'Why I became a foster parent at 22'

Sally-Anne is a young foster carer Image copyright TACT
Image caption Sally-Ann and her husband Ryan

"I did feel young, but I felt ready."

Sally-Ann was just 22 when she decided to become a foster carer two years ago - and she was given a 15 year-old girl to look after.

Parenting someone just seven years younger might sound like a big challenge. But she says the opposite was true.

"I was a bit hesitant when I got the referral through. I did think, 'oh gosh, it's not much of an age gap, will she respect us?' You know, getting the proper balance right with parenting. But it was such a positive experience."

And Sally-Ann's one of a growing number of young foster carers in the UK.

She fosters through TACT, the UK's largest fostering charity. It says the number of people in their 20s currently going through the application process to become carers has trebled across the UK in the last year.

Sally-Ann says there were challenges acting as a parent to someone so close to her in age, but the training and support from the agency made her feel like she wasn't facing them alone.

"I've always been quite caring and motherly in nature. It's something I'd always considered, but I didn't think I'd do it at such a young age.

"I got made redundant from a childcare position, and started working as a nanny where I worked with numerous families who were foster carers. It opened my eyes to the challenges and the advantages. And I thought, 'well, why can't I foster myself?'"

Image copyright TACT

TACT says there are 36 people trying to become carers who are between 23 and their mid-30s, so the numbers are still relatively small. They don't release numbers for how many apply but aren't considered suitable. Sally-Ann thinks more people her age should consider it though.

"Typically, a lot of foster carers do tend to be older. But (the 15 year-old) spoke positively to me about it, saying she thought it went well because we were so young ourselves.

"She was able to have a really good connection with us."

Sally-Ann says their closeness in age was actually an advantage, because when they were out and about her foster daughter didn't feel like a 'looked-after' child.

"People assumed she was my friend, or I was a cousin, so she never had that embarrassment."

She's now caring for a six-year-old boy, but still sees plenty of her former charge.

"The fact that she still wants to stay in touch is really nice - she's very much a part of our extended family. We always invite her to Christmas and family events like that.

"We're always there if she needs us."

And her message to anyone thinking about fostering but worried they might be too young?

"I don't think age really matters. It depends on whether you feel ready."

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