Young people; they have a rough time of it. They are often portrayed in the media as complicated, unstable, trouble-makers, gangsters, or even rioters. So, the big question is, why would anyone want to foster one?
The problem is, there’s a national shortage of foster carers in the UK, and people willing to care for teenagers are few and far between.
Foster agencies in Enfield, Haringey, Barnet, Camden and Islington are pooling resources to recruit at least 40 people to care for teenagers in the next year. They released a film this week showing moving clips of people in care, as well as their carers, talking about their highs and lows.
I met foster carers Colleen Gleeson-Thomas and Francisco Thomas, who I hoped would shed some light on their experiences. The pair have cared for three siblings aged nine, 11, and 13, in their Hackney home for two years.
Their first experience of foster care was tough. After two years of caring for a boy, who came to them aged 12, they found the relationship strained and they made the difficult decision to send him to new carers.
Mrs Gleeson-Thomas, 49, said: “I think he just felt unloved; it is hard because the more you show that, the more difficult he found it because it is not something he wanted at that time. We were his focus and he was our focus and it was a bit too intense.”
Mr Thomas, who has two grown-up children of his own, said part of the process is being able to make "hard decisions." He said, as a foster carer, it can be difficult laying down the law but it is important to remain patient with the kids in order to build a strong relationship.
Mrs Gleeson-Thomas, who had wanted to be a foster carer since she was a child, lit up when asked about her current foster children. She spoke of her 13-year-old girl, who is doing “brilliantly” at school and has developed into a “confident young woman.”
She admitted she felt overwhelmed at the beginning, but the pair have settled into foster care and she is “shocked” at how well it has gone.
And what about the children? Why do teenagers think they are not being fostered as readily as babies and children?
Efrem Semereab spent seven years in care from the age of 11. The 22-year-old spoke openly and addressed the problems he faced, saying the toughest part was the amount he and his older sister moved. He switched between two children’s homes and two foster homes and never stayed in one place for more than three years.
Mr Semereab, who lives in Holloway, said people can be put off fostering teenagers as they already have their own habits and life style, which can make it “difficult” for them to live by the rules of the house. However, he said it is important for parents to work with the young person and to realise that with the right guidance, young people can change their ways.
He said: “Moving around was the hardest bit, but having said that, some foster carers make it easy. It is kind of a mixture in a way, I would generally say it was a positive experience but there are some difficult periods."
Despite the up and downs, he graduated from Middlesex University with a sports science degree and is now a sports and mind coach for young people.
Being a foster carer, and being in foster care, is tough. There’s no way around it. But, it seems to me, teenagers are at the cusp of adulthood – they are nearly there, and all they need is the final push to shape them into someone great.
People who believe they have something to offer can access the North London Fostering Consortium’s website at www.fosteringnorthlondon.co.uk.
Visitors can fill in an online enquiry form, watch the ten-minute promotional video as well as see a calendar of foster care information sessions operating in Enfield, Haringey, Barnet, Camden and Islington.