carers means children in care move miles away from the communities they belong. They are in a community where they know no one, and no one knows them. Sadly, the risk of criminal exploitation grows…
Fostering teenagers and the dangers 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 learn about the dangers of social media. But vulnerable young people who see no one and want to meet new friends on social media; soon realise new friends are often not what they seem.
We have lived within austerity for a decade; now, we have a cost-of-living crisis. The pandemic meant we became conditioned to accept life as it was; we learned to get on with it. Perversely, austerity, COVID-19, and the cost-of-living crisis have brought communities together because of the support from charities and food banks. We all have the same amount of nothing, and although there are quick-fix solutions, we don’t go there; we have pride. We do what we must do to get by. Foster carers keep children safe from exploitation in foster homes where they are loved; we need more foster carers.
However, we are adults; we protect our own. We also know of the criminal elements in our communities that prey on vulnerable children and young people and, collectively, cut the ties that connect.
Verve Community CIC – recruiting foster carers to look beyond labels.
Typically, teenagers don’t have much to say; they don’t feel the need. 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, and we love them enough to know it’s not challenging behaviour they display, it’s puberty.
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, with support and guidance, will they face a future of certainty. More importantly, we reduce the influence of those who exploit.
Verve recruits foster carers for the Not-for-Profit sector because I disagree with the profit from vulnerable children in care. Nor do I agree with Local Authorities being charged more for foster carers to look after children with labels.
I want to find foster carers who see beyond labels and see the child. More importantly, I want to find foster carers who recognise the dangers young people face without support.
To foster older children and teenagers, you need a spare bedroom and are over 21 years of age. You must see beyond labels and be committed to supporting vulnerable young people and seeing the child; more importantly, know the journey they have travelled so far.
We need to keep fostering teenagers & keep them in the communities they belong.
I loved every second of the challenge of my ladies. I saw the confident young people they became; helping them to recognise the importance of themselves within their community makes me proud. But it wasn’t down to me; it was due to women like Diane Charnock and her relentless dedication to ensuring that each student, regardless of label, had equal chances in life.
If you want a free and impartial chat about fostering older children & teenagers, please contact me on the form below. There’s no cost and no commitment. I offer honest and unbiased advice on fostering and the importance of keeping our teenagers safe within the communities they belong. Can you foster?