CAITLIN Marshall was taken into care aged 14 and lived with a succession of foster families.

"For me, going into care was inevitable," she says. "Visits from social services had become a way of life. But when the day finally came it was a shock and for a long time after I kept having to ask myself: 'Is this real?'"

After several short-term placements, Caitlin went to live with Viv and Martin Senior. Now Caitlin, 17, and Viv have appeared in a video aimed at finding more foster families for teenagers.

Called Foster Me, it's part of a Kirklees Council and Leeds City Council partnership and provides an insight into the challenges, misconceptions and rewards that come from fostering older youngsters.

Paul Johnson, Kirklees Council’s Assistant Director - Family Support and Child Protection, said both locally and nationally, there's a chronic shortage of foster families for teenagers and they remain one of the hardest groups to find families for. In the last six months, Kirklees has had 26 new cases of teenagers entering its care system and it will need at least 30 new foster carers over the next 12 months to meet demand.

Caitlin, who spent some of her childhood, in Mirfield, says: “In some respects being taken into care as an older child was worse; I knew exactly what was happening. I knew things were difficult at home yet somehow I believed I’d be going back. The realisation that I couldn’t go back was something I had to come to terms with.

“I knew pretty much straight away that I wanted to stay with Viv and Martin.”

Caitlin is now at Kirklees College studying for a B-tech in health and social care and hopes to work in the mental health sector. She's also involved with the Children in Care Council, giving youngsters a voice about care issues.

Caitlin admits there have been challenges. “I’d been used to doing what I wanted, I’d come and go as I pleased. Now there are boundaries," she says. “That said, before going into care my life had no direction. I skipped school and my grades suffered. Now I’ve matured and feel I'm able to get somewhere.”

Viv and Martin, have fostered via Kirklees Council for more than three years, looking after 16 older children on a long and short-term basis, including respite and emergency cover.

Says Viv: “I’ve met people with pre-conceived ideas about fostering teenagers. Some think they might be difficult to control.

“Most children we’ve looked after have had various problems, but that’s not the same as being badly behaved. Some have been the victim of neglect and abuse, others had to go into care because a parent died or had to go into hospital. Most just need love and support, someone who can listen."

“Fostering teenagers isn’t without challenges. Often we end up being a sounding board for their frustrations. Some struggle to get used to boundaries. We try and make things as normal as possible but we have to say ‘no’ sometimes.

She adds: “There are many positives. If you start by having a good relationship, you can get through the challenges. With teenagers you have more flexibility than with younger children; it’s easier to continue in your job or go out on an evening.”

Viv has drawn on her own experiences to empathise with youngsters in her care.

“When I was ten-days-old I was adopted. Some years later I made contact with my birth mum but she wasn’t interested, so I have some idea of how rejection feels," she says. “I could've ended up in the same boat as the children I’ve looked after but I was adopted into a loving family. I try to imagine what it might be like to go through upheaval at home, only to be uprooted and made to live with strangers. Children who come into care count just as much as any other child and deserve happiness throughout their childhood, whatever their age.”

Paul Johnson said: “We currently have 13 teenagers in short-term placements who urgently need long-term foster families. Without enough families, some will find themselves moved around and placed far from everything they know, including friends, siblings and school.

“Being a teenager is confusing, but for those with issues such as abuse, neglect or bereavement a stable environment is especially important. We make sure our foster carers receive the training and support they need. The rewards of helping a teenager fulfil their hopes and aspirations speak for themselves, I’m urging people to give them a chance.”

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