Romeo has been with a few months now. Quick update.
He's becoming part of the family, except for a very large part of him that isn't and probably never will be, namely the part of him that is his real family.
Getting this balance is one of the big features of fostering, I find.
With your own children it doesn't exist. They are yours, nobody else's. They spend a weekend with grandparents or friends but it's totally temporary. Even children in families where the parents have split up have greater constancy.
The permanent uncertainty about where they live, who they live with and even worse; what kind of allegiance to show to their real parents and their foster parents festers away in them even if they don't identify the dilemma in themselves.
They notice it maybe when they try to work out what to call their foster carer;
So Romeo (not his real name) has been calling me by the same name that my partner calls me, a fairly straightforward forename which is shortened out of convenience and informality. I won't give my real name but for example if it were "Deborah" it would be shortened further than just "Debbie", further than "Debs" to something unique and personal like "Debbles".
Romeo has called me "Debbles" since he heard me being called that, which everyone agrees demonstrates he wants to be somehow part of the family, which is great.
Unlike his real mother, I attend his school things such as class assemblies and parents evenings. I wait inside the playground and talk to other mums. Romeo was invited by another boy in his class to a party and I heard the other boy say "Have you asked your mum?"
It might sound like not a lot, but if you stop and think about it it must be a huge deal in the mind of the child. What did he reply?
"She's not my mum". No. They never do, not in my experience. Partly a bit of shame, not wanting to be different. Mostly, I think, they don't want the job of explaining something they don't understand or like or want to have to go into details about. It might get round the class, then the playground, then the whole school.
So he said "Not yet".
Foster children are often what they call "Enhanced". They might have better-than-average hearing for example. They often have greater powers of perception.
Romeo twigged I'd heard the exchange, so in the car, alone with me, he clarified:
"I'm going to call you mum sometimes".
I said that was fine. I knew it would be confined to moments when school friends were in earshot. But I was wrong.
A few days later his social worker came for their monthly. We were sat around the kitchen table, I'd made tea for myself and the social worker, he was allowed a Fanta as having to meet all his various responsibilities as a foster child (social worker meetings, nurse visits, endless eye and teeth checks) is gruelling so I give them a treat. Then, out of the blue he said:
"Mum, can I have a biscuit?"
So I'm now Debbles to him when there's real family around, and Mum when it's school friends, social workers or other foster children.
He worked all that out himself.
I hope he doesn't call me Mum at our next Contact with his real mother because that will cause you-know-what to hit the fan. But if he does, it will be very meaningful on his part and something for everyone to think about.
He's doing better at school than he was, we're going to find him a football team to play for assuming he's still with us next September.
But, unfortunately his estranged father has found out he's in care and wants to meet up, no-one is sure exactly why, which is unsettling.
To be continued.