The pros and cons of what age to group to Foster can be very complex. As a Foster Carer, either now or when married, I always kept as wide an age range as possible, basically 0-18. I have fostered young people with special needs and mother and parent placements. So what age would you take? I have fostered newborns, very sweet, no behavioural issues except 2am feeds and changing nappies. Lots of daytime naps, for you and the baby, to catch up on lost sleep, no school runs, no cooking, lots of appointments and lots of equipment to carry around.
Mother and baby, see above, plus an extra adult in the house. Always good to set firm boundaries as quickly as possible and make Mum understand that you are not just a glorified baby sitter and that she cannot be out 7 nights a week while you look after baby. You are there to observe, offer encouragement and to show Mum the right way to do things based on your own parental experience. Obviously if Mum wants a bath or a nap you can take care of baby for her. Downside is Mum’s possible behaviour. The Mums I worked with were pretty much 15-18 so you can sometimes get some of that teenage angst and the stroppiness that goes with it.
Toddlers are probably my favourite age group, looking at 2-5 years old. They are fun, reasonably easy to work with and you can see the progress they are making with speech and behaviour. Probable contact and maybe attending reception so your organisational skills will need to be good. Will want you to play and will want your attention.
5-11 year olds are generally fun. Depending on why they have come into care can determine their demeanour and behaviour. Generally their behaviour is ok and, again, you can see the young person grow in your care. School will be an asset and working with the school is very important. The young person will normally be full of energy so lots of activities will be needed to wear them out. Expect to lose school jumpers and scuffed shoes. Also expect bedtime stories and DVDs.
Now we enter the twilight zone…teenagers! Yes I can hear people running for the hills at the mention of teenagers. The advantages are many. You can generally chat and reason with them. You can talk to them about most things. They can tell you what they like and dislike. They can join you in some activities. They can wash or dry up (always a popular one) and they tend to be quite self-sufficient. The disadvantages of looking after teenagers are quite complex as it would be caring for a full grown adult. There is the problem of learnt behaviour. Smoking, drugs and drinking. Their own identity. Sex. I can go on but if you are also a parent you will be aware of all of these plus a few more. The teenager is a complex being but can be great fun to work with.
As a Foster carer you do not want to be ‘empty’. You want placements and on a regular basis. By restricting your choices you are limiting the placements you will be offered. My advice is to try all age groups and see how it goes. Make your own decisions on what suits you and your household and stick to that decision. Work with your agency to look at age groups and what works for you. Your Supervising Social Worker is there to help and advise.