A NICE MAN
I know a man whose son hasn't spoken to him for 15 years, must be awful.
Especially as the son lives with them.
He's a nice man, as far as I can tell, he's the sort who'll always toot and wave as he drives past. He's the man who flits around at parties with a bottle of red in one hand and white in the other, refreshing people's glasses. Then he disappears into the kitchen to help keep the sink moving.
He's not the sort who wants to stop and talk.
However I found myself cornered with him back at a Jubilee Street Party of 2012, asked about his children, and it came out.
The boy is 19. He elected not to speak to his father from the age of 4. There are other aspects to his mental health issues, but he is one of those people who can conceal their condition. What I'm saying is you'd never guess.
The dad is filled with guilt that maybe it was something he said or did, or maybe his son just doesn't want to be here, wasn't asked in the first place, and blames his dad.
Guilt can be a terrible burden.
HOW TO AVOID GUILT
Mind you, guilt doesn't seem to be a problem for the parents of children who are taken into care. They don't seem to bother with it. Either they are oblivious of guilt, or they are too busy making everyone else feel guilty, in my experience.
This is their world:
The children are guilty, of making life impossible. According to such parents, everything was fine until the children came along. The eldest child gets the brunt of this. The parent works really hard to make sure the child knows it's all their fault.
Social workers are guilty; they were inept and invisible when the problems were obvious, then suddenly they take the kids away for no reason except to keep themselves in work.
The benefits system is guilty, incompetent at best, at worst it conspires to rob them of their just desserts.
The police are bent, courts are biased. Their partners are all short tempered and untrustworthy, their wider family are all wierdos, their friends are dodgepots.
The government is guilty of letting all them foreigners in, that's why they can't get a job.
Actually they couldn't work anyway because they've got an undiagnosed illness or injury or disability. Doctors are useless.
As for foster carers, they think they are so goody-two shoes, well they aren't. They don't know how to bring up children properly, look at the state of the kids when they turn up to contact. Foster carers are failed parents you see, trying to make up for their mistakes with their own children. They're only in it for the money.
The real parents of foster children are free from the burden of guilt because they are protected by something quite delicious, namely victim syndrome. They believe that if it wasn't for everybody else, and by that I mean everybody on planet earth, they would be flying along. Everybody else is criminally incompetent or corrupt in the extreme, and everybody else is the guilty party. They are a hapless Victim.
I know a family of a looked-after child, about a dozen people in all, who are involved in a bizarre competition with each other, to be the biggest victim. They are in constant contact by text to stake their claim. One boasts underage pregnancy, another is a rape victim, another is texting from Accident and Emergency. Another believes her boyfriend has designs on her underage daughter. Another has had three failed suicide attempts this year. Another has had her children unfairly taken into care...
They share their updated victim status with each other the minute they have another feather in their cap, even though none of their family seems to offer sympathy or help.
I hope I don't sound bitter. In my defence, I know I can be a bit like them. We all do denial, and try to shift blame from time to time.
But I think the parents hunger to be blameless is the biggest common problem in fostering, because it means they won't change. And if we foster carers work our socks off, and get the golden call, that the children and their parents are ready to be re-united, we often fear for the worst, because we have little or no reason to believe the same mistakes won't be made again, if only to prove they did nothing wrong in the first place.
Meanwhile the poor man with the 19 year old son, goes about his business, with a quiet nobility.
He'd be a good foster parent.
The Secret Foster Carer