Monday, June 22, 2015

WHAT'S A PERMANENT PLACEMENT?



We were at home in the kitchen, expecting a new foster child to arrive any minute, this was a good few years ago.

When I say “we” it was myself, our Blue Sky Social Worker and a senior person from Blue Sky.

I can’t remember exactly why the senior Blue Sky person was there; it doesn’t usually happen. It was early days for us in fostering, she may have dropped in to catch-up with the greenhorns. Or maybe she knew the child was a slightly special case and wanted to ensure things got off to a smooth start.

The clock ticked round to four oclock, the time the arrival was due.
A black saloon car, a small family one, pulled up onto our drive. A tall woman, maybe 28 got out of the drivers side. We couldn’t see the child, too small in the back despite the booster seat.

I was trying not to look, faces at the window would be a bit intimidating.
But I sneaked a peek. 

The social worker went round to the other side of the car and opened the door. She unbuckled a seat belt and a tiny foot dropped down unsteadily onto the tarmac. Then a  little face peered round the car door and looked up at our house.
I looked into the tiny face, small and round with two little brown eyes, full of trepidation. The social worker closed the car door and there was the whole child. Small, bony, pale. So vulnerable. What they used to call a “waif”.

The pair walked slowly towards our front door, and as they did the senior Blue Sky person whispered something that has become seared onto my brain.

“HERE WE GO THEN. MAYBE FOR A NIGHT OR TWO. MAYBE FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIVES”

Because, you see, it turns out to be the latter of the two. The rest of our lives. That’s the way it’s looking.

The child is now what's called a “Permanent Placement”. Family. One of us. We're no longer working towards the goal of getting the child home and happy, I guess that's the key difference when a foster child becomes a "Permanent Placement"

The process of permanency is complicated but Blue Sky and the child’s local authority social workers sort it out. The question of permanency came up after the child had been with us for quite a long period, to be honest I don’t think there’s a set amount of time for it, permanency comes up when it looks best for the child to have a greater degree of stability in their lives.

We sat down with our real children (there’s a funny phrase) and talked about it to help them have some ownership of what is, after all, a big change in the shape of their family.

The ins and outs were explained to us by Blue Sky; basically we have a greater say in certain things relating to the day-to-day looking after of the child. There’s a very interesting form with various responsibilities listed and the local authourity, who retain PR (Parental Responsibility) goes through it with you and you all agree on things like we would be able to take the child on a day trip to London and stay in a hotel without asking permission. Haircuts. Allowing mobile phones. 

“Compatability” is a big issue, you all need to fit together. There’s a form for that, where you go through the positives and negatives. The foster carers also have to write down why they want the child to be permanant. If the child is old enough they have to write out the same things from their point of view.Then there’s a panel. People at the local authority sit down and go through the case. Then you get the phone call “It’s been approved!”
We still share everything with both Blue Sky and local authority social workers, but we can act a little more like autonomous parents.

We coudn’t be happier, but it gets you thinking.

Before fostering I'd only experienced three basic ways in which someone comes into your life for ever. You fall in love, you bond with a friend, you make a baby. 

Permanent placement makes three-and-a-half, adoption would make it up to a solid four.
The difference is that with the first three ways you have a big element of control over who the person is, you have choices. With your own children you never quite know how they are going to turn out, but you are with them for the whole journey so there are no great mysteries.

Then you foster.

And in my case you hear the whispered words

“HERE WE GO THEN. MAYBE FOR A NIGHT OR TWO. MAYBE FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIVES”

And a new adventure begins.



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