Foster children have a lot to deal with in life, more than the average child obviously.
Most foster parents who have brought up children of their own will have experience of bringing up average children. Average in terms of their damage. So it follows that most foster children will be carrying baggage that is new to us.
This is why we get regular home visits from our Blue Sky social worker. They are there to help and support us, the foster parents. Obviously they care about the child too, but the child has their own social worker, who prioritises the child, and also visits us at home regularly.
Plus we can attend get-togethers with other foster carers to swap stories about what we do, then there are the training sessions too.
It happens that from time to time a child needs a bit extra, and that's when an organisation called CAMHS is brought on board to help with your fostering. They don't do home visits, at least I've never had one, you take your child along to their place.
CAMHS stands for Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services, which sounds a bit heavy, but they are uttely delightful and brilliant in what they do.
Their building has a bright and breezy reception area. One feature is that there's a photo on the wall of every single person who works in the building, from the senior psychologists to the lady on the front desk, with their name and job description written under their photo.
The thing is that each photo is of that person when they were a child, aged about 7. It's a brilliant ice-breaker, plus a massive reminder that the main tool everyone brings to working with children is the simple fact that we were one once.
When it's your turn the CAMHS person comes and collects you and takes you into a private room.
The CAMHS person gives off loads of good practice all the while you're with them. They speak to you and the child using language the child can digest, and does all sorts of things to make the child feel comfortable, such as explaining what's in the room and why. They take the same eye level as the child. Last time I took a child he sat on a beanbag on the floor, and the CAMHS person dropped down onto the floor too. Then out came a plastic box with toys and things that the CAMHS person had put together from what she had learned about the child from notes - a plastic football for example.
Amazingly, well for me it was amazing, there was a pack of chewing gum in the box.
"Chewing gum is great for getting people thinking" she said "And it's also good for when people feel angry or sad." Brilliant. I'm buying shares in Wrigleys.
After an initial session they tend to see the child alone, so you sit in reception for an hour. Often there are older children waiting their turn who don't have adults with them.
When the hour is over you have a few words with the CAMHS person, with the child present, if they believe there's anything that needs to be told to you out of the child's hearing they phone you later or next day when the child's at school.
I leave it to the CAMHS person to explain to the child why the child is at CAMHS, they know how to do that.
I always give the child a little treat afterwards telling them that going to CAMHS is useful and quite good fun, but at the same time it's a job for them, and their friends have spent the hour playing on their X Box so to square things they get a box of Celebrations or their favourite for tea or something, just to acknowledge their effort.
The sixty-four thousand dollar question is; does it work?
The answer is yes. Big time. Alright, sometimes the child is troubled immediately afterwards if they've found themselves talking about what troubles them, this we expect.
But the talking, talking to someone who understands talking, and who listens intently, and gives off nothing but kind, strong and deep caring has a profound benefit to the child.
The child always gets a sense that they finally, definitely matter. That their happiness and wellbeing is important to important people and important organisations.
It works for us carers too. The CAMHS people always include help and advice for us, plus, whether it's their job or not, they make you feel better about what you're doing with the child, because we can easily start to doubt ourselves when it feels like we're not making headway.
CAMHS doesn't seem to be a lifetime thing for children, maybe they do have to see some children every week for months or years, it hasn't happened to any child of mine. The times I've been involved with them they did an assessment hour, then 3 sessions once a week, then they tell you what's what and tell you that you know where they are if you need them again.
I know plenty of adults who would benefit from talking to a professional mental health care worker, but as has been pointed out to me - and I really rate this observation - those who most need help are those who are convinced they don't, most of those who think they might need help probably don't.