One of our registered managers, Rebecca Stratton from Reach Out Care (covering the North East, North Yorkshire and Cumbria) explains more about the pros and cons of fostering babies. She also describes how fostering teenagers is just as rewarding.
As a foster carer, you get to specify which ages of children and young people would be the best fit for you and your individual family circumstances and this is as it should be.
For some foster carers, particularly those at the start of their fostering journey, babies and young children can initially seem an easier option than older children. This can be due to a misconception about the challenges posed by older children, particularly teenagers.
However, in my experience it pays to be open-minded. Some people believe older children may present more challenging behaviour. They are concerned about things like drink and drugs or inappropriate relationships and absconding.
However, fostering young children and babies also bring challenges, albeit different ones. A baby may have been born addicted to drugs or with foetal alcohol syndrome, for example, and may be in pain or struggle to settle at nights.
If your own children are grown up, it’s easy to forget how tiring a baby or young child can be and how much planning it takes even just to go out to the shop.
It’s worth remembering that babies and young children who come into care will often have a high level of contact with birth parents. This can be quite restrictive and brings its own challenges.
There may be ongoing court proceedings and it’s unlikely that the child will remain with you long term. Some foster carers may find this difficult.
As an independent foster agency, we don’t tend to receive a lot of referrals for babies, as the majority tend to be fostered with in-house local authority foster carers.
The most common age group of foster children we work with is 11 to 15. Where we do have babies and toddlers, they tend to be part of a sibling group. We work hard to keep brothers and sisters together.
This is a specialist type of fostering for which there is a great demand, however it’s not for everyone. Parent & child fostering takes particular types of skills as you are providing support and role modelling for the parent rather than the child.
Your role is to support them to learn to care for their child. You have to be able to step back and observe but at the same time being aware of any risks.
It’s a really important role as it can sometimes help to keep parents and children together and it comes with an enhanced level of support and training.
There are so many rewards! Sometimes teenagers who have missed out on childhood experiences can derive real joy from the simplest things. I’ve seen teenagers get really excited about Christmas because they’ve never experienced it, for example, or even balloons.
With teenagers, you can really see their personality start to develop and you can support this in a positive way. By giving them a stable family life and helping them to feel secure, you can help them start to thrive.
So many of our young people have such amazing resilience. Once they feel safe they start to develop and grow as people.
Some of them go on to university or to get good jobs or raise families of their own. For some foster carers this means an opportunity to become grandparents and this brings more rewards.
We had one young man who was 13 when he first went to his foster carer. He was constantly excluded from school and had been written off for his GCSEs. However, his foster carer believed in him and advocated for him to move to a local school.
When he moved school he began to flourish. He sat his GCSEs and left school and got a job. He would get up at 6am and catch two buses to go to work. Now he’s a dad and is doing an amazing job. It’s inspiring to see how far he’s come.
Young people in foster care tend to leave home earlier than children who are not in care and need to be able to make their way in the world.
Foster carers need to be able to support them to gain life skills so they can live independently. They need to be open-minded, non-judgmental and accepting of who they are.
Of course, all of the usual skills for fostering – patience, compassion, understanding, love – are essential too.
In many ways, age is just a number. Every child and young person is very different and, because of the experiences they’ve had, a young person’s emotional age may differ from their chronological age anyway.
My advice would be ‘be open-minded, consider each child as an individual – their strengths, needs, personality… Forget about their age and look at who they are as a person.
Remember, too, that with an independent fostering agency like National Fostering Group, you are never on your own.
We will always ensure that you have plenty of training and support and you can talk to other foster carers who’ve faced similar challenges.
We offer a wide range of fostering placement types, from short term to long term and we don’t push you into anything you’re unsure about. If you’d like to find out more, get in touch with your local team.