Fostering teenagers and older children labelled as ‘challenging’ is a challenge many can do without. Thankfully, foster carers who are fostering teenagers look beyond labels, they see the child and the journey in life travelled so far. Many of these young people did not get the the best start in life; sadly, more than 50% of children in care are boys over ten years of age. Child abuse and neglect are the main reasons why they are in care; they don’t need a label to define them.
Teenagers and older children are the hardest to place in foster homes because many foster carers don’t see beyond the labels attached. These labels have no bearing on the child. Nor do they recognise the trauma they may have endured; but, labels tick a box. The purpose of labels are 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. Most parents of teenagers relate to the theory of young people, sleeping their life away whilst occasionally grunting. But we love them; they are our children and we wait patiently as adolescence passes, and teenagers eventually emerge as the confident young people we love. More importantly, we have a secure future together, as a family.
The future for many teenagers is bright due love and support from a family who lovingly guides. For these teenagers, leaving school is a celebration and 16 years old is when the clock starts ticking 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. For without foster carers guiding them, their label changes.
They are no longer children in care. The labels changes, they are ‘care leavers’ who often have no support. They are scared young people, 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 living away from the families and communities to which they belong. They live in communities where our young people know no one, and no one knows them, and 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; their one stop shop ethos didn’t fit especially about fostering teenagers.
I am passionate that all children should have equal chances in life. I also choose to look past a label made by those who don’t see the child.
I know many young people, both professionally and personally, who did not fit the labels they wore. These young people were labelled as challenging, they had very complex needs. I felt like I was being pushed into not going there because of the fear of a label.
However, I look beyond labels because they are still children and they challenged me. As a result, I learned from them, and they learned from me. I never regretted having them in my life.
Labels stick, especially in foster care recruitment…
However, labels stick, especially in foster care recruitment. In my experience when talking to potential foster carers, they say they have spoken to agencies about fostering teenagers because they know these young people need help. However, like me, they were told the same.
Too many times I hear people say the only children available to foster in their community are older children and teenagers with ‘very challenging behaviour’. Now I know that this is untrue. We have a huge demand for siblings foster carers to keep families together and parent & child foster carers. The difference here is that these types of foster carers don’t have labelled children. It only applies to older children. Is this because local authorities have to pay more for foster carers willing to take them? Probably…
Maybe, if we looked beyond the labels, we see ‘complex needs and behavioural problems’ are often due to young people placed with foster carers who don’t match. These foster carers are fostering teenagers and don’t see beyond labels. But, it’s another bum in a bed for many agencies and maybe why teenagers have so many placement breakdowns?
Fostering teenagers with complex needs is a specialist type of foster care.
Many young people in care do have complex needs because of trauma and abuse suffered before, and whilst in, care. These young people need specialist and skilled help and support from highly skilled professionals with lived experience.
It is hard to say, but these young people should not be placed with foster carers, 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.
Many children in care have grown up in children’s homes; they are institutionalised. The transition to independence in a family home is a challenge and they need consistent care from foster carers. For these young people, patience and compassion in a home where they feel a sense of belonging enables young people to trust again. Trust is important and fostering teenagers relies on foster carers and young people working together; guiding to a safer future within a family home.
What lies beyond labels for children with disabilities?
Many teenagers in care have suffered the trauma of grief. Others have disabilities, including learning and behavioural problems or ADHD, Autism or Asperger’s syndrome. However, the labels above describe a diagnosis; it does not describe the child beyond the label.
Many teenagers in care once belonged to sibling groups and were separated because they are older. Some foster carers prefer younger siblings, especially if they are on long-term placements. They don’t want to be fostering teenagers with labels that say they are challenging.
It’s a tough call, but, rather than risk losing the foster placement, older siblings move into children’s homes and stay there until they become 16 years of age. At this point, the label changes; they are now care leavers…
Many foster care placements break down because the foster carer is not qualified to meet the child’s needs. It is not the child’s fault the placement breakdowns, in fact it’s inevitable. But, once more, children experience rejection and repeated rejection manifests into a label of behavioural problems; it’s to be expected. After a while, children expect no less, being let down is normal and they 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 spoke of 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. My girls engaged. They listened and wrote everything down for hours in a calm manner. However, the silence as they wrote was palpable, because they realised life wasn’t about them and they began to understand.
My students became the protector.
I knew the learning would shock them, and I wanted it to. My young ladies thought they had a tough start in life but as they felt these children’s lives and their abuse deep within; they became the protector.
They started to understand that childcare professionals must ‘feel’ the importance of protecting children. They learned that life is not what we think we know; it’s about facts. Learning about facts helps us to fully understand how behaviour affects others, and alters the perceptions of themselves. They learned to care for others and how to feel empathy. This was good because if we have empathy, we desire change. Also, their clock was ticking…
The girls were coming up to sixteen and would soon be leaving education. However, my girls were low achievers; we needed to plan and prepare CVs.
My girls began to learn about becoming childcare professionals and their school, St Catherines in Bolton, was delighted as the girls flourished.
When we met, we all saw past the labels attached and engaged together to create change based on facts, and trust. My girls faced a future as protectors of children and saw the need for change. They are our future childcare professionals, foster carers, social workers; they deserve equal chances in life, regardless of the labels they wore.
‘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 placed in residential children’s homes which are owned by the same organisations who run Independent Fostering Agencies. They also run alternative education provisions, and often charge over £6000.00 a week per child. It is not unheard of for these agencies to charge Local Authorities higher fees for foster carers for fostering teenagers, especially those teenagers with labels attached.
Due to cutbacks, austerity and having no choice but to pay extortionate fees, there are fewer support networks for young people and families to prevent vulnerability. However, we have a third sector of charities, community groups and kind-hearted communities who have emerged.
Fostering teenagers and the dangers of social media.
Social media has been a part of our lives for decades and we know the benefits it can bring. We also know the dark side of social media. Sadly, many young people living in a community where they know no-one find friends via social media. Quickly, they learn that many new friends are often not what they seem and the risk of criminal exploitation grows…
For over a decade we have lived with austerity, a global pandemic and now, a cost-of-living crisis. Covid conditioned us to accept life as it was, and we learned to get on with it; we had no choice. Perversely, these hardships brought communities together because we now have the same amount of nothing. There are always quick-fix solutions, but, we we don’t go there; we know where it leads.
Young people need more foster carers to guide from experience and reduce the risk of criminal exploitation. As adults, we protect our own and collectively cut the ties of those who exploit young people and keep them safe, regardless of labels.
Verve Community CIC – recruiting foster carers to look beyond labels.
Typically, teenagers don’t say much; they don’t need to. They have been blessed with families who watch over them as they sleep their lives away, whilst waiting for the occasional loving grunt. It’s what teenagers do. We love them enough to know it’s not challenging behaviour they display, it’s puberty.
Older children and teenagers in care don’t have this luxury. They have a clock that is ticking; they need foster carers to guide them. With support and guidance, they face a future of hope and promise, and remove the influence of those who exploit.
Verve Recruitment are change-makers in foster care recruitment. We recruit foster carers for the Not-for-Profit sector and Local Authorities because I strongly disagree with profiting from vulnerable children in care. Nor do I agree with Local Authorities paying extortionate fees for fostering teenagers with ‘labels’.
Fostering teenagers is a challenge; but, if we look beyond labels, we see a scared young person who realises they have a very uncertain future. I wrote the #FacesofFostering campaign for Caritas Care, and was where I met Byron. Byron was a foster child who knew his clock was ticking, too.
Byron is the inspiration behind this blog. He had great foster carers, and together with his social worker, Lucy, and the wonderful team at Caritas Care he got the support he needed for a safe and happy future. You can read about Byron and his journey at https://www.caritascare.org.uk/facesoffostering-byron-on-life-after-foster-care/
Fostering teenagers keep young people in the communities they belong.
I loved every second of the challenge of my ladies. I proudly watched as they became the confident young people who saw the importance of being themselves. But it wasn’t down to me; it takes a village to raise a child with women like Diane Charnock and her relentless dedication to ensure every child, regardless of label, has equal chances in life.
If you are interested in having a chat about fostering teenagers, please get in touch. Working together, removing labels and see the child, we keep our teenagers safely within the communities in which they belong… Can you foster teenagers?