Wednesday, June 21, 2017

FOSTERING AND SCHOOL ABSCENCE RECORDS



One of our foster children almost, but not quite, likes school.

The rest of them, every single one we've ever had, hated school. More so than our own children, much more so. Probably, if you could put a measurement on it, I'd say foster children have a dislike of going to school that's about 50% greater than the average child.

But they are still subject to the same attendance requirements. 

In fact, because local authorities monitor each and every foster child's school attendance on a daily basis, it's fair to say their attendance is subject not only to greater scrutiny, but because local authorities flag up - to the child's social worker and also the school - what they consider to be  attendance records which should be explained, it's accurate to say that foster children's school attendance is more rigorously enforced than for ordinary pupils.

There's good reason for this is many cases. The child who you wave goodbye to in the morning with their backpack and lunchbox who turns left instead of right when out of sight and simply doesn't show up at school but spends the day mucking around town; that needs to be identified and acted on, for sure.

A child might have a recurring health problem which the foster carer needs help and guidance with, that's another upside to the scrutiny their attendance records are under.

But there's a downside to the stark, naked percentage figure that is used to characterise a foster child's absences...you know the number, for example;

87.5%

To be honest, I'm not clear what is considered ok, I think it's anything above

95%

While anything below

90%

Causes emails to fly around, questions to be asked, concerns to be logged and general harrumphing to take place in various offices.

Numbers. They're so comforting for people who can't see people.

Sometimes children have a sore throat and a cough, sometimes they have been sick in the night. When it's medical it's an easy decision. Sometimes the school will ask if I've taken them to the doctor, not so much because there's any real medical concern (thank you very much, I hope I'd know when a child needs a doctor), but to get some sort of 'expert' validation that the child is unwell so that their absence looks that much more legitimate on the paperwork.

But what to do when life itself creeps up behind them and knocks them for six? Those days when they just cannot face the world, can't face sitting still and quiet and being made to calculate sums and write grammatically correct sentences because their insides are swirling with emotion and their head hurts, not with actual pain but with the torment of things that have happened and are still happening around their poor innocent selves.

There are days when children who have come into care cannot get up the strength to go through the motions in the playground of keeping up appearances with their friends, of tiptoeing around conversations about home life, because they don't want to be reminded they haven't got a home, or seeing all the other children being met by their real parents and they've got a stranger waving at them from behind the railings.

There are days when the mental and emotional health and wellbeing of a foster child is best served by telling them to go back to bed and you'll bring them their breakfast on a tray. 

They usually recognise the occasions when you've said; 'No school for you today' because their lack of wellness isn't medical, it's spiritual. 

I phone the school and tell the truth, in the language they need;

"Jenny had a very distressed night, we're not sure of the exact cause, so we need to make sure she's not sickening for something, so we'll keep her under observation. If her state worsens we'll take her to the doctors, or if necessary A and E. If she recovers you can expect her tomorrow." 

I have even gone so far with the truth as to say:

"Johnny had a dreadful Contact with his parents yesterday after school. His father didn't show up at all or apologise or anything and his mother was late and somewhat the worse for wear. He had to learn that neither of them want him back and that his sister is in hospital after a drugs overdose. He is not well enough on the inside for school today."

I've always, always, found that foster children know what the deal is when I allow a day off for this special and very important healing. The deal is; 

One day off and back to school the next. And let's not have this happen too often. 

There's never been any argument or debate, even though I've never ever had to spell out the deal to them. They get it. They pull themselves together.

They fix their heart and soul all the more easily because they've had it confirmed that in their foster mum they have an ally who is on their side, it's us versus the sometimes grizzly old world.

They learn good stuff about love, hope, friendship, family.

I try to keep the hallowed numbers up. Sometimes I let the child go to school with a runny nose to help balance the books.

I also keep both sets of social workers in the loop. Verbally. They get it; they know and understand better than anyone there are certain days when certain foster children are too wound up to do a good day's schooling.

I know it's a pain for teachers to have to swerve things to help children catch up missed lessons, but that's their job.

We're trying to repair life for a damaged child.

That's our job.

And BTW, if it isn't obvious; a job to be proud of.


Sunday, June 18, 2017

GOOD OLD CONTACT…NOT



Phew.

One of those multi-Contacts.

'Contact' is where your foster children meet up with their significant others; mums, dads, siblings. Sometimes Contact is a bit more complicated than that, but hey ho. We take our foster children  along, no matter their worries in advance, we pick them up no matter their upset afterwards. 

Today was a complicated one.

It was something along the lines of; our foster child was down to meet a sister who was probably her most significant other as the real mother is not known but the apparent mother who was the partner of the father who is not necessarily the blood father but the male who stood up at the time to claim he was going to paternalise the family but found it too much so he left so another male arrived whose behaviour along with the behaviour of some of our child's siblings became unacceptable. The sister had a child of her own possibly by the first or maybe the second father mentioned above. 

But the sister was, until our foster child came into care, the only person who the child had felt any love from.

Now, the uninitiated would think that for a child in care the prospect of meeting the most profound attachment of your life, someone you love but who you don't get to see much, is going to engender deep joy and happiness in the child.

Not never in my book.

It makes them tense, fearful and edgy. 

Maybe there are foster children who confound this scenario, if so, lucky foster carers.

Usually you have to get to work. It is work too. It's a job, and sometimes you have to see it as a job to get it done to the best of your ability. Sometimes it means squashing your urge to treat everyone in your home as family and remember that with your foster children it's a job.

In today's case, the sister brought her own child and wanted to chat about the whole family with me while our foster child played with the sister's child.  By the way, there's isn't a genealogist alive who could get within a hundred light years of what relationship our foster child is to the child of her 'sister'. 

And the sun was high. The contact was in a park. 

You're checking on a thousand things; Sun factor 30, re-hydration, lunch (Maslo's basics).  You're checking on your foster child every 10 seconds as they zoom around the park for a) Health and Safety b) Emotional wellbeing c) Fun. Fun is actually most important but harder to measure.

You're checking on the significant others. How is the sister? How is her child? What will you say if social workers ask if you think your foster child could go live with her sister? Should you let your foster child go off to the ice cream kiosk with five pounds to buy three lollies, what if the cost is more and the child gets upset? What if they can't queue properly? 

The sister seemed a bit thrown by everything she has to deal with right now.

We got home half an hour ago, the journey was sweaty and a bit tense, but when we pulled onto our drive the noises made were that it was a good day.

Like I said; 

Phew.

We'd sat in bed earlier this morning and started talking about what was good in our lives, we don't do it often enough, I don't think people do generally. 

Fostering is, on the whole, one of the three or four best things in our lives, and tomorrow we'll wake up a bit earlier than we want to and sit in bed with a cup of tea and talk about what more we can do for everyone in the family, including and especially the young people we have been judged good enough to help. Then we'll  get going, clean our teeth and make breakfasts and lunch boxes.

Then I'll phone Social Services and say we had contact with our child's sister and we're a bit worried she's got a lot on her plate. I've done it before and you know what? Every time they are grateful for my information. Or at least if they're not they do a damn good job of protecting me from the possibility that I need someone to have a moan at.

The sum-up of today in the park with the ultra-complicated contact? It was a marginal victory for love over yuk, for good over bad, for better over worse. Which is basically what fostering is on a day to day basis.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

SENSIBLE SHOES




We've got a respite fortnight ahead of us, a young man whose foster parents are going on holiday and not taking him.

Apparently he's fine with this, they are a good bit older than him and he's uncomfortable being seen with uncool adults. 

Not being cool is a big issue in fostering.

Up until recently I tried my best to be down wiv da kids, but not no more, and I'm more comfortable than I used to be, and somehow so are our foster children.

What's more embarrassing for them; a couple of fuddy-duddies who prefer Bo Diddly to Snoop Doggy or a sad pair of wannabee young ones making out they get the new Zelda and are thinking of getting a tattoo?

The lad who's coming to stay with us might think his permanent foster carers are behind the times, he ain't seen nothin' yet, wait 'til he gets a load of us.

We wear slippers. We drink 29 cups of tea before lunchtime. We go to bed after News At Ten. We listen to Steve Wright's Love Songs on a Sunday morning while I'm peeling the veg for Sunday roast and husband is cleaning the car.

We disapprove of bad language and believe that teeth should be brushed at least twice a day. We believe in proper pyjamas and dressing gowns. Hair should be combed and faces washed, that's what flannels are for.

We like family films better than ones with non-stop car chases, we don't mind Mock The Week but don't care for Frankie Boyle. (Actually we do, but watch it on catch-up when they're not around).

We wear sensible clothes, our hair is the colour God intended. We floss and take a multi-vitamin every morning. And a vitamin D tab. 

And calcium, now we are both non-dairy, which is as dangerously trendy as we get.

And you know what? I swear our wonderful real children and our lovely foster children prefer it that way; it speaks of some kind of natural order of things, and offers our young people a gap ahead of them, a future world that we don't get, and it belongs to them.

I can't wait for the moment when our respite lad catches the eye of one of our other foster children and they collectively sigh at how totally out of touch we are.

It takes a truly cool couple to be happy to play the uncool couple, but it works.

So: cardigans at the ready...we're going for a nice walk to help dinner go down...
now where are those sensible shoes?



Thursday, June 08, 2017

HOW TO BECOME CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD



All the little things that go to make up family life are somehow heightened in fostering.

It has to do with the changing shape of your home as young people come and go or come and stay.

When your home is peopled by your own flesh and blood, children who've been with you from birth, they've grown up with you, you know them and their ways and vice versa.

In families, big things get discussed thoroughly and decisions get made.

Like I said at the top, it's the little things, and there seem to be more little things in fostering than with ordinary families.

"Like what?" you may wonder. Okay; little things like this;

Does a sweatshirt go into the laundry basket after one wear?

Is it okay to kick off shoes inside the front door and leave them, one under the telephone table,  the other on the other side of the hall?

Is it okay to even ask for a lolly with tea under an hour away?

Is it the responsibility of whoever uses the last sheet of toilet paper to hang a new roll and put the cardboard tube in the recycling bin?

Capice? 

But the problem I've always had is that trying to deal with these little things on the hoof is a) hard graft and b) it goes in one ear and out the other.

I've been in fostering long enough to know that you need to be always on the look-out for new ideas.

And we've road-tested one and it's come up smelling of roses!

We had a Family Board Meeting.

I dressed it up for fun, 7.00pm kitchen table. Table had a sheet of paper and pencil for each of us, there was Fanta, and a bowl of jelly beans.

I didn't overload the agenda, and managed to get a good discussion and agreement on my big bugbear at the moment which is stuff (banana skins, crisp packets, empty tea mugs) being left lying around.

Laundry practice was agreed, and the chairman agreed to extend the fruit bowl from bananas and apples to grapes and berries. We confirmed that fruit can be eaten at any time without having to ask, but crisps and ice cream has to be asked for and don't bother if cooking is going on; a meal is imminent.

It was civilised, grown up, and a great many birds were killed with one stone.

The next one is scheduled for a fortnight, to keep the momentum going.

However.

...I'm a bit worried that there may already be a plot to form a power block and squeeze me out.

As Shakespeare said, uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.






Saturday, May 27, 2017

"FOSTERING. CAN I DO IT?"



I've been asked this question on "Meet The Secret Foster Carer";


Hello there,
I've just come across your blog as I am doing ongoing research about it, as it has always been something I've wanted to do. I say 'ongoing' because I am about to have our second child, so it would be a plan about 2-3 years in the future. Could you tell me how your work fits around your foster care? I would need to work part-time in addition to fostering but it is flexible and could be made to fit, however everything I read about it says that the agency would rather you committed full-time to the care role. Do you have any thoughts or tips on how you make this work? Thanks!


Always a pleasure to talk to people who are thinking about coming into fostering.

First off, good luck with your second, I wish you and your new child all the best for your pregnancy and the birth. They say the second is more fun than the first because you've been there and done it before and that was true for us.

I don't know which fostering agency you've been talking to, but it's always worth asking around and getting a bunch of views and opinions.

The only opinion that really matters is your own; if you believe you can foster with a young family and while doing part-time work, you're more than halfway to doing it and doing a good job.


When you say "it's always been something I've wanted to do", that chimes with myself. I first heard about this fostering thing when I was a kid aged about 14 and thought to myself the same thing as you. People who foster do it for a whole range of reasons, but I've come to believe that the people who do it because they feel it calling are at an advantage because when your heart is in something you can't help but give it your best shot.

That said, look; it's going to be flat out for you. A young family is delightful and draining, I know you know that. Working part-time to make ends meet is something many households have to do and the arrival of the zero hour contract culture hasn't delivered workers enough freedom to pick and choose their days and hours, so you'll be lucky to find an employer who'll be flexible and fit your work times around the needs of a foster child.

This is where your fostering agency and their placement team come in.

I can't speak for other agencies or local authorities, I simply don't know enough about their practices to comment one way or another, but Blue Sky is truly excellent at treating each carer as an individual.

Our personal specific circumstances are paramount to them. They work hard to get to know us, to know our families and how we all fit into the world. Then and only then do they look for a match that suits us. They don't make judgements, don't dwell on negatives. They look at a prospective carer and ask themselves;

"How can we make fostering work for this family and a needy child?'

Every carer is unique, we all have our strengths and weak spots. Sometimes those things aren't what they seem to us.  When you apply to be approved to foster a social worker will visit you regularly over a period of time to find out about you. Don't worry, it's truly a pleasant exercise, remember; they are on your side, they want, they need foster carers.

At the end of the process they'll have a good picture of what would be best for you, and what sort of children your family are best suited by. 

And always remember, you have the final say. Nobody knows you and your home better than you, and you have absolute authority over everything.

That said, there's nothing wrong with taking the long view. You could get yourself approved and ease yourself into fostering by taking a few weekend respite children and see how it works for all concerned. Or be an emergency carer, where the children tend only to be with you for a very short time.

As your family grows up, and you all become more familiar with the do's and don'ts of fostering you can, if you choose, go full-time.

And stop being full-time if it doesn't work.

I found it useful to talk to someone when we were first giving it some thought.

You could phone Blue Sky on 0845 607 6697, it's usually a lovely lady called Di who answers. Have a chat.

Good luck.

I have a feeling you're going to be great, and be the reason a whole bunch of sad children end up leading happier lives.



Wednesday, May 24, 2017

HELPING FOSTER CHILDREN WITH BAD WORLD EVENTS



When something terrible like the Manchester bombing happens, children wonder about it, and worry.

Nowadays they don't just watch TV reports, it's all over the internet and social media.

Some schools conduct special assemblies or lessons to help explain, if an explanation is possible, and to help quell fears.

All children, we must recognise, don't know what these events mean for them.

Who does?

I remember way back when a famous person was unwell, dying in fact.

The news programmes said that there'd be another bulletin in an hour, something like that.

A child we were looking after at the time became more and more upset, which at first we thought was down to the gravitas of the unfolding story.

Wrong.

The child became more and more affected by the ongoing reporting, and ended up in hysterics in his room. We attended. He sobbed;

"No wonder he's dying, every hour they put another bullet in him!"

I haven't made that up.

TV news is something we have to help our children with, especially our foster children.





Tuesday, May 23, 2017

WHERE ELSE IN LIFE DO YOU GET GIVEN A 5 STAR FRIEND?




We're having a nice breather in the house at the moment.

There's a spare room, which we're all agreed can be filled anytime; one of fostering's great joys is wondering who's coming next.

What happens is you get a phone call asking if you would "Take a child who..."

Then you get a profile of the child. They email it over.

It's a file of information about the child, the key stuff. Mind, as I've always said, not a complete picture, I mean, could anyone sum up anyone in a page and a half, or even a hundred?

It's usually a couple of pages. By that point, your personal social worker starts getting involved.

Certainly, waiting for your next placement in fostering is one of life's most exciting/trepidatious  experiences. I love it.

We're a family who tries to say yes. We have only had one no-no, and that went back to when Aids was huge and one of my own children had his/her fears about it overblown by all the media hype, and ended up with a bit of a phobia. I was sad to have to talk to Blue Sky about the problem and say we would have doubts about taking a child who might be HIV positive but they were fantastic. It never came up as an actual issue, but I'll never forget how understanding they were.

So as I was saying, you get an email with a profile of the child who needs care and frankly, when it's your first placement, you're somewhat in the dark about what the information means.

Luckily your personal social worker is right on hand to help interpret the case. 

When you foster you get;

a) A foster child, plus the foster child's social worker, whose role is to help and support the child. 

And;

b) A separate social worker whose job is to help and support YOU.

Newcomers to fostering aren't really clear what this means.

Having your own foster carer means you have a person, a professional, whose job is to look after you and your family. Once you get your head around this level of support you feel a million dollars. 

Life is a scary, sometimes lonely, journey. Most of us try to forge relationships along the way. A partner, a bunch of friends, our families. Those people are there for us in their own sweet way, some of them are rocks. And we are there for them. It's a slightly haphazard network thing, but on the whole it works, most of the time. People do their best; untrained and often busy with their own lives.

We don't get assigned a professional carer, a full-time paid supporter available 24 hours a day 7 days a week whose job is to back us up. But in fostering that's exactly what you get.

And they don't do it just because it's their job and they're paid to be there for us; every single one I've ever had attached to us has been full of love and care, and have ended up friends. 

You're not really supposed to keep them as friends, but one of our ex-social workers is just that; a true friend - yet still a professional; she doesn't ask anything except general chit-chat about the fostering we're doing now she's no longer officially attached to us.

Your personal social worker is all the things you want them to be; excited as you are when a new child arrives, as concerned as you are about the things that have to be tackled with the child, and as delighted and exhilarated about the rewards you and the child experience.

From the heart; having someone on your side, a dedicated supporter who gets to know you, gets to know your real family and your fostering family, and is there for you all the time is probably one of fostering's most unsung wonders.

It becomes a type of love, and I love it and am eternally grateful for it.

Now, come on phone...RING!







Monday, May 15, 2017

GCSES 's and FOSTERING



GCSEs start today.

Exams are stressful every time, for students and teachers alike. And parents.

But they seem especially stressful for foster children and foster parents.

I'm not pulling rank here and saying our job is harder than the average parent.

Oh who am I kidding; that's exactly what I'm saying. GCSEs are harder for foster parents in almost every way except one.

The one way in which it's slightly easier for foster parents when their foster children are taking GCSEs is when the child in question isn't going to be part of your family forever, so a small voice reminds you that if they do badly and end up with poor prospects they'll be elsewhere when the stark reality of how little the world wants unqualified British labour kicks in.

But even that easing of our burden is counteracted by the fact that you worry even more about ensuring they do their best because if you're not there to help them pick up the pieces there might be nobody at all.

We get to look after other people's children for different periods of time. It might be a single night or a weekend. If it's short term you don't get a chance to focus on their exam prospects, even if they're sitting an exam the next day; the likelihood is they are up to their ears in family problems and will probably be re-scheduled to sit the exams again when things are more settled.

The big stressers, when it comes to helping foster children take their GCSEs, lie in the fact that you've got no first hand experience of their educational strengths and weaknesses down the years. So it's that much harder to get a bead on their academic potential.

And you know less than you'd like about the aspirations their real family had loaded onto them, or equally, how much they had consciously or unconsciously hampered the child's intellectual development.

How much damage had been done to the child's desire to take on the world.

We had one girl stay with us who was being readied for her GCSEs. She arrived during the school holidays so we had a couple of weeks to get to know her before school became an issue.

She was very, very bright. Bright in that sharp way that looked-after children often display. She'd have made a GREAT lawyer. She could argue her way through anything and anyone and come out the other side with bells on.

I expected, once she started back to school, to discover she was University material.

But no, you're probably ahead of me here, she was getting special help in almost every subject!

The school wanted her to sit every exam across the board even though she had years of catching up to do.

I got onto them and said that rather than her end up with low marks in twelve subjects, we should pick three or four, play to her strengths, and concentrate on getting good marks in them.

I wanted the school to excuse her from eight subjects, freeing up time for her to top up in the ones she was concentrating on.

Long story short; it didn't happen. The school said they couldn't cope and that if she was allowed to do it they'd be inundated.

The girl often told me she wanted to work with animals.

Animals rather than people, I remember thinking. People let you down in ways that animals don't, she'd already learned that.

I hope she managed it, I doubt it. You need qualifications for the job of your dreams, but foster children have often had to spend their short lives coping with so much turbulence and unsettling events that their schooling has gone by the wayside, and suddenly here they are being fed into a big hall with desks arranged just so, a silence descends and when they turn the paper over they get the first concrete shock to their system that they have struggled at home, struggled with family, struggled with school and now, as they look at the exam papers, realise that their future life itself is going to be a struggle.

Parents of their own children hopefully help all they can with revision and soothing words.

We foster carers have to do our darndest with the revision, but it's with all the other aspects of GCSEs we come into our own. 

The emotional aspects. 

You have to find a way to tell somebody else's child that on the one hand GCSEs matter, and that on the other hand they don't matter all that much. Not compared to their emotional wellbeing.

I never managed to get that message right with my own children, and try as I might I can't make it stick with other people's little ones.




Monday, May 08, 2017

WE NEED MORE CARERS



Foster Care Fortnight is under way, it's an attempt to tempt more people into fostering.

Is that you? Or, if you are already a foster parent, do you know someone who's made of the right stuff but needs a gentle urging?

One big thing I didn't realise when I first enquired (1985!) is how varied and flexible fostering is.

What got me interested was that a fostering agency had taken over a shop in our high street and every time I went past I got more and more hooked.

You may not believe this, and I have to pinch myself - you couldn't do it nowadays - but they had photos of children who needed foster homes in the shop window!

They were all aged 10-12 and looked idyllic, and the blurb talked about the average stay being 3-6 months. So I picked up the notion that fostering is a fairly standard procedure.

But standard it most definitely is not; its diversity is its strength and also one of its great attractions for would-be carers.

So if you're one of the countless people who are pondering about taking what seems like a huge step, let me borrow from The Fostering Network who've listed how many different types of fostering there are, because there's almost certain to be one or more that fits you, your life and background, and your family set-up.

EMERGENCY 
Emergency foster carers need to be prepared to take a child into their home at short notice, at any time of the day or night. Children will usually need to stay for only a few days, while longer-term plans are being considered.
SHORT TERM
This can mean anything from overnight stays to a period of several months. Short-term foster carers provide a temporary place to stay until the child can return home to their own family or a longer- term fostering or adoption arrangement can be made.
LONG TERM
Long-term fostering allows children to stay in a family where they can feel secure, while maintaining contact with their birth family. There is a particular need for this type of foster care for teenagers and sibling groups.
SHORT BREAK
This covers a variety of part-time care, including offering a break to the family of a child with disabilities or for a foster family. A child could come and stay for anything from a few hours each week to a couple of weekends each month.
SPECIALIST SCHEMES
There is a wide range of specialist schemes which focus on working with children with particular needs. These include parent and baby placements, therapeutic foster care and fostering young people on remand. Support care Offering support care to a child’s family is aimed at preventing young people from entering the care system on a full-time basis. Foster carers offer part-time care to children so they and their family can have a break, before difficulties escalate to a point where they can no longer manage. 

Actually, fostering is even more varied than those categories suggest.

It's not until the child arrives that you find yourself tailoring the placement to suit the child's individual needs. A large part of the reward is learning who they are and how you can help. Even if a child is only with you for 48 hours, they need supporting and helping.

And, just as the nature of fostering itself is many and varied, so are foster carers.

When I started it was mostly mums whose children had grown up. Nowadays, goodness, go to a Blue Sky gathering and it's chockablock with people from all sorts of backgrounds; singles, young couples, people who thought they were past their sell-by date, same-sex partnerships, different races, different nationalities.

But despite this wide catchment...

THE COUNTRY NEEDS MORE FOSTER CARERS.

Can you help???











Sunday, April 30, 2017

GOOD COUNSEL




We have a spare bed again.

Our latest has left. The gentle, frightened, musically talented, passive, compliant, nearly-adult young man with what everyone continues to call 'mental health issues'. He was so vulnerable, you just wanted to wrap him in cotton wool.

He was small for his age, smaller for trying to shrink himself invisible. He was of the opinion he didn't amount to much, found small talk impossible, and one thing that struck me was that the reason he didn't take any interest in other people was down to the fact that he thought he mattered so little it wouldn't make any difference if he did take an interest.

Actually, not so long ago, his internal problems would probably have gone undetected, and only the chaos of his home and the other external negative influences on him would have been under the microscope. 

I'm starting to wonder how much bigger the mental and emotional issues affecting children to come into care are starting to appear and are going to play a bigger and bigger part in fostering, which is good news because we can get to grips even better.

He's not gone home, which is what he's dead certain he wants, but to a sort of halfway house; a rented room is a house-share not far from his real home.

Going home wouldn't be good for him because the place is shot through with triggers which have built up down the years. The look of his front door and what lies behind it, counting the boots in the hallway to see who's inside and lurking, the kitchen where there was that screaming match, the back room where the police officer took him to find out what happened while the other family members discussed with the other officer in the front room. Etc etc etc.

You always miss things about them when they go, this time I miss opportunities. I could have done more in the short time he was here.

So I've been reading up on courses in counselling. I'm motivated at the moment because all the time I remember not knowing what to do to help him; what to say, how to behave.

'Mental health issues'. The phrase covers such a huge range of things, and though I respect psychology as a practice I'm frustrated that there's so much more to discover about our minds, and especially how we can repair things that have gone wrong.

Take the boy/man who has just left. What was wrong with him? We heard terms like Aspergers in mosaic form, Narcissistic personality disorder, transference, attachment disorders... the list could have gone on for eternity.

The only solutions yet known to man are medication and counselling. Well I can't administer anything better than tea and sympathy, but it's the sympathy I'm thinking about doing better which is why I'm thinking about doing a counselling course. Blimey it's a year long and there's paperwork and it's not cheap.

But one thing I notice that the course notes talk about is that counselling can be a useful tool in the workplace. 

Well that goes for fostering with knobs on.





Thursday, April 27, 2017

FOSTER CARE FORTNIGHT



Foster Care Fortnight starts soon.

Most of the fellow foster parents I know are too busy fostering to get their heads up on national campaigns and what have you, but Blue Sky are behind it and we thought it was something to flag up on the SFC blog.

You can get the works on it at their site, Google; "Fostering Network".

I had a look myself and was pleased by looking. Sometimes you forget how much you are doing when you do what you do and get on with it day in day out, and when someone else takes a bird's eye view you get a different perspective.

I was struck by one of their criteria on the page about what a potential foster carers needs to have going for them.

Along with the golden rules such as being 21 or over and having a large enough spare room was;

'Your friends and family - are there people who can support you to foster?'

It made me stop zizzing around the site and think.

They are so right. Without a bunch of pals and a gang of nailed-on family members you are going to struggle.

The other requirements are easily understood, but when I tried to cotton onto why the Fostering Network considered friends and family a necessity I experienced a very very happy feeling I'd love to share.

See, often we take friends and family for granted. A bit like a pair of old jeans or a favourite LP, you appreciate them, but rarely celebrate them as heroes or lifesavers.

And for most people that's probably about the mark, but not for foster carers.

Our friends and family supporters are lifelines. They have to hear our ups and downs, respect privacy and anonymity (and anyway we don't give them real names etc, and they know that and understand).

But my goodness, you get a coffee friend round and after a quick-fire "How are you?" "Fine. How are you?" it's on to the fostering. People are never less than amazed at what we do.

Amazed. Fascinated. Flattering. Supportive.

It gives you even more energy, and sometimes you get good advice and some thinking 'outside the box'.

I'm already up on the deal having started my little investigation into Fostering Fortnight; watch this space!




Saturday, April 22, 2017

THE TEA CUP PROBLEM


A teacher in our family says that two of her best friends and allies at school are her selective deaf ear and blind eye.

Same in fostering.

She says that if she picked up on every single thing that the students shouldn't be doing or saying she wouldn't get any teaching done.

And I find that too, especially with our latest placement.

He is pretty much an adult, but because he's dealing with depression there are all sorts of small not-quite-right behaviours which I'd discuss with most children, but which I've found myself ignoring with him. Because if I picked up on them all he'd be crestfallen and that could lead to black dog moods which set him back weeks.

The teacup issue is the absolute case in point.

THE TEA CUP ISSUE

It doesn't seem like a big deal, but then again it is. See, we use rounds of tea in our house to bring everyone together. Saturdays, Sundays, school holidays; the kettle is always warm.

When he first arrived, no-one minded him leaving his cup wherever he put it down after finishing. For the first week or so we didn't want to start nagging; he was in a strange house, he'd had a bad time. He has low self-esteem and over-reacts if he thinks he's being criticised, not in an aggressive way, just withdraws into a cocoon of silent sadness.

He's been steadily improving in most respects, but the tea cup issue must soon be considered.

I've got past being annoyed. Even when, one day, there were only three of our tea mugs available and clean in the kitchen. Several brown-stained ones in the dishwasher. I did a hunt and found two hidden out of sight on the floor next to the armchair he uses, three dotted around the computer room and FIVE up in his room.

One in the back garden and one under the tree in the front garden where we suspect he might hide to have a crafty roll-up even though he swears he doesn't smoke.

Therefore The Tea Cup issue is bigger than I thought. After all, he usually takes his plate up to the sink after a meal. He puts used clothing in the laundry basket.

So; 

WHAT IS THE TEA CUP ISSUE?

Is it an unconscious longing to be an infant again, wherein all things are done for him by the adult? Or at least they should have been done for him, so maybe he's having a miniature re-childhood and experiencing the right feelings of being looked-after. Or perhaps tea-drinking is a mark of adulthood and he doesn't want to be there yet? Doesn't want to be an adult until he's had a proper childhood?

Or is it an unconscious rejection of his new foster home? Does he recognise the symbolism of our relentless; "Who' wants a cuppa?" as a way of saying "We are family" and, grateful as he may be for our support would rather be with his own chaotic clan.

Then again; possibly it's to do with the fact that his mind is always teeming, so that at most given moments he's a million miles away, turning everything over and over in his head so that he's oblivious to the fact he's just finished a cuppa and ought to do something with the empty like everyone else does.

WHAT TO DO ABOUT THE TEA CUP ISSUE

Well for starters here's what I'm not going to do; I'm NOT going to say;

"Would you mind taking your tea cup out please, and put it in the sink." 

Because;

a) that's only a half solution, I really want him washing it up, drying it and hanging it on its hook. 
b) he'll twig that it's been an ongoing thing and his mood will likely plummet when he works out we've had a long-term grievance and put up with it because he's not well (he is resistant to the idea he has a mental health issue, ask Prince Harry about that). 
c) Bottom line; it wouldn't work. I just know it in my gut, we'd be back to square one on day two.

What I MIGHT do is;

Buy a set of individualised mugs (many of ours are matching) so that everyone has their own mug. It would mean he'd get something he's probably never had, namely ownership of a household item. It would lead to jokes about why is dad drinking out of mum's cup, is there something he wants to tell us?

I might put the communal cups in a cupboard, it's not as though we ever have  two dozen people around all wanting tea.

What I PROBABLY WILL do is...carry on as before, picking up his mugs as I go along and washing them up for him. And feeling a bit like a butler. But also, feeling a bit like someone who's doing all they can for him, showing as much care and love as can be done.

Because I suspect that, bottom line, a piece of him loves testing how much we care and feeling safe when he gets the re-assurance, and if the Tea Cup Issue is giving him that, then bring it on buster!

And;

I'll try to pay enough attention to myself so that when the day dawns that he takes his cup to the sink, washes it out, dries it and hangs it up, I'll notice, say nothing, but do three mental cartwheels for joy. And happen it will.