Member News: TACT - ‘I became a foster carer at 22 – being young makes it easier for children to relate to us'
Fostering charity Tact reports seeing a three-fold rise in millennials applying to become foster carers in 2020
We tend to think of foster carers as older people, who likely already have grown up children – and indeed the majority (65 per cent) in England are over the age of 50.
But a wave of people in their twenties and thirties are choosing to foster youngsters.
Tact, the UK’s largest fostering charity, reports that they have seen a three-fold rise in millennials applying to become foster carers in 2020.
It’s hoped the trend may help alleviate the foster carer shortage – a child comes in to care every 20 minutes in the UK and there are more than 8,500 carers desperately needed nationwide to meet this demand.
Family breakdowns have increased the need for foster carers by nearly a third during the Covid pandemic, charity Barnardo’s has warned.
Bryleigh Flack, 23, has been fostering a teenage girl for four months with her partner Grace Pascall, 24. Bryleigh grew up in a household with looked-after children – her mother and a very good family friend have taken in around 250 youngsters. Grace got a taste of fostering living at Bryleigh’s mother’s for a year and when they moved into their own place last year, they were keen to do it themselves.
“I’ve been really involved in it my whole life and I was a back-up carer for the children,” said Bryleigh. “When I got my own place it was like, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s no screaming kids around’. It felt strange.”
Bryleigh believes her and Grace’s youth is an advantage. “I think because we’re young it’s a lot easier for children to relate to us. I think they feel at home quite quickly. We have boundaries and discipline and we also remember what it was like to be 13.”
Bryleigh says people have been surprised at her decision to become a foster carer at just 22. “I think a lot of people are like, ‘Oh, my God, why would you do that so young’,” she said. “I can’t be out partying all night but I’m not bothered. I don’t feel like I’m missing out.”
Bryleigh says people have been surprised at her decision to become a foster carer at just 22. “I think a lot of people are like, ‘Oh, my God, why would you do that so young’.” But she said she doesn’t feel like she’s missing out. “When you grow up around fostering, it becomes part of your life, your identity and your future.”
Instead she focusses on the rewards. “Many children require a lot of care and attention to work through past traumas. And that’s the most rewarding job you could ever have. If you can show a child routine and stability, their behaviors can shift so quickly.
“It’s so rewarding to see them feeling safe. Even little things like them going to get something out the fridge without asking you, then you know they feel at home.”
‘Some don’t want to accept love’
But of course things may not run so smoothly. Many foster children exhibit behavioral issues.
Bryleigh, who lives in south London, said youngsters placed with her family have pulled doors off hinges, thrown objects and caused damage, and run away.
“They will push your boundaries to see how much you’re devoted to them, because all they know is loss,” she said. “When they come to you, they are expecting the worst, to leave, to not be permanent and for you to give up – because they’ve had so many temporary people in their life. As children they have been through more than most adults have ever been through.
“They may go against simple things that you’re asking them to do, because they’ve never had structure and routine before. That might be bedtime and mobile phone times. Lots of these kids have been able to do what they want for many years. You definitely pick your battles.
“A lot of children haven’t been given basic level of care, like having been taught self hygiene, so that’s your role. But also, many have been fending for themselves since being toddlers and getting themselves to school from a young age. So it’s important to not micromanage the children either because all of a sudden, they come to you and you’re trying to tell them how to do things.
“It’s about gaining their trust and working with them and showing them that you’re resilient. You can’t take things personally and you can’t give up.”
Bryleigh says some children have their defences up while others attach too quickly. “Some don’t want to accept love, affection and praise because they’ve never experienced that and it’s like an alien thing to them.
“Then you have children on the other spectrum who are really affectionate, but in the wrong ways – through no fault of their own – which makes them vulnerable to sexual exploitation. So again, because they’ve never had love, they crave it and seek it in the wrong places. Some are attention seeking. You are sort of faced with so many different behaviours that are unique to each child.”
Being a foster family brings a “different dynamic”, says Bryleigh. “Although the children are part of your family, the way you do things can be really different. You have to be really mindful of your ways of handling things. For instance, if you have a child who has grown up with parents who have abused alcohol or drugs, having a family gathering or party where people are consuming alcohol might be triggering for them. So you have to really take into consideration their past traumas in every single situation and be sensitive to that.”
Bryleigh says she got a lot of support through charity The Fostering Network and her local authority. “Meeting up with other foster carers has been a godsend,” she said.
Fostering ‘is life changing’
Bryleigh said her placement has “never been able to be a child”, something you wants to allow her the space to be.
Lockdown has presented challenges, but she and Grace have adapted and their foster child is settling in well.
“She’s settled in a short space of time and really feels at home, it’s great to see her doing well at school and getting involved in out of school activities.
“It’s been strange during lockdown with the world shut down when it’s been difficult to keep children entertained. But it made us realise we don’t always have to go out and spend money. It’s brought us back down to basics.
“We’ve been baking and going for walks and done some DIY on the house and done a few treasure hunts. We got a dog in lockdown, which helped teach our young one a bit of routine and responsibility.
“We went to an Airbnb on a farm and had a family holiday to the Cotswolds during Easter. She just was so receptive and open to try new things and it’s a great feeling to be able to give them opportunities that they haven’t had before.
“I hope this is a long-term placement and I want her to be able to look back and think that they really set me up to to be where I am. I’ll do anything to be able to help young people placed with us to be successful in life because they deserve that.”
Bryleigh urged any young person considering fostering to not feel like their age is a barrier. “I think a lot of people don’t realise that they can foster from 21. Obviously, it is a big commitment. And it is life changing. If you’re prepared for that, then go for it.”
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