Tuesday, December 12, 2017

HAPPY HOLIDAYS

When I was a kid there was nothing on the roads on Christmas Day, just other kids on Christmas bikes.

Well, the times, as we all know, are a'changing. Christmas Day is now almost like any other on the roads. Thanks to the breakdown of the nuclear family.

It's not that long ago there was almost no such thing as divorce, breakups or single parents.

Everyone stayed in on Christmas Day and went for a walk after the turkey.

Not nowadays. The roads are busy. And not just with non-believers.

The roads are buzzing with complicated families trying to fulfil their responsibilities to every last member. Step-parents, separated dads, single mums, brothers and sisters who are spending Christmas all over with maternal grandparents and uncles and aunts because their dad doesn't get on with mum's new girlfriend...

Complicated. But if you think family life could hardly get more complicated, try fostering. Especially at Christmas.

We have a fair old situation on our own plate, since you ask. A great foster child.

The child in question wants to be with real mum and dad for Christmas. Wants to be back with them full-time, of course, that's normal in fostering. Mind it takes some getting used to that a child you're fending for day and night would rather be somewhere else...but we get it.

This child's real parents are going at social services to have the child spend Christmas with them, except they aren't together. Haven't been together for a long time, but still spend the occasional night together (which gave the poor children cause for false hope).

The stand-in father (perhaps to his credit) wants the child but can't because;

a) He has a conviction for something relevant.

b) He's not the child's real father, he's the stand-in father. This alone wouldn't stop him having a claim on the child under most circumstances, especially as the child regards him as 'dad'.

However the clincher is;

c) The real father is a member of the stand-in father's family. And the real father has 'issues' with the stand-in father and there is a danger he may show up at the Christmas dinner which the stand-in father has asked to have the child attend.

And also...

The child's mother is in dispute with the child's stand-in father and wants to have the child (for Christmas, but not for life). She has petitioned social services claiming that she's bought a sackful of presents, put up a tree etc etc etc. But there are reasons why she can't have the child;

a) The child has been allegedly assaulted by his mother and a case is pending.

b) The child's mother is believed to be seeing a man who is believed to have drug problems. The man has a warrant out for his arrest and Christmas Day would be a cover for a quick conjugal visit to the mother's house, with the home apparently doing a "normal" Christmas. The mother has sworn to social services that the man will not turn up at all over Christmas, but they cannot afford to believe her. 

c) Social services have reason to believe the mother actually wants to be denied access to the child on Christmas Day to further her case that she is being discriminated against because she lodged a formal complaint against a social worker which is pending.

In other words the mother is demanding the child is delivered to her for Christmas Day but is intentionally or subconsciously loading the case against herself because she doesn't really want the child.

Keeping up...? I have trouble keeping up myself, but on a needs to know basis I need to know. When you're the foster parent you need to know everything so you can do the best for the child.

Of course, all of the above is background noise to our job, which is to filter out what the child needs (and needs to know) to help the child through the period.

And so far so good. The child is getting nicely Christmassy; looking for where we hide presents, joining in discussions such as real tree v fake, budgeting with the money we've made available so the child can buy presents for other family members and members of the child's foster family (us).

It'll be an okay Christmas for the foster children in our house, and that's as fantastic as it gets.

No matter how towering the magic, the poor mites are never far away from remembering where they are and why. It's part of our job to keep up the fun and distractions, from morning to bedtime.

It's also part of our job to enjoy the rewards. 

If you can escort a child through a few days that ought to be the happiest of their lives, but might be the worst if it weren't for their foster parent's efforts, you sleep well that night.

Actually, come to mention it, I've never slept better than since we started fostering.

I'd like to think it's down to a happy conscience, but as I always say when people ask me how I am;

"I'm pleasantly tired."







Friday, December 08, 2017

CHRISTMAS AND FOSTERING

I've been fostering long enough to know that I'll never know what my head makes of Christmas and fostering. 

But my heart loves it.

A lot depends on the specifics of who you have staying with you and their story.

We had a lad who had 14 stepdads. Incredibly, his mother had 15 children by 15 different men so he had a real dad and 14 stepdads.

And he was cool about this because somehow the whole lot were in touch and he got a dozen or so massive guilt presents from a dozen blokes. The boy was one of those foster children who was on top of his situation. Such foster children aren't always the rule but they are out there.

Another child we had, a teenage girl, was very up for Christmas, wanted a shed-load of;
"make-up, an' smellies an' fings fer goin' aht in". 

I hesitated about making her sound like that, but that is how she talked and it was her way of talking, as good as any other, and translating it into Queen's English deprives her of her wonderful character. 

She was asking about stepping up into the world of being a woman (as in what she'd been brought up to regard as womanhood).

So I took the plunge and bought her perfume, eye stuff, nail stuff, oh you know... that stuff.

The poor dear girl was due to go back to her real home on Christmas Eve, we were down to drive her, so we presented her with a bag of gifts with the car engine running. But she said for us to wait, she wanted to open her presents with us!

It was as lovely a half hour as I've spent in fostering.

The girl milked every present, opened them full of childlike speculation and melted with every discovery.

Then off we took her to goodness knows what sort of Christmas morning, but it was what she wanted; foster children almost always want to go home, for almost all of them it's everything.

And goodness, I could go on for pages about the younger ones.

Okay. Just one;

Calvin was six years old. He didn't know if the woman from whose house he had been taken was his mother; he was a passed-around prop for benefit payments. He didn't know if the man of the house he lived in mostly was his father, but the gist he'd picked up was that he might be.

Calvin came to us one November and stayed through a Christmas. 

We found out that although Calvin didn't have much faith in hope, the rumours he'd heard about Father Christmas hadn't been trashed by science. He believed.

Foster carers are ever mindful that the need to avoid giving foster children a Christmas which will spoil future Christmases is balanced by the fact that they are deprived of their real families and deserve our best efforts if only to make up for everything.

We attended his school's Nativity where he was third King,  he knocked out a decent performance. But he was the only child on stage who wasn't searching with their eyes for family and loved ones in the audience.

That did it for me.

We had to bring our car round to the door of the High Street toyshop, we did our brains on pressies for him. Each gift was thought-out and meaningful. It meant we had to up the ante for our own children, so it was an expensive Christmas.

Worth every penny. The highlight of the morning was when he unwrapped his main present which was a massive fortress, the major prop in some sort of game he admired. He looked dazed, didn't know how to deal with his fortune, didn't know how to feel about it. Then he muttered;

"This isn't real. I don't deserve this." He actually said, out loud, that it was more than he deserved!

For an awful moment I feared we'd overdone it. He was feeling the misplaced guilt many foster children experience; they actually believe that the breakdown of their real home was their fault.

I had a card up my sleeve;

"Well, Santa thinks you do, and he's been keeping an eye out for you all year. He thinks you've been good, and deserve nice presents."

Bingo. He was back in the right spirit, maybe even a tad ahead; Santa had pronounced that the family break-up wasn't his fault.

They're always telling us in training that the truth is very important when talking to foster children.

But we're allowed Santa. 

And when I got to thinking that Calvin had actually been somewhat and justly compensated for his hardship, and we'd been rewarded with a happy camper, who's to say there isn't a Santa who looks out for children.

And maybe foster parents too...

















Saturday, December 02, 2017

CHRISTMAS FAIR

Helped at the school Christmas Fair. Well, one of the schools we are using  at the moment.

School A is where out eldest "real"  child goes, school B is where one of our foster children goes as does one of our "real" children.

That's a fostering complication I'll come back to another time.

The thing about the Christmas Fair was this; the man running a stall next to me was in fostering. And neither of us knew each other, nor was it any organiser's intention to put us side by side.

But it was great!

Him and me could have very easily downed tools, gone to the pub and done about 8 hours on fostering.

Fostering is such a huge a thing to do that whenever you bump into someone else who does it, you're off into deep and meaningfuls. 

I was running a hoopla stall where you had to get a hoop over Rudolph's antlers. He was running some kind of quirk on the basic tombola.  But every 10 minutes we'd each be free and we could natter.

He told me a story about one placement I'd like to pass on with only one glitch;

I'll fill up before I finish.

This other foster carer has a child staying with him who is very challenging. But she has her outlets, and her big one is photography. They bought her a decent camera, and she likes to take images that relate to her experiences, including fostering. 

She understands the importance of privacy, respects her subjects and doesn't publish any of her work on the internet.

The foster dad told me about one of her images.

And here I go filling up even before I start telling you...

It's a picture of a pair of shoes. Not a normal pair of shoes, you wouldn't see them in Russell and Bromley. And they're finished, knackered. Worn right out, hardly any leather left.

The picture is of them in a box, a cardboard box. And there's nothing else in the box.

It's a "Memory Box". Blue Sky encourage foster carers to help foster children fill a box with important memories, it helps stabilise their past as they get older.

So who is the kid with nothing in the box but a pair of shoes that are falling apart?

He's a kid who ran away from Syria and all its horror.

I didn't get whether he left family behind or whether he was an orphan or whatever.

He snuck out of Syria by himself, alone. Then he crept, crawled, scampered, hiked and just plain walked across Europe until he got to a place where he believed he would find kindness and love.

That's us folks.

And the shoes, the shoes he wore on his unbelievable journey are the only thing he allows in his memory box.

Well, whatever odds and sods would come close?

Filling up...

Anyhoo, the bloke running the stall next to me at the school Christmas Fair, him and me decided to meet up for a coffee or lunch or maybe a meal. But then we started to compare diaries and the fact is that in fostering there are not quite enough nights off for much of that sort of thing.

I raised £46 for the school fund. I also raised my hopes about humanity.

Fostering can do that for you.





Wednesday, November 29, 2017

THE JOYS OF TRAINING

Went to a really useful Blue Sky training session.

I remember when I first got going in fostering I wasn't sure about training. I was never top of the class back in my schooldays and getting my feet under a school desk again...well it didn't sit easy.

But things have changed in the world of education; or maybe learning is a different concept when it comes to training. Thing is; it's more than plain painless, it's fun. Perhaps it's that the content is practical and applies to real life. Maybe it's that the rest of the 'class' is  fellow foster carers one can relate to. Maybe it's the visuals. Maybe it's the refreshments. Whatever, all in all it's a good morning out.

This particular session was about a child-friendly practice called PACE.

PACE stands for Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity and Empathy. It's a method for getting onside with kids.

Even kids who are hard to charm.  And in fostering that's sometimes the challenge.

When a new child arrives you make sure they have their basic needs; food and shelter. You keep them and their room clean, you launder their clothes, get them to and from school - in other words the practical stuff. On the whole the practical stuff is easy, at least inasmuch as you know how to work a hoover, how to cook pasta, how to drive.

But how to get onside with a mite who's been metaphorically bashed about by the world (or sometimes literally)? 

We foster carers start by offering our foster children the same affection we offer our own children. It works with some, but only so far. 

Fostering is a job in which, during one's start-up days, one hopes the child will be grateful for our home and parenting and respect us for our effort. PACE helps one realise how things are for them (in the EMPATHY bit).

PACE gives us tools to help them trust us, help them like us even. Bring about a coming together.

Every so often I come home from training and I've learned something that helps me with my whole family never mind about just the foster children. Helps me out with life in general!

Example; the hall in our house had become a jumble of shoes. The 'rule' is that everyone takes their shoes off when they come in and put on their slippers/house shoes. Everyone's supposed to keep their footwear neatly under the telephone table.  Fact is that by half-past six it's a sea of shoes and trainers.

The "P" in PACE stands for playfulness.

There were six pairs of assorted shoes. So I laid them out so they spelled "HELLO" on the mat.

Each time someone came in there was a jokey conversation. A couple of times they crept into the hall and changed the word.

One obvious anagram of "HELLO" was the source of suppressed but very real laughter.

The joke is still going on every evening. Along with a bunch of other stuff where I've abandoned rules and regs are replaced them with fun.

It's even lightened things up in our marriage.

I'm looking forward to out next training session already!



Thursday, November 16, 2017

HELLO TO THE WI... IT'S FOSTERING CALLING...

                                                                  

Hey!

I'm just taking a breather from talking about our recent and unexpected emergency placement, I need to go off on a tangent.

I'm just back from a Blue Sky training session on 'Minimum Standards'. Interesting; for example I didn't know that Blue Sky should be notified if you get the builders in.

One thing I've come to expect at every training session is that it will be mostly women. It's probably not politically correct to notice such things, but there it is.

At a guesstimate something like 70% of the carers at training sessions are women. I know that fostering is partly or wholly shared in many homes between the partners, but the fact is that the country depends primarily on women for its foster care.

And fostering is one of the most important jobs going. Not to mention the most demanding.


The need for new foster carers has become a crying need, and the crying is being done by hundreds and hundreds of children who have been dealt a wretched hand and find themselves in desperate need of a safe home while their real parents sort themselves.

Children of all ages, all races and creeds.
Children whose only chance lies in finding a foster mum and/or dad who can gently set them on their way in life.

I'm wondering if one of our most dependable institutions can help; the Women's Institute. 

They have more members than the Conservative party (220,000) and their dedication to righting social wrongs is famous; from climate change to equal pay for women (which is a given in fostering, btw).

My bet is that the overwhelming majority of WI members fit the bill to a tee; they have a stable home, a spare room, a clear head, and a big heart.

The WI could wipe out the fostering deficit single-handed. They'd be able to offer each other extra support for their fostering members (on top of agency/local authority back-up) at their regular meetings.

One look at their website shows a lot of love, and you need a lot of love in fostering. 

There's a lot of humanity in the WI, and the fact they're human, and only human, is underlined by the endearing spelling errors in their jams on sale in my supermarket!













Sunday, November 12, 2017

I'D BEEN BEHAVING LIKE A MEMBER OF THE PUBLIC...



The emergency placements, which I've talked about on the last few posts, were found a home the following afternoon.

Amazing really; social services managed to find a foster parent who could take all three. 

We weren't told much about where they were going, that's normal. I'll come back to that aspect of fostering.

Their new and permanent foster home wasn't perfect; they were a bit too far from their old home but social workers like to keep children who come into care at their regular school for continuity so the school run was going to be a long round trip every day. The family were dog-lovers, big time. Four apparently - too many in my book, the dogs could get the idea the place belongs to them -  but the kids all voiced enthusiasm about dogs (I've always found pets and foster children are a good mix), so good luck to all who sail...etc.

Come about five o'clock in the afternoon a social worker arrived at our house and the business of collecting up their stuff (not very much) and getting them ready for a longish drive went fairly smoothly.

Except for the littlest one who started crying, then sobbing, then wailing. It was one of those cryings where the child is as taken aback by her own tears as everyone else. She was simply sitting bolt upright on a kitchen chair, not rubbing her eyes or holding her face, just crying. Loudly. Staring at the air in front of her face.

Any child crying is awfully hard on the heart; I've been known to leave the supermarket if a child won't stop, it's such a soul-destroying sound. 

It's worst of all for the child of course. And in this case the child was wailing at her plight, railing against the whole world. There was despair in her weeping, it was the stuff of hopelessness, fear and loss.  The little mite had nothing, only the hand-me-downs she was wearing. No parents, no home, no love. No granny and grandad to suddenly show up with mischief and gifts, no pals next door to play with. No corner of a family home to call her own. No toys, no bedtime teddy. 

No nothing.

She was in a strange house surrounded by strangers, about to be shipped across the county by another stranger to another strange house occupied by strangers.

It's witnessing moments like this that leave you in no confusion why there are so many mixed up youngsters (and adults). Why there are so many mental health problems, so much anger and sadness in the world.

And the more I said to her; "There, there. It'll be alright..", the louder she wailed.

All three of them straightened up when the social worker started loading them into the car. The littlest one, bottom lip all atremble managed a look in my direction and returned half a wave, but I knew enough not to be making a meal of it. I resisted the temptation to blow a tiny kiss, instead I came inside and shut the front door.

I made a cup of tea (I always say I spell 'fostering' with a capital Tea) and savoured a momentary relaxation in responsibility and workload. I cupped both hands round the mug and sat at the table. I find that whenever a foster child leaves I start picturing a happy ending for them. It's probably way off the mark, but I imagine them in the sunshine, all grown-up and smiling with a happy family of their own. They have worthwhile jobs and troops of friends, a shiny new car and two holidays a year.

I'm not religious, I haven't got the time, but maybe it's my way of praying.

As I said earlier, we weren't told much about the new home where they were being taken. This is normal and at the same time you never quite get used to it. Foster children you've had in your home and are long-gone suddenly pop into your mind and you float off wondering about them.

Older foster children, nowadays, thanks to Facebook and the rest, often stay in touch, or at least let you see how they're doing. Which is fine as long as you don't interfere. I had a call once from a child who'd returned to her real home (she had my number on her phone from when that was a necessity) to complain about social services not providing her with something or other "that I'd been promised."

I phoned the social worker, meaning well, just to let them know the child had contacted me (and, I hope, get the promised deal). And got slightly short shrift. Which was fair enough. 

Fostering is a professional job, and I'd been behaving like a member of the public.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

NINE FOR BREAKFAST



This is a kind of a rolling blog on a recent emergency placement of 3 sibs with us.

They are gone now - which is why I have a chance to blog. I kept records of their stay, which Blue Sky RETAIN; I tweak any information which would allow then to be identified.

Last time I talked about the early morning wake-up of two of them.

I'm picking up about an hour later, the whole family is getting moving.

The 3 emergency sibs had arrived around 1.00am, completely out of the blue. One of our foster children, Ben, woke up and was unbelievably helpful. The other foster child, along with my own kids, are in the dark.

Ideally I'd have woken them up gently in their own beds and broken the news; children don't like huge routine-changes especially first thing on a school day.

But it turned out that all but one had pieced together that something was going on from noises on the landing and voices downstairs, and that hurdle was crossed without mishap.

THOUGHT: Our own children gain so much from our fostering.

It's true. I'm not going to pretend it's plain sailing always, what is in family life? But on the whole our children gain maturity, responsibility and a sense of achievement from being in a family which fosters. They see how hard we work as parents to make things work. 

They learn from the children we foster.

I've just remembered a little true story which illustrates this, if I may... I don't think I've mentioned it on the blog before, but it's amazing.

A mum of a girl who was in the same class as a foster child I was caring for approached me and asked if she could encourage her daughter to play with my foster daughter because; the mum hoped some of the characteristics of the foster child would rub off on her daughter. The mum saw my foster daughter as independent, forthright, feisty. Able to look after herself.

An accurate profile of her public persona. (Mind, she's all those things and a whole lot more when she's back home...)

So how about that! 

True story.

Back to the first morning, 8.00am;

We breakfasted all over the place, nine mouths to fill, then the house emptied. I had the 3 newbies rattling around exploring what toys were available and squabbling over the remote. Ben, my eldest foster child, went back to his own bed now it was free to "catch up on some Zeds".

The kitchen is a wreck, as are all the bedrooms. In fact the whole house is upside down. I have to steel myself to put the children first. The youngest is most needy, understandably. Our training teaches us to begin offering attachment as soon as a normal placement foster child arrives, but I'm out on a limb with how to behave towards a child who might be gone in a few hours. Might it confuse the child (a child who's confused enough) if I try to mother her, and then I'm gone from her life in a heartbeat? 

Maybe I should be neutral.

Who really actually knows for sure?

Thing is; I don't have a range of ways to behave towards some poor mite who's suffered goodness knows what nightmares and is entrusted to me for even a few moments. They can expect all the kindness I can muster, end of. 

Ten to nine in the morning, and I'm playing a kind of peekaboo game with her. I didn't expect any movement from social services on finding a proper home for the 3 new kids for an hour or two, I used to work in offices, no-one's available until 10.00am in offices.

But the phone went. 

Fostering never sleeps...

To be continued.