Debbie has her own children and fosters teenagers

Debbie and her husband have been fostering young people between the ages of 11 and 18 for nine years.

"The first teenager I fostered had Asperger syndrome. I was terrified at first because I didn’t know anything about Aspergers, but the team from the council came out so see me and gave me lots of support. I had all this information to read and videos to watch, and I thought ‘I’m going to do this’. I was told the boy had behavioural problems, but when he came to my house he was great – he’d take his medication, play his video games, and join in with the family. He was a dream.

I have two sons of my own. My son is 23 now, but he used to live here when I started fostering. I used to tell him not to worry about the teens I looked after, that I am their carer, and that he should just act like their brother. He never interfered, but used to laugh sometimes as they reminded him of himself when he was younger. My other son is 31 this year. I take the teens I foster to his house now and again to watch football etc. Fostering as a family has never bothered my own children.

Teenagers can be wary of you at first. They arrive at your home and they don’t know you, your house rules, or your children. But it doesn’t last long if you are warm with them and nurturing. I get them to talk, like at suppertime when we all meet downstairs and get together for toast and cakes – that’s our time for a bit of banter. I have a laugh with them and find out about them, and if they’re troubled I’ll take them into the other room and they usually tell me what’s going on. If not, I give them some space and wait for the right moment to ask them again. You can work it out usually. Often teens do like to be on their own in their rooms, they like their own space.

Young people like to have a routine and to know what is expected of them. Depending on their age, we have a cut-off time for gadgets and the Internet. They bring their phones etc. out of their rooms and onto the landing at around 9.30pm while they shower and get ready for bed.

We have house rules and the teenage boys I look after respect them. We do the dishes together after meals and they’re quickly done. I’m always clear with them on what time we’re having dinner if they’re going out, and they know I like them to text me if they won’t be home for it. My husband is up early for work so we don’t like lots of noise or music after 10pm, and the teenagers have got used to that too. I find that if you’re honest with them and explain to them the reasons why you have certain rules, they understand. If it’s just ‘don’t do this, don’t do that’ all the time; they will rebel.

You find little ways to solve problems before they become a bigger problem. Two of the boys I take care of share a bedroom, and they won’t always get along, but I teach them to be pleasant with each other. One of them didn’t like the other playing music, so I bought them both headphones so they don’t disturb each other, and it worked. If they cause a fuss because they really don’t like a certain food or meal, I don’t force it on them. I do give them choices.

People might be worried about fostering teenagers. They might think that they’ll be swearing, taking drugs or coming home drunk. I’m not saying that none of them are like that, but in my experience they generally aren’t. I have had some living with me who have tried drugs, but I made it clear that if they wanted to do that sort of thing they wouldn’t be staying with me. I think it’s important to take a step back and think about your own kids and what they may have done when they were younger. Teenagers do change, and it’s about talking to them and encouraging them to get into sport or a youth club.

It’s about rewards and goals. Make the goals a bit higher each time, and persevere. Fostering is challenging but you know what – it’s rewarding as well. Some young people come to you with nothing, they’ve never had anything. They’ve never had any routine before. To see them flourish is fantastic!

My advice is to try fostering one teenager at first. They’ll be more careful on their own and you’ll have more time to get to know them and nurture them. You might want to take on someone who is aged 11 or 12 if you feel daunted, give it a year, and then take another in if you have space. I mix ages and also take in sibling groups, because a few teenagers of the same age might bounce off each other a little bit."