He's arrived, our latest placement.
I don't like calling him a 'placement'; he's a little boy.
It never ceases to amaze me the difference between what you expect from the information you're given in advance and the child who turns up.
I'm not saying the information is skewed or anything, it's hard to sum up a human being in a few pages of notes. Especially a troubled person.
He arrived at 4.00 o'clock, after school. He'd spent the night at a police station then was picked up by a social worker and taken to school, then picked up again and brought to our house.
You might think it's odd that with so much turmoil in his life it was felt that he couldn't miss a day's learning; but the social worker's point was that it's important for his routine to be maintained. Fair enough I suppose, but I'd have preferred him to have arrived straight after my morning school run so I could introduce him to a quiet house, then have him meet his new family one by one as they returned from school and work.
The house was heaving when the social worker's car pulled up. Our Blue Sky social worker was sitting at the kitchen table on her second cup of tea. Blue Sky always send your social worker to help out on arrival day (unless you get a call at midnight, which can happen).
The TV was on, the downstairs PC was pumping out some kind of lego-like war game, I'd briefed everyone to keep a low profile until the new arrival had been settled into his room. I'd got the dinner organised and in saucepans on the cooker so I only had to flick a switch. I watched through the window as the social worker got out of her car and fished a rucksack off the back seat and a big holdall from the boot.
Then she opened the passenger door and the child slid off his booster seat and onto the pavement, his gaze fixed on the ground. The social worker said something and he closed the car door, very gently. The door barely clicked, the social worker had to put down one of the bags and slam it shut. She locked the car, pocketed her keys and they walked slowly up the path.
I wanted to run to the door before they knocked and welcome them but that would make it look like I'd been watching them.
I did it anyway.
I smiled and haunched down so I was at the same eye level as the boy.
"Hello." I said "You must be Romeo" (not his real name, trust me his real name is even more extravagant).
I wanted to put my arms around him, but you don't. I said;
"Come in," then I said to the social worker "The bags can stay in the hall for now". She set them down and said in a clear voice;
"Romeo you said you needed the bathroom, shall we ask the nice lady where it is?"
"I'm sorry," I said, and quickly introduced myself adding "Our Blue Sky social worker is in the kitchen".
"Hello!" came a voice from the kitchen. She'd stayed out of sight so as not to crowd the boy.
I went along the hall and showed Romeo the downstairs cloakroom, how the light worked and how it flushed, using the gentlest voice I could. He closed the door, and I hurried back into the kitchen, we had 45 seconds where we could say anything he didn't need to hear.
His social worker said;
"He's very quiet, understandably frightened. He's very worried about his mum."
"What can I tell him if he asks me?" I asked. I knew the woman had been taken to hospital having been found in a drugs and drink stupor bordering on a coma.
"You can tell him she's in good hands. If there's any change I'll let you know."
I suddenly had a horrendous thought. If his mother died who would have to break the awful news?
Surely not, surely the social worker would come round and do that, after all the local authority has the final parental control over a child in care, and with that would come that kind of unthinkable responsibility. We moved on, I asked;
"Is there anything else I need to know besides what's in the notes?"
She hesitated. There were probably a thousand things, but we could hear someone trying to flush the toilet.
"Not really" she said as I went off to the cloakroom door and said;
"Romeo, don't worry about flushing it, come out and I'll do it for you."
He emerged and I took him to join the others in the kitchen. I made tea for the adults, he had apple juice. We briskly did the paperwork, the social workers left having set appointments for their next visits.
I fetched the gift I'd wrapped for him to make him feel welcome; a small foam football.
"How did you know I like football?"
It was in his notes. Should I tell him that? Will it make him feel like his private life has been under the microscope? I said:
"A little bird told me you were a good player."
I showed him how the upstairs bathroom worked, and how the lock worked. It's not a strong lock, which is a good idea in case anyone decides to lock themselves in. Never happened yet.
I showed him his room and left him to unpack. The holdall belonged to his social worker who was going to pick it up on her next visit.
I told him to come down when he was ready so I could introduce him to the rest of the house.
Before I did I asked him "Have you any questions you'd like to ask?"
He thought, then said;
"Who's the man in the picture in the toilet?"
"Oh," I replied "That's a boxer called Muhamed Ali. My husband likes boxing."
Silence. Then he said;
"My dad does cage fighting"
Silence. I said;
"Do you like pasta?"
He does. I asked if he'd like a biscuit to hold him until teatime. He would. I told him to take three, and come on through and meet my eldest.
New foster child meets seasoned foster child...fingers crossed.
To be continued.