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Ellen and Paul: How fostering teenagers enriched our lives

“Turn their lives around and see them walk out of the door to an independent life – that is a very special feeling.”

Fostering teenagers is a hugely rewarding and often overlooked type of foster care. There is a real need in Wales for families to foster teenagers, with nearly half of all looked-after children in care being between the ages of 11 -18 years old.

We’ve had a chance to speak to Ellen and Paul, Local Authority foster carers from Torfaen. They currently have two teenage boys in their care but have fostered many teenagers over the years.

“We started fostering 10 years ago. We were looking for a new challenge, saw the adverts for fostering and decided to give it a go. We both wanted to keep working, so teenagers suited us, even though we suspected the older the child, the more baggage they might be carrying. We did have the advantage of having had five children of our own, so we had a good idea about teenagers.”

Fostering teenagers can be a challenging yet rewarding experience for both the foster carers and the young person. It is a critical time in a teenager’s life when they are in the process of developing their identity and transitioning into adulthood. Therefore, it is essential to understand the unique needs of teenagers in foster care.

Ellen and Paul spoke about the uniqueness of fostering teens and how this experience enriched their lives.

“When a teenager comes to stay with us, they usually feel let down – of course they do. They feel vulnerable and often frightened. They are, usually, in a bad place, but all they want is a safe place to live and get some stability back.”

“They need a quiet bedroom to shelter in when they arrive, plenty of pizza (the healthy diet comes later!), someone to vent their anger on at first and then someone to listen to them (you don’t need to talk much, just listen to them).”

Teenagers in care may have experienced trauma and instability in their lives. They are often misunderstood and seen as “troublemakers” which is a very unfair and inaccurate judgement. Many of those young people have been through the same challenging situations as younger children in care, such as neglect or abuse, which may have led to behavioural issues. It’s crucial to offer them a consistent and loving home environment.

“You need to treat them with respect and as young adults and start by giving them space and time to settle. If you are good at listening, you can soon earn their trust. That’s all you have to do, earn their trust – simple! Spend a lot of time early on to take an interest in them, and they soon settle.”

“As long as you can relate to them and listen to what they need it’s never too late. We have taken a seventeen-year-old who was angry and felt let down by everyone – you may fight at first but then they realise you are genuine and you’re on the same side, you earn their trust, and you go places.”

It’s important to approach fostering with an open mind and be aware of the challenges it brings. However, despite the popular beliefs, fostering teenagers is not any more challenging than fostering any other age group, it’s just different. In many ways, it’s easier than fostering younger children. You meet their basic needs, like providing food, clothing, and shelter and ensuring that they have access to healthcare and education, but most of them have established preferences and manage their own self-care, which means that you act more like a mentor and a guide for them.

“We didn’t expect it to be easy and things didn’t always go to plan, but when you first turn around a teenager’s life, you get the bug. You get to help them learn to be independent, learn to drive, apply for jobs, find a flat of their own and move out when they are ready. It can be challenging but you get the chance to help a child by giving them a purpose.”

The rewards of fostering teens and helping them becoming independent are invaluable. Not only you change a child’s life and get to see them flourish, but you also gain a new purpose in life, develop meaningful relationships, and learn a lot of new skills.

“Yes, you can help turn a child’s life around by giving them somewhere safe to live and just listening to them. That’s a great feeling, knowing you have helped them transform their life, but that feeling doesn’t stop when they leave – we try to keep in touch and bump into them regularly around town. And when they’ve left home, and they come back for Christmas dinner – wow!”

“Of course, it doesn’t always work – sometimes their needs just don’t suit your set up. Of the last four teenagers that have come to us, two are still with us. One in school, the other in full time work, and the other two have left – both are working, one is expecting their second child – and they keep in touch. That’s what you do it for!”

By choosing to foster teens both Ellen and Paul could keep their day jobs too and combine working and fostering. At Foster Wales Torfaen we strive to match you with a child/young person who is the best fit for your circumstances. It’s important for us to get to know you, your preferences, and your unique family setup, and always make sure that your family is the right match for the child or a young person too.

“Teenagers tend to come with more issues, but they are also more independent, allowing us both more independence and flexibility in our day job. Fostering this group suited us as we could both keep working and keep our independence. Everybody is different, but we had already had children of our own so we wanted our freedom too.

Teenagers are young adults – they are easier to talk to about their issues than younger children. Above all, like everyone, they just need to feel safe, welcome and part of the family.”

What’s Ellen and Paul’s advice to people who consider fostering but are worried to foster teenagers? Just think about them as children who were let down by the adults.

“If you are thinking about fostering teenagers remember most are just frightened children who just feel let down by the adults, they have known so far. Teenagers are used to being messed about and, as long as they feel safe, they will soon come around and generally settle quickly.

Above all, don’t be frightened of failure, especially if you are new. You can’t be expected to deal with all the complex issues of every child, and sometimes it might not work out. But it will usually work because, even though they might not admit it at first, they are frightened and just crave some security.”

Could you foster a teenager?

If still in doubt, why not get in touch with your local authority fostering team today? We can answer all your questions related to fostering and work out if fostering teens could be a good match for you.

If you live in Wales, visit the Foster Wales website where you can find all the information and contact your local authority service.

Living in Torfaen, Wales? Send us a message and we will get back to you as soon as we can.

Choosing Foster Wales is a decision to work with real people in your community, who care.

(Our fostering success stories are based on the real-life experiences of Local Authority Foster Carers in Wales. To protect their privacy, and the privacy of the children and young people to whom they provide care, love, and support, actors have stepped in to help us tell their amazing stories.)

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