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.