Many thanks to those readers who posted about Contact.
To those who are considering becoming foster carers, or are completing the process I'd like to say this:
Fostering is, simply, one of the best things you can ever do. And you're not alone in the job; there's a network of support available not just from your agency or local authority, but other foster carers. I hope the blog reinforces that sense. Blue Sky have encouraged me to be open, honest and insightful, which appears to work.
Carers concerns about improving Contact is exactly that, a desire to make it work better than it does in many instances. Blue Sky's management team are on the case. My own social worker is brilliant, resolute and foot-perfect about the need to put the child first. It's up to us to make sure our records are thorough and insightful.
Guess what? A couple of weeks ago a judge accepted a communication from myself and my partner in which we spelled out not just what was wrong with a particular Contact, but what should happen instead, and why.
Blow me down, if he didn't simply rubber stamp our whole proposal, describing our letter as "compelling". Since then, Contact has been 100% better.
The lesson is, for us, to be confident enough to say what we think Contact should be like. Be "pro-active". Try not to merely complain, but construct a plan, based on what your child needs.
This confidence in our knowledge of what's best for our looked-after child should apply to every aspect of the child's life, not just with Contact.
Years ago, when we started fostering, we had a teenager who had problems going to school. I phoned the school and asked for a meeting. It was scheduled for 10.00. I arrived, with the child at 9.55. The senior school officer showed up at 10.07, and her colleague at 10.20. Even though I had called the meeting, the teachers assumed control, and one of the first problems they threw at us was the child's poor punctuality. I still wish I'd pointed out the irony.
The child needed 5 GCSEs to get into a college to study animal welfare. I asked if the child's timetable could be tailored to those 5 subjects, allowing her to concentrate on what she needed and sideline the rest of the curriculum. The response was that tailoring a child's timetable to suit their needs was against school policy.
Cut a long story short, we worked with the child's social workers, and found another school for the child.
Okay, the child never reached college, but the child, I believe, felt that someone was working for her, had her problems to heart, and her future in mind.
But my partner and I learned a lot; to try to work out what's best for the child, and try to make it happen.
Much better than simply telling the social workers that the child trashed her bed, used foul language in front of the family, acted like a pain in the you-know-what.
Coming back to Contact, I keep wondering if foster carers, working with their agencies and local authorities, could approach the authorities to review the issue. Get a message to judges, courts and committees to listen to foster carers about how a child's Contact could work better, for the child, and the foster home. Be a bit more flexible. The concept of aiming to get a looked-after child back home remains the priority, but the device of imposing a rigid programme of Contact could be improved on.
The Secret Foster Carer