Foster carer in Hemel shares her experience as the council urgently calls for more people to care for teenagers
A new campaign is highlighting the benefits of fostering a teenager
A foster carer from Hemel Hempstead has shared her experience of caring for older children as part of a new campaign that highlights all of the fun you could have when fostering a teenager.
Erica has been fostering teenagers for 13 years and is still in touch with many of the young people she has fostered over the years.
She has spoken about her experience as part of Hertfordshire County Council' s campaign - Look What You’re Missing - which aims to get more foster carers for older children to come forward.
In Hertfordshire, 67 per cent of all children looking for a loving and supportive home are aged 11-17.
Whether it’s X-box tournaments, kitchen discos, growing your general knowledge, visiting museums or simply playing sport, our Look What You’re Missing campaign highlights all of the fun you could have when fostering a teen.
Erica said: "I used to work in the DVD and music business, but really that is for young people. So as I got older I thought about trying something new, and I wanted to do something that gave back.
"I explored fostering and it took me a few years to decide that that is what I wanted to do. My daughter was very supportive of me fostering.
"My first placement was two brothers, one was eight and one was 12, and they were with me until they were about 17 or 18.
"My next placement was a teenage girl, she was 13 and she was 17 when she left. Since then I have been doing quite a lot of respite [a type of short-term foster placement].
"I have always found that I related better to the older children. You can always find some common ground with them.
"They are quite open with their feelings if you sit and listen and talk to them as well.
"If you talk to them and take an interest in their lives, what they are doing and how they are feeling, I have found that they are actually quite open.
"I think the teenagers get such a bad reputation that is not necessarily a fair reputation.
"I am not sure how many I have had at respite, but it is quite a few.
"I have also found that even if it says on paper that there are challenges, when you actually sit and talk to them there are not actually challenges.
"I also think it keeps me young, I learn about technology and youth culture, and I really enjoy it!
"I would recommend fostering, if you are considering it, you should just go for it.
"It is a cliché and everyone says it, but it really is so rewarding. I am still in touch with many of the teenagers I have looked after.
"The first two boys I fostered, one is now 21 and the older one is 24, come round for Christmas dinner, and the older one has also been supporting the campaign by sharing his experience.
"I still regularly see my second placement too. We both loved horse riding, and she looks after my horse, so we regularly see each other.
"They never really leave you, they still keep coming back, it is like having an extended family."
There are currently 975 children and young people in care and many live with Hertfordshire’s foster carers.
When fostering a teenager for Hertfordshire County Council, you will receive specialised training, as well as 24/7 unrivalled support plus generous pay and allowances.
To become a foster carer in Hertfordshire, you must be over 21, and have at least one spare room at home.
Councillor Teresa Heritage, cabinet member for children, young people and families, said: “Just like smaller children, teenagers need a family to provide, protect and love them.
"We know that fostering teenagers can bring its challenges, but our foster carers tell us how amazing it is to spend fun time with their teenage foster children, and they often learn a thing or two along the way.
“If you already work with older children in your job, and you enjoy it, you may feel that fostering is a natural step to take, or you may just feel compelled to help guide a teenager to a great future. Whatever inspires you, we’d love to hear from you.”
Erica is encouraging people who are interested in fostering to contact Hertfordshire County Council.
She added: "If it sounds like something that you would want to do I would say just open your mind to the possibility of fostering older children and I would definitely foster with Hertfordshire County Council because they offer good support and training packages."
The mockingbird model uses the idea of creating extended networks of peer support for our foster carers.
Each mockingbird hub is supported by dedicated and skilled hub carers who provide emotional and practical support to the foster carers and young people in their constellation.
The children are able to build their networks of trusted adults as well as build friendships with children and young people who can share in their experiences of being looked after.
Erica is about to become a mockingbird hub carer and this means she will no longer have her own foster placement but will support a network of foster carer families.
She said: "Mockingbird is like an extended family, and is sort of built around that famous saying 'it takes a village to raise a child'.
"I will be a home hub carer and then between six and eight satellite families. I will help with any support needed.
"I will also be supporting the carers, both physically and emotionally, as being a foster carer can be hard work.
"We will have monthly activities for the children and events to try and get all the families together.
"It will be beneficial for the children as they will have peers that are similar ages that they can talk to."
For more information about fostering older children visit: www.hertfordshire.gov.uk/StillAChild or ring the fostering team on 0800 917 0925.