Fostering teenagers can be an incredibly fulfilling experience, but many people are hesitant to do so because of harmful misconceptions and fears. It’s important to remember that teenagers need loving homes just as much as younger children do.
In the United Kingdom, there are currently over 80,000 children and young people in care, with 39% of them being teenagers in England alone. Unfortunately, teenagers often face negative stereotypes that cause them to get stuck in the care system, with 84% of fostering agencies across the UK struggling to find carers who will foster teens.
In this article, we will be debunking the myths surrounding fostering teenagers and explaining why they are not entirely accurate.
Myth #1: Teenagers in care are more likely to cause trouble
The most common misconception about fostering teenagers is that they are more likely to cause trouble than younger children in care. However, this belief is simply untrue. While it’s true that teenagers in care may have come from difficult backgrounds that could lead to challenging behaviour, this is also true for younger children. With the right support and guidance, teenagers can thrive in a nurturing and stable environment, just like any other child.
Foster carers may find that building trust with teenagers can make it easier to manage any challenging behaviours that may arise. In fact, teenagers often have their own unique opinions and values that can lead to engaging conversations, especially when there is healthy and open communication.
Myth #2: Teenagers are too old for foster carers to leave a lasting impression on
Some people assume that teenagers are too old to be positively impacted by foster carers, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Studies have shown that our brains continue to develop until our early 20s, meaning it’s never too late to leave a positive impact on a teenagers life. In fact, there are multiple unique things you can teach teenagers that aren’t suitable for younger children, from basic household tasks to coping with their first heartbreak.
Mark and Nick, two of our foster carers, enjoy fostering teenagers and seeing them flourish. “We get to watch these teenagers achieve things they never thought they could. We give them the chance to blossom and be who they want to be,” they said.
Fostering a teenager can also create a lifelong bond, contrary to popular belief. Due to their age, teenagers will remember their time with their foster carer forever. For instance, Mark and Nick’s first teen foster came to them at 16 and remained with them through a Staying Put arrangement. “The comfort was there straight away, and we knew that this would be a lifelong relationship. He was just 16 years late coming to us,” they added.
Myth #3: You must be a certain age to foster a teenager
Unfortunately, fostering teenagers is often overlooked because many potential carers feel they are too young or inexperienced to care for them. While experience is always valuable, this would never limit a carers ability to care for a teen – nor would their age. At Compass, we have a wide range of carers with differing ages and experiences who are all fantastic in their care.
As long as you are over 21 years old, Compass will provide you with the training needed to foster a teenager. As well as this, you’ll also receive 24/7 access to support should you need it. The most important thing is that you’re able to open your heart and home to a vulnerable child or young person, providing a stable and loving environment for them to thrive in.
Myth #4: Teenagers can’t bond with other children in the home
It’s true that a teen might have trouble adjusting into a home, especially if there are other children there – however, this is the case for any child. Whether it’s a baby, a new stepparent or foster sibling, children of all ages take time to adjust to new family members and vice versa.
Despite this, many families have successfully integrated teenager foster children into their own families. This can lead to a strong sibling-like bonds, opening them up to new perspectives and experiences. However, it’s important to take your time when introducing your children to a foster child to make sure it goes as smoothly as possible.
Myth #5: Fostering teenagers is boring
Teenagers often have a bad reputation as being disinterested and dissociated from those around them, only taking an interest in their own personal affairs. As a result, some potential foster carers steer away from fostering teens, wanting to spend a lot of valuable time with the child in their care.
However, a teenager’s independence can be an invaluable thing. This is because they’ve often had time to develop their own hobbies and interests that you can get involved with. Through communication you can find common ground together, going on fun trips such as camping or just day out shopping.
Useful tips when fostering teens:
While fostering teenagers has a lot of damaging misconceptions, it’s important to keep in mind it still isn’t an easy task. If you’re considering or currently fostering a teenager in the UK, here are a few helpful tips to keep in mind:
- Respect their privacy. Make sure to knock on bedrooms doors before going in, and don’t spy on them. Always trust their judgement, unless they’ve given you a reason not to.
- Let teenagers speak to you. It’s important at this stage in their life that they’re able to express their views and opinions, regardless of whether you agree with them or not. Guide them through their thoughts, without being patronising.
- Keep communication open. Regardless of how tough things can get, it’s important to always keep communication open and clear. Be patient with them if you don’t get the answer you want right away, it’s important that they feel comfortable sharing when ready.
- Consistently praise them. Teenagers often develop a lot of self-deprecating thoughts, especially in the age of social media. Through their online activities, they may become more aware of any insecurities they may have. It’s important to make sure they’re praised consistently, even in moments where it isn’t expected.
- Expect some defiance. As teenagers get older, it’s likely they’ll get more defiant. However, while they’re under your care, you have the responsibility of safeguarding them. Even if your teen tries to convince you otherwise, it’s important to make sure they are being safe in-person and online. It can be easy to overlook this, as teens seem more independent and less vulnerable than younger children.
- Don’t take their behaviour personally. How you treat your teen should be seen more as an investment, rather than something that produces immediate results. Teenagers have a lot of unhealthy expectations on them which can dictate their moods.