Monday, November 20, 2017

FRIGHTENING THE HORSES...




The Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology have published some research which hasn't got a great deal to do with fostering, but people who foster care about children and their parents. We care about the unborn and we care about pregnant women especially if it's their first and they are alone, or they've already experienced a mishap.

The report is worrying.

It says that pregnant women who go to sleep on their backs are more likely to suffer a stillbirth than those mums-to-be who go to sleep on their sides.

Obviously they hope the outcome from publishing these data is a reduction in numbers of a truly tragic event. Let's hope that happens, it's the most important thing.

They are also aware, surely, of the second biggest impact; frightening thousands of pregnant women into going to inordinate lengths to ensure they don't fall asleep on their backs. 

That WILL happen, anyone who has been through pregnancy knows it. For sure. Big time.

There are tips such as positioning a pillow so you stay on your side until you fall asleep.

But the flaws in the Journal's reportage seem to me so blatant I question whether they should have published at all. Or done more research.

Or even got the title of their research absolutely accurate, according to their website the official title is "Association between maternal sleep practices and late stillbirth" yet if you read it they are only talking about going-to-sleep practices. Big difference.

For another thing, they relied entirely on mums who sadly endured a stillbirth (about 200+ of them) to think back and remember what position they fell asleep in (against 900+ mums whose pregnancy was successful).

Does anyone really accurately remember the moment of falling asleep? Falling asleep happens during a period of enveloping unconsciousness. Are you able to wake up in the morning and say to yourself; "Ah, yes I fell asleep lying on my right side last night" Does your partner, if you have one, remember? Does he or she remember how you fell asleep?

You might feel most comfortable trying to nod off on your side, but you just cannot recall whether, as you descend, you twist and turn.

For the results to be valid the scientists surely have to observe and record pregnant mothers falling asleep, which would cost many times their research grant, and indeed be dependent on a number of mothers and unborn babies  suffering the tragedy of stillbirth for their data to be solid enough to be got out there.

Most of all, the information seems to steer away from a hugely important factor namely that the average person changes position between 11 and 13 times each night. Some people change position a lot more, 20 to 30 times. During that tossing and turning they'll end up on their back for plenty of their sleep time, but that doesn't seem to feature in the research.

Publishing these well-intentioned data may save lives. May.

It will cause enormous anxiety and sleepless nights. For women who don't get a good night's sleep anyway. 

There'll be mums-to-be panicking that they've woken up on their back and Googling how to tell if their foetus is still alive. They'll be tying themselves in knots as to whether to use the Sadovsky Method or the Cardiff Method.

There'll be families resorting to what used to be called wives tales and quack solutions to sleeping on your back which have been tried (and have failed) couples who have snoring problems. Many young couples don't have a cotton reel in the house to sow into the back of their nightie. Many don't have a nightie.

I've had young mums in my care whose understanding of safe pregnancy practice included everything from jumping up and down after sex to avoid conception to avoiding eating ice cream because it caused the birth of blue babies.

The awfulness of the loss of a stillborn can't be overstated. It is a death, the worst death, the death of a child. The suffering lasts a lifetime.

The suffering of pregnant mums doing everything and more to try to ensure a healthy baby is lesser but real too, and I'm worried that this latest new thing to worry about will get given too much weight with many mums.

I hope the research saves even one life.

I know it will add another layer of fear to the already scary journey through pregnancy.







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.




Monday, October 23, 2017

5.50AM; "WHEN ARE WE GOING HOME?"




We didn't quite get through the night.

It's not unheard of for new foster children to need you during the first night.

So I tend to sleep in my dressing gown and with our bedroom door half open, and with their bedroom doors open too.

Sure enough I heard some stirring, voices.

I checked the time; 5.50am.

Slid out of bed in the hope other half gets a bit more sleep, he's got work.

Stood on the landing listening. The two who were sharing the bed were at it. Some kind of squabble.

We'd worked out all the safety precautions with our social worker; they were appropriately clothed, topped and tailed, and had slept in the same bed almost all of their lives.

And, presumably had found reasons to argue.

The whispered expletives were pretty coarse, but hey, they were keeping it down.

Fostered children often find comfort in conflict.

I whispered;

"Alright in there you two?"

Silence. Thing was, they sounded wide awake. In which case they'd struggle to go back to sleep and could well wake up the whole house. I hissed;

"Everyone else is asleep, so quietly as you can, let's sneak downstairs and have some fun."

Made a big thing of getting down the stairs quietly. I find that when you get a new arrival, the early bonding is a big deal. So here we were acting like a gang of burglars sneaking out, and they loved it.

One asked; "What sort of fun?"

I replied; "We've got lots of toys to see. And I need you to help me find some cartoons on the TV."

We made it into the kitchen. We've got a dimmer switch and I kept the lights low to keep up the charade we were somehow getting one over everyone else. I turned on the little telly, made cereal for them a cup of tea for me. 

Channel Five runs cartoons from 6.00, and luckily it was one I knew, 'Puffin Rock', so I could explain a bit about it, which was good for my stock. I didn't overdo it though; these kids are often fed up with being told stuff and are aching to tell adults things.

The commercials were more popular than the cartoons. Things to buy. A Play Doh oven, an electronic secret diary. A trailer for an animated movie; they said they'd like to go and see it.

Normally I'd seize on that and promise a trip to the multiplex at the weekend if everyone behaved. Can't do that. They might be gone before teatime.

So there I sit, watching cartoons, my mind going ten to the dozen:

"This is my first emergency placement, I'm as green as grass. Presumably the placement officers at Blue Sky and the local authority will be going ten to the dozen the minute they get sat at their desks to find permanent placement for the three of them. But what if it turns out there's no home which can take all three? They'll have to be split up. They'll hate that; they've already experienced a massive upheaval....Social workers won't be able to feed me any news before mid-to-late morning at the best. Until they do it's down to me to tell them what I can. What do I say? The advice is to tell the truth.."

Then comes the $64,000 dollar question, from the older one. It almost always comes in the first few days, and you're never ready for it. The child didn't catch my eye, just stared into the cereal bowl and went;

"When are we going home?"

To be continued...








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...