Monday, November 11, 2019

COULD THE ROYALS FOSTER?

Fostering; it's just real life.

People who are thinking of becoming Foster Carers often seem worried that they have a cluttered past and lack the magic ingredient, whatever that is.

To tackle the first worry; everyone has a cluttered past. I always say 'Look at the Royal Family'. Whatever you think of them as an institution or as individuals, they are probably the most cluttered family any of us could name, and they keep going.

The fascinating question is; would they get approval as Foster Carers?

If the answer is 'No' it's surely because any child placed with them would be shoved into a fierce spotlight.

But if you take the' Royal' out of them, and they are just another family, what would Blue Sky say to them as people wishing to foster?

LIZ AND PHIL

Probably older than anyone else in fostering. Cluttered up to the nines for sure but Liz  could mind mice at a crossroads. They've probably rubbed each other up the wrong way plenty of times but like most of their generation they kept it too themselves and  just got on with being married. They'd need their placement children to be not too engergetic. So -in theory - YES.

CHAZ AND CAMMY

He didn't do a bad job bringing up two boys, seems a bit eccentric but in a lovable way surely. So what if he talks to his plants? She seems like a sensible rock. Clutter; they had an affair behind his first wife's back -  so what? That was years ago, and their ship seems to have righted. They're solid now. YES

ANNE AND TIMBO

She's a good stick eh? Head screwed on. Divorced, yes, but who isn't these days. YES

ANDY AND ?

Plenty of clutter, but nothing to disqualify him. Problem is…would he want to? You have to have it in you. HE'D FIND A WAY TO PUT HIMSELF OFF

ED AND FAMILY

Young family, if you foster while your children are young you just have to remember your children even more than before. YES

BILL AND CATH

Lovely couple. He has every right to be a bit skew-whiff, his mother was all over the place and came to a tragic early death. But she clearly loved him and he understands parental love. Again, young family.  BIG YES.

HAZZA AND MEG

Mr and Mrs Clutter. He's been round the block, tough as old boots, but sensitive too. She's seen it all before too, what's more theirs is a home where diversity is appreciated. If I was Blue Sky and these two offered I'd bite their hand off. MONSTER YES

Yeah yeah, I know they've never had to hold down a job or pay a mortgage. I'm looking past that stuff and looking at them as potential Foster Carers - as people who can offer good parenting to other people's children.

You NEED to have been round the block a couple of times because the children who will be coming to you have been round the block a few times too, and it'll help you understand what's going on for them if you've experienced things going on for you.

The Royal Family's clutter would not be a drawback, it would be a credential.

A person or a couple could easily put themselves off applying to foster by worrying that their past is less than perfect. Please, DON'T be. Call someone who will give you a bit of wisdom on it; Blue Sky is as good a place to call as any.

As to the second worry; that there's some magic ingredient you need in fostering; if there is I guess you'd call it by its old-fashioned name.

Love.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

ORDER! OOORDEEER!!!

I don't know about you, I'm having a bit of a tough time explaining the state of the nation to our foster children.

If you're reading this in a country other than the UK, you probably have had a whiff of our wranglings here, basically we've tied ourselves in a heck of a knot about whether to leave the European Union, and now there's a fierce general election going to happen during the run-up to the Christmas holidays - which should be a time of peace and goodwill and general all round happiness.

The subject of what's called Brexit came up at our last Blue Sky support meeting and here's an interesting titbit; when we went around the room the Carers reported that almost all the foster children who had a view mirrored their real family's views: they were Leavers. Their parents had set them straight about that.

They had single-minded views about immigration and uncomplicated views on foreigners meddling with British laws such as the shape of bananas. 

Same with my eldest foster child, Toby, or "Tobes" as everyone calls him. Tobes and my own eldest, Michael, or "Mix" as Tobes calls him, is a Remainer. 

How I long for the good old days of teatime debates over Game of Thrones v Harry Potter, Man Utd v Arsenal etc. Those meaningless arguments which are actually great bonding, especially if the Foster Carer is a good enough moderator. I usually manage to manipulate the thing into a draw before it ever gets personal.

But the Brexit debate - as in many other families I suspect - is testing my judicial skills!

You can almost smell the thing getting ready to kick off as people take their place at the tea table. 

Me; "Did anyone have anything interesting happen at school today?"

Tobes; "Yeah, we found out Mr Purbright is a remoaner."

Mix: "Purbright? Ain't he English?"

Tobes; "Nah, he's a Jock int' he."

Mix; "Nah dimbo, not an Englishman, he does English."

Tobes; "Physics. Dunbar does English, she's a remoaner an' all."

Mix: "Yeah, all our teachers, the ones we've found out about, are for staying in."

Tobes: "Like I said the other day, teachers don't care, their jobs are safe. There ain't no migrants floodin' in and wanting to be teachers."

Mix: "No one's flooding in that was one of the lies."

Tobes; "Yeah? What's that new barbers then?"

Mix; "Where?"

Tobes; "The one next to that weird bar, used to be an ice cream place."

Here comes me with a futile effort to move the conversation onto something less gritty:

Me: "Oh you mean the pop-up bar?" 

Silence.

Our youngest foster child comes in with;

"What's a pop-up bar?"

Me: "It's a bar where you can buy drinks but only at certain times because…"

Tobes; "It's Europeans innit."

Mix: "Yeah but Boris said there'd be 3 million more he did. Din't he mum?"

THIS IS THE CRUCH  TIME, EVERY TIME. EITHER ME OR MY OTHER HALF GET DRAGGED IN ON A POINT OF ORDER AND WHOEVER WE CONFIRM TAKES IT THAT WE'RE ON THEIR SIDE.

I try;

Me: "Well, it's certainly claimed by some of those who want to stay that at one point during the referendum debate someone on the Leave side suggested that any new country joining the EU would have the right of free movement, however I never heard it myself, not personally, and…"

Basically I go on and on for a bit and tire them out. At some point during my ramble I might be lucky enough to stumble on something that sparks a different conversation, luckily on this ocassion the diversion had already been signposted;

Youngest foster child: "Why do they call them POP-UP?"

Tobes: "Yeah. It's not like they sell pop do they?"

Youngest; "What's pop?"

Mix: "It's what they used to call fizzy drinks in the old days."

And we were off on another tack. What's the worst fizzy drink?  Answer Cherry Coke. Is diet Pepsi as good? Why is Fanta so good with pizza? and so on.

There's a serious point here though. My children are worried because they've picked up the fears of so many adults, but misunderstood them. All the adults I know who are committed one way or the other only really fear one thing. They fear being on the losing side. Pathetic in my book, but the problem is that our vulnerable kids are picking up the vibe that terrible things await them for the rest of their lives if Brexit goes the wrong way. 

So as with all things troubling them, I try to offer reassurance and paint a picture of a positive future no matter the outcome of this little spat.

Oh, and if you know who I'm talking about I'll miss John Bercow, the retiring speaker; my version of his cry of "Order!" will continue to echo round our kitchen table for some time to come.


Friday, October 25, 2019

LITTLE THINGS THAT MAKE FOSTERING

Natasha was seven when she arrived at our house, at about 4.30 in the afternoon as I remember. 

The social worker who had supervised bringing her into care parked up outside our house, got out and opened the rear door of the car. I’m afraid when a new child is due I'm a bit of a curtain twitcher, eager to get my first glimpse of the child. It's probably nothing more noble than raw curiosity, but I tell myself I like to start my fostering the minute I clap eyes on the new child and get as many clues as to what they might be like and what their needs might be.

Natasha was quite sad, sad and slight. She had a lot of hair which fell over her eyes, eyes that were downcast. Foster children are almost always trepidatious on arrival. She did glance up halfway up the path I remember the look on her face as she took in the view of the house, a look of apprehension, certainly not hope or relief. 

The reason I remember the Tasha arrival is because of what happened next. Natasha froze, her tiny feet planted on my concrete path. With her free hand the poor girl tried to prise her fingers out from the hand of the Social Worker who stood firm. I resisted the obvious impulse to rush out and help but held back and watched. The Social Worker crouched down so that her eyes were level with Tasha's and the Social Worker's other hand went out behind Natasha‘s head and started gently stroking. I couldn't see the tears but I could guess Natasha was crying silently because the Social Worker fished a tissue from her cardigan's sleeve and dabbed  beneath the little girl's eyes.

It was such a touching sight I could feel my own emotions getting the better of me and I wanted to rush out and sweep the little girl up but the Social Worker was doing her social work very gently with Natasha and it was working. She waited 'til Tasha calmed down, I saw Natasha nod her head. Then the social worker gently picked her up and set off towards my front door carrying Tasha.  My doorbell went and I opened the door not sure whether to do my usual trick of crouching down to the child's eye-level because the child might still be in the social workers arms at adult eye-level but when I opened the door with my gentlest smile and my softest voice I took in that Natasha was standing next to the Social worker. So I dropped down and said; "Hello you must be Natasha, come in both of you. Natasha I’ve got something for you in the kitchen which I think you might like so slip your shoes off and come through."

I always have a little welcoming present for a new child, something to play with while the Social Worker and I finish up whatever business is needed, and I ask the child to slip off their shoes as the signal they're at home. If the Social Worker asks shall I take my shoes off I say no that’s alright visitors can keep the shoes on. 

As it turned out Natasha was more interested in the dear dog we had at the time and the handover went very smoothly. The Social Worker told Natasha that she would come and see her to make sure she was settling in in a few days. And settle she did And probably would’ve done so anyway - without all the tiny bits of effort - she was a tough cookie. But when you’ve been fostering for awhile and had a few placements you find yourself using the little things that you’ve learnt such as not to rush out on the street, to be down at their eye-level when you open the door, soft smile, little gift, shoes off. Oh there's others; their favourite meal for tea (served out in bowls on the table so people can help themselves thus avoiding the stress of an over-full plate or other food fears), make sure they know the bathroom and how to flush. 

Blue Sky run lots of fantastic training sessions, but the little details; especially the ones that are specific to me and my own character and personality and views about parenting and fostering, which I think are the spine of the job, things that are about the moment, you can't really be trained to do.

I was talking about this with my other half of the weekend. He's a, incorrigible football fan; past help really. He said it doesn’t matter how much training a team does in the week, when the whistle goes it’s up to the players to use the training to help them make the right decisions minute by minute as the game goes along. In the end the little decisions are the game-changers and it's down to the players.

I've about reached half-time in my fostering and I like to think we're in the lead.

Monday, October 14, 2019

A LITTLE RESPITE FOSTERING

It's a Monday morning and I'm up early because we had an emergency/respite child arrive out of the blue late Friday night and she's due to go home first thing this morning. To be precise the plan is for her to be taken straight to school to give her foster family an extra 8 hours to right their ship before the child arrives at their excellent and wonderful foster home.

It's a fallacy that a foster home has to be some kind of a cross between a 5 star hotel and a goody-two-shoes show home. Life has its ups and downs for everyone and we in fostering are no different, no better, no worse. Indeed our homes need to be as normal as possible or else the period a child spends with us would be the equivalent of being wrapped in cotton wool and put in storage.

We've only had the child - Becky - here for a couple of days and nights but we offer attachment and engagement from the very start even if we know the child will be departing shortly. I'll admit I wasn't sure at the start of my fostering whether that was the right thing to do, but a Blue Sky training session put me right.  Just as an aside, at the same training session the child psychologist was of the view that we should see ourselves as foster mums and foster dads rather than foster carers. In the expert's view a child in fostering needs a parent figure more than a person who offers only care. It might seem like splitting hairs, but I think my fostering has been improved by seeing myself as their surrogate mum, and in any case 'care' has connotations which children might pick up, whereby the cared-for are somehow unwell or disabled.

Becky is a picture of sweet peace and compliance, but you can tell that if she wanted to she could look after herself. For example; on Saturday tea time I passed around a plate of chocolate digestives and everybody took one. One of my other foster kids was having a debate with one of my own sons about football, it was an old argument, heated but sufficiently mutual for me to let them get on with it. Suddenly the foster lad pointed out of the window and when my lad turned he reached over and took a small nibble out of his biscuit and put it back on the plate. Becky was sitting next to the foster lad and saw it all.

What she did next is still tickling me. She'd already eaten half her biscuit, and in the confusion she switched her half-biscuit for the whole one on the foster child's plate. She moved so fast, like a card sharp, I could barely believe I'd seen it.

The foster child looked down at his plate and the half-biscuit and said "Hey..what the..where did..?" He looked around the table to see who was chewing; but no-one was.

Becky caught my eye and gave me a look that was the equivalent of a knowing wink, I don't think kids wink any more, but they can widen their eyes and wear a tiny smirk which is the same thing.

Good for her!

She going soon, I'll wake her up in plenty of time.

I'll get her some breakfast and drive her across town to her school, then she's on her own. I've packed her a packed lunch. It's got a chocolate biscuit in it. I don't need to write a note explaining that I got her payback joke. She's as bright as any button and she'll get it.

It's what I do for my own children who are with me for life, what I do for every foster child whether they're here for weeks, months or years. Or in Becky's case two nights.

Treat them to everything a parent should give a child; attachment, engagement, love and laughter.

And if they show a sense of social justice, combined with a sense of humour make sure they know you know and that you respect them for it.






Monday, September 30, 2019

RUMINATIONS

Saw my first commercial for Christmas today (September 30th)

We're supposed to moan about over-early Christmas advertising, but deep down I love Christmas so it put a spring in my step.

Christmas, if you foster, is a mixed bag.

You probably won't be surprised to learn that more children are taken into care over Christmas than at any other time of the year. The experts say that the coming together of family tensions, alcohol and raw sentimentality tips many families over the edge. Plus the fact that families are crammed together for several days with nothing to do except "ruminate".

"Ruminating" is one of our worst habits. We all do it, but some do it worse than others. It's what you do when you think over and over about something that bugs you. The something is often almost less than minimal. It might be a one-off put-down that the woman on the supermarket checkout probably didn't mean but it annoyed you and as you walked away you started going over and over it in your mind, trying to re-write the moment so that you come out triumphant.

When adults ruminate we are always the heroes of the moment. Our enemies are overcome by our moral superiority and crushed by our wit and elan. It's a pleasant thought process that beats real life.

But it' can be a central cause of the conflicts and breakdowns that overshadow Christmas for many chaotic families.

So, this is what happened one Christmas in our house;

The phone rang. On Christmas Day. It was Blue Sky (fostering never sleeps nor has any knowledge of the concept of public holidays). The duty placement officer asked the time-honoured question;

"Would you be willing to take a child who…"

The child in question needed a bed because her family had 'broken down'. 

What had happened was this; the family consisted of a single mum with three children by three different fathers. None of the fathers supported their children in any way, not financially or emotionally. They were never on the scene except for one of the dads (Dad A) who showed up from time to time for a night in the sack. Then there was a different dad (B) who was after money or maybe some of the other goodies that the mum sometimes had or dealt with in order to supplement her benefit income. Dad C was person unknown.

My guess is that none of these 'dads' had any family of their own to go to for Christmas. I'm not going  to defend their treatment of the mum or their children, but it's probable that these poor men had been brought up in chaos. 

And when might they feel that the worst?

Flippin' Christmas.

What had happened was that they'd all showed up at the mum's flat. All three of them. Poor men, pining for the childhoods they'd never had, standing at the door with badly wrapped presents. Not all together, that would be sitcom time. One of the dads (B) showed up on Christmas Eve out of the blue, but was angered that one of the other dads (A) was already there. The dad who was already there had taken the trouble to phone and negotiate spending Christmas in the flat. He was the one who showed up for bed. There was a flare-up, obviously, but a peace was achieved. Dad B slept on the sofa, Dad A got the double bed and the mum. Unbelievably at 3.00am Dad B heard a knocking at the window, it was Dad C. 

Dad C had last been heard of doing tractor work in Herefordshire. His own father had been killed in a farm machine accident which is recorded on the information I received but details of which I won't pass on. I wish I didn't know it but I do.

Dad C slept on the armchair in the same room as Dad B. 

None of the dads slept much. In their befuddled alcohol-affected minds they drifted in and out of ruminations.  In their worlds each of them were the ones in the right. The other two men were robber-baron thieves and they themselves were the superhero. So in the morning...

…there was an altercation. Neighbours called the police (who, like Foster Carers, never sleep)…there were tears but no laughter.

Flippin' heck, it's Christmas Day remember? 

The most wonderful day of the year?

None of the three dads had done enough to be arrested, but all three could not be trusted not to return to the flat, they had nowhere else to go. So the children were deemed at significant risk. Hence my phone rang, and my family moved one chair each around in the living room and made another space on the sofa. I remember we watched "Home Alone" and the kid laughed and went soppy like the rest of us.

They are darn tough cookies these kids.

It's just that they don't need to be, so young.

They've got us though.

And we've got fostering.

We've got Christmas too, and hopefully enough self-awareness to stomp on ruminations when they pop into our heads.

That kind of placement is called emergency fostering by the way, it's a calling and I don't do it at the moment because I have some steady placements right now and sudden arrivals and departures can throw them. But if you're thinking about becoming a Foster Carer, emergency care and respite care is a good way in.

Talk to Blue Sky.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

NICE FEEDBACK

I hope you'll forgive the slightly whacky last couple of posts, it's just that from the moment our new puppy ('Friday') arrived I was totally struck by how similar her situation is to that of a newly-arrived foster child at the home of a newly approved Foster Carer.

I had to get inside Friday's head to anticipate her needs in a new home and it's helped my fostering.

It's not a pudding that wants over-egging, but as a seasoned foster mum I've welcomed many children into our house. Most of the fostering things I do these days I've done before and I pretty much know that they work (well, about 90% work...) I'm probably getting wise and practised about most events that might crop up. However the matter of welcoming a new young puppy dog is not something I've done for 15 years, so there's little I have to draw on what to do. 

I have to be alert all day (and night) to meet her needs. I have to THINK -on my feet.

Takes me right back to my first year in fostering when everything was new. I'd forgotten how exhausting it can be; not just the caring but the planning and the responding. Then there's the business of digesting a vertical learning curve.

Then there's the emotions. No two ways about it, there's some stress at first.

One big difference is this; at the end of a long day of peeing in the wrong place and chewing through a phone charger lead and dragging an entire plant in from the garden and into the kitchen along with about a third of the garden (this is the pup by the way, I'm not that far gone yet).

…at the end of a long day Friday will snuggle up against me on the sofa and look at me with an expression which is close to saying "Sorry about the mess, thanks for the chicken-ish supper, and thanks for the cuddles."

See, you don't really get enough of that kind of feedback in fostering. Not from the child anyway. If you're awake enough to notice there are little things that tell you that a foster child has started to trust you, and that they grasp that you dish up mascarpone pasta on Monday nights because it's THEIR favourite and Monday is usually a rotten day. But you're lucky to get a real gush of reward from your foster child, and so what? It's not why we do it. 

The plaudits come from elsewhere. 

You can look yourself in the mirror and tell yourself that you're doing something good and give yourself a deserved pat on the back.

You can wait for a family member or a friend to say "Wow, you're doing a great thing."

The security woman in my supermarket is a a total stranger to me. I got chatting with her. I mentioned fostering and she put her hands to her cheeks in awe and said she only wished she had what it takes. I told her maybe she did and gave her Blue Sky's number.

Or maybe, once in a while this will happen to you;

My Blue Sky Social Worker showed up today for something called 'supervision'. It's a roadside check-up - monthly in my case - to make sure you're alright and your fostering is on track. These sessions are fantastic, the people are so kind and professional, they add another 100% to how you do your fostering.

So, I'm having my current fostering work cut out with eldest foster child who's got stuff going on at school. Without going into details there are squabbles with other pupils, and other 'issues'.

Getting him to school every school day has been...interesting. But we're winning.

Then my Blue Sky SW turns up on the doorstep and presents me with a bag. She says;

"This is from us at Blue Sky because we know you've been really busy lately and we want you to know we think you're doing amazingly."

Inside was a stack of goodies. Marks and Spencer goodies.

Salt caramel popcorn, pistachios, a bar of dark rich chocolate, fancy biscuits, beetroot crisps, lime presse, apricot chutney…

Hey don't get your hopes up; I've been with Blue Sky for the best part of a decade, first time I've been slipped contraband.

My Social Worker said "Something for all the family". But before she finished the sentence I was tearing into the carton of spiced tea bags to brew us one each. The she said;

"Did he get to school today?"

Before I could reply "Nearly but not quite." a voice came from the top of the stairs; "What's the fuss?"

Long story short, eldest foster child joined me and Social Worker round the table. We laughed about stuff and he bagged himself the popcorn and the pistachios and went back upstairs.

And is going to school tomorrow, no problem.

So let's see; family okay, foster children okay, puppy okay…

…and me? I sat and watched a catchup Eastenders on my iPad and ate the whole bar of rich dark chocolate, and guilted, as you do.

So yeah,…Secret Foster Carer... okay.

Very okay thanks.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

FRIDAY DOG

A while ago I wrote a post called; "Can I get a dog?" Eldest foster child had not let up for a couple of months.

Long story short; I went and said "Yes."

She arrived a couple of Fridays ago, and she's called... Friday.






OMG is she gorgeous. Not just on the outside; Friday's beautiful on the inside. She's gentle, loving, kind and incredibly clever. She's peaceful, loyal and incredibly even-tempered. She's house-trained herself (okay after a few accidents) and she finally sleeps (mostly) through the night.

We had to drive across country to pick her up. Me, eldest foster child (buzzing like I've never seen before), and his best mate. We arrived at the farm on time, Friday was the last of the litter, probably the last-born. I'm not going to say she was the r**t (I'm not even going to use the word in case one day she reads this blog and recognises herself), but she was noticeably small and timid.

We fell for her straight away. It was hugely heartwarming to see eldest foster child go into parenting/caring mode. He's a rough and ready lad, a bit of a bruiser, but he picked her up ever so gently and cradled her like a baby, rocking her gently from side to side and whispering in her ear. Yes, almost mothering her.

We paid up, carefully loaded her into the safety cage and belted up the cage (I'd done some research - turns out dogs have to be secured in cars these days which is great). On the drive home she celebrated her good luck in finding top owners by letting out the most fabulous fart, and followed it up with a mighty poo. We drove home with the windows down.

The first evening was chaos, as expected. Eldest foster child's friends showed up so he could show off his dog, fair enough. Friday managed a tinkle in the garden and several in the house, mainly but not exclusively where wooden floors wouldn't mind. Everyone eventually went up to bed and the Secret Foster Carer arranged sofa cushions on the kitchen floor and settled down for a long night, also fair enough. Friday settled quickly in the safety and security of her cage.

Anyone who's owned a dog, or even merely lived in a home that had a dog, knows more than they realise they know about fostering.

The process of helping the new family member fit in and feel at home is not very different. The level if care, which eases back once the new arrival starts to feel their feet, is not dissimilar. The responsibility is there too, as are the linked rewards.

I'm not going to push the similarities between fostering and acquiring a new pet too strongly - a distressed human child is vastly more complex and needy.

But the arrival of Friday in our home has flagged up some interesting parallels.