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.



Friday, March 27, 2020

LOCKDOWN = CRISIS FOR FOSTERING?

There's enough to worry about what with everything at the moment (the virus lockdown etc). I don't want to add another concern.

But I haven't heard this one mentioned yet, so I'm going to.

When I started fostering one of the most surprising things was when I learned that more children come into care between December 25th and January 2nd than any other time of the year.

It surprised me because I'd assumed it was the season of goodwill in every home, a time of the family coming together…but no.

It turns out that when some families are cooped up together with nothing to do but eat and drink it can bring out the worst in them; jealousies, old rivalries, simmering resentments - the list is endless, and the breakdown happens over a period of 12 days.

So - and here's my point - what's going to happen in suchlike families when they have even less scope to get out and are cooped up for 12 WEEKS.

OR EVEN LONGER!!!

We're less than a week into lockdown here in the UK and the media are bombarding us with serious stuff about how to look out for the elderly and vulnerable - quite right too. There are lighthearted features on what to do to pass the time. But what about the physically fit and healthy but daggers-drawn families  more used to a lock-in or a lock-up than a lockdown?

One thing's for sure; there's not a lot anyone can do to prevent such families from boiling over. Their problems are usually deep-rooted and intractable. So; if it it's going to happen it's going to happen.

About the only thing we foster carers can do is hope and pray that more people come into fostering.

And that the government, which seems to have discovered a forest of money trees, can help with the cost.

Everything else, let's hope, will get back to normal eventually. The stock market will 'bounce back' (don't it always?). Premier League football will be on 7 days a week again, queues will concertina up again, toilet rolls will be available again.

The child who has to stay with a dangerously chaotic family because the only place they can be housed is the local police station cells, may never be the same again.



Thursday, March 19, 2020

SOMEONE LIVING IN OUR FRONT GARDEN

Fostering, like life, is full of surprises. No-one saw the Covid-19 coming.

If you're reading this a considerable time after it was posted you'll know how the virus thing turned out.  

I suppose if you're reading this a considerable after it was posted that means that we got through it. It seems certain that we didn't get through it without the tragedy and tears of loss. Back in March 19th 2020 - today - we could only hope the loss of life will be minimal.

At the moment of writing this it's 6.30am in the morning and everyone else is asleep. It's a Thursday which would normally mean the house would be shifting about with hangdog people giving off theatrical lethargy and a controlled edginess pointed at the person cajoling them to get off on time.

Not this morning. Today is the day following the UK government's announcment that schools are to be closed from tomorrow until further notice. The announcement was made about 5.00pm yesterday afternoon after my brood had spent a tense time awaiting the news with hope in their hearts.

Eldest foster child was indignant;

"If Scotland and Wales can close their schools why can't we?"

To my surprise he listened to my attempt to answer that.

When the announcement was made the house experienced a new mood. A mood that can only be brought on by such news as this; no school for the foreseeable future!

I'm happy too. I love it when the house is full of life. But it's  not unmitigated joy, there are people in pain and fear, plus the person I love is living in our front garden.

What has happened is this;

My other half, who I've been with through thick and thin for three decades, has an old respiratory condition. When he was a child he was given a vaccine against polio but it backfired and he got polio. They thought he might never walk again, but he beat it and although he'll never run any marathons you wouldn't know his past from the spring in his step.

Polio, it turns out, often never fully leaves the victim. It's ghost can return in what they call post-polio syndrome. One of the symptoms can be respiratory problems. Which, should he contract Covid-19, could make him vulnerable.

In the middle of the night before last he felt hot, then went feverish. He had a headache, sore throat and achy limbs. His work takes him to a number of different workplaces, and one of them has an employee who tested positive about ten days ago.

We didn't panic, but he had to isolate.

We are VERY lucky in that we've got a little motor home, in fact we were due to go away for a couple of nights soon. But instead of being a holiday home on wheels, our motorhome has become an isolation unit on wheels.

He moved in straight away, about 6.30am yesterday. His temperature was 37.8C, a tad below the virus warning number.

I cleaned and sprayed everything he might have touched in the house and kept up a manic regime; every time I walked past the kitchen sink I washed my hands.

I texted the kids in their bedrooms and got a really nice reply from eldest foster child, a young man not famous for his kindness and consideration, but it's in there. He replied;

"I hope he's okay."

Doesn't sound much but it was. In fostering, no matter how crazy life gets, you are always looking for for fostering's many good moments.

Next thing I called Blue Sky (their offices open at 9.00am though you can get them any time of day or night if you need to). Their first words were the same as my foster son's. They said they'd inform my Blue Sky social worker who I'd met with three days before. She was going on leave that very morning however her holiday of a lifetime to Thailand was called off at the last minute.

Everyone's lives are all over the place.

I didn't get much rest with him in the van, me passing him things he needed (paracetamol, a fresh battery for the thermometer) through the drivers side window, then coming inside and…washing my hands. His temperature crept down, his headache softened. All day I was geared up and ready to call our surgery to see if they had any test kits, but he never reached a point of distress.

This morning I opened the bedroom curtains and looked down. He saw me from the motorhome and waved. We texted. He was on his first cuppa. His temperature was 37.3C, still a bit high for him. Headache a bit better, still pounding. Most of all; no dry cough - or at least no more of a dry cough than he's had a long time now.

I made him a sausage sandwich and passed it in through the window without touching his hand.

Got to go, the downstairs is filled with children claiming there's no point going to school today as half the staff are off and tomorrow - the last day - will be a short day anyway. 

Take care.







Tuesday, March 17, 2020

CORONAVIRUS AND FOSTERING

Blue Sky have been keeping us Foster Carers informed of what the Coronavirus means to us; all the good old-fashioned common sense stuff, but I thought I'd pass on a titbit of my own that came home from school via eldest foster child.

The child in question has a love hate relationship with school; he hated it for a long, long time. He hated it until we got to the bottom of why he hated it. When we did we fixed it and it's stayed fixed. What happened was that we finally worked out that when we sent him to school he felt deep down that we were trying to get rid of him. I guess it must seem like that to a lot of children whether they are aware of it or not.

Anyhow, using the truth and hammering home the fact that we LOVED having him in the house, that we HATED it when he went off to school, that we LONGED for half past four when he's thumping through the front door like a bear with a sore head. We repeated over and over that our home is a HAPPIER home when he's in it, and SAD and BORING for everyone when he's out at school. And he went and did just what anyone would dream of doing but most of us chicken out. Not him. He called our bluff, in case it was a bluff.

He stayed home. Morning after morning he'd come down in his uniform and we'd go;

"No! Don't go to school! Please stay home…!' Etc etc.

So he did!

For nearly three weeks!

Boy did we have some explaining to do to attendance officers and their suchlike, but they got it and…it worked. One morning he came down and said;

'I've had enough of you lot all day, you're smothering me!'

And off he strode, and now has an 80% attendance record and climbing, and more important, is a much happier bunny.

That said, he's mad keen on the idea of schools closing for the virus. Just like the rest of them, except those that have to sit public exams and have geared themselves up for the angst and endeavour and don't know (at the time of writing) what is going to happen.

Today, for example, in our house, eldest foster child is going into school at 11.00am. He has permission to do half-days as one of his problems with school is large numbers of people such as you get at assembly, and fear of appearing different which he feels he would do if he were excused assembly. Plus, he has a history exam and he wants to do it! Result!

So, what's my titbit? He tells us that students (his school is a regular secondary but they prefer 'students' to 'pupils') are requested not bring in alcohol-based ant-bac gels and sprays. Guess why.

No, go on, see if you can guess.

Alcohol based…

Yep.

They've been necking it behind the bike sheds (stupid - tell everyone it's stupid) …and they make you feel sick (surprise).

Just when you thought you'd heard it all...


Wednesday, March 11, 2020

HOW DID YOU GET INTO FOISTERING?


When a new foster child arrives you generally get a visit from the nurse. Children coming into care are often less than 100% physically, never mind about emotionally.

Weight is often a problem. None of us needs a nurse to tell us if a child is overweight or worse, but when the nurse, all uniformed up and carrying medical stuff tells a child to eat their broccoli it saves us carers a job, at least for a while. 

One or two are underweight, that can be a sign of a different type of neglect, and the child needs good food and plenty of it.  Nothing wrong in my book with treating such a child to a welcome Big Mac, so long as the rest of the house doesn't get jealous.

Sometimes they have slight co-ordination problems - nothing serious - could be a slight issue with balance or mobility. It usually wears off after a few weeks good eating and…proper exercise. I don't think I've ever had a foster child who had ever been on a nice long Sunday walk.

The nurse who called the other day was one I'd not met before. After examining the child she sat down at the kitchen table next to me and asked a question I usually only get asked by people thinking of fostering;

'So how did you get into fostering?'

When I worked at Debenhams nobody asked; 'So how did you end up behind the cosmetic counter?'

Fostering needs more carers, simple as that. I used to keep my fostering to myself, but now I'm happy to tell people about it's many plusses and its occasional minuses.

When they ask how you got into it it's often a signal they are thinking about it. 

Similarly we had to have some police involvement with a foster child about a year and a half ago. It was down to the child's family, not the child, but two officers paid us a visit. I have always, always found them magnificent when they find out they are dealing with fostering. As they got up to go the younger of the two officers waited back and said to me;

'This is exactly the type of thing I joined the police force to do. You've made me think that further down the line I'd like to foster.'

So how did I get into it? I thought about fostering for a bit then decided to take the bull by the horns, and I telephoned Blue Sky. 

That's how I got into fostering. I stopped thinking about it and did something about it.

And yes, I'm suggesting that if you're thinking about it you do the same.





Wednesday, February 26, 2020

NEW SCHOOL

One of my foster children started a new school a few weeks ago. I have a shorter drive on the school run but I leave at the same time and make use of the spare moments. I still wait in the playground until they ring the bell in the morning.

None of the other parents talked to me at first, they all had their own little gatherings. I stood by myself and watched the children, mainly my own child, who at first stayed with me but quickly managed to break into one of the friendship groups which was a joy to see.

So the child would run off as soon as we arrived in the playground and I got to do some people watching. Little people watching.

The first thing I noticed is that the boys hog the centre ground, the girls stick to the edges. The boys zoom around more, the older ones acting like they're the oldest. A game of football takes up the very middle bit, I couldn't work out how they decided each time who was on which team, I think it was probably the same sides every day. Reassuringly there were two girls who played every day. If the other girls played anything at all it was skipping, and that didn't attract mixed-gender.

I always found my eyes wandering to the little lost souls. Always have, always will. Perhaps it reminds me of how it was to be me when I was a junior - I was moved schools and for the first year in the new school I was a loner in the playground.

Nowadays, sadly, it's more normal for a child to have a background issue than not. So called 'broken' homes' (horrid term) are commonplace, single parents abound. That in itself isn't necessarily a problem, but it's likely that there were problems at home surrounding the break-up, and there will still be complications.
Children themselves can be identified as having any number of difficulties ranging from the barely visible (but impairing) such as dyslexia or Aspergers. Some children carry support aids; one boy has hearing aids, others carry their inhaler. Attention Deficit Disorder and Autism aren't grounds for special education when they're diagnosed as being 'on the spectrum'. Other children are overweight, many have allergies.

Many children probably have background issues that haven't yet been identified. Watching children ay play is a great way to get insight.

The reason I mention this is because despite my many years in fostering, I still find it impossible to spot another child who is in foster care from those that aren't.  There are so many reasons why almost every child sticks out that the foster child is pretty much like all the others.

I now enjoy having a chat with the other parents.

School is one of the few places I'm not at pains to point out that I'm the child's foster parent. I often do tell people what I do, if it comes into the conversation, because fostering needs more Carers and people frequently reply that they are thinking about fostering so I give them Blue Sky's number.

The reason I don't bring it up at school is that if I  were to tell parents they might mention it to their children and if the child gets teased about it then it's in part my fault. I don't think I'm over-thinking with this one, you just have to be as considerate as possible of your foster child's right to privacy.

There's one other thing I spotted that's worth mentioning, to do with the parents. Most of us parents go through the school gates and stand on the tarmac playground. A handful of parents do not. For one parent there's a good reason, he has a dog on a lead. Another parent lights up an old-fashioned ciggy as soon as her child is gone - there's good and a bit of bad in that. But, for most of the parents that stay outside the railings, I suspect the reason is sad, a tad dark.

Many people had a rotten time at school. they hardly remember it but they found themselves labelled ' not very clever' or 'a nuisance' or 'badly behaved'. It stays with them, these unpleasant memories. They're the parents who never attend parent evenings, don't engage with their children's education; it hurts them to even think of the concept of school.

A lot of the parents of foster children are like this, I think.

Nothing much can be done, unless one day we make school a good time for all.

Won't happen in my lifetime, that much is certain… oh well..onwards and upwards.

My kid is happier at the new school!





















Thursday, February 20, 2020

COUNTY LINES

Sometimes the training sessions which Blue Sky put on are interesting in themselves, never mind how useful they are to your fostering.

The most recent one I attended ticked both boxes.

It was about something called County Lines, to do with drugs and - specifically - under-age people.

I had no idea how huge the business of selling drugs using kids has become.  If you haven't heard of County Lines hold on to your hat…

County Lines refers to the systems that drug dealers use to break out of their inner city lairs and push their drugs in smaller cities, towns and even villages. Their business model is so well designed, efficient and effective it makes you wish we could harness the dealers' intelligence and endeavour for common good. It works like this;

They use kids to sell to kids, they recruit the junior drug pushers* by coming out and looking for kids who are out of the house at twilight, especially hanging around places like skateparks. They look for the loners, preferably tall lads or girls who can pass for being older than they are. Little ones and those in groups are no good. They befriend the loner. The loner is made up that someone who is three or four years older than them, and who dresses cool, seems to like him or her.

Next time they meet up the pusher has a couple of bottles of beer and gives one to the victim. The time after that the pusher has some cigarettes and they share.

The next time it's a joint.

The next time they meet the pusher has bought them a pair of trainers like his own, £150 ones. He explains he has money because he does odd jobs for a bloke. He offers a job to the victim, all they have to do is take a parcel by train over to another town and deliver it to someone who'll be waiting in a fast food outlet.

If asked the pusher says the parcel contains sherbet. The victim will earn £100. They have to go towards the end of the day, when it's dark; they do everything at twilight. They do the job.

The delivery might entail crossing from one county into another. Drug gangs use this trick because it means crossing county lines, and when that happens it makes things harder for the police to tie everything together because our police forces are organised along county lines. When the jurisdiction of criminal activity is complicated the inquiries are much harder - records have to be shared manually, the question of which county any misdemeanour occurred is difficult, the red tape and protocols get in the way of proper policing.

The pusher keeps the victim supplied with whatever substances they are getting hooked on, and starts the victim recruiting more victims. The victim must get themselves a cell of customers who place regular orders. They are advised to go for kids who are disaffected, whose parents don't mind where they are after dark and possibly don't care. Maybe the parents don't mind their children being out because they can do some recreational drugs themselves.

Now the dealers start to make their real money. The victim has maybe one or two or three cells of half a dozen kids in each who they can use as customers and also to help  distribute the drugs. But the pushers have them where they want them because they tell them that the bill for all the drugs they've given them for personal use comes to several hundreds of pounds.

And if they don't start paying it off there'll be big trouble.

Now the victim is terrified, can't go to the police or tell anybody. They are not only working for free, they are handing over any profits made on the drugs they are selling to pay off their debts.

This next bit is particularly shocking; one other way they can pay off their debt is by agreeing to have sex with whoever the dealers choose.

If they can't pay they are in big danger because the dealers need to make sure their terror is real. Anytime you hear on the news of a kid stabbed or shot, there's a chance that it's connected to county lines.

Things have got so bad for some victims that they are taken into care and removed - hundreds of miles away - to where they can be given a new identity and can't be found by the dealers.

By any other name it's pyramid selling of the most appalling sort, and it's hugely important that Foster Carers know what to look out for since teenagers in care are perfect for recruitment.

I said 'teenagers' back there, I've just remembered that our excellent lecturer for this five star training session told us that County Lines is starting to recruit kids from junior schools...


* the pusher can be male or female  depending on who they are targeting….