I heard a joke a long time ago and it sticks in my mind.
A tourist was lost in country lanes. He pulled up next to a farmer who was leaning on a gate. "Excuse me sir" said the tourist, "What's the best way to get to the village?" The farmer thinks carefully and replies "Well...the best way to get to the village...is not to start from here"
New foster carers are also unsure if they're starting out in fostering at the right point in their lives.
Blue Sky sometimes ask established foster carers along to meet people who are thinking about becoming foster carers. I've done a couple of stints. I find it a bit daunting, trying to get the balance right between explaining all the pros and cons. We need more foster carers, that's one of today's holy truths, but nobody's going to press gang anybody into service.
The prospective foster carers all remind me of myself before I got started; interested, uncertain, hopeful, nervous...it's normal that people don't know if the time is right for them to start fostering.
IS THE REST OF MY FAMILY READY FOR IT?
It's such an important and personal question, it never gets asked at the meetings, because no-one can advise on this but yourself. The fact is, as per the "joke", there's no perfect place to start. In my experience every foster carer finds their family is right behind them, if a trifle concerned in case the job is huge. The job is huge, hugely demanding, hugely rewarding. Blue Sky are there for you, and you'll feel your family willing you to pull it off. They take pride in saying "My mum's a foster carer". Believe me, they really big you up. Quite rightly.
AM I READY TO START?
See the above answer with knobs on. Do you want to make a difference? Do you want your life to suddenly grow another massive new dimension? Do you want to look out of the window in the morning and welcome another day in which you are making the world a better place? I remember when I started I was worried that I didn't know enough, and that my own life had seen so many ups and downs how could a mere civilian like me help and advise a young person to straighten out their life if mine is still higgledy-piggledy? I used to worry one minute that I was too old, the next minute that I wasn't old enough. If Blue Sky think you're ready, you're ready. Leave it to them.
HOW DO I GO FROM BEING INTERESTED TO BEING A FOSTER CARER?
It takes time, from the day of your first phone call or email to a local authority or agency to say you're interested, to the day when you open your door to your first child. They need to get to know you and your life. They send a trained social worker round to meet you, find out about yourself, your life, your lifestyle, your family and friends. They visit about once a month for several months. Sounds intrusive, but they do it kindly and respectfully. Think about it: there are certain people you wouldn't want fostering, it's a very responsible position. Like I said earlier, if Blue Sky think you're good enough, you're good enough. They steer the process. Six months. Plenty of think time. If someone gets round to thinking it's not for them, then they can just lower the boom, no harm done, no problem.
COULD I COPE WITH THE HARD BITS OF FOSTERING?
I can only ever say, in answer to this important question, this;
One of my sons is a good sportsman and a coach once told him "Sport doesn't build character, it finds it out" Fostering is a bit like that. People find they have depths and resources they didn't know they had. Slowly they discover a strong reliable person living inside them who's always been there but never had a chance to flourish. One of my best friends is someone I met through fostering. I'll call her Angela. This is what happened the night their first foster child arrived.
The child was aged ten, she had been neglected in her real home, to the extent that she used to wander the streets of the city until the early hours and no-one cared. The social worker brought the child to their house. All seemed fine for the first couple of hours. Then, suddenly, at about nine o'clock that night, she just ran out of the front door and raced off down the road. Angela was upstairs. Her partner, a lovely bloke, he'd been approved as a carer too, I'll call him Alan, saw it happen and went out to see her fifty yards away and heading off. He called upstairs "She's done a runner, I'll go follow." And with that he was gone, leaving his mobile on the table.
Angela called Blue Sky, who are available 24/7, and they advised her to hang tough. If Alan lost her, they'd call the police. As long as he was with her, all is well. Good decision.
So Angela sits and waits. No news is good news. No Alan means Alan is with her. But where?
Long story short, the pair of them came back together about one in the morning, the girl went to bed. They phoned Blue Sky and reported in. Alan told Angela what had happened.
The girl needed to walk, so he walked with her. She told him to go away, he told her he wanted to stay with her because he cared. She marched on, through the night, past buzzing pubs and chip shops occasionally acknowledging furtive adults huddled in shop doorways, with Alan following a few strides in her wake. He asked if he could phone Angela from a call box to say everything was fine, the girl said no, she'd run away if he did that. So he stayed, walked and eventually they talked. He thought about grabbing her by the arm but wondered what that would look like to passers-by. He thought about waving down a passing police car, but what would that do to the trust he was building with the girl? He walked and walked and walked, all the while aware that Angela would be climbing the walls. The streets emptied, the roads grew quiet. She walked on. Alan stayed with her, walking, walking. In the end, at about the time when the girl would normally risk going back to her real home, one o'clock in the morning, he started to steer the walking back to her new home. Four hours he walked, never challenging her, or recriminating, or questioning the walking. She had to do it. After four hours she began to learn that from now on she finally had someone in her life who believed she mattered.
The girl is still with them, years on. As long as she lives this girl will never forget the first time someone cared enough to want to really make sure she was safe. To (literally) go the extra mile. Alan will never forget the time he had a chance to do something no trained specialist or university-bred expert could do better. Show someone a good heart. Alan works in a garage, Angela is unemployed. If you asked them they'd say they were ordinary normal people. But that night they had a chance to be extra-special and they stepped up. What's more it came naturally from within.
I can't find words to express how proud I am to have people like them as my friends and how rich their lives are for what they have given and gained from that night, and the whole fostering caboodle.
ARE THERE ENOUGH GOOD TIMES IN FOSTERING?
See above. You may find you don't always notice them at the time, because there's always dinner to cook and missing socks to find. But when you give yourself time to think, the great moments sing almost as loud as your wedding day, the birth of your first, the first time someone said "I love you' or "You've got the job". Good times don't happen often enough in life, but they happen more often in fostering than in ordinary life.