Wednesday, October 11, 2017

1.25AM AND ONLY ONE TOOTHBRUSH





Eldest foster child uses up the whole packet of bacon and puts a pyramid of sarnies (white bread, of course) on the kitchen table.

They pile in.

I ask their names.

Why oh why do chaotic parents give their children glitzy handles?

Emmanuel. Lotus. Ferdinand.

As though kids are just a bit of bling.

Blue Sky's 24-hour social worker arrives. She ducks into the living room to liaise with the police officers, who have been brilliant.

I ask the kids;

"Did they turn on their siren?"

I'm trying for a bit of light-hearted here. No dice. They shake their heads dismissively.

My eldest foster child, Ben by the way, articulates their thinking;

"Nah, they only turn on the siren if it's an emergency."

Ben is on their wavelength. His whole demeanour matches the new arrivals. He is world-weary, dismissive, resigned to life's bleak trials and tribulations. They have taken an instant warming to him. The  eldest of the three, Emmanuel, mutters;

"Or if they're late for their tea."

That gets a grunted gurgle of approval from the other two, and Ben rewards Emmanuel with a grudging guffaw.

This is going brilliantly. I take a chance and say;

"If you guys will excuse me I'll just go and have a word with the grown-ups."

Complete lie. I'm going out in order to help Ben break the ice with the new arrivals. My thinking is that if they can see that being in care can be cool, which is how Ben is positioning himself, they'll bed in better.

The police fill me in. They'd been called by neighbours to a domestic. When they arrived it was a drink and drugs den, four adults. Actual bodily harm involving a knife. Resisting arrest. A second police car attended, always a sign things are not going well. Then an ambulance. An officer accompanied paramedics and one of the accused to Accident and Emergency.

Flippin' heck! Here's me trying to make light banter!

Poor little mites.

I sneak up to the kitchen door to eavesdrop on the conversation. Ben is holding court:

"Did they take yer fingerprints?" he asks. They say "Nah." Ben says;

"My dad's finger was black wiv the ink for a week. It don't wash off.  Like they want you to stand out as having been banged up."

In I go, the bristling Mrs Sensible;

"Now, it's very late and although no-ones going to school tomorrow we're going to get ready for bed. We can catch up with each other tomorrow over breakfast."

I explained the sleeping arrangements and fetched spare pyjamas (we never throw children's clothes out, you simply never know what's round the corner).

I led them upstairs and showed them the bathroom and how the toilet worked in case they needed it in the night. 

I cursed to myself that I only had one spare toothbrush, and put them to bed, reminding them that if anyone felt scared in the night they could knock on my bedroom door.

Then I crept downstairs, our social worker had left. Ben was in the kitchen luxuriating; the new King of the World.

"They're alright," he said "That Emmanuel, he got a Man U shirt on didn't he, so I took the piss, he loved it."

Then he shook his head and murmured something like;

"Kids..."

We settled Ben in the living room, he opted for the sofa rather than the sofa bed, after all he's a man now.

Husband and I crept up to bed, but I knew it'd be a while before I nodded off, if I managed to at all. So much to process.

Apparently the family was known to the police and social services and the children had been considered for care in the past. There were files and I'd be getting an email in the morning.

Nothing prepares you for sitting and reading what some children have been through...

To be continued...








Monday, October 09, 2017

JUST BEFORE 1.00AM...




Police car outside.

That'll keep the neighbours in gossip for a fortnight...

Two officers, one male one female. The male came up the garden path, checked they'd got the right address and went back to the car.

They shepherded three tiny shapes up the path and in.

I spoke to the children straight away;

"Hello" I said, as softly as I could.

They stood in a line in the hall looking at the floor; dressed in shabby garish tops and pants, each of them shivering despite a thin but new blanket over their shoulders.

I told them my name and who we were and that we had beds for them tonight.

Hierarchy of Needs training kicked in, I called out to husband;

"Can you turn on the central heating?"

Then;

"Who's hungry?"

Three pairs of eyes looked up, eyes red from crying.

"Come with me." I led them into the kitchen, husband took over the official stuff with the cops; I was up and running as foster Mum."

Apprentice foster carer (our eldest foster child) was sat at the table. I introduced him.

"Who'd like cereal?" I asked.

They said nothing, each gave a slight shrug.

 "Weetabix..Porridge?"

Nothing. I tried again.

"Coco Pops?" I thought I saw the middle one give half a nod.

Meanwhile eldest foster child had rooted bacon from the fridge and started himself a bacon sandwich. Didn't ask. Acting the man. 

I whispered confidentially to the kids "He doesn't like cereal." ...but he heard me.

"S'alright innit if you can't be arsed.." he said from the cooker "Anyone else want a bacon sarnie?"

I saw the eyes of the eldest of the three flick from left to right, then he grunted;

"Go on then."

And we were away!!!

What I mean is, they'd started to arrive. Their heart had started to arrive. And who'd begun the bonding? Another child who was himself in care.

A thought jumped into my head. I spoke to the bacon chef;

"Have you decided where you're sleeping tonight?" He'd offered up his bedroom so that two of the new arrivals had a proper bed.

"I'll be alright on the sofa." He said manfully as he could, before adding;

"Probably be a bit knackered for school though..."

That seemed a fair deal. I looked at him and nodded, my mind mostly on how to get some sort of a bead on what sort of children we'd just taken in. 

Who are they? How are they doing? What do they need?

I'm fostering blind here; the only thing I know for sure is that our senior foster child is now about ten years on from where he was an hour ago...

To be continued...





Wednesday, October 04, 2017

HALF PAST MIDNIGHT...



Phew.

Been a hectic period, I've had a lot on.

We've had an interesting time alright; and a moment of pure magic, one of those ones only fostering delivers.

It started with a phone call in the middle of the night.

I say 'The middle of the night", fact is once you're past the first flush of youth half past midnight is exactly that.

They were looking for an emergency home for the children of a family where an 'incident' had occurred and the police had been called.

All the adults in the house had been arrested and charged, leaving three junior-school aged children with no support.

I'll never forget the words I heard down the telephone;

"The usual emergency foster homes are busy. If you say no they'll have to spend the night at the police station."

I replied; "They have accommodation at police stations?"

"No, they'll have to be put in cells."

Short silence, then I said;

"Bring them here."

Well, what would you have done?

Emergency foster carers are a real lifeline, I don't know how they do it. In 'normal' fostering - if there is such a thing - you get a bit of time in advance and all available information about a potential placement so you can make up your mind if the child is likely to fit into your setup.

Compared to the rest of us the foster emergency carers fly by the seat of their pants. Not only that, the children are often re-located to a permanent home as quick as possible, so it's hello today and goodbye tomorrow, no chance of any useful attachment. 

Come to think of it, emergency care might suit some carers, especially start-ups who are looking to put their toe in the water. But boy, do you need to be adaptable.

So back to the middle of the night.

We are up and out of bed, throwing on clothes and trying to work out sleeping arrangements. No way do we have 3 beds in 3 separate bedrooms. We've one spare single room with bed, there's a sofa bed in the TV room off the kitchen, there's a big enough sofa in the living room, it'll all depend on what we make of the children when they arrive.

Unbelievably, Blue Sky's 24 hour officer is also slinging on clothes and is going to try to zoom to our house to be there for the children's arrival. You're never alone in fostering.

We started moving silently about the house, I rigged up the sofa bed, other half  got a sleeping bag from the cupboard under the stairs. One of us boiled a kettle, you can't foster properly without tea on the go. 

We're peering out into the street wondering who will turn up first when we hear someone on the stairs. It's senior foster child in dressing gown;

"Wo's goin' on?"

I explained. Foster child was up for it. Helping, I mean. This is what you are always hoping for, moments when they put their own woes to one side and start dishing out help and support. They get memories of what it was like to be taken into care, and let's face it unless you are a foster parent who yourself was a foster child (and there are quite a few) you don't know the feeling.

I outlined our sleeping plans.

"Nah." said foster child "You don't wanna sleep on some old sofa your first night in foster care. Not downstairs, not on your own."

"I'm going to stay up all night," I said, "To be awake if anyone gets frightened."

"Frightened?" said foster child "They're already sh**ing themselves ain't they."

Then this;

"They can have my bed."

"Pardon."

"Put two of 'em in my bed. My bedroom's next to the spare room so they'll kind of be together."

You could have knocked me right across the room with the world's smallest feather.

I made more tea, three cups this time, after all there were three adults up and about in the wee small hours of the morning.

Three foster carers, two official, one unofficial.

I made it clear to our fledgling carer that we'd take up the kind offer provided it was appropriate and approved.

Headlights in the road.

Deep breath, head for front door...


To be continued.







Tuesday, September 19, 2017

FOSTERING AND PETS



I've noticed down the years that a high proportion of prospective foster carers have pets.

The most recent induction Sunday I attended, there had to be a dog-break so people who'd brought their dogs and had to leave them in the car could get them out to stretch their dog's legs.

Perhaps people who appreciate pets are a bit more outgoing, or maybe they just respond well to having responsibility for others.

Dogs go really well in fostering, in my experience. A new foster child almost always gets a nice feeling knowing there's someone in the house they can be easily comfortable with. A dog isn't going to tell them off or worse. A dog will come and say hello without any agenda.

If you're thinking of fostering and you already have pets it's no problem. You'll need to take your dog to your vet to get a certificate that the dog is sane. It costs £30, I seem to remember Blue Sky pay for it, but check.

The sanity test for dogs is a bit simple, the vet lifts the dog onto the examining table and does a bit of rough(ish) play to see if the dog nips her. That's about it, apart from a quick physical - check teeth and claws.

Cats are famously disinclined but can be relied on to start conversations based on their aloofness/curiosities/tendency to bring 'presents' in from the garden. Don't ever ask me for my impression of a cat walking away from you, it'll put you off your tea.

Caged birds - I'm not keen myself - and fish are also fine. You just have to keep things hygienic around them.

The problems definitely begin when a foster child wants...

...A PET OF THEIR OWN!!!

...ARRGHH!!!

So here's what has just happened in our house and I'm still a bit jumpy-happy.

One of our looked-afters, who's been with us for a while now, and isn't going anywhere fast, started asking for a pet. 

At first it was a dog. The conversation was had 100 times, we usually managed to let the talk subside with end remarks like "let's see if we're still keen in a few weeks."

Then it was a cat. We hammered on that cats aren't ideal pets for 10 year-old bruiser-boys, and gradually wore him down.

Then it was a lizard. 

I know nothing about lizards. We had a newt in the pond when I was a child, that's it.

We were doing a great job deflecting buying a lizard when he suddenly played a master card;

"Actually, maybe a snake would be better."

That was that. We were off to the lizard shop the very next Sunday. 

We warned and warned that lizards need looking after; feeding, cleaning out, making sure the temperature in their tank is right. And the humidity. Plenty of water.

We warned that we'd probably end up doing the maintenance.

But it happened! And what an exciting day!

The lizard is an Australian blue-tongued skink. About as long as my forearm, and actually pretty cute. Except when it's live food time, you don't want me to go there.

Here's the big news; foster child is a great parent to his lizard. Supervises all our maintenance, is grateful for our clean-outs, bosses us about his pet's food. Takes him/her out and strokes her/him, talks to it, plays with it (carefully). Says goodnight every night and blows it a kiss, it warms the cockles.

Only one problemo...

Just discovered that blue-tongued skinks live for 15-20 years.

Still, as I always say in fostering; "We'll miss that bridge when we come to it"

Thursday, September 14, 2017

THE LITTLE THINGS



We had an interesting one this evening, a food thing.

Food can be disproportionately huge with foster children. My Blue Sky social worker gets this (one's social worker can be a lifesaver).

What happened was; 

We bought one of our foster children a caged pet. Sorry, can't do details, not even about the pet.

So; this foster child has always had a thing about food. Actually, I've hardly had a foster child who didn't have a thing about food.

All their short lives they've either been provided with insufficient food or not the right food. Or provided food in circumstances that are miserable, lonely or hostile. Or denied food by way of punishment. 

And food is a key need, it's HUGE.

Children need regular feeding, of the right type, and eaten in a happy environment.

The child took the pet upstairs and into the bedroom from the get-go. However the child's interest in stuff such as clearing out the poop started to tail off within 48 hours.

But not the feeding.

The child came home from school this afternoon and went straight up to the bedroom, usually to change and get ready for some internet. Since the arrival of the pet I've been nipping into the bedroom every morning after the school run to a) check it's still alive b) remove poo etc c) add food.

This afternoon, after child scurried upstairs and into bedroom I trilled out;

"All okay? You want a snack to hold you until tea?"

Silence. Silence followed by a dark;

"Did you put lettuce in 'Horace's' (not his real name) cage?"

"Yes."

"Well don't put it in there on the sawdust okay? He might eat some sawdust that got stuck to the lettuce accidentally and get gut-rot. Okay?"

I said okay. I actually apologised too, but was happy because, even though I knew the child's worry was unfounded, the child's concern that the pet's food was right was an immense moment.

This was a child who had not previously shown  much empathy or attachment. Or kindness. 

Or care. Or love.

So this was big. 

And now the dust has settled on the moment I find myself now nurturing a foster child who's shown love and care for a little pet, and it's a positive to record and flag up to my Blue Sky social worker next time they visit.

I'll say; "He was worried his pet may have accidentally eaten some sawdust".

But I'll add:

"He was worried for the little pet." 

And 99.9% of the population would say;

"Er..right. Okay..."

or; "Big deal."

But my Blue Sky social worker will go;

"Wow! No way! Fantastic! Tell me all about it..."

And so I will. 

It's the little things as well as the big things that make fostering so blissful.











BLOSSOMING ADOLESCENTS



Fostering brings surprises and challenges whatever the age of the child you're looking after.

I sometimes refer to my foster children my 'clients' at the moment (not in their earshot), it reminds me that fostering is a professional thing, although it tickles me that many of the other people involved such as psychologists, teachers, nurses etc - even sometimes the police, solicitors, contact supervisors etc, love to refer themselves as 'the professionals' and generally exclude foster carers from their meetings. 

Ah well, if it gets the best out of them (someone once told me that the Titanic was built by professionals, Noah was an amateur, but anyway...).

One standout challenge is when the client is reaching puberty, it's a big enough challenge when it's your own child, but when it's someone else's; it's something else.

It's going on in our house right now, but I'm not going to pass on anything about this particular set of experiences. Why? Well even though none of our children know about the Secret Foster Carer Blog, and probably never will, if there's one aspect of growing up you want to keep totally sealed and private it's surely the whole business of hormones, hair sprouting in funny places and, most of all; the intricate connection with that most private domain; love, romance and sexuality.

My current lad deserves to be spared their details being put out in the ether in the present tense, even though they'd be oblivious.

What I can do is celebrate some of the minor instances we've enjoyed in the past, both recent and dim and distant.

There was the girl who came home from school one Thursday - funny how I remember it was definitely a Thursday - dumped her bag in the hall as usual, kicked off her shoes and as she rushed past me on her way towards the stairs barked;

"Oh and I started the lady thing today!"

Then there was the lad, fourteen at the time, who suddenly started following my husband around the house and imitating him. I dunno if this was conscious on his part or subconscious, but the standout moment was when I pottered into the living room one evening when there was some football on. There were the two of them each with one leg languidly draped over the arm of their armchair, hubbie sipping a can of lager, foster child sipping a can of Fanta, both going;

"Aw, c'mon!", "Rubbish!" "What was that!"...they were sharing that male thing of enjoying bemoaning the efforts of otherwise enviable young male millionaires. They were even doing those silent burps after a good slug of their respective fizzy pop.

One poignant memory I can share is a girl who came to us aged sixteen who noticed on day one that one of my own sons was that bit older then her and quite good looking. She had let herself go, as the phrase goes, largely because while in the chaotic home she had been removed from there had been an adult who had interfered with her. Her defence mechanism, we were told, had been to make herself unattractive. 

The son of ours came in late most evenings, being a sports fiend, so the first occasion when we were scheduled to all sit down together and eat was the first Sunday lunch after she arrived.

I didn't notice at the time that she'd disappeared into her room two hours before mealtime, I was busy trying to get my roast potatoes perfect (a lifelong crusade in my case, an ambition regularly thwarted).

When I called out; "Five minutes!" (I always give them a bit of notice so they can round off whatever they are up to), people started arriving. The girl's was the only empty chair when I started transferring dishes of food to the table. I called "Come and get it!", and as I did she appeared.

Sunday lunch is a dress-casual event in our house. Tee-shirts and jeans are fine, shorts in the summer are okay too. I suppose if there is a dress code it's no more stringent than 'no pyjamas'.

The dear girl had dressed up to the nines. She stood in the doorway, hair up, full make-up, long lashes, lippy on, wearing a sequinned blue dress and bright red heels. Necklace, ear-rings and a silver clutch bag.

We all politely commented on how nice she looked, and ate up. It was never commented on again as it was a bit of a faux pas, and we didn't want to risk her feeling silly.

Speaking of risk, I find it important to share suchlike developments with our Blue Sky team and log them in our reports. The awakenings of adult feelings in foster children requires careful and responsible management, and you have to keep yourself and your family safe as well as the child.

But that said, it's always a beautiful blossoming, and a privilege to witness it, and moreover; to nurture and celebrate it.




Monday, September 11, 2017

FOSTERING TEENAGERS - THE BIG CAHUNA



We went back into fostering after a break, it's been eight or nine years now, our second stint. 

We started out all those years ago with the instinct that foster children would be exactly that; children. The agency we were with back then only had juniors on their books; kids aged around ten or under.
We were a young family ourselves back then, so we'd cut our teeth on babes, toddlers and infants.

Second time around we were under no illusions; our strength lay mainly with older children; teenagers. And boy how they need us.

And they need you too.

We weren't drawn to teenagers because we'd picked up valuable experience of through out own family and their friends.

It was mostly that we LIKE teenagers.

We find them the most interesting clients. (Yes, I've started experimenting calling my placements 'clients', I'll come back to that idea another time.)

Teenagers always, always, have richer back-stories. In our experience chaotic families never suddenly tilt into chaos from previously being stable when the child is aged 14. A chaotic family has been chaotic throughout, what tends to happen is that either the chaos deepens to the point where intervention is called for, or the chaos somehow went unnoticed.

A 14 year-old coming into care will have had 14 years of chaos. And, if you're new to fostering welcome to the word 'chaos', it sums up their lives. The history of some teenagers in fostering can be jaw-dropping.

Off the top of my head I remember the 16 year old girl who was brought to us who, just like her 2 older sisters, had been thrown out of the house by her single mother on her 16th birthday because that was the day her child support allowance was stopped. I'll repeat that;

On the morning that she turned 16 her mother made her pack a bin-liner with her clothes and shoved her out into the street because the mother would be no longer in receipt of a weekly payment for her. 

The very morning of her 16th birthday.

Utterly unbelievable. But true. 

It gets worse;

Just as it had been with the girl's 2 older sisters, the mother had, when the girl was 14, made her go to the police and report that she'd been assaulted. Wait for this, I hope you're sitting down;

All the 4 daughters, (there was one other girl, the youngest, still at home because she was still eligible for child benefit), had been taken to the police station on separate occasions to report that they had each been assaulted. All 4 of them, one by one, over a period of four or five years. Why? Because they were able to claim some form of compensation for their 'experiences' which ran to between 5 and 10 thousand pound each. The money went to fund the mother's lifestyle of extravagant interior decor and Spanish holidays.

Now you'd think this girl would be a nightmare of mixed up feelings and behaviours, but she was quite the opposite. She was charming, witty, helpful and optimistic. On the day she arrived she got on her phone and showed her eldest sister - who was living in a housing unit - what a wonderful house we had. Made us feel very proud. She even waxed lyrical about her new bedroom; it was the box room I might add, but I guess it was a palace to her, she'd been 'sofa surfing' for nearly a year before social services cottoned onto her plight.

Okay, she was timid at first, and had picked up some habits that needed straightening, for example; I used to get narked when she referred to the Thursday when her benefit payment was due as 'payday'.

We were all truly sad to see her go when the time came, and thanks to social media we gladden our hearts from time to time by catching up with her.

I must stress that this girl was by no means the most riveting and rewarding teenager we have had on our books, dear me no. I remember her best because she is still part of our lives. She's happy, just got news she's pregnant (this will be her third), and going along joyfully in life doing what comes naturally to her. She's better for her time with us, she always says so, and we're better for it too. She learned from us things such as to think twice before letting her cousin practice his new tattoo gun on her back. We learned things from her; I still refer to microwave food as 'ding meals'.

Talking about her has got me thinking about all the other teenagers we've had under our roof, and I find myself feeling a real glow inside. I can honestly say that I have deep and warm feelings towards each and every one of them. I'm not daft enough for rose-tinted memories, there were downs as well as ups, but that's what makes fostering best thing anyone can do.

Next time I'll tell you about an even more gob-smacking teenager who came to us and is now flying.

BTW the girl I've just told you about christened her second baby after my husband, and although her spelling of William is a bit off the mark, we're charmed and flattered. Not sure if the boy will always be happy with the way she spelled it as it will provoke facetious comment from his peers later in life.

She spelled it 'Willyarm'.