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Lucy Stevens - 17th August 2021
On the surface, life in the fostering sector has continued throughout the pandemic. Children have continued to come into care, foster carers have been approved (albeit in smaller numbers), carers and children have coped with the strain of lockdowns and the social isolation Covid has brought. There have been many challenges for all of those who work in the foster care sector and of course for the children growing up in it. Lurking in the background throughout all those challenges has been one dreaded question: What is going to happen when we open up again?
Many of us suspected that as professionals once again began seeing children in schools or during home visits or medical appointments, we would inevitably see more children entering the care system. We worried about vulnerable children and families who may not be able to cope with the financial, emotional and mental toll that Covid has caused. We thought of those children with disabilities or additional needs and the pressures on families caring for them. And of course, we worried about children living in unsafe, disfunctional and toxic homes.
In short, we have been holding our breath.
So many children, not enough foster carers.
For many years now, there has been a shortfall in the number of foster carers relative to the number of children who need a safe and nurturing home. This is nothing new. What is new is a sense of helplessness as our worst fears are realised. The situation for thousands of children and young people is absolutely dire. These are children who have been living in impossible situations before and during lockdown, families who have been unable to manage the strain, an explosion in mental health problems amongst adults and children and a lack of help and support to manage them. Relationship breakdown, poverty, homelessness. A perfect storm when these realities hit one other reality: no-one seems to want to foster.
Many of us have never seen so many requests for foster carers. They are relentless and are coming to us from everywhere in the UK. Meanwhile, those who may once have considered fostering have their own set of problems. They are unsure about the future, they are worried about their families, they may be financially vulnerable, they are worried about their health and well-being. Like all of us, they feel insecure. Insecurity and altruism are not the most compatible bed partners.
And yet, now, more than ever, we need people to put themselves forward, to take a leap of faith. We need people who want to make a difference, who see the damage done to our society and want to do something about it. We need people who can see the need and respond to it. And the need is great.
Our teens need you!
By far our biggest cohort of concern are adolescents and teens. We are seeing a need for foster carers for this group of children such as we have not seen for a long time, if ever. These young people might be in need of foster carers because their existing placements have broken down, because their family relationships have broken down, because of poor mental health, because they have been abused or are living in unsafe environments, because they are homeless and vulnerable, because they have been trafficked or exploited. The reasons are endless. What these children need is safety, nurture, love and acceptance. They need someone to take a chance on them.
“But teens are a nightmare….young ones are much easier.”
All children and young people who are in need of a foster carer will have experienced loss and grief, they may have been harmed emotionally and physically. Increasingly children are witnessing extreme domestic violence and fallout from parental substance abuse. All children in need of foster carers will therefore exhibit some outward signs of trauma, stress, grief and loss.
Many people say that they feel they can make more of an impact with a younger child in terms of making a difference, as if somehow they are easier to “manage”. In reality, caring for teenagers is just different and can actually be as, if not more, transformative for the young person.
Teenagers are very often incredibly rewarding to work with. They can also be extremely receptive to positive, nurturing care. Adolescents undergo a period of rapid brain development during which there is a window of time to reframe destructive or unhelpful narratives, behaviours and sense of self.
In short, the perception that teenagers are harder to care for than younger children is not one that is always played out in reality. When it comes to fostering, you often need to make judgments on a child by child basis rather than dicounting children because they fall into a certain age bracket.
Teenagers are interesting, quirky, full of potential. Many have great hopes and plans for the future but lack that secure base to springboard from. Making a difference to a teenage child can have a huge effect on their life trajectory and on society as a whole.
Obviously, fostering this age group requires a different set of skills and qualities but it also requires many of the same approaches one would use with younger children. Teens need to be empowered and allowed to feel part of the decisions made about their life. They need direction and guidance. They need confidence and self-belief. Yet they also need boundaries, love, nurture, play and an opportunity to be a part of a family where they are respected, valued and accepted for who they are.
The alternative is worrying and saddening. Without carers coming forward, these children move between temporary, unsuitable homes and housing, with no meaningful support for their mental health. Opportunities to positively change life outcomes are stripped away and these lost young people become lost, angry adults.
If you’ve been thinking about fostering and think you have what it takes to care for adolescents and teens, please get in touch. We’d be happy to answer all of your fostering questions. Eastern Fostering Services look after carers and children in Essex, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. We’d love to make a difference to these young people but we really need your help. Take that first step today and contact us or message us on facebook.