Monday, September 11, 2017

FOSTERING TEENAGERS - THE BIG CAHUNA



We went back into fostering after a break, it's been eight or nine years now, our second stint. 

We started out all those years ago with the instinct that foster children would be exactly that; children. The agency we were with back then only had juniors on their books; kids aged around ten or under.
We were a young family ourselves back then, so we'd cut our teeth on babes, toddlers and infants.

Second time around we were under no illusions; our strength lay mainly with older children; teenagers. And boy how they need us.

And they need you too.

We weren't drawn to teenagers because we'd picked up valuable experience of through out own family and their friends.

It was mostly that we LIKE teenagers.

We find them the most interesting clients. (Yes, I've started experimenting calling my placements 'clients', I'll come back to that idea another time.)

Teenagers always, always, have richer back-stories. In our experience chaotic families never suddenly tilt into chaos from previously being stable when the child is aged 14. A chaotic family has been chaotic throughout, what tends to happen is that either the chaos deepens to the point where intervention is called for, or the chaos somehow went unnoticed.

A 14 year-old coming into care will have had 14 years of chaos. And, if you're new to fostering welcome to the word 'chaos', it sums up their lives. The history of some teenagers in fostering can be jaw-dropping.

Off the top of my head I remember the 16 year old girl who was brought to us who, just like her 2 older sisters, had been thrown out of the house by her single mother on her 16th birthday because that was the day her child support allowance was stopped. I'll repeat that;

On the morning that she turned 16 her mother made her pack a bin-liner with her clothes and shoved her out into the street because the mother would be no longer in receipt of a weekly payment for her. 

The very morning of her 16th birthday.

Utterly unbelievable. But true. 

It gets worse;

Just as it had been with the girl's 2 older sisters, the mother had, when the girl was 14, made her go to the police and report that she'd been assaulted. Wait for this, I hope you're sitting down;

All the 4 daughters, (there was one other girl, the youngest, still at home because she was still eligible for child benefit), had been taken to the police station on separate occasions to report that they had each been assaulted. All 4 of them, one by one, over a period of four or five years. Why? Because they were able to claim some form of compensation for their 'experiences' which ran to between 5 and 10 thousand pound each. The money went to fund the mother's lifestyle of extravagant interior decor and Spanish holidays.

Now you'd think this girl would be a nightmare of mixed up feelings and behaviours, but she was quite the opposite. She was charming, witty, helpful and optimistic. On the day she arrived she got on her phone and showed her eldest sister - who was living in a housing unit - what a wonderful house we had. Made us feel very proud. She even waxed lyrical about her new bedroom; it was the box room I might add, but I guess it was a palace to her, she'd been 'sofa surfing' for nearly a year before social services cottoned onto her plight.

Okay, she was timid at first, and had picked up some habits that needed straightening, for example; I used to get narked when she referred to the Thursday when her benefit payment was due as 'payday'.

We were all truly sad to see her go when the time came, and thanks to social media we gladden our hearts from time to time by catching up with her.

I must stress that this girl was by no means the most riveting and rewarding teenager we have had on our books, dear me no. I remember her best because she is still part of our lives. She's happy, just got news she's pregnant (this will be her third), and going along joyfully in life doing what comes naturally to her. She's better for her time with us, she always says so, and we're better for it too. She learned from us things such as to think twice before letting her cousin practice his new tattoo gun on her back. We learned things from her; I still refer to microwave food as 'ding meals'.

Talking about her has got me thinking about all the other teenagers we've had under our roof, and I find myself feeling a real glow inside. I can honestly say that I have deep and warm feelings towards each and every one of them. I'm not daft enough for rose-tinted memories, there were downs as well as ups, but that's what makes fostering best thing anyone can do.

Next time I'll tell you about an even more gob-smacking teenager who came to us and is now flying.

BTW the girl I've just told you about christened her second baby after my husband, and although her spelling of William is a bit off the mark, we're charmed and flattered. Not sure if the boy will always be happy with the way she spelled it as it will provoke facetious comment from his peers later in life.

She spelled it 'Willyarm'.


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