Who needs foster care?
Children and young people needing foster care are exposed to high levels of stress at home. They may be experiencing abuse or neglect or be at risk of such. They may be experiencing family violence, have a parent who is ill or whose drug or alcohol use contribute to the high levels of stress experienced.
This can prevent kids from feeling happy, safe and actively participating in schooling and other social and recreational activities important to their physical development, self esteem and self efficacy. Children and young people experiencing such stress can feel lonely, vulnerable and isolated.
Children and young people coming into care are individuals with their own special qualities and needs. They are often confused and grieving about being separated from their families.
Foster care can be both scary and yet ‘safe’ at the same time. It can be very different from their experience of their own family and it will take time for them to adjust and learn how things are done in foster care families.
Trust in adults is often compromised through experiences such as those indicated above. It will require understanding, patience and acceptance of the experiences children and young people bring with them into care. Sometimes these difficulties will surface in behaviour that is challenging or hard to understand. Given support and guidance, many children and young people will learn to trust and their behaviour will change for the positive. Children and young people coming into foster care range in age from newborn babies up to 18 year olds. They may be part of a sibling group or be part of a specific cultural or ethnic group. They may have disabilities or developmental delays. Carers who are flexible and willing to learn can be supported to care for a child or young person with additional needs.
We are highlighting the needs of adolescents who, like children and young people with disabilities, are the least likely group to find a carer to support them.
Adolescence comes early these days with many children physically maturing at a younger age. Society has greater expectations of young people and our world is much more complex than a generation ago. For us, considering the needs of adolescents begins at the late primary school years.
Many adolescents come into care experiencing high levels of conflict with their parent(s). This frequently results in young people being poorly supervised and supported and, at times, forced to leave home with few safe alternatives. Many feel abandoned at a time when guidance and support is strongly needed. Outwardly, this may present in a ‘couldn’t care less’ attitude or hostility to rules and expectations once easily conformed to.
Adolescence is a period of rapid change and growth when a young person is trying to make sense of their world and how they fit. It is normal to feel the pull of peers, to explore new ways of thinking and seeing the world, in seeking increasing independence and yet to feel quite dependent on caring adults at the same time. The ‘push-pull’ of relationships is something many families experience. This can be confusing to adolescents and can lead to contradictory ways of behaving. These feelings can be magnified and more intense when their family is unable or unwilling to provide the positive guidance and support needed.
Adolescents can experience particular vulnerabilities to experiential sex and drug use and, for some, survival sex and regular drug use, as a means of coping with their situation. This can place them at risk of being exploited and used by adults who do not have their interests at heart.
Whilst adolescents crave to be seen as adults making independent decisions, they do not always have the maturity, knowledge and life skills necessary to make good choices. Having supportive adults who care about them and the choices they make can be the difference between seeing their future as one bright and full of potential and one which is bleak and undermining to their sense of self, of belonging and efficacy.