If there's one question that tugs my heart all over the place every time it's when a foster child begs 'When am I going home?'
I remember the first time we were asked, it knocked us for six.
It was our first ever placement, a boy who came for a weekend. His regular foster parents had requested a weekend off. These respite breaks are built in at Blue Sky, they are pre-prepared to give foster carers a weekend, a week, a fortnight to themselves, it can make the difference. You don't lose out either, a respite allowance goes in for you up front.
He asked the question on the Friday evening he arrived, sitting having tea. He enjoyed his food. Besides getting a full tummy, foster children find that eating round a table means there's something to do to take the focus off just talking. Eating helped talking.
We told him the plans for the weekend, and he responded mostly with eating noises and the ocassional 'yeah'.
The question came out of the blue just as we were about to get down and do the washing up;
'When am I going home?'
See, we didn't know which 'home' he meant. The foster home he'd been at for 5 months or his real home.
So we did what we are always advised to do, and told the truth in an age-appropriate way. Well actually, in an ability-appropriate way. I keep meaning to advise the experts to change 'age-approriate' to 'ability-appropriate', because we've had children of secondary age who needed words of one syllable, but more often than that we've had what the psychologists call enhanced children; 8 year olds whose understanding is beyond their years.
This boy was 10. A round faced bruiser who was going to grow into a big handful, but his question came from the heart of a little lost soul.
I replied 'You're going back to Susannah and Derek on Sunday afternoon, is that what you meant?'
I'll never forget, he couldn't clarify his question.
I went on 'Did you mean that or did you mean when are you going back to your old home?'
He just stared into his empty plate.
That's when I knew how to translate the question; 'When am I going home?', which you get asked by pretty much every foster child, pretty much all the time.
The question means 'When will everything be alright?'
Roughly translated it means; 'When will my Mummy and Daddy love me and love each other and love my brothers and sisters and the arguements stop and we'll do family things together like get in the car and go to the seaside and dad'll take me to the football and I can have toys and watch TV downstairs because they like me being with them and mum'll spend ages cooking lovely meals and we'll all eat round the table and laugh and I'll get a bedtime story and a goodnight kiss. When will that happen?'
Gee kids, it's a sixty four thousand dollar question every time. I had a Moody Blues album when I was a teen, they had a song about never being able to go back home because it was never like you remembered anyway. I Googled it, the whole idea comes from a famous American novel "You Can't Go Home Again"
But instead of going there, I tried to reply correctly with something like 'I'm afraid I don't know when you're going back to your old home but if and when a date is set you'll be told either by your foster parents or your social worker'
For the record, I was never 100% sure he WANTED to go home.
Turns out he never did go home. His parents, particularly the 'mother' couldn't cope. When I say 'couldn't cope' I don't mean she was struggling to keep her head above the water, she was flying along in life. Shiny black Mitsubishi Shogun, best clothes on her ample frame, booming voice telling everyone what to do and what was what. If she'd had a better start in life she'd have been a high flyer. She had that bit missing that many makers and shakers suffer from; absolute disregard for anyone other than their own material self. Total disregard for her children's physical and emotion needs. She had babies because she liked babies. When they started to turn into children she locked them upstairs and had another baby.
'Home' means so many things.
That's where the boy is now, not at his foster home or in his real home but in a Home, a Children's Home. I hope he's alright.
I hope he manages to make a home for himself one day when he's old enough, a home that matches the dream.
That's what we all do really. In our case fostering turns out to be the icing on the cake of our little dream of home.