Brittany Burcham, from Birmingham, Alabama, has taken to TikTok to reveal the realities of being an emergency foster parent to teenagers.
Through her account @fostertheteens, Burcham documents her routines, tips and experiences looking after teens, to an audience of over 500,000 followers.
Burcham has been emergency fostering since October 2019 and is a regular port of call for children in between foster homes—sometimes for just one night, but often longer.
“I started as a court appointed special advocate (CASA) for a child in foster care and she showed me the impact you can have on a child in care, especially teenagers. So after I moved back home to Alabama, I applied to become licensed as a foster parent,” Burcham told Newsweek .
“There are not enough foster homes for teenagers. People are scared of teens or just don’t really know anybody who fosters teens, so I wanted to show the positive things that fostering teenagers brings and hopefully encourage others to consider fostering teens,” she added.
Of all Burcham’s videos, one has stood out to her audience—her advice on caring for shower-averse teenage girls. She explains in the clip that often girls who have been sexually abused will find washing a difficult task: “Sometimes it’s their way of preventing the abuse and sometimes it reflects how dirty they feel on the inside, even though none of it was their fault.”
She runs them a hot bath with bath bombs and candles, and brings in the Alexa device so they can choose their own music. “I make sure they know they can lock the door behind me for privacy,” she adds in the video. “Many girls can find it peaceful and safe.”
Burcham told Newsweek: “I was nervous about posting the shower video. Afraid it would hit the wrong way or seem weird. It was something I tried with one girl who didn’t want to take a shower and who really needed help with hygiene. She sat in that first bath for almost two hours and so I thought, maybe this could work for other girls in similar situations.
“I was not prepared for a massive number of sexual abuse survivors who would relate to the video and be touched by it. I even had a worker from a youth rehab who said she has now started using the bath technique with her girls and it’s allowed them to feel safe when bathing.”
The shower video pulled on the heartstrings of many, especially after it was posted on Reddit . One Reddit user shared an anecdote from her days in foster care, writing: “My last foster home they realized I wasn’t actually showering. I’d go in, turn the water on and just sit on the counter.
“I came home from school one day and my [foster] dad excitedly showed me the brand new lock he had installed on the door, that the key to get in it was locked in a safe [he got a front door one, not a can open with a butter knife one] and he himself would excuse himself from the house for an hour so I could ‘take care of anything I needed when I got home from school’.
“I started to shower. After about six months I was confident enough to shower when he was home, even walk back to my room in just my towels to my also lockable door in my room. Empathy is key. He didn’t fully understand what I was going through, he knew it wasn’t HIM nor was it any type of judgment towards him, it was just … my mental health and conditioning of ‘if I do this I am at risk and I don’t want to be at risk’.”
Burcham told Newsweek : “I’ve received messages from a few people who decided to apply to foster or foster parents who said they are now considering teenagers. But I think the best moment was when a former high school teacher told me she applied to be a CASA because of me.”
The biggest lesson she hopes her videos teach? “That you don’t ever stop needing a parent, and teens still need love and guidance. They are just kids and want to be able to connect with a family, even temporarily. They deserve to grow up being treated like the amazing humans they are and I hope more good foster parents step up to be that person for them.”
Update 6/3/21, 9:30 a.m. ET: This article was updated to add comments from Burcham.
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