Sunday, September 20, 2020

FOSTERING AND FOOD

So; Sunday morning quite early I was standing at the sink trying to work out how to clean out a peanut butter jar of those smears you can't get with a spoon, because I've just found out you're not supposed to put anything with food attached or even to which food has been attached (eg pizza boxes) in the recycle bin.

Complicated? Still it's for the best.

I had a kettle boiling to try to melt the stuff off, I'm standing wondering why the peanut butter people chose a jar which has an inside lip which stops you getting the last remnants of peanut butter out to smear on one last slice. I bet there's a YouTube on it. I found myself remembering that the mustard magnate Colman said that his fortune depended on the fact that over half of his mustard got put on the side of people's plates then scraped off after the meal uneaten.

Don't stings like that make you uneasy? Some things we discover are not for the best.

So I'm standing there feeling a bit, yeah, less than 50%.

Then eldest sends me a text message from his bedroom, this is eldest foster child. 

Eldest was neglected as a baby, as an infant, as a child. As Foster Carers we're trained to know that sometimes neglected children are enhanced by their neglect because they need to develop strategies earlier than children who are cared for properly. Is that theory true? Read on…

Eldest texted;

"Can I have a bacon baguette?"

See that? Not just a bacon sarnie or a bacon roll, no…a bacon baguette.

I sussed that this was because child had seen the French stick I'd bought on my Saturday shop, just for fun. But he'd had one before.

So I set to work, fished a pack of back bacon out of the fridge.

Child needs all the white fat cut off the bacon before it goes in the pan, and while it's cooking I have to be standing by with kitchen roll to dab off any blobs of white stuff that bubble up on the bacon which I told him were just water (I hope they are), but child still insists on zero white stuff.

While the bacon is cooking I slice the baguette lengthways into two separate pieces (child doesn't want hinged baguette, says they are hard to close without stuff spilling).

Eldest, estimating the time the bacon baguette will take to be ready, arrives in the kitchen two minutes early and says;

"And can it be a BLT?"

I replied yes. Then he said;

"Is the lettuce an Iceberg?"

I replied that it wasn't. I said that I'd had to chuck the last of the Iceberg last night as what was left of it was going brown. So he asked how I was going to come up with a BLT. I said;

"There's a couple of little gem lettuces in the fridge. He said;

"Little gem? Are they like Icebergs?"

I replied that frankly, lettuce is lettuce. A bag of water for 90 pence yeah?

"Wrong!" he said. "Some lettuce is more…"

I waited. Silence. Then I said;

"More what?"

And he replied;

"More…profound."

Gobsmacked by this insight I stuttered;

"Profound?"

"Yes!" he said, "Deeper, stronger, more…lettucey."

"And you don't want that."

"No"

So I ended up trimming off the darker green flowery ends of the little gem so all he had were the crunchy white stalks and the insipid pale yellow part of the leaves that mimicked the Iceberg.

He took the creation up to his room. 

A couple of hours later he brought his plate down. Which, by the way, was big. It was like;

"You did the work on the baguette = I bring the plate down."

By which time I still hadn't fathomed the peanut butter jar problem.

But I'd had another reminder why I love this fostering thing.

Catch a niff?


Thursday, September 10, 2020

SHIPS THAT PASS IN THE NIGHT

She came to us at very little notice...it was either our house or she'd have to sleep in a police cell, would you believe, aged seven.

I have never found the police to be anything other than fantastic when they are involved in helping children. All the same our spare bed was better than a night in a police station, with who knows yelling what in the next 'suite'.

My phone had rung at about 11.30pm, it was the emergency officer at the local authority. I didn't know the young social worker but she seemed to know me, she said;

"It might only be for one night Mrs ******, we'll do the placement process in the morning. Do you want me to call Blue Sky and let them know?" 

Blue Sky are 24/7, but whichever Blue Sky person is on duty might as well slumber on, all was well. I sent them a text message.

The main thing is to get the child a roof over their head, a full tummy and a warm bed. We can do the paperwork when offices open.

The police car was outside our house not ten minutes later. The officer's had got the go-ahead from the local authority and brought the little girl up our path. Two officers, one male one female, both being so soft and gentle it made the heart glow.

They handed her over, she was feigning being asleep or semi-conscious, so I took her straight upstairs and got her into bed. Her name was Rachael. She had nothing apart from her T shirt and leggings. Bare feet, cold hands. The officers had put a few bits of clothing in a carrier bag. She didn't want anything to eat. I tucked her in and said some kind words.

I dashed downstairs to catch the officers and see what they could tell me about what had happened, but they'd told my husband everything they knew so they left and the two of us had a cup of tea and he filled me in.

There'd been a 'five fencer' and the police were called. A 'five fencer' is a domestic that can be heard five houses away. 

The police turned up to find a rolling conflict between several adults. Two or three of them scarpered when the blue lights arrived. This was on an estate not far from us which has a reputation, probably well earned, for upheaval. 

The first police unit called for backup as they were outnumbered and in the meantime started de-escalation. They told my husband they suspected from the off that all of the adults were affected by alcohol and probably by substance abuse. The officers spent the time until their colleagues arrived smiling and agreeing with every outrageous accusation that was put to them, calming things down.

The adults were asked if anyone else was in the house. One of them said something about a niece but that she was 'someone else's problem'. One of the officers carried out a house check, looking in every room and calling out. Nothing. 

Two adults were handcuffed and put in a car, their arrest being on the basis that blood had been spilled and that those whose blood had been spilled were more likely to be the victims, so an ambulance was called for them. 

You could see what the officers were doing; they had to move things on. They couldn't spend all night piecing together events in search of the truth, not with a bunch of angry inebriates. So; two to the cells, two to A+E, a third adult who apparently was not the worse for wear, went with the 'victims' in the ambulance to support them.

At that point the original two officers were left with an open house, lights blazing, TV blaring. They went in to make the house safe, and one of them did a final sweep of the house. 

Upstairs, under a pile of rank old clothes and a soiled single duvet, she found a cowering trembling little girl, Rachael.

Imagine. Imagine what Rachael had gone through that night. Actually probably not much different from most nights of her life. 

She stayed for two nights, didn't go to school, just in recovery. I gave her every ounce of love and empathy I could but I don't think anything got through. It takes a lot longer. Social services tracked down her mother's sister who they said was on the straight and narrow and would look after Rachel until things sorted themselves out, whether they did or not I don't get to know.

You never forget any of the children who come to you for foster care, no matter how short the time they're with you. You remember everything about them, with hope and optimism. 

These little ships that pass in the night.




Saturday, September 05, 2020

MUMS AND DADS

When a young person comes into your home to live, their thoughts about their real parents are so very important to the whole exercise.

Fostered children have difficult perceptions about their parents, most will always struggle thinking about  their mum and dad.

Who doesn't sometimes?

A few years ago, after my dad died, I found a photo of him I liked. He was a young man of 29 sat astride a big motor bike. I had the photo blown up and took it to a framing shop to get it made up. The young man in the shop looked at the photo and went;

"Wow!"

I said;

"Yeah, that's my dad."

He went;

"It's a BSA isn't it?"

He studied the pic with ferocious intent.

"Yeah definitely a BSA, I think."

I said I didn't know, and added; 

"It's my dad."

He said;

"Cowling is the key, I'll get the magnifier."

He did. My dad was indeed sitting on a BSA. This interested the man no end.

"I think it's a 350." he said, adding "Wow."

I said;

"My dad motorbiked across Europe on it after the war. He rode it all the way to East Germany and tried to defect to the Soviet Union."

The man didn't reply, he was trying to read the number on the bike's petrol tank. I went on;

"My dad was very idealistic. He believed that communism was best for a fair and peaceful world."

The man replied;

"The first number looks like a '3', so It's probably a 350."

I continued;

"Of course back then we didn't know about the terrible things Stalin was doing to his own people. Good job they didn't let him in, or else he'd probably have ended up in a Gulag. And I wouldn't be here."

The young man ended the 'chat' by saying;

"They don't make 'em like that any more."

He framed it for me and it's hanging in the kitchen. I often look at it and remember my dad.

I also remember the young man, who had such an impossible task getting his heart to wake up to the concept of 'dad'. Why was he deaf to the word 'dad'?  It was worse than deaf, it was almost a dead word to him. Why did the person in the picture mean nothing to him compared to the machine?

I expect his relationship with his dad was what we call 'normal'; probably fair to average. I doubt he'd been taken into care or anything drastic, but it reminds me how difficult it must be for fostered children to think about their parents - if a 'normal' lad struggles to picture someone else's dad but instead displaces the concept in his head with motor bikes.

Bottom line for me in fostering is this; I never, ever ask. If they mention their folks I'm happy to go along but what we talk about and how we talk is in their control.

Even so it's a fair bet there'll be some anger shortly afterwards...



Thursday, August 27, 2020

A LEVELS AND FOSTER CHILDREN

There's this flippin' TV ritual every summer, happens about halfway through the school holidays. As a foster mum  it's started to get my goat.

Happens every summer, usually a Thursday, 6.00am. A level results come out. Breakfast TV sends cameras and reporters to schools for pictures of delighted kids, proud parents. By lunchtime it's still a 'hot' story because the 'experts' have crunched the numbers find an issue, maybe; this years results are up (they always seem to be) and by how much (not a lot, usually). Whatever, they transmit plenty of footage of well-to-do kids (sorry, they always are) all excited about their results.

The results are still the big story come the evening news with an "Education Correspondent" on hand to 'analyse' things. More shots of well-groomed kids all ga-ga  about their results.

The following morning's newspapers carry 'news' of the exam results in the form of opinion columnists along the lines of 'are our exams getting soft' or some other stirring up of things. And images of ecstatic kids, who've done good

What gets my goat? It's that the whole reporting buys into the shaky presumption that good A level results=your choice of Uni=a good degree=a good job=lifelong security and … happiness.

That's why A Level result day is TV pictures of squealing kids opening envelopes and jumping with glee, lads sagely reflecting on a future with British Steel then a proud parent steps into the shot to hug and kiss and imply their everyone's dream has come true. 

I used to do a bit of journalism; the "A Level Results day" news story is a sacred one for newsrooms for two reasons; One, there's not much else going on in August. Two; the 'news' is selected and served up by journalists; people who themselves have A levels, people who remember their A levels and have children or family who are going to sit, have just sat, or recently sat A levels. It's a big deal for them personally so they reckon the rest of us are similarly wrapped up in them. Plus they can spin it as a 'positive' news story (did TV ever show a kid look at the bit of paper and fill up saying they blew it?)

I'm not impressed because my foster kids aren't bothered, in fact the exact opposite.

The succession of shiny kids from comfy homes with supportive  parents is great. Good luck to them; though they need less luck than the rest. It's galling for the kids who got no start in life and find the gap between themselves and the fortunate ones already too big to close. 

The kids in care.

Where's the coverage of them and their crossroads in life? The kids who have no exams, no tag onto life because their home life was rubbish? Not ever in the news. Tucked away in 'documentaries' scheduled against Eastenders and Coronation St.

Where's the reporters outside their door going; 

"Well done for staying out of jail this year."

The proud parent saying "Yeah she done really good, so proud of her for staying off drugs and looking after her gran."

Which is often a bigger achievement than an A level B grade…





Tuesday, August 25, 2020

FOSTER CHILDREN AND THEIR MUM

He was worried about his mum. He didn't come to me and say 'I'm worried about my mum', you have to work these things out for yourself.

He was late home after going out to see friends. The late thing was no big deal, worth a word but he barked back;

"Fer f's sake, gimme a break!"

You never know what's boiling up in foster children, nor do they generally.

I could have said something like;

"Don't talk to me like that!"

or:

"Language!"

Stupid to go there, so I went something like;

"Alright fella, sort yourself out, I can warm up your dinner, about half an hour?"

He'd been knocking round with a bunch of mates, hanging round places like the high street War Memorial - not many other places to go at his age - then getting an invite to go to the house of one of the gang and hang.

The mum was in the house.

He talked to me about her when dinner was done.

"Yeah," he said, "She was cool. She made us some sandwiches and juice. When she went out to the kitchen we made some jokes about how she was like y'know and, yeah, one of us was inappropriate, not me."

We talked for half an hour, it's the heart of fostering. 

He knew that his mum was somehow not right about men and so males talking in a certain way about females made him feel uncomfortable, but not in a way he understood.

The thing was this; I knew there was no way that in the short space of talking about how he felt about his friends talking about mums the conversation was going to nail anything for him. But it could be a start, so I kind of said;

"Complicated, sons and their mums."

He got up and walked upstairs, saying; ".."

What I mean by the above is he said nothing, but the way he shifted his chair behind him and buried his hands in the pockets…those things were enough.

I knew from his background notes that his mother was all over the place; drink, drugs, theft, dubious men - she was vulnerable, sadly, but also something of a danger to her children. 

He had every right to resent her for her failings as a mother. Especially whejn he saw another person's mum being okay.

But he loved her and wanted to be with her to protect her; it's a common trait in fostered children and one which we carers find a bit frustrating...at first.

Then we come to see how wonderful it is, how empowering and uplifting.

He even got upset when a mate of his said something bad about another mate's mum, that was the thing.

A while later I reminded him that his mum is okay and that if she had any problems he'd be the first to know.





Saturday, August 15, 2020

COUNTING SHEEP

Some people in fostering stick in the mind. I'm often reminded of one particular foster dad I met a while ago at a support meeting. Blue Sky set these sessions up and a Blue Sky person or two are in attendance but tend to take a back seat and let us foster parents sound off. They hop into the conversation as and when we need a professional steer or a top-up of facts or information.

This dad was nearing retirement age but quite new to fostering. He started talking about the child he was looking after. I think it was his second placement, the first one had been just for a few days. He had previously worked in the NHS, some kind of nurse. 

He was a man who sat arms crossed, chin on chest, talking out loud and not taking anyone's eye. He spoke softly and you could tell that a joke or maybe a gentle twinkle of insight was never far away.

The reason I often think of him is because he said;

"I'm  no stranger to night work. Hospitals don't know night from day so you feel ready for a kip at 2.00 o'clock whether it's 2.00am or 2.00pm. Back when I was  a squaddie I stood sentry through the night in Berlin, first line of defence against the Red menace. That was all nothing compared to fostering this lad. I can go weeks of thinking I've not had a good night's sleep."

He made a good point. When a new carer starts in fostering they often find it hard to get into a deep sleep, what with a largely unknown child in the spare room. Hardly surprising. 

Whenever a new child arrives we make sure they know where we sleep and that it's ok to tap on our door if they wake up frightened, that helps them sleep.

We also make sure the front and back doors are all locked; we've never had anyone wander off but worth being sure. I also keep their bedroom door ajar, even the older ones are fine with that, and the landing light on too. 

I find myself waking up at odd times and instead of turning over and going back I lie there listening, sometimes even get up and sneak a peek into their room to make sure they're okay.

One night I remember well, way back, I couldn't get back to sleep, it was about 4.00am.

I slipped out of bed, put my dressing gown on over my fostering sleep-clothes (track suit bottoms and a tee shirt) sneaked a peek at the sleeping child and went downstairs and boiled the kettle.

Five minutes later, sitting at the kitchen table, I heard the creak of the stairs. It was the child, looking tousled from sleep but plainly, VERY plainly, delighted that someone else was awake and they weren't alone.

I fetched her a bowl of Shreddies and we sat and talked - it was one of those great talks between foster mum and child. No holds barred, everything on the table, honesty was all.

She had been in the process of coming over to us; there comes a passage of time when a foster child feels themselves able to give some sort of commitment to their fostering. It shows in different ways, sometimes a decision to call me 'Mum", taking sides with either me or my husband in an argument about nothing, buying something to enhance their bedroom such as a poster.

This child crossed the bridge that night/morning, I slept better too.

Of course, we all made sure she was ready to cross back to her real family when the time came, which it did.

And a new foster child was with us not long after. 

Back to waking up every couple of hours...









Sunday, August 09, 2020

CONTACT JOY

So we had a strange 'contact' meeting between eldest foster child and a couple of members of his real family.

We had to do it outdoors, so we met up in a park. 

We had to keep our distance so we laid out cushions on blankets 2 metres apart.

We brought some snacks, still in their wrappers, which we sprayed with anti-bacteria and wiped dry as we handed them round.

Sounds like a nightmare? Yes, but it wasn't. It was delightful. 

Much better than normal contact meetings. Normal contact meetings between 'children in care and their significant others' are just as sterile as they sound, described like that…

They happen in contact centres which are either designated buildings or rented spaces with token chairs and used toys and posters blue tacked to the wall informing about the services that social services offer. Or else they get jazzed up by happening at a 'fun' venue such as one of those places with thousands of balls you can dive into.

One way or the other, contacts are artificial. The participants often feel singled out as different from everyone else; because only children in care have 'contact'.

Our meet-up in the park was gloriously the same as everyone else. We didn't stand out at all. No-one would have guessed it was anything other than an extended family having fun and behaving responsibly. I've never heard a better natter between a foster child and his elder sister, they bonded better than I ever thought possible;

"Heard from mum?"

"Nothing. Does anyone know where she is?"

"Nah, you know what she's like."

"I kind of hope she's alright."

"Yeah, I suppose. You alright?"

"Yeah not bad. How's school?"

"Good. I like working at home. How's work?"

"Good thanks, except I have to work every other weekend.."

And so on and so on. Beautiful. 

Then we played a socially distanced game of cricket. Brilliant.

When we got home eldest foster child was happy as could be.

The pandemic is dreadful, spreading death and illness, fear and mistrust. 

All I'm saying is that our last contact was one of the best ever, should be a blueprint for a happier healthier future.