There’s no doubt in my mind that the internet is going to become the biggest bugbear in fostering any day now, maybe it already is.
Not long ago I would have bet that nothing could come along to knock Contact off the Number One spot.
The thing about both these challenges is there’s lots of positives to be had from each of them, but plenty of negatives too and we’re the ones who have to manage them.
When I say “Contact”, in case you’re new to fostering, I’m talking about the arrangement whereby your foster child is taken to meet their “significant others”, generally once a week. The child often gets their hopes up that each Contact will accelerate the arrival of better times. And to be fair, Contact does help towards reconciling the family. The immediate aftermath, when the child comes back to your home with you, instead of going back to their real home with mum and dad, is usually a sad child.
My predecessor as Secret Foster Carer won me over when she blogged about how Contact could be made a better experience, by delaying the first Contact until the child is settled, by tailoring the meeting to suit the family’s problems, by coaching the parents in what the child needs. But as far as the authorities are concerned their spirit is willing but the wallet is weak. Everything costs money, and until the good times are back local authorities have to watch the pennies, and foster carers must make the best of what we’re given. The saving grace of Contact, the reason we carers can get on top of it, is because once you get to know the child the parents and the routine, you can do damage limitation.
Unlike the internet. The internet has changed in the time you’ve been reading from the top of this blog. I saw a programme about the internet in which an executive from one of the high tech companies told the interviewer “Every day is Day Zero”. Everything that’s gone before in internet history is, well, history.
Take email. For hundreds of years people used hand-written letters to correspond. Suddenly letter writing was a dead duck (“Snail mail”). Email had arrived. Guess what; email’s dead. There are young people who turn up for work on their first day and have to be taught how to do it by the office dinosaurs (people aged thirty-plus). The young have even moved on from Facebook, Skype, Twitter and text messaging. They are now using other things.
To be totally honest I never really got into a stride with any of those new ways of communicating, if I want to say something to somebody I pick up the phone and talk. Blogging is about as clever as I can get.
When I started fostering, which wasn’t very long ago, there was one golden rule; foster children were not allowed to have their laptops upstairs.
Oh happy days. Laptops are easy to patrol. A young person couldn’t slip a laptop into their pocket and sneak it into the bathroom. They couldn’t log on the internet on the school bus or in the playground. I learned how to ensure Parental Controls were switched on, and how to use “History” to see what the laptop had been used for (under supervision from Blue Sky and my social worker).
But that was yesterday.
Today mobile phones are computers. Anyone can get onto the internet anywhere, anytime, provided they have a phone which is internet-enabled. And I’m told that nobody would dare show their face if they had a phone that wasn’t.
They can roam and surf any of the estimated 649 million websites out there. They can theoretically communicate with any of the 2,480 million people who are internet users. (I just Googled those facts 10 minutes ago, so remember they are already out of date).
Our worry, of course, as foster carers, is that our foster children stay safe.
That they aren’t bullied or learn to bully. That they are only communicating with appropriate people. That they don’t look at inappropriate material.
You hear about kids arrested for plotting terrorism, other kids who disappear. Extreme cases, yes, but they usually seem to have their origins in social media and individuals they meet on the internet.
What do we foster carers do? At Blue Sky there are staff who are assigned to the problem, and not surprisingly they always seem to be updating their advice. There are regular training sessions on the latest things, what to look out for, and what to do.
Bill and I agree we both stay alert to any changes in mood among our placements. We try to make sure they know we are alert to any misuse of their phone, and most important, that the reason we are alert is we have their own welfare and happiness at the front of our thinking.
We don’t allow mobile phones at the meal table, but we do allow them downstairs in the living room (we can monitor how much time is spent on them). We try to ensure that bedtime means lights out and no phone, and yes we have confiscated phones until morning in spite of the aggro it causes.
Phones do tend to cause differences of opinion, but In fostering you can’t always push all the right buttons.
Incidentally, did you know that you can tell how old a person is by how they ring your doorbell? People of my generation use their forefinger. Young people, brought up on mass-texting, use their thumbs.
That’s if they need to ring, half of them are texting they are “just coming up the path c u in 10 secs”.
C U soon. LOL.