Surviving teenage years
You’ve lived through 2 a.m. feedings, toddler temper tantrums, and the back-to-school blues. So why does the word “teenager” cause so much worry?
I love having teenagers. I love learning about their world. They make me laugh and they teach me something new. Every day. I will hate the day when I don’t know the songs that are played on the radio. When I can’t understand what they are saying. Every stage of being a parent comes with challenges and rewards. Parenting teenagers is no different.
But is it really a time to completely despair? There are lots of guides out there telling us how to survive the teenage years. It makes it sound so negative. On adverts, teenagers are portrayed as trouble. There are always news stories about telling us about “gangs” of teenagers. Reporting on Teenagers anti-social behaviour. I know from experience the negativity that surrounds teenagers. Particularly teenage boys.
I remember when my sons were in their mid-teens, the attitude of the other adults around them was often hostile and suspicious. Our sons would come along with us on family days out with their younger sisters. But when parents with young children saw them playing in a park, they were often accused of being too big, too rough, too noisy.
People made judgements and assumptions simply because they were the enemy. The teenage boy.
They are both adults now. They are great company and contributing positively to society. Most of the time!
And we “survived” those years. I am not saying they didn’t make stupid decisions in those years. They did. They got in trouble at school. They failed to see the importance of studying for exams. They had friends I wished they didn’t have. They lost iPhones, PE kits, had sulks and heartbreak. But I had to be resilient, have a sense of humour and not take it too personally.
They ate extraordinary amounts of food, and the smell of a boy’s bedroom will not leave me. Despite that, I embraced every part of it. But Nobody expects you to embrace it. God forbid if you enjoy it!
I now have teenage girls. They can be moody and emotional and selfish. They are frustrating and I have to take deep breaths a dozen times a day!
They are late for everything because their eyebrows don’t look quite right. And they have ruined their bedroom carpets with makeup.
They are dramatic and exhausting.
And wonderful, and refreshing and watching them blossom is a journey I wouldn’t want to miss.
When it comes to fostering, it’s no different. The older age group are often dismissed as being too difficult and too much trouble. People assume that they will come along with attitude and crime and anti-social behaviours. It is true that they might, but to think that the challenges they present are somehow greater than a baby, a toddler or a 7-year-old is widely misplaced. Don’t expect the worst.
And teenagers need someone to have their back more at this crucial time of their lives. They need to know that someone is bothered about why they haven’t answered their phone, why they are late. They need someone to pick up the pieces and want them to do well. Particularly teenagers who have probably been let down, and have problems with trusting adults in their lives. It is a time of intense growth, a confusing time.
Teenagers are rewarding, energetic, and often thoughtful.
They need a consistent calm environment to guide them to making the right decisions. To help them reach their potential and become the adults you know they could be. And when you see them become those adults. You know you have done a wonderful thing in taking that chance on letting that child into your home and your life.
Especially those often overlooked.
Fostering and food
It is not unusual for foster children to have issues around food.
At the time of placement, they might not be used to regular mealtimes; they might have had a limited diet before they come to you. Their anxiety at being separated from their family might cause a distinct lack of appetite.
I wonder just how terrifying mealtimes must have been for children coming to live in our home. With a family of six already sat around the table, the addition of a minimum of three foster children made it quite a sight. Add to that a variety of neighbours, friends and other children, and the social worker whose visits would always end at the start of our dinner time. It was a huge affair. So, when people comment they have 12 for Christmas dinner this year, I smile thinking my mum cooked for that most days.
There were a number of areas that were confusing for new comers. We didn’t eat in front of the television. We all helped to lay the table and to clear it away. Spaghetti bolognaise didn’t come out of a tin. There was enough to go around.
And the daunting social etiquette of eating in front of a huge number of people is just one aspect.
The packed lunch routine was a wondrous spectacle. All of us at school age would, like some well-oiled production line, move along the kitchen side taking things as we went, a carefully labelled sandwich or roll (there was usually a choice of two or three varieties and some with or without butter, mayonnaise, salad,) we would all help ourselves to fruit, crisps, homemade buns or biscuits, yoghurts or cheese. I would devour mine at school at lunchtime as intended but others might sneak theirs away. Or try to take too much or not a lot at all. I am sure my mum was aware what we were eating or not. You couldn’t get much past her. She took it all in her stride.
And evening meals were just as organised. A homemade dinner and pudding would always appear at 5 on the table. Plates for those children at after school clubs (or detentions) would be left warming in the oven.
Food was not an issue in our house for those of us who had always had it. Food, however was sometimes an issue for those who had not. It wasn’t uncommon for a child in our care to hoard food. The hoarding was never judged and it never phased my parents. They would uncover packets of sweets and crisps and even tins of beans under the bed or behind a wardrobe. And eventually as the children became reassured that the food would not run out, it would stop. The mealtimes might have been frantic at times but they weren’t stressful. They were regular and consistent and varied. Nobody was expected to eat something they didn’t like but they were expected to try it to make sure they didn’t like it. One young boy spent 7 years eating mint sauce with every single meal put in front of him. But he ate every single meal put in front of him. We all had the chance to contribute our favourite meal or pudding to the weekly planner and whilst there were grumblings at some of the choices. It was largely accepted.
The strange relationship with food is more than not wanting to eat broccoli, it is about control and fear and survival. It is just one part of an immense task of making children feel secure. And food and mealtimes are just another part of fostering you must be an expert in.
Catherine and Rob. Read about their experience of fostering.
We are in our 17th year of fostering. When I think about it I realise it is a long time, a whole lifetime really and were still not done yet.
Our children were really young when we started fostering and I did wonder whether choosing this life for them was the right thing. They have to share their home and their parents. And when times were tough, they had to explain to their friends the sometimes difficult behaviours of the children they were living with. But we always fostered as a family and I think short term difficulties with your own children far outweigh the long term benefits. They become incredibly empathetic and I think they learn to mix with all type of different types of children and adults. There aren’t many situations that arise that I don’t think they couldn’t cope with.
We have had lots of different types of placements, and all of them bring their own challenges. I think it is one of those jobs that you never get to the end of learning. Every child is different and the skills you need are always new. It doesn’t matter if you think you know what you are doing, that you have looked after teenagers before, or parent and child placements or children with disabilities, they will present you with something different. Every time you think you have a new skill mastered, you need to learn more for the placement you’ve got. You have to have that confidence to keep going. It helps that I also know if I asked for help it would be there. I am not alone, there is a whole team supporting me and giving me the skills to meet every challenge.
The hardest part of fostering is the fact that it is a whole lifestyle and not just a job. It doesn’t go away. It is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. And that is the hardest.
The best part of fostering is that we have done lots of stuff that we might not have done with our lives otherwise. It changes you, you want to learn all the time. It encourages you to look at things differently and be a better person. I find it exciting, and I love not knowing what is coming next.
I have learnt so much and how important it is to just be there. To try and make the children feel safe, to support them. By being there and forming those secure attachments. And they might be 44 before they look back at their time in foster care and realise that being in foster care was good for them and you were good for them. And you were trying to do the best for them. And you just have to wait.
Could you foster? Your age, experience, sexuality or marital status are not a barrier to fostering.
Tom and Sharon have been fostering for 15 years. For the last four years, they have also been offering parent and child foster placements. It is an area of fostering we as an agency know we excel in. Last year nearly a quarter of our new placements were parent and child. And the demand for them is ever growing.
Sharon reflects on parent and child fostering for her and her family.
It is something that was suggested by my supervising social worker. I had been fostering for a number of years and we had never thought about it before. Just because we had never thought about it. I had spoken to another foster carer about it but still not really thought about it for us. Tom was worried about having a mum in the home and wasn’t sure if it would work for us. I think he was worried about allegations. But we talked about it and decided it was something we would try to do. I am glad we did.
You definitely need a strong maternal presence but Tom has walked alongside me because the whole family need to be supportive.
Our first mother and baby was a teenage mum and her baby. She knew this was her chance to look after her baby. She didn’t always agree with the help we offered her but she was never hostile or defensive. She understood that we wanted to get the best outcome for her and her child. In the end we achieved that. That doesn’t always mean them staying together and in this case it didn’t. Mum realised she was too young and the baby ended up being cared for by a member of her family. But that still means it was a good outcome for everybody really.
Mum had the opportunity to try her best whilst getting support and the baby got good continuous care.
The mums often need looking after. Their early start in life is often difficult. They don’t have the support from their family that mums of all ages need. They can be rebellious and without a good start, make wrong choices. Without proper guidance, it can often result in difficult friendships and complicated lives.
We write daily reports and I think it is important for mum to read these and see what I have observed so they know how to improve and learn.
They are not all teen mums either. We have looked after an older mum who agreed to come into foster care with her baby, as a last chance to look after her by herself.
The mums are often anxious. So it is important to be non-judgemental. We need to understand that these situations are difficult for the mums. We need to give them confidence to believe they can do it and it is important to encourage mum to learn every aspect of caring for their baby. The physical care isn’t often the issue, but you need to spend time giving mum help with the emotional issues surrounding it. Watching a mum grow into her own person is emotional and rewarding because they don’t always have their own family and support.
You have to be realistic about what they can achieve, and just show a different way. They need a positive experience of living within a family. Giving mum the confidence and to be strong enough to make the right choices in life.
It is a big journey for everybody. We learn all the time. We often think that our brains are like a treasure box of memories, with lots of ways to overcome challenges. It is all worth it.
Is it something you could do? With excellent support and training we are always looking for more carers.
Call homefinding on 01622 765646
Halfway through foster care fortnight, our managing director, Terry reflects on his time as a foster carer.
Being part of a family that looks after other people’s children has been the most important and worthwhile job I have ever had. Rose (my wife) and I had looked after over sixty children in our thirteen years of fostering. The feeling that we were making children safe, for however short or long a time, never failed to give us enormous pride and satisfaction.
We did every type of fostering from emergency short term to longer term. We looked after mothers with their babies, unaccompanied children from Africa and we loved every bit of it. We didn’t restrict ourselves to any narrow age range and, for a while rarely said no to any referrals. We certainly didn’t get put off because they were teenagers or a big sibling group. Every child bought their own challenges and rewards.
As we grew in experience and confidence, we loved the excitement of being emergency foster carers. I spent a number of Friday evenings at the local police station and got to know the duty sargeants quite well. The job was to get the kids out of the cells and to make them feel like children again. We were a strong family ourselves and there was never a time that we felt at risk from any of the children that we looked after.
There were aspects of fostering that never failed to puzzle us especially when some of the children that we had worked so hard to make them feel good about themselves went back into the family environment that had put them into care in the first place. We eventually accepted that sometimes the children went home, and for the best. We all had to learn to come to terms with the situation and it strengthened our determination to work as closely with the birth families as possible.
What we found were the mums and dads of the children we fostered who had been in the care system themselves and they had as many unfulfilled needs as the children. It certainly wasn’t our place to judge. As we looked after children who lived close to our home, we needed to develop the skills and understanding that meant the mums and dads did not feel threatened or patronised by us.
When we first fostered in 1986, it was a different time. There was no children act restricting the number of children placed. We once had a sibling group of seven and often had over three children to look after. We fostered in an age when the foster family would get £12.50 per week per child and the carers had no influence on what would ultimately happen to the children. We fostered in an age when the children didn’t have a care plan, they would drift through the system and the children placed into residential care, were then deemed “naughty”
So much has changed since then, looking after children is now a respected profession with foster carer fees reflecting the vital importance of the job. On going and rewarding training programs are provided, enriching carers ability to understand children’s behaviours, deal with challenges and, ultimately, maximise the potential of the young people in their care.
But one thing remains the same. Fostering a child, a vulnerable child, or a young person on the brink of adulthood, gives you the opportunity to make a significant change in the outcome of their lives, and Influence their life choices.
The challenges remain the same.
The rewards unparalleled.
Fostering is one of the best and worthwhile jobs you could ever do.
As part of our ongoing commitment to go that extra mile for our children and young people we are always asking for feedback. We ask social workers to provide us with comments on our staff, our communication and the quality of our foster carers. We ask the foster carers to be honest about the training and support packages we provide, and what we can do to improve. We ask the young people and children what they think about the care they receive and what can be done to make it better.
Three key words emerged from feedback we received this past year.
Safe, secure and supported.
protected from or not exposed to danger or risk; not likely to be harmed or lost.
A huge part of what we strive to do is about making children not just safe but to feel safe. It is important for us to provide an emotional safe place. It is the “knowing” of what we’re feeling; the ability to be able to identify our feelings and then take the ultimate risk of feeling them.
fixed or fastened so as not to give way, become loose, or be lost.
certain to remain safe and unthreatened.
For many children, Experiences of separation or neglectful or abusive parenting will cause children to remain anxious and to distrust close relationships. We need to change these expectations in the new environments of a foster family , by providing a secure base with positive relationships.
. To keep from weakening or failing; give confidence or comfort to:
To bear the weight of, To aid the cause, policy, or interests of, To have an enthusiastic interest in,
Our Social workers feel supported, our foster carers feel supported, the local authorities feel supported, as do the schools we deal with and, more importantly so do our children and young people.
We meet the challenges we face together and that is why those three words that recur in our feedback time and time again. Words that are so important to us because they mean we are building the foundations to make a real difference to young peoples lives, and fulfilling our aim of helping them reach their potential.
In yesterday’s Prime Minister question time, David Cameron offered Jeremy Corbyn some advice his mother might give.
…she’d say put on a proper suit, do up your tie and sing the national anthem…
Every adult will remember something their mother used to say. More speed less haste, if you have nothing nice to say…, don’t put your coat on now or you wont feel the benefit later. In fact the average mother will pass on 41 pearls of wisdom. My own mother and grandmother often had the snippets of advice they would dish out on a regular basis, given with such authority and belief, that if I followed it, everything would turn out alright. As we become adults we regurgitate the same advice. Never go out with wet hair, never swim on a full stomach, don’t run with scissors. Some of them have their basis in fact, and for our own safety, others just become strange pieces of advice we are expected to live by and take upon ourselves to pass on.
My grandmother would always say that you should never have more children than hands. My mother used to tell me never to trust a man with dirty shoes. She also once told me never to eat in the street and keep paracetamol with me just in case. My mother also used to tell me to go and look something up if i asked a question.. I am not sure if this was because she didn’t know the answer, wanted me to discover things for myself or was too weary to explain it. It is often all three of those things when I go and tell my children to go and google it! Everyone I asked when I was writing this had something they remember their parent saying. It evokes happy memories of knowing that someone cared.
I think the point is, the things we say to the children in our care, are heard, albeit selectively. But they are often remembered and stay with them as guidance in everyday scenarios or more difficult situations. Don’t litter, do your best, always stand up for what you believe in. Adults who had been looked after will often remember something was said to them and keep it with them so dont underestimate how important those bits of advice are. They might make the difference to a child’s life, or a decision they make as a teenager or how successful they become as parents themselves.
Whatever advice it is, whether you are prime minister or not, we all need those bits of motherly wisdom. Sometimes.
This week at Homefinding is meant to have started with Bleak Monday or Blue Monday. A day when we abandon our resolutions and we are supposed to believe it is the most depressing day of the year. I am not sure how much of these studies can be believed or how much weight they deserve to be given. It is also the day most new year resolutions start to wane.
New Years resolutions often focus on our appearance, our health or career . However, it would appear that none of these things will necessarily lead you to feeling the time you have spent has been fulfilled. They key to our happiness seems to be all connected to other people. The people we spend our time with, the relationships we make and investing a lasting commitment to those people.
Our foster families often forge relationships with each other and the children they look after and their families, fulfilling and rewarding relationships that last a lifetime.
Fostering broadens your horizons, and it opens you up to a whole bigger world. All too often the world we live in stretches from our home, our local supermarket, to our children’s schools and we don’t often deviate very far.
When you are part of a fostering family, you get to meet a whole range of other people you normally wouldn’t meet. People who’s start in life vary from your own. Children from other cultures and backgrounds. Fostering families meet other fostering families, and share experiences. You get to work in partnership with other professionals in schools, hospitals, all striving for the best outcomes. Opening your eyes up to just how many adults are involved in keeping vulnerable children safe.
All of this isn’t without its challenges but at the same time it is incredibly worthwhile. So at a time when gym membership starts to look like a poor investment or the diet and dry January aren’t workingout as you had hoped, it might be a good opportunity to think about making a change in your life that lasts. Applying to foster might be a change that you can make and one that propels you in to next year and the next.
Making changes for the better not only for yourself but others.
This week at Homefinding has been a productive one as well as a reflective one. A lot of the time we go through life with one week rolling into the next, and before you know it the seasons have passed, the John Lewis Christmas ad is back on the telly and another year is about to finish. This week at homefinding we, as a staff group have really stopped to think about what we do in our working life and why.
The end result of this, and the best part of the last year has been poured into our new statement of purpose. The new document created by Satwinder, our director of operations, really reflects our way of doing things.
“We will create a legacy we can all be proud of. Where we elect to initiate change, we will endeavor to leave things better than we found them.”
You can find it under the about us tab on the website.
So, If you are interested in fostering, then please read it.
If you have been fostering for a while, then please read it.
Because there are times when we all need a reminder as to why we do things, and how we should strive to do things.
This week at Homefinding has been kick started with staff panel training.
Being on a panel or at panel are terms we assume everyone understands. But of course, until you have been in that situation, it may mean nothing to you.
Being at panel is just about the final hurdle before becoming approved as a foster carer. I imagine it is right up there as a nerve wracking experience. As in, as bad as your driving test, but not quite as bad as major surgery.
The panel itself comprises of a number of professional individuals, who are foster carers, or social workers or been in foster care themselves. They can also include health and education professionals. They are all there with the same aim of making sure that the decision to approve you and your family as foster carers is the right one. They are presented with all the information about you as a family in advance and they have the opportunity to talk to the social worker who collated all that information during your assessment. They then meet you before making their recommendations and you beginning your fostering career.
Most people understand how important it is to get that decision right, and although it is a daunting experience, we try our best for you to be relaxed and the feedback we get is generally that it is not as bad as they imagined.
I have trawled the internet for peoples experiences of being at panel and found very little. It is something we assume everybody understands. And although we are certainly welcmoming and pleasant, I think it must feel like a job interview or a trip to the dentist. I may hold a We have holding a panel for new applicants here next week. Maybe I shall ask some unsuspecting applicants to write next weeks blog. No pressure! As if the process wasn’t daunting enough. I will certainly get some feedback from them and their experience.
so watch this space.