Thursday, July 09, 2020

POWER TO THE KIDS

Here in the UK, at the time of writing, the coronavirus pandemic is abating. Whether it's on the retreat or taking a breather only time will tell.

Social distancing is easing, pubs and hairdressers are open;  but the big one for parents and foster carers too is simply this; when should our children go back to school.

One news report I read has said that when they go back it will be compulsory on pain of penalties.

I have two questions which haven't been addressed by anybody, any politicians or journalist as far as I'm aware, yet they are huge.

They are;

1) Has anyone asked the children?

2) Is any other group of people in the UK required TO - on pain of breaking the law - expose themselves to possible infection? On pain of breaking the freaking law?

Answer to both, of course; not on your nelly.

It makes me mad.

Fifty years ago there was a programme on TV called the Black and White Minstrel Show. We now know that was wrong and can't believe our parents and grandparents couldn't see that. It was far from the worst example of racial prejudice. But much of the abuse was out of eyesight for most of the public, the Black and White Minstrel Show was there for all to see, and people did nothing.

Twenty years ago sexism against women was such a thing that the author of Bridget Jones Diaries has just said in embarrassment: "You couldn't write that these days".

Those problem were caused when ignorance gets together with herd mentality.

Amen to the changes in the way we in the UK regard ethnic people and women.

I'm not one for predictions but I'm absolutely certain that in a short time to come people will be aghast at the way ignorant adults continue to treat children like they are the voiceless second-class citizens that ethnic minorities and women were until recently.

We still have a long way to go before racial and gender equality is achieved, but we're on our way and those voices are being heard. But our children remain unheard.

What, they don't have opinions and feelings?

The poor people who were slaves in the kitchen or worse; slaves in the plantation, should have had a voice and people should have seen that.

My foster children are scared of the virus. They don't want to go back, but government will force them to. Force them.

And in a decade or two will be castigated and ridiculed for suchlike contempt.

Contempt? It's borderline abuse.

We'll all have a lot to answer for.

Rightly so.

Power to our beautiful wonderful children!




Monday, June 29, 2020

THE FUTURES OF OUR KIDS

One of the hardest things in fostering - maybe one of the hardest things in parenting generally - is helping children decide what to do with their adult lives.

I remember way back when I was a volunteer helper at a youth club, there was a gang of five girls, all the same age who hung out together every time they were there which was most times.

I remember one was called Maureen, there was a Tina and one had a nickname something like Bibby. The other two I can picture in my mind but can't remember their names. 

They seemed to like me partly because I was, back then, slightly cool, or whatever the phrase was back then. I was considered so cool that when Christmas came round the five clubbed together and bought me a bottle of whisky which they turned up at my flat to deliver on my doorstep because they were bright enough to know such a gift had to be given off premises, as a one-to-one thing between friends, not youth club volunteer/youth clubbers on youth club soil. 

Part of the reason I remember them with great clarity is because of something that happened about a year after I moved on from their YC and never expected to see them again.

In my time with them we often talked about what they wanted to do when they left school.

One of them wanted to work with children, another with animals. One wanted to see the world, another said she didn't want to work so she was going to get married straight away and have a family. The final girl, the most solitary one, said she didn't care what she did but she'd quite like to do something in tennis.

I used to encourage them to have dreams, and have realistic aims and ambitions, and to realise that it takes hard work and a bit of luck to get what you want in life…that sort of mentoring talk.

About a year after I left I walked past our main Tesco which was in the high street. It wasn't huge, just five checkouts. The checkouts backed onto the huge windows so I could see the backs of the women (for they were only women then) on the tills.

Three of the five were unmistakably three of my five girls; the ones who had such very different ambitions.

Made me a bit sad.

But hey, there's nothing wrong with working in a supermarket, and how many of us ever get to fulfil our big dreams? And maybe they were all saving up for colege or to go travelling, who knows.

But there they sat, side by side, left hand on the conveyor belt, right hand tapping the till.

I guess it hurt because I'd shared their aspirations, even dared dream with them.

The thing is that life and work nowadays…it seems even harder to make it sing for our kids.

So from time to time I tell them that there's only one ambition worth chasing, and that's to be happy, and you can do that however you earn your corn.

On another note I went up to town one day, me and a friend had tickets for a tennis tournament. We got there in time for the first match and the place was almost empty as the big guns don't play til last. To my amazement, sitting alone in the stand was the solitary girl. I went over and we hugged. She told me that she had tickets for every day of the tournament. 

I didn't ask her what she did for a living, it didn't really matter. She was doing what she wanted to do with her adult life.


Friday, June 26, 2020

TWENTY-FOUR HOURS A DAY

I guess I'm not the only foster mum with a twenty-four hour house just now.

Computer games are best played with other people and if players can find themselves a group who are up late all the better.

The social group in my house is based in New Zealand, Australia, Germany, South Carolina and Aspen Colorado.

Brilliant!

This kind of stuff is nothing worse than humankind moving itself to the next level, you know; one world etc. Hope John Lennon is watching with that lovely crooked grin.

You get unexpected shakedowns. For example, I woke up this morning and smelled bacon. Lovely. My other half had got up and gone down ahead of me so obviously I was in for a surprise breakfast, something a bit more special than the usual dry toast. I got downstairs to a frying pan upside down in the sink and a blackened empty saucepan on the stove.

Other half was horizontal on the sofa, football is back and he was re-watching the highlights of a game he'd watched the night before.

I poured some hot water over a teabag and said;

"Bacon for breakfast?"

He replied;

"I thought that was you…"

We had a moment. A nice moment. The pans were still warm. It had to have been eldest foster son.

He'd cooked himself a proper breakfast. Scrambled eggs and bacon. A first. He'd never done such a thing before, never asked how to do it. But he'd done it, and taken himself off to his room with it on a tray, I bet it tasted as good as anything he'd ever eaten.

Before we could talk about what a great thing it was that he was reaching out for independence we heard his steps coming down the stairs. He brought the tray and his empty plate. He said;

"Morning you lot! Alright?"

And as he spoke he placed the plate in the sink and slid the tray were the trays go.

The insensitive person would have no idea why this felt so fantastic, but we were all of us on a different planet. Eldest foster child was reaching across the bridge they talk about between parents and children. He was making plans to cross it and become one of us.

So many children who come into care never find the impetus to go forward, we had our doubts about his guy, but here he was, wanting to get into the world.

He announced that he was exercising his option not to go into school it was a waste of time and went back to bed to sleep until about teatime.

Not before informing us we were going to be watching the second of the Marvel films, the one after Thor! later that evening.

All this, probably due in no small part to the turmoil of the pandemic and the shake-up it's caused that has worked for some people.

I made myself a second cup of tea and settled at the sink to scrub thick black scrambled egg off a saucepan that's probably beyond saving.

Who cares? This fostering keeps bringing happy tears to my eyes, truly.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

CRISIS FINDS CHARACTER

I can only speak for my own foster children, although my Blue Sky social worker and others at the office say that my experience is not uncommon;

It's this; the rest of us can learn a few things from the way children in care are dealing with the whole pandemic thing.

Really.

I've noticed many adults going one way or another depending on their general disposition. Glum people have got glummer, cheery people get cheerier. I remember someone saying at a training session; crisis experiences don't so much build character as find character out.

Lots of children in care who've been through terrible times at home - and let's be blunt, being in care in someone else's home, no matter how kind the carers, no matter how lovely and calm the home, being fostered is also a stressful thing - these children can teach us a thing or two about staying steady in difficult times.

They are, on the whole pretty matter-of-fact about the whole virus/lockdown/social distancing thing. Well, compared to many of us adults.

I'm not minimising the stress and hardship, not to mention the agony of those struck down and their families and friends. 

I'm also well aware the children tend to be less at risk of serious consequences should they contract the virus.

But looking beyond that there have been other aspects of these strange times where fostered children just rise to the occasion.

Take lockdown for one. Our eldest foster child could have been quite within their rights if they'd gone stir crazy with a vengeance. We were ready for anything. How can one expect a teenager with normal energy levels and hunger for interaction to spend weeks, then months in the same four walls. How did he do? He flew it! 

Social media helped of course, he stayed in touch with the people who matter to him. He played his games just as before the pandemic appeared. It was almost as though he was enjoying a holiday from the pressures and stresses of having to be out and about with friends; hanging around outside the chip shop or behind the trees in the park.

He's done whatever schoolwork he feels is right for him. From what I can tell he's done most or all of it in the subjects where the teachers have reached out to him, half or less than half of the set work in subjects where the teachers haven't connected with him, and next to none in the subject where the teacher 'hates my guts'.

It will be very very very interesting for schools to get the stats on which teachers are getting good responses to their electronic lessons and which don't. And why.

Our foster children seem happier learning at their own speed, free from the fear that they are going to be reprimanded or made to feel stupid or left behind in front of their peers. 

It's me that ends up feeling those things every time I'm asked to help with a maths problem; it's stuff that's new to me. This I don't get, because while certain subjects keep on the move, such as science, history and even geography (I did a project at school on Yugoslavia only to wake up one morning to this on the news; "Yugoslavia no longer exists.."). What I don't get is how something that's older than mankind ie 2+2=4 can change so hugely in a couple of decades.

Then there are the big changes to contact. 'Contact' being where every looked-after child has to be taken to meet a significant other, mainly a parent, sometimes a sibling. It usually happens once a week. It almost always causes emotional disruptions and not just for the child. The virtual impossibility of contact during the lockdown played a big part in helping many foster children get through it, in my view. I have no doubt that having non face-to-face hook-ups with their significant others will not cause alienations if and when the families are re-united. 

That's not to say we haven't had a few scenes. But we've also had some great shared experiences. I now am up to date on the Avengers, and am able to answer questions on The Night Manager. 

We all hope and pray the worst is behind us, but more and more people I meet agree that while it would have been infinitely better if the pandemic had never happened, some good things may come of it.












Wednesday, June 10, 2020

THINKING OF FOSTERING?

So. I've been thinking back to the time when I was wondering about whether to foster.

It first crossed my mind way back as a child when I saw something on TV about some children that were fostered. It was quite a revelation to me, nobody (as far as I knew) at any of the schools I'd attended were fostered. If they were it may have been kept a secret; not that long ago there were stigmas attached to things that nowadays are everyday - thank goodness.

Nevertheless fostering didn't actually ring bells for me, but I learned that fostering was something some people could do.

Several years later I got a summer job working in an adventure playground with kids, mostly teenage lads, many of whom had things going on. They didn't blab about their negatives, they came to the club to get away from their troubles and be the people they wanted to be rather than the people their home lives were forcing them to be.

They hinted that maybe their dad had left home, or that mum was out every night. I got to learn whose family was in trouble with the police, which kids were unhappy and why. When they tried sneaking tins of beer into the clubhouse, those sort of things, I learned how to keep kids on the straight and narrow without losing their trust and friendship. I got to thinking fostering was something I could do.

At each of these times I had no idea what fostering was actually like, and looking back, that was the reason I kept putting it on hold.

My main worry was simply that I wouldn't be considered good enough. I even imagined being scoffed at for having the gall to ask about it. I didn't know anyone who fostered and my friends and the people I worked with were all a bit like me so I must have imagined that somewhere else existed men and women who were more special than I was, and they were the ones allowed to foster.

I ended up doing a course to become a teacher but schools weren't for me. Many of today's teachers work closely with their pupils, if teaching had been like that back when I was thinking about it I'd maybe have become a teacher.

When I was going through the application process to become a foster parent I was asked at panel "Why did you give up teaching?" and I replied "I haven't, I just don't teach in schools. I'm teaching all the time. Come to think of it I'm teaching now…"

Fostering calls for all the skills the foster parent has aquired in life to be brought together to help with every fostering moment.

Try for it, give it a go, it could turn out to be the best thing you ever did.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

SIDE BENEFITS OF FOSTERING

How's lockdown?

Are you having the 'Ups and Downs'?

I'm guessing we've all had a few things that scored a minus on our chart, plus a few plusses? It's how we deal with them that's everything.

The day before yesterday a friend of mine asked me to meet her in the park and sit at opposite ends of a bench. She told me that on a scale of 10 her anxiety was 11. She hadn't slept for 2 nights on the trot which was only making her state of mind worse. The next morning she texted me that her doctor had advised her to take 2 of the anti-depressants she'd ben prescribed and not to drink or eat after 5pm, and she slept for 12 hours. She finished by writing "I feel great. I literally can't remember what I was so anxious about!"

I remember.

She'd was worried sick about her parents who live too far away for her to have a day visit. Her dad is 90 and her mum - who has dementia - is 89. She's racked her brains how to get to see them; she could sleep in their front garden, but how could she go to the loo? A local B+B? All closed. A nearby holiday home? All shut. Sleep in the car? Same loo problem…

One day she couldn't be more miserable, next day euphoric.

Yesterday morning I took the dog round the block and met an elderly neighbour who is locked down with an even older husband who is becoming eccentric. She said that he'd bought a new computer on the internet which he set up during the night so when she came down it was all up and running and the old one - the one she knew how to use - had gone. So had her mobile phone, he'd chucked that too, all that was left of it was her sim card. It was clear the old man was mentally declining and for some unknown reason trying to make complete his wife's isolation.

I asked her where she'd been and she said she'd made a 5 minute trip to the newsagent to buy his Times last 45 minutes to be out of the house for as long as she dared. I gave her my email address and said she could email me if ever she needed to.

Then yesterday afternoon I had a Whats App chat with an old friend, someone I used to work with but had lost touch, I hadn't spoken to him for 20 years. He's a youthful 62 but he's been told he only has about eight months to live. He looked well and was cheerfully philosophical about his lot. We agreed to talk every week.

I've found that fostering has made subtle changes to who I am, and as far as I can tell they are all changes for the better. Many of the skills you need in fostering are skills we already have but haven't had polished.

This is where my Blue Sky social worker comes in. Since the lockdown came in she's been unable to visit, so instead she phones me at least once, sometimes twice a week.It's not a quick fine-minute call; we chat for about an hour-and-a-half. She's checking we're all okay, but she dresses her care up as a friendly catch-up. For example she asks about our foster children as a friend would, and if I have to say that one of them was out of line she'll ask how I dealt with it and when I tell her she feeds back. I get to understand my own behaviour and what works well for people who need kindness.

What I'm saying here is that foster children and their families have much to thank agencies like Blue Sky for. Some of them know it, some don't.

But almost everyone I know has reason to thank fostering and Bue Sky for how I am these days, and none of them have a clue and never will.










Friday, May 22, 2020

CLAPPING THE HEROES OF FOSTERING

Every Thursday evening at 8.00pm we join in the Blue Sky Zoom clap for frontline workers which means we aren't among the clappers in the street. So one of my neighbours enquired why we were notable by our absence. I explained, but I could tell from the look on her face that she didn't get why anyone would want to virtual clap rather than do it in public.

I told her I'm applauding not only the nurses and other health carers who are accepting the risks and doing their jobs, I'm applauding foster carers who are in lockdown with foster children who are often challenging and especially so in lockdown. 

Most of all I'm applauding a special breed of foster carers during this lockdown; the ones who have made themselves available to take in new children despite the risk of exposure to the virus. I can see those people's faces on the screen and it feels right to applaud them face to face.

Chaotic homes are not on hold during this crisis, in fact many are going under BECAUSE of the crisis. Social Services are flat out supporting at-risk children and where necessary taking the children into care.

In an ideal world the children would be tested for the virus and if required somehow quarantined before being introduced to the foster carer and their family.

But it's far from an ideal world, so foster carers the length and breadth of the country (and probably elsewhere) are taking the risk. Our Blue Sky colleagues are going pedal to the metal to get everything as right and safe for everyone.

How big is the risk I know not, no-one does, but it's there. If a capable adult stranger you'd never met before had to be introduced to your home at this time you would consider asking them to self-isolate in their bedroom for a couple of weeks, they'd have their own towels and be expected to use the bathroom last and wipe and spray in their wake. They'd eat their meals in their room and leave the plate outside the door.

You can't do that with a child who has been wrenched from a wretched home and put in with strangers. The foster carers accept the risk and treat the child like one of the family.

WOW!

That's humanity in action.

What's more the need for new foster carers has never been greater - and just think what a leap of faith it is to throw your hat into the ring at this time!

But if you're thinking about, please pick up the phone.

You're much needed.