Like everyone, I've jumped headlong into plenty of things in life not really knowing what I was getting into. Life itself for starters. Half of a microscopic thing that was soon to be me jumped headlong into the other half, the cell divided and nine months later I jumped headlong into life outside the nice warm womb.
I jumped headlong into school. Suddenly there was no sight of mum's ankles to watch from under the table. Just a hard seat and new adults.
I jumped headlong into work, love and marriage and being a parent.
On the whole all of these headlong jumps worked out okay. Bit bumpy at times, but looking back, could have been worse. Not surprising really; because although I didn't really know enough about whatever I was jumping into, I'd seen most of it going on around me, or else it was something everybody did, so what could be the problem?
Not fostering. Fostering is quite utterly unique. And I'm going to tell you why, on balance of everything, it's the best thing I've ever jumped headlong into.
You receive a good financial allowance to do something truly heartwarmingly worthwhile that not everyone could do, and you do it with huge professional support, and alongside troops of new friends.
It's the 'worthwhile' bit that sits at the top of the tree.
Making a difference to a child's life and helping them improve their chances of being happy and building a future for themselves. Who else gets to do that? Doctors rebuild bodies. Foster carers rebuild lives. What foster carers do is nothing less than magnificent. I'm not bigging myself up here. I'm bigging up all the thousands who foster. And if you are thinking about fostering I'm bigging you up to do it.
One of the first children we had placed with us, one day about two weeks into his stay, we were walking around Tesco and I asked him if he had any particular preference in lollies. He went ; "Eh?" so I said "Do you like plain fruit ones like Callipos or the fruit ones with ice cream in the middle they call Splits?" Silence "Or the ones made like bars, Snickers I think, or Mars Bars." Silence. "Or the ones with hundreds and thousands I forget what they're called. You can have a Magnum if you want, for being so helpful round Tesco but I'm not buying a whole box of Magnums mainly because I'll eat them all myself." Silence. Then he looked up at me and simply said;
"Why are you so good?"
Get out of that one without moving, as we used to say in the playground.
I promise you that as long as you keep your eyes and ears peeled you get endless little moments like that in fostering, not always so up front, but they're there for the taking.
Most of the time you don't have to do anything special. The normal things you'd do for anybody; your parents, your partner, your children your friends and wider family, those little things will more than do the trick. Most people have already learned everything you need to know to do the central job of fostering.
What are those things? Basic decent kindness and consideration. If someone says they have a headache give them a little bit of fuss. If someone says that something is driving them nuts give them a bit of support and sympathy. Those little things are the mainstay of fostering. They make an enormous difference to children who might not have experienced a gentle hand on their shoulder.
If a foster child needs some particular help with a sadness or something that frightens them, that's when you pick up the phone to your Blue Sky person. Every Blue Sky foster carer has their own person. Foster carers are not expected to be experts. You get bags of free training with Blue Sky, it's fun and nicely geared to the fact that we all come from different walks of life. Some of us are parents whose children have left home, some have children still at home. Some have never had children. Some are single parents. There's no upper age limit. You don't need A levels or GCSE's. You don't have to have any professional skills. The training doesn't mean you have to deal with problems by yourself just because you've had training. On the contrary. Blue Sky are everywhere to make things to work out. Their switchboard is manned 24 hours a day. I called once at 1.30am when a child was insisting on walking home. The call went;
Blue Sky: "Hello (my name) what' can we do for you?" -
Me: "It's (child's name), poor thing is imagining her mum is in danger and wants to walk home tonight"
Blue Sky: "Thanks and well done for calling, you did the right thing. Let me talk to (child)"
Blue Sky talked to her for nearly half an hour. Problem solved.
The allowance is something that doesn't get talked about enough. Foster carers are often embarrassed to be getting a fortnightly cheque, which is how Blue Sky pay. They shouldn't be embarrassed. Doctors don't doctor for nothing. Our work is just as important.
If you have one foster child in your home you receive the equivalent of earning a salary of about £20000+ broken down per night they are with you. There's no tax to pay unless you personally have any significant other income. If your husband, wife or partner has income it doesn't make any difference, it's an allowance not a wage. You're expected to pay for things the child needs out of the allowance; which is mainly food, pocket money and clothes.
It's not a job, it's more than a career actually. Almost some kind of calling so it is. But nobody who fosters is getting into something they can't get out of if they want a break. You can always come back.
It's not all roses either. Sometimes you really need the backup of not just Blue Sky, but friends and family. They say anything that's worth doing is worth doing well, but in fostering it's a case of anything that's worth doing is likely to be tough as well as rewarding. Foster children can be angry, difficult, rude, disobedient and dishonest at first. However hand on heart I've ALWAYS found they start to come round.
I jumped headlong into fostering and have not regretted one moment, hand on heart it is the best thing I've ever done.
If you happen to be thinking about it I hope you jump.