“Fostering teenagers is brilliant. Once you’ve got a few ground rules sorted, they’re really fun to be around. Of an evening, we get the foot spa out, do our nails, muck about with make up and have a pamper night. We watch Love Island and chat.”
One of my best foster friends is a specialist with teenagers, particularly girls. Regardless of however much they roll their eyes, pout, swear, slam the door and strop off, she has an incredible soft spot for them. She sees the gold inside them, and eventually they learn that she is for them, not against them.
When we got approved to foster we were able to stipulate that we wanted to foster children younger than our own. At the time, that meant Infant aged children or younger. We fostered a baby for a few days, and whilst he never swore or broke anything, he did need changing, feeding, winding, bathing and taking to regular contact. For us, with jobs and two children of our own, this proved too much.
A four year old needed significant help with toileting, washing, dressing and any interaction with anyone who wasn’t us. With some help and some patience, he soon mastered all these skills, with the possible exception of the last one. The fear of the stranger still lingers ten years on.
We’ve cared for a few Primary aged children and teenagers.
One ten year old boy was remarkably proficient in all areas, except for weeing into the toilet bowl. He loved all sports and had excellent eye/hand coordination particularly when he played table tennis or swing-ball. But he seemed to think ‘near the toilet’ was good enough when he first arrived. Using ‘natural consequences’ this was a relatively easy issue to address.
Kids go into care at a variety of ages and for a variety of reasons. They might have experienced sexual and physical abuse. They might have experienced neglect. They may have known bereavement. If they’re of Junior or Secondary School age, they may have vivid memories of what they’ve experienced, and if they trust you, be able to explain some of this. This can take years and years and may still never fully happen.
If they’re too young to consciously remember, they’ll still remember. A traumatised baby will not behave like a baby who has been cared for and nurtured. A five year old can be endearingly naive but also have seen and experienced things no one should ever have to witness. A teenager may appear aggressive, surly, destructive and intent on their own demise. What I have to remember is that if I had been through what they’d been through, I’d be exactly the same, or at least pretty similar.
Fundamentally, kids who have been through trauma want exactly the same as everyone else, regardless of their age.
They want to be safe and feel safe, even if their definition of ‘safety’ looks like absolute chaos to us.