There’s not a lot Cathy Evans, of Cardiff, doesn’t know about raising teenagers – after bringing up five children of her own she became a foster mum for teens with Barnardo’s Cymru.
During her 13 years as a foster carer she has coped with more than her fair share of teenage tantrums and other challenges but she wouldn’t have it any other way.
‘If I can make a little difference to their lives then it’s all worthwhile,’ she says.
Life skills and self-esteem
Cathy has opened her home to a number of teenagers over the years, some of them with complex problems. While some foster placements are short-term, most young people stay for about a year and some have stayed for three.
Cathy tries to teach them everything from how to look after themselves and cook to decorating skills for when they leave care and move into their own home. But she says the most important thing is to be a listening ear.
‘Sometimes they arrive with everything they own in a black bin liner. If they have low self-esteem I encourage them to change the way they think creatively so they develop some self-worth. When it’s time for them to move on I aim to ensure they feel better about themselves and they've learnt some of the skills they’ll need to live successful, independent lives,’ says Cathy.
'I do a lot of listening'
She sets boundaries for her foster teens and insists they socialise as part of the family rather than lock themselves away in their rooms, an approach that seems to work.
‘We talk a lot and I do a lot of listening. I also do plenty of painting and decorating and some of them like to help me as it provides them with the space to talk to me on their terms. It also gives them a sense of satisfaction and ownership, especially if we have decorated something for their room.’
Talking about the challenges of fostering teens, she says ‘inevitably there are situations which lead to tension, for example if a foster child refuses to get out of bed in the morning to attend school or college. Many looked-after children are often used to people shouting at them and that just doesn’t work.
‘With support from Barnardo’s I have developed a range of non-confrontational techniques for defusing tension including sometimes just walking away, which often results in my foster children letting me know when they are ready to talk.’
Cathy’s own children, now in their 30s and some with their own families, have played their own role in her fostering story. ‘Sometimes they have had more insight into how a particular teenager is thinking and they help me see things from their point of view.’
Growing as a foster carer
Such has been Cathy's success with teens that she now fosters some of the most challenging, who have been through trauma or have disabilities. She fosters through Barnardo’s ‘Better Place’ project which provides carers with opportunities to develop a career through fostering.
Jason Baker, head of Barnardo’s Cymru’s Adoption and Fostering Services, says 'It has been a real pleasure to see Cathy grow as a foster carer and I urge any member of the public who is inspired by Cathy’s story to get in touch so we can explore how you could join our family and make a real difference.'
Those special rewards
Cathy tells how the rewards of fostering can be priceless. ‘I fostered one amazing young man who came to me at 14 and still keeps in touch. He calls me his ‘other mother’ and one year rang me on my birthday and asked how I spelled my name so he could have it tattooed on his hand. He has just asked me to be the woman who gives him away at his wedding and that’s just the biggest compliment.’
You won't know until you try it
‘You don’t really know what sort of foster carer you could make until you try it,' says Cathy, 'but if you are very patient, can stay calm and want to make a difference to vulnerable young people then it could be for you.’
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