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.




Saturday, May 09, 2020

RANT

I mentioned in my last post that although I manage to keep an even keel, I have to let it out sometimes.

So, one time once my Blue Sky counsellor asked me if there's anything I dislike about fostering.

This is how supportive they are in counselling; she didn't ask what I dislike about fostering, that's a different question from is there anything I dislike about fostering.

I guessed it would seem fake if I said 'nothing'. Of course there are things wrong with anything, nothing's perfect.

My schtick is to make light of heavy, so I answered;

"Oh yes…pasta."

"Pasta?"

"Yes, pasta. Really. Sorry, I can't stand the stuff, there you are. Problem is that pasta is a staple in fostering, it's almost universally liked by foster children because it isn't green, has no mystery components such as seeds or skin and can be scoffed one-handed.

They love it. Look - I'm not a philistine; spaghetti with meatballs is almost okay. Penne doused in Dolmio is borderline. But.. help…mascarpone and bow-tie shapes, raviolis, cannelloni, tortollini, fettucine, linguini, vermicelli…aaagh! 

Pasta? 

It's just boiled dough!!!

Ever heard that line that a squirrel is nothing but a rat with great PR? Pasta is nothing but  boiled dough with great PR."

She said; You can't hate pasta, surely?

"Look, it's boiled dough! They take a decent bread dough which they could have baked and have something proper to chew on and eat, but no. They cut the dough into fancy shapes then dry it hard as bullets. Then you have to buy it. Then boil it.

Boil it. Boiling dough gives it the feel of shark liver without the flavour. It slivers around at the bottom of the pan like a rubber alien from the old Star Trek. Cooked pasta has the death glaze of a Vampire's victim about it; is there any other food which is such a bloodless grey?

Unappetising at best, revolting by itself; the Italian who invented it couldn't serve it up to his worst enemy like that. But he had a card up his sleeve; he gave it a rinky-dink name. Something Mediterranean romantic/heroic like "Merilionne Pucinniatta" or "Gucciiatta a cannelliara"

Job not done. Now the heap needs a sauce to hide its absence of texture or flavour. Heaven forfend anything with bite or crunch, the sauce has to slither even more than the pasta slivers, and the sauce, like the pasta, needs a name that has more vowels than consonants; Amatriciana, Puttanesca, Alla Norma...

Top it off with a handful of ludicrously expensive parmesan cheese (the packet stuff truly tastes of baby ick).

And a couple of knobs of stodgy factory robot-made garlic bread.

C'mon…pasta? Really?

Me, I'm a straightforward pie and mash person. Fish and chips, yes please. Sausages, every time, yes. Sunday roast and the works? Oh yes, God is in his very Heaven. I like to EAT. I'm only a 27 on the BMI; I could drop 10lbs and I will start on Monday as I have every Monday since about 1995, but eating what I like is one of my top ten things.

Only in fostering you eat what they want. Which is...

PASTA!

Oh, I don't mind much. In fact not at all really. Foster children's previous eating is usually shocking to learn. 

I can have beans on toast for lunch when no-one's around.

Foster children need their pasta.

The one thing I find delicious about pasta three, four or even five nights a week?

A bunch of foster children looking and feeling happy.


Thursday, May 07, 2020

WE LOVE YOU

We're all finding out things about ourselves during this lockdown.

That's eight billion of us earthlings locked down, so there's a heck of a lot of self-discovery going on.

How about you then?

Yes you. You who's looking at the screen with these words on it. What have you discovered about yourself during this strangest time in the planet's history.

As you're on this page I'm guessing you're either in fostering or thinking about it.

Either way you care about children and young people. So you possibly have a clearer picture of your own childhood than the average person. It's probably a solid fact, though it's not been researched yet, that adults who are good with children have a clearer memory of being children than those who don't understand or sympathise with kids.

I try not to talk about myself if I can avoid it but it's the only way to go on with this thought.

See, I've sometimes been told I'm 'stoical', as in someone who puts up with whatever it is and doesn't whinge. So, yeah, not a bad thing to be, especially in fostering. Only this; with a bit of time on my hands I thought I'd look up 'Stoical' in case it's more than just another word. And it is more. Blimey, it's an actual philosophy. Imagine..laa-di-daa me…someone with a philosophy.

When I say I looked it up, obviously what I mean is I YouTubed it. It turns out the Stoics were a whole movement of ancient Greeks who basically decided the best way to be happy is to accept that much of life sucks so learn to live with it. Or better yet allow your pains and disappointments to make you feel good because of the way you've stood up to them. They said things such as;

"Welcome with affection whatever fate sends."

and

"Be like a rock that has waves crashing into it Be grateful to the waves for they allow you to see how strong you are."

and (my favourite);

"Use obstacles as your fuel. Build a fire in yourself so great it laughs at rain."

The Stoics reckoned you should forget what other people think of you, it's your own opinion of you that is all that matters. They told each other to be good; to do good things and think good thoughts.

Thinking about it, I guess I try to be like that - although I'm only human too, I can rant and rave with the best of them but tend to do it alone when walking the dog.

Getting back to childhood memories. One of the support systems that Blue Sky has in place to help Foster Carers is counselling. I asked to talk to one of their psychologists a while back when I'd been upset about a foster child who had left us. After waving him off in his social worker's car I sobbed my eyes out and couldn't stop wondering how he was getting on. When a foster child goes they go. You almost certainly will never meet them again and never hear any news of them.

I told the counsellor, she started asking me about loss. The losses I'd had in life. She helped me unearth something awful which I'd almost completely buried but which she helped me see what a big impact it had on me. 

When I was seven my younger sister died. My parents were so badly shaken they thought I was too young to be affected, and hoped I didn't need them to help me - they wouldn't have known how to explain it anyway.  I was deeply shocked too of course, but decades later, being asked to let that dear foster child go and know I was losing him forever might have triggered the feelings I'd suppressed at my little sister's death, a very powerful thing and, you'd think, a totally negative one. But maybe not…

It might have also been the experience that taught me that no matter what misery comes along (and there's not much that's more miserable than the death of a child), you mustn't let it control you. In fact the best thing to do is get going and help the people around you who are going to pieces by behaving towards them as they need you to behave.

Check out your own childhood. I hope you don't have anything as dreadful as the death of an infant in it.

Enjoy a little time thinking about your childhood and who you are and why you are who you are.

And think about who loves you and why they do.

If you are in fostering, I love you and so does everyone in fostering.

If you're thinking about fostering; we all love you too.









Thursday, April 30, 2020

FOSTER TRAINING IN LOCKDOWN

So Blue Sky are continuing to keep Carers informed about the latest developments in everything connected to fostering. They call it training, I like to see it as an update.

Normally they would assemble us in a room and someone, almost always a hired expert, would stand up in front of us and deliver the information.

But that can't happen right now, nor will it for some time to come.

So they've started doing it long distance, using Zoom.

And I have to say, hand on heart, there are no superlatives to do justice to the experience. I'll try;

First off the tutor was a Blue Sky person; Ed Hill-Thompson. The fact that he was Blue Sky was a big plus because his knowledge of us and our needs shaded that of the usual visiting lecturer.

Second, since we were all at home (instead of sat in a sort of classroom) and we were watching a bright colourful screen meant the whole experience had none of the "First period maths, second period geography" feel. In fact it was more like an entertainment thing except there was quality learning going on.

Third the information was exhilarating; the topic was "How to get the best out of the internet". It could have been "How to avoid the dangers of the internet", but one of the big things that I took away was a refreshed view of the internet as a tool to advance our fostering and help our children on their way.

Fourth - and I'll come back and finish by expanding this bit because it's stellar - the guy Ed is just so, so good at delivering it was a privilege to be there and be on the receiving end.

The content was spread over two days, two hours each day. We hooked up using Zoom during moments before the beginning with Ed centre-screen welcoming us. If you didn't want to be seen no problem, your camera isn't used. When the session got under way our microphones were all muted or else there'd be that tinny howl. If you wanted to ask a question you could use the chat window and Ed would bring you in. None of us were seen on screen once Ed got going; the visuals were him and his graphics.

Ed used lots of the Zoom resources to keep the screen busy and informative without using bells and whistles for their own sake. 

He got us all thinking; for example, he asked us to guess (inside our own heads) how many people there are on earth. (Answer 8 billion) Then he asked how many of them had mobile phones = 5 billion. Then he asked how many used social media = 3 billion. He had text and images popping up to reinforce what he was saying. None of us had a clue that so many people, many of them in poverty, had devices; Ed told us it was down to the recycling of old  mobile phones that got exported and sold in market places. His point was that the digital universe is huge and expanding.

We were all involved all the time, for example he put on screen some logos of different apps and asked us to use a second device (I used my phone) to find out some facts about them by logging onto a website called commonsensemedia, which reviews media aimed at children and young people and assesses the positives and the negatives. We learned that most kids have 50-60 apps on their mobile phones and that it's not hard to spot the logos on their phones and once you've seen the logo you can, if you feel you should, do a check on the app.

There was the right amount of information, all of it gold dust, but too much for me to reprise here. I was particularly interested in an aspect of gaming I had no idea was a factor namely that there's a trend in modern day games to lure players into gambling. It works like this; the player gets into the game for free, but to progress they have to acquire resources, maybe a helmet or a set of skis. They can buy a thing called a 'loot box' for a sub-pocket money fee, say £2.99. But they don't know what they're going to get, a bit like a lucky dip. If they don't get what they need to progress they try again; in other words they're gambling on the outcome.  Ed reminded us that as children they ought not have unlimited resources to gamble, but he reminded us also that we had a responsibility that our children didn't reach adulthood and access to deeper pockets with a taste for gambling.

So finally Ed himself. Ed is simply magnetic; a quick mind combined with an easy style, he has a ready wit, he's an engaging person who really knows his stuff and loves his job. Qualities like those are infectious and we could all sense we were almost being baptised and born anew from the mire of lockdown. Plus; Ed is spectacularly cool. From his immaculate street-modern hair style (he self-deprecatingly apologised that he needed a haircut - ha ha), to his huge ear lobe inserts; from his discreet nose piercing to his David Beckham art work, the guy oozed the kind of savvy we Foster Carers need on our side.

If you're not with Blue Sky I have yet to find out whether his wisdom and knowledge is out there in any form that can be got at, if so it gets a 5 star rating.


Sunday, April 26, 2020

GOOD CAN COME FROM TERRIBLE

I don't want to harp on about the coronavirus and the lockdown etc.

So I won't.

I do want to tell you about some of the nice nooks and crannies of parenting that the whole thing has magnified.

Middle foster child is nearly ten, going on twenty-seven.

Child used to regard the difficulty of going to sleep as a big problem. Being awake half the night left the child exhausted by midday and lonely and frightened the following 2.00am. The child had to try to sleep see, because it was school in the morning and it gets pointed out to them they mustn't yawn in class.

Anyway, sleep is no problem any more. Everything is on the button.

Rises as and when, usually about 10.30-11.30am. I've talked with friends with similar-aged children, it's normal, if not exactly copy book.

Eats a brunch instead of breakfast just like swanky top end people do at weekends, then rattles through the schoolwork set for him (which is working really well for him, I k now it's difficult in a lot of homes).

Then goes back to bed.

Sleeps.

Gets going proper about 4.00pm, gearing up for friends time. This is how it is for our foster children right now, if not children of all types everywhere; their network is virtual.

How fantastic is that!

When I was a kid my potential friends were limited to neighbourhood kids and kids in our school class. About 5 to 10 possibles…

Middle foster child has access to just about every potential friend…in the world! And it's being used!!

People my age often go "Tut tut!" about the internet, they've probably enjoyed their diet of it's dangers. I'm doing a Blue Sky training session on internet safety shortly, yes it can be a danger but wow it can be an absolute boon.

So child gets going on the PC about 6.30pm, because that's when child's gang are showing up. They're mostly Americans. Child has a buddy in Nebraska, someone in San Jose, another in Canada and a German dude who stays up into the night like our kid.

Our kid gets every new internet friend up on visuals to be sure it's not a 47-year-old with a dodgy agenda.

Then…they play! Not just... 'play' because 'play' is far more than a meaningless pleasure.They explore stuff like friendships and empathy and loyalty and conflicts and - maybe best of all - how to win by bonding and sticking together.

They learn their place among others.

They begin to find out who they are and who they want to be, and close the gap between.

They aren't just hanging around on a patch of playground tarmac talking about whether their Physics teacher is loopy. They're on some virtual planet pitched in as a unit to go head to head against a bunch of armed dinosaurs or whatever. It's active, it's interactive…most of all it's fun. Jeez, shouldn't we all be looking for ways to have fun right now?

This pandemic is truly awful, it's taken so many lives and will take more. Perhaps we will have to live with the threat for a very long time.

But it's not disrespectful to those who are suffering to hope that, human nature being the heroic thing it is, some good comes from it.







Thursday, April 16, 2020

FOSTERING; STOCKHOM SYNDROME?

Being locked-down with somebody else's children - that's fostering in the age of the coronavirus - is hard work, but interesting.

There's been a strengthening of the bond between ourselves and our looked-after children, though they don't rush at us to tell us that they like us even more than before. But they do...they do seem to like us even more. And I'm not sure why.

Our middle foster child came chuntering into the living room while we were watching a 5.00pm TV coronavirus update;

Middle child; "What's all this, oh b*****y h**l!! They still going on about the d****h bag virus. Duh! Yak yak! Virus duh and virus… er duh! It's a germ dude! Get over it. J***s C****t!"

And he left. I thought he made a number of decent points, albeit within the parameters of his own vernacular. What had he told us?

He's scared for himself. The news has felt the need to report the deaths of young people and children, presumably to help everyone understand that everyone is at risk, but it must be sickeningly frightening for many kinds. Also; he hasn't had much good happen in his life so far and he'd feel totally cheated if he had to leave for Heaven without having had much in the way of Ambrosia.

He is scared for his mum and dad. His mum in particular, he doesn't know much about his dad. But he knows his mum doesn't know how to look after him and she sure doesn't know how to look after herself.

But how come the new wave of empathy from our foster kids?

Is it the Stockholm syndrome? That's where captive hostages form a bond with their captors. If I'm not mistaken one kidnap victim joined the group of terrorists who had kidnapped her and helped carry out a bank raid. Surely not, after all, foster children are hardly in captive are they? Although the facts of the matter might not get in the way of how some of them might perceive their circumstance.

Perhaps it's just that they can see that the virus is serious, that anyone can get it and it can be life-threatening for anyone. We have a fostering agency keeping us on track with how to protect our foster children, and we stick to it to the letter. Some of the requirements are a pain for them - our eldest was very miffed that we wouldn't let his bestie come round to shoot the breeze last weekend. His argument was that his bestie has a mum and dad who live apart and he's been able to visit both of them, so er…he's obviously not got the virus. We stuck to a simple and obvious 'No' and threw in that we thought the bestie's mum and dad were taking a chance, we weren't sure what the law might say, not that we were going to raise it with anyone - after all it was his hearsay and almost certainly skewed to shore up a flimsy argument.

Then there's the constant hand washing and anti-bac wipe-downs. Middle foster child was indignant that a bag of hot chicken wings ridge crisps that had been specifically requested had got antiseptic 'all over it' which would 'ruin the taste'.

They roll their eyes as if it's a pain when I insist they keep track of their parents wellbeing, and that we all wish them well.

There are lots of plusses, no really there are. Of course the illness is awful and has caused terrible grief and fear, and it's not done yet (it's mid-April 2020 at the time of writing). But just as previous generations told us that there was something special in the ether during wartime, there are good things going on all around.

I think that our foster children are more in tune with us foster parents at this time because they feel a bit safer with us than they might have done in their real homes. They would know what their real parents are like, and whatever their faults, the children will be desperate to know that their folks are being sensible, taking advice about staying home, and observing the precautions.

They might even be happy that we show we care about their parents, that we make sure we keep them informed about their parents…but are dealing with the fact that they might feel personally safer in our house than in their real home.

Monday, April 06, 2020

FOSTERING FUN

My Blue Sky Social Worker showed up this morning for a Health and Safety check on our home. You get one of these per year in fostering, they're no big deal. This one was different because when I say 'showed up', I mean that she appeared on a What's App video link and we did the whole thing via video.

Brilliant.

What sort of things get checked?

She needed to make sure our driving licences were in order, that our car is MOT'd and insured and that our boiler has been serviced. This meant lots of holding up documents against my phone's camera lens, but hey it worked.

She checked that our garage is locked (vulnerable children don't need to be able to get into the garage; too many possible risks). 

I needed to show that medicines are kept out of reach. This is important but easy - there are lots of lockable cabinets on sale. In our house we keep them in a small and elderly but impenetrable Samsonite suitcase that happens to have a combination lock. It means we can carry all our medicines to wherever they might be needed.

I showed her our fireplace and the fireguard we need for when we have a rare fire in the hearth.

We keep toilet bleach out of reach of our foster children, in fact we keep the whole lot of caustic kitchen and bathroom cleaning solutions out of harms way. 

I hope this growing list of do's and don'ts doesn't seem oppressive, it's not. You'll see.

So then we talked about our upstairs windows. See, modern windows usually come complete with locking devices, but some of ours are wooden so we had to put long screws through to ensure them shut - no problem. 

Health and Safety in the home is a complex thing and thank goodness for social workers who guide us through it. The key for them is how to keep each specific home safe for each specific child. For example, if you have a responsible 16 year old foster child is unlikely they'll accidentally poke something into an unprotected ground-level plug socket. But if you have a curious 3 year-old you'll need socket protectors, again no problem.

We talked about our pets a lot. Our new dog is 10 months old now and our lovely Social Worker needed to know things such as where she did her poo, how quick it was collected, where she slept and what her personality was. Badly kept dogs have done bad things, I'm glad that fostering is on the alert.

Anyway, about done, we moved on to our annual big joke, namely…

Is the puddle in our back garden a water feature or a pond? 

Now, this will soon start to get you either fascinated or extremely bored, but you have to remember that for years it's become a running joke. And Blue Sky has resources when it comes to sense of humour and few things are more important in fostering than a sense of humour.

Why does it matter whether it's a water feature or a pond? Er, I think it's because one needs to be covered with a protective mesh and the other doesn't.

Any idea the difference between a water feature and a pond? The definition exists!

Our thing is a plastic tub about a metre across and shin high. If you went into it in your swim trunks you'd not get wet apart from your lower legs, bum, and below your waist. You'd have to be more than flexible than me to get out of it without help. It's titchy. We keep the water level about that of a washing up bowl. It's a water feature.

But…a while back we put a goldfish in it. 

Game changer! 

A fish? 

It's a pond!

Now, I can see - we all can see - that children must be protected from the possible dangers of water. Children have tragically died in garden ponds and lakes and in fostering you have to be careful. If you have a water barrel or even a bucket you keep topped up to give the flowers a drink, you have to keep them out of harm's way.

We keep a wire mesh over our water feature/pond/bucket/puddle/mini-lake. 

And every year we do our Health and Safety check and laugh our socks off about the latest precise definition of it.

Which is one of the many helpful support mechanisms Blue Sky do, because fostering is a massive thing to do, and keeping other people's children safe and healthy is a massive job. 

Blue Sky help us do it in a low-key way - and with the right amount of laughter.