Fostering is all about preparing for the child to go home.
That's not the job in a nutshell, but it's the primary goal.
'The Child Is Paramount' - I remember a Blue Sky training session where they talked about how all the rules and laws relating to fostering make the child the priority in everything.
One of the things that struck me most in fostering right from the get-go is how much they all want to go home.
It feels like a kick in the teeth at first. A child arrives in your home, you've read their notes. They've had a horrendous time in an appalling home with every kind of abuse you can imagine (and in one case a pattern of abuse which we could not have imagined).
You show them every respect and kindness; treat them with care, feed them perfectly, wash their clothes, change the bed once a week, show them tenderness when they buckle, show them resolve when they try it on.
You are a professional parent. Your care is what they desperately need.
They are desperate to pack their bag and go back to a life that'll probably be just a few shades better than before, if that.
It's in my mind because we've got one going home shortly. For social services it doesn't mean the job's done; they aim to keep a watching brief on the family to ensure certain behaviours by the parents have been eliminated or at least reduced.
Substance abuse being the big one with this couple. A social worker told me they called one day, before the court order to remove the children, and found both of them passed out on the living room floor, him with a half-eaten chicken drumstick in one hand, her with what looked like tourniquet marks where she'd been trying to bring up a vein, with the children playing around their comatose parents.
You find that parents often agree to clean up their act because they want the children back, although in my darker moments I wonder whether the reason some of them want them back is the money that comes in, plus they don't want other people judging them as bad parents.
So you work towards them going home; take them to Contact for better or worse - usually for worse but hey ho. You speak respectfully about their parents, talking of them as equals in this difficut thing called life. You put up with the parents often trying to criticise or undermine your fostering;
I remember one mum who, when we arrived for Contact had nothing to show her son; no hug, no kisses, no sweet kind talk. Instead she'd have a swipe at me, almost every time;
'Where's his coat? You can't have him going around in this wevver wivvout a coat!'
'Go back to your car woman, you've come further than you should; the rules are when you arrive he's my responsibilty, you ought to know that'
And my favourite:
'Has he had a haircut?'
The haircut thing was a win/win for her, because if he hadn't had a haircut I was derelict, if the had had a haircut it was without her permission and anyway it was not how his hair should be cut.
So, the child who is going home is excited, no two ways about it. I'm geared for no tears or great goodbyes even when the social worker arrives for the trip home, the child's head will be full of excitement, possibly painting a glowing picture of parents who've turned over a new leaf and all the love they've ever craved being installed instead of whatever went on before.
Or maybe they paint a dismal picture of more of whatever went on before; chaos, but at least a chaos they are familiar with.
If I was brutally honest I'd say fostering makes only a small difference, or to put it another way; not as big a difference as I'd like; I don't think even the most brilliant fostering can change a great deal, except perhaps in the case of very little children who are wet clay compared to the older ones who've begun to become the people they will always be.
We shouldn't beat ourselves up if we don't work miracles.
But you try. And the final bit of trying, no matter what use it is, is to make sure they know you've enjoyed having them, and that you'll miss them. If all your work adds up to nothing more than a 1% improvement in the child's chances, then it's mega-worth it.
I know fostering makes that small difference, because one time the arriving child was one who had been with us before. A return spell of fostering. The family still wasn't working out. The social worker had told me he was looking forward to seeing us again, but I wasn't prepared for the look of pleasure on his face when I opened the door; he was expecting the gush of welcome which of course I gave him, and he glowed.
He didn't glow a lot, you couldn't read the instructions by it; and it didn't last long, but it made me think of fostering as that phrase people use when they visit you quite a lot;
'This is my second home' they say.
That's the best we can wish for in them, that we are their second home, and that's not bad all in all.