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???