Sometimes it's interesting to go and read the files you were given about a child back when you were asked to consider taking them as a placement.
When the notes come through they are a hectic read.
You haven't much time to think about the nuances of whatever meat there is in the information, never mind the titbits. Don't get me wrong; social services and Blue Sky go to the ends of what they know to tell you everything they can about the child.
Some foster parents I've met have voiced concerns that you get gaps in the information. Of course there are gaps. There'd be gaps in what anyone can write or report about anybody especially someone who has to go into a new environment; nobody can be sure how a damaged child will react in a new home.
I've heard it said that negative things in the child's behaviour get minimised in the reports.
In the heat of a problem, there's no doubt the foster parent could get that feeling, but the social workers who have to collect the background on the child have limited access to the child before they come into care. It doesn't take long in fostering to get smart at understanding a bit about the child from the information.
If ever I had the nerve I'd like to say to anyone; go ahead and write two sides of notes about yourself and see if people around you think it's got you to a tee - warts and all.
One reason I find it useful to go back and look at a child's notes is to enjoy seeing how far they've come along since they arrived.
A young woman, teenager, came to stay with us when her placement broke down, in other words the foster family 'let her go'. We don't get told too much about why such a thing happens because the privacy of other foster parents is important, but her notes mentioned that she had occasional problems with absenteeism from school, and that she wanted to work with animals.
On the third morning she was with us she woke up and complained of a headache, a tummy ache and sickness. We didn't know her well enough to judge if it was real or not; anyway I'd feel sick inside if I was being moved from pillar to post, so I told her to tuck herself up. I got her a hot water bottle and put a saucer of biscuits and some milk beside her bed.
She turned out to be a bright girl, but abrasive with her peers at school. There was kindness underneath, she simply didn't know how to show it.
Long story short, in the nine months she was with us the absenteeism from school got worse if anything. She claimed she was being bullied. Her Head of Department claimed she was the bully. She was in a cycle of acting harshly towards classmates, probably repeating behaviour she'd been subjected to at home.
Deep down, she didn't like herself for how she was with people.
Had she gone on to another foster home, I would have expected the notes to say that her absenteeism from school was now a serious problem.
But. I would also have added that she no longer wished to work with animals, she wanted to be a nanny. This big change came about because while she was with us she developed an attachment to a younger child we were also fostering at the time.
She showed the child patience and understanding. She was able to share the child's experiences of fostering in ways I couldn't, never having been a foster child myself. She had begun to show an empathy with people, something that's a Holy Grail in fostering, where children often have no choice but to put up barriers between themselves and the rest of mankind.
Would she have been a good nanny? In some ways yes, in others no, but the pursuit of the dream had to be encouraged.
I researched what qualifications she'd need to become a nanny, and they were in reach of her intellect. But I think she knew if she went back to school she'd have no option but to continue the unpleasantness - her newfound empathy didn't stretch yet to the peers she'd had run-ins with.
I'd have tried to get all this into her updated notes, but she left fostering.
I like to think she and I had some success with the humanity, but some would say we failed on the education.
Mind, some say you can get a horse to water but you can't make it drink.
I say if the horse is upset by it's own reflection you can't even get it to water...