Carers for teenagers seem to continually be the hardest to recruit. There are negative images of teens everywhere we look and plenty of myths to put people off. However, the Mays have a great response to that.
“One thing to remember is that there’s no easy age group. You can be up all night with a baby or supporting a teenager. The difference with teenagers is there’s a lot of banter and you can really establish a relationship.”
As with all the age groups in fostering there is no standard placement. While some of the young people Debbie and her husband Terry have cared for were looked after for only a few weeks, one young boy was with them for 10 years.
“He’s 28 now and we still see him,” Debbie says happily. “We treat them as family. When they come to our house, whatever they’ve done is left at the doorstep. It won’t work to lecture them.”
“Some children have such low self-esteem coming into care. A big part of the role is rebuilding that self-esteem and letting them take it at their own pace, we let them settle.”
A big part of caring for teenagers is providing them with the support they need to make choices at this important time. This may mean support to help them in education and any plans for further study. But this doesn’t mean you need to brush up on your science and algebra yourself - support can come in many forms.
“A lot of these children haven’t been to school much. One young lad struggled with maths and needed a tutor. After a couple of months, he could sit in class and put his hand up. That made him feel really good about himself.”
Equally vital is the fostering team’s support for the carer. There is obviously the financial allowance from the service but there are also the choices of important training in specialist subjects such as gang involvement and sexual exploitation to help the carer in practice and to also build their career.
Realistically we know there will be challenges in many placements but Debbie is clear the emotional reward from seeing a young person thrive is unparalleled and there will still be plenty of happy memories for both the young person and the foster carers.
“When a teenager comes to you they want to sleep with the light on then all of a sudden the light’s off. That’s when you know you’ve cracked it.”