Reaping rewards: "Why I foster teenagers"

TEENAGERS have a reputation for being difficult and troubled – a reputation shared by foster children.

These perceived challenges can put some people off considering becoming foster carers of teens.

But Horsham’s Alison Briggs-Miller believes people should take the plunge and reap the rewards.

Wimmera foster carers urgently needed

She and her husband Michael started fostering in early 2010.

Mrs Briggs-Miller had just started work with Wimmera Uniting Care and, in a presentation, learnt about the struggle to find places for teenage foster children.

The couple discussed fostering and agreed they had the capacity to house older, more independent children.

Since then, the household has had between eight and 10 foster children.

Some have stayed for a night or a weekend, others for as long as eight months.

“You form much more of a relationship,” Mrs Briggs-Miller said of the longer stints.

Mrs Briggs-Miller and her husband had a long-term foster teen not long before she became pregnant in 2012.

They took a break from foster caring, learning instead about parenting their daughter Veda.

“When we felt ready for it again, we let them know,” Mrs Briggs-Miller said.

The family now has another foster child with them.

“I think a lot of people think ‘we’ve got no idea’. You’ve still got a lot to offer, even if you don’t have all the answers.” - Alison Briggs-Miller

Mrs Briggs-Miller said the teenager and her daughter had a special relationship.

“Their bond is really strong – it’s beautiful to watch,” she said.

With demand for foster carers of teenagers outweighing the supply, Mrs Briggs-Miller is keen to see people volunteer.

She does not deny foster caring is hard work and time consuming, but she does believe it is worth it.

She said foster caring for teenagers presented its own challenges.

“It’s finding the balance between giving them the appropriate level of responsibility but allowing them to have space to explore things themselves and make normal mistakes,” she said.

Mrs Briggs-Miller said teenagers in foster care often experienced huge ramifications when they made mistakes, such as having to find a new placement.

She said structure was important but so was letting them know it was okay to make mistakes.

Mrs Briggs-Miller said there was plenty of support for foster carers, with training along the way.

Many people who were secure in their own circumstances could give foster caring a go.

“It’s hard work – you’ve got to be prepared to dedicate the time to it,” she said.

“I think a lot of people think ‘we’ve got no idea’.

“You’ve still got a lot to offer, even if you don’t have all the answers.”

Mrs Briggs-Miller and her family have continued relationships with some of their past foster children, but often leave the ball in their court.

She said the family had had placements they thought had ended badly, only to hear later there had been a positive effect on the teenager’s life.

“You’ve got to redefine what is a success,” she said.

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