Becoming a teenager can be tough, so how does it feel to go through your teenage years as a birth child in a fostering family? Tia, now 17, was only 11 when her parents were approved for fostering, so she has an in-depth, mature view of her experience.
Does she think it was worth it? Absolutely!
Tia was 11 when her mum, Amanda and stepdad, Michael began talking to her about the possibility of fostering. She’d grown up as an only child and had no previous experience of fostering. She didn’t even know anyone who was a foster carer.
Nevertheless, she thought the idea of helping children who’d had difficult lives was “really cool” and was fully supportive of the idea.
Now 17, Tia has been part of the ups and downs of the family’s fostering journey since they were approved by independent fostering agency, Heath Farm.
This local agency, part of National Fostering Group, supports children and young people with more complex needs or high level behaviours with therapeutic care. Over the years, the family has cared for many different foster children, including teenagers with autism and ADHD.
Amanda and Michael currently look after an older teen who will remain with them under Staying Put until he is 21, and a younger foster child with complex needs.
Tia says: “Most of it is amazing. Every child is different and I really like getting to know them and playing games with them.
“I want to be there for them and make sure they feel able to talk to me. The worst bit is when you get attached and they move on. It can be hard when they go.”
She believes that birth children can play a key role within a fostering family.
“Foster children can feel more comfortable knowing there is another young person in the house. Being closer in age, they may be more willing to open up to me sometimes than an adult.
“I’ve got along with every child we’ve fostered although I feel more at ease with some than others.
“It’s never their fault if things are difficult and sometimes it’s just the fact that they’ve not been here long enough for me to really get to know them.”
Tia describes a difficult situation that arose with a teenage girl who stayed with them for two years, which is a long-term type of fostering.
They were very similar in age – Tia was 14 and the foster child was 15 – and they got on very well. However, unfortunately the girl became jealous about Tia’s place in the family and the placement broke down.
It was a difficult time, but Tia felt well-supported by her mum, her supervising social worker and friends in other fostering families.
“I always had someone I could talk to and that helped,” she says.
Since that time, the family has fostered boys rather than girls and the dynamic in the house is better.
Nevertheless, it has not been without its ups and downs and one foster child who arrived as an emergency caused extensive damage in the house.
This was a low point for Tia as the police were called and she had to stay overnight at a friend’s house for her own safety.
The relationship between Tia and her mum is very close and Tia finds it hard when a foster child is verbally abusive to Amanda.
“We talk about it, I ask her how she feels and she assures me she is OK and will talk it through with the supervising social worker,” Tia said. “That settles my brain when I know she’s got someone she can talk to.”
The independent fostering agency always includes birth children in any organised activities.
A few years ago, Tia participated in a special event where birth children were invited to discuss their feelings about fostering, how they might respond to different situations, and what they might do in their parents’ shoes.
Tia values being included in this way but, reflecting on the journey they’ve been on, she’d have liked to talk to other birth children right from the start.
“I wish I’d know how hard it can be sometimes, particularly when you get attached to the children and then they leave.
“I’d have liked to be part of a network of other birth children who were experiencing the same things as me.”
It’s feedback like this from birth children that allows our local foster agencies to continually improve the way we support foster carers and their families.
Tia is currently studying hairdressing at college. The idea of becoming a foster carer doesn’t appeal to her right now, but she recognises this may change.
“I’d like to have my own children first, but, maybe in the future I could become a parent and child foster carer or a social worker and help children in care to live better lives.”
“Definitely do it, it’s such an experience. Every day is different, you never get bored. Me and mum were talking the other day and she said she learns something new every day. Each child who comes has something knew to teach us.”