MY current looked-after child has been opening up about his life before coming into care, my social worker says it’s good for him to talk. She says the sort of things that have happened to him are all too common. The hard part for us is listening to the experiences he tells us about, it hurts to hear it. The even harder part is finding the right thing to say after he’s shared.
MY best friend who is also a foster carer, says her current child has similar stories to tell. It seems to be the case that the average parent whose children have to go into care hasn’t set out to be a bad parent, they just haven’t a clue about looking after children, and spend all their time trying to manage their own chaotic lives.
HE tells us things in bits and pieces, his social worker fills in the gaps, not by way of gossip, but because carers need to know as much as possible about the child in our care to do the job.
SO, this was a typical day for him (actually, this isn’t a typical day for him due to confidentiality reasons as I cannot share this, but the description below does reflect the typical day a looked after child may experience based on listening to others during our foster care support groups.)
MUM gets up late and starts the day shouting at her own mum into a mobile that she’s getting a Court Order against “Dad” because he had it off with his girlfriend on the sofa last night while she was up the pub. According to Dad, he’s left mum six weeks ago because of her drugs. He says he’s been sleeping on a mate’s sofa. Mum likes to go to the pub most nights because she has a hard time looking after all the kids all day and she needs her “Me Time”. Mum is incidentally, obese, pregnant, and was in care herself when she was a child. Dad is nearer seven feet tall than six and has been to prison for assault.
MUM hasn’t a job, nor has Dad. Dad needs money because he needs to go to all his teams home and away games, and that’s expensive. His benefit doesn’t pay for his travel, beers, fags and other stuff, so there’s a big issue about how much of the child benefit he is entitled to. Mum makes Dad do babysitting shifts so she can go out and she pays him. He brings fish and chips and beer and watches the big flat screen TV all evening. The children are locked in their bedrooms. The doors have had brackets and padlocks fitted. The doors were opened to push in sausage and chips in paper wrappers and they were told to be quiet. He leaves when Mum texts she’s on her way home.
AFTER midnight there’s a big argument on the phone, with Mum accusing Dad of everything from having his girlfriend show up even though she’s banned from the home, to pushing his fish and chip wrappers down the back of the sofa instead of clearing them away.
NEXT morning her eldest (now with us) has wet the bed again, and needs to learn he shouldn’t, so she removes all his toys from his bedroom, he can have them back when he goes a week dry. She opens his bedroom window and hangs the wet sheet on the sill to air, it doesn’t smell that much, if it’s not dry tonight he can sleep on the bare mattress. He has to learn. Mum probably thinks this sort of parenting is what everyone does, because it’s all she knew when she was little, and her friends agree with her, even help with more advice about how to control kids.
HER eldest goes out and stays out all day, she is worried sick. She calls her friends, then the Dad, her social worker then finally the police. After her eldest comes home safe and everyone else has gone away she takes his confiscated toys into the garden and makes him watch as she smashes them all to pieces. He has to learn not to disappear.
HAD enough yet?
THERE'S definitely more to come, and when it does we’ll continue to listen, trying to be neutral. By which I mean we don’t pass judgement on his parents while at the same time being sympathetic, which is the tricky balancing act. The thing is he doesn’t know his life was unusual and wrong, he assumes it’s normal, as all children do. Until they see what family life should be like.
OUR job as foster carers is to work towards the family getting back together, but every other carer I’ve talked to about this agrees that unless and until the parents get proper help with their parenting the cycle will just go on.
THE children? They all seem to want to go home, no matter what home was like, no matter what the parenting. They quietly plot and scheme ways they can get their parents to love and like them, it’s painful to see.
PAINFUL, and probably futile.
OUR own children have benefitted in many ways from our going into fostering. There have been problems, of course, but among the many benefits has been them learning, well, how lucky they are.