Brigid's story

Brigid shares from her experience fostering teenagers

Brigid, a foster carer in Northern Ireland, shares some reflections from her experience fostering teenagers.

I was working in the shop one afternoon when a woman approached my till with arms full of cakes, tarts and treats. She told me she was hosting a coffee morning for a local charity, raising money to support children in Belarus who had been affected by the Chernobyl disaster. It really struck me, this act of kindness and generosity. I packed her things into bags and didn’t stop thinking about her for the rest of the day. I went home that night and told my husband, “She’s actually putting her love into action. She’s really making a difference.”

It lingered in my mind, those children who needed support and this woman who was playing her part to make a difference. It inspired me to think about what I could do, so I connected with the charity myself to support them. When I realised that I could make a difference and I saw that the part I played in raising some money could have a huge impact in the lives of children across the world, it really changed my life. And that was what inspired us to think about the part we could play in caring for children who need support and love right here in Northern Ireland, and what led us to apply to be foster carers.

We currently have three teenage boys with us on long-term placements, and they fit into our home, our family and our community so well. We love football in our house – my husband was the chairman of our local club for a while – so we’ll always sit down together and watch a match. There’s a farm right next door to our house, and one of our boys was able to get a full-time job there when he left school. Previously, we’ve had teenage girls here before who have fit in just as well; we dyed each other’s hair and would having baking nights in the kitchen together. I think the key for us has been to find their interests, find their talents and their passions, and look for opportunities in our family and our community to meet, encourage and develop those interests, talents and passions together.

We had a teenage girl come to live with us just before the Covid-19 pandemic. It was an emergency placement, only supposed to last a few days, but those days turned into weeks, and she ended up staying with us throughout lockdown, for about nine months in total. This young lady is blind, and she had lived in many different homes before ours.

A lot about caring for this amazing teenager was very new for me – and I was honest with her about that. I remember asking her to help me as I learnt how to best meet her needs and help her settle into life in our home. She has a wonderful sense of humour, and took everything in her stride, so we plodded along together through the introductions, the questions and the figuring things out. It was particularly tough when we couldn’t visit the places and people she would normally go to for support when things closed due to lockdown, but even then we faced the challenges together and we improvised. Sensory classes had been a big part of her routine, so she told me some of the things she liked to feel and touch – pasta shapes, cornflakes – and we set up our own sensory stations at home with things from around the house.

And in the same way that we’ve found those opportunities with the other children we’ve cared for, we quickly learnt where our interests and our rhythms met hers. She loves Irish music, she came to us from a background where Irish music was always playing, and it held a really special place in her heart. My husband loves it too. For hours every night they would just sit together, listen to music, and sing along together.

We learnt how to do it all together, and I think upon reflection that this is something that is unique to caring for older children and teenagers. While it’s incredibly important to set healthy boundaries to keep them safe, and while they absolutely need support and love to help them explore their identity and where they belong and the challenges of adolescence, teenagers have a greater degree of independence, responsibility and agency than the younger children we’ve cared for. We’ve found that to a certain extent they know what they need, they know what they like, and they know what they want. So you do it together; you take each day at a time together. You figure out what works together.

This young lady’s nine months in our family was the longest time she had ever spent in any one place, and we are honoured that even though she’s moved on from our care, she still wants connection. She rings us every week, she creates art for us, and we’re like an aunt and uncle to her.

A little interaction with that woman in the shop has changed my life, and I hope and pray has made a difference in the lives of the children and teenagers we care for. That woman who came to my till in the shop threw a pebble into the water that is still making ripples today. We can all do something to play our part, to make a difference – and God only knows what might happen when we do!


If you would like to find out more about fostering teenagers then we have lots of resources and information to help - click here.

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