Tuesday, January 21, 2020

HEAVENLY MATCH

School and fostering are sometimes uncomfortable partners in fostering.

Generally speaking most children don't want to go to school. I get that, but have to sit on it because it's our job as parents to get them there, and it's double our job as foster parents.

When I say 'I get that' I mean I get they don't want to go because I never wanted to go to school myself. Nor did any of my friends. The journey to school could be ok if you hooked up with friends and there'd always be some fun before registration. After that you think of nothing more than the next playtime, then lunchtime, then best of all the final bell and all of us pouring out into the street, free again.

I did alright at school too, got a few exam certificates. But it didn't feel like fair exchange. My own children dragged their feet every morning. Foster children find it even harder, and we sometimes find it impossible to get them there. 

Schools have their targets these days, and the easier it is to measure something the easier it is to set a lofty target and point to a number as the be all and end all of the argument.

More then once I've wanted to say to schools "Ok, you want him at your door at 8.30am every morning, how about you take your turn persuading him, see you at our house 7.00am tomorrow morning".

Getting our foster children to school can feel like you're driving a wedge between yourself and the child and that could damage the other work you need to do with them; establish trust and mutuality so you can help them move forward through a difficult time of their life.

I've made a good case plenty of times that children in care should have different attendance targets than standard pupils and I'm never convinced about the replies which include "it's important that when they are at school they are seen as no different from everyone else".

I've even been heard to say "It's more important that she keeps her act together than that she knows where Berlin is." I've even been heard to mutter "What's more important; that he doesn't become neurotic or that he can spell neurotic?"

My nadir with school and attendance was as follows;

A girl came to stay with us who justifiably had various issues, she was bullied and a bully for one.

I asked to see her head to discuss attendance, and an appointment was fixed for 9.00am. I took the girl.

We were shown to the office and sat outside, the clock struck 9.00. No head. At ten past nine she appeared and said that the school attendance officer had asked to attend the meeting and we should wait for her to arrive. She showed up at 9.25. We went into the head's office, the head sat herself at her desk, turned to the girl and said something like "The first thing we have to talk about is your problem with punctuality".

Leaving aside the fact that I had called the meeting, so should have been invited to set the agenda, or at least asked why I called the meeting, yeah…leaving that aside, where oh where on earth other than in a school head's office would someone get away with being twenty five minutes late and then chew off a person who was on time for punctuality issues.

I was so keen to get something out of the meeting that I didn't say a word, but at the bottom end of schools, that's what can happen (Ofsted failed them BTW).

Then at the other end of schools you can get this;

I was pushing a trolley round the supermarket and thought the woman browsing the veg with a teenage girl at her elbow looked familiar. She was, she was the Senco (Special Education Needs Coordinator) at one of the schools a foster child of mine had attended about six years ago. I said hello.

First thing she said to me? First question she asked? I'll tell you;

"How's Jake doing? What's his news? Is he still painting? Does he still like art?"

You know that teacher is in the right job, not surprising that school got an Excellent from Ofsted.

 So I guess school and fostering can be uncomfortable partners, it can also be a match made in heaven




Tuesday, January 07, 2020

AULD LANG SYNE

One of our fostering friends has just had a very interesting thing happen, she doesn't mind if I share it with sympathetic friends (that's you dear reader, by the way), she doesn't know I write a secret blog about fostering, but I'll make sure to be discreet.

She's an interesting recruit to fostering is Dawn. She's single, never married or had children of her own. She told me she was worried that being single and childless would stand against her when she applied to foster, but Blue Sky and local authorities take applicants on merit. Anyone who's interested should apply, no matter what your background is; they can only say no thanks at worst. It's true some people aren't suitable. I always remember hearing about the gentleman applicant who owned ten snakes, two tarantulas and had a bearded lizard running loose in his flat.

Dawn is very human, down to earth, quite well organised (she chose to box up her collection of porcelain figurines and store them safely in the attic before her first placement arrived).

I first got chatting to her at a Blue Sky support meeting one time, we had a few laughs - foster carers share a lot of dark (and light) humour - and swapped phone numbers.

I probably only see her half a dozen times a year at meetings and training sessions, although not long ago she and her new man, a lovely person called Terry, came round to ours for a curry. Long story short they ended up getting a cab home and coming back in the morning for their car. I hadn't laughed so much for a long time, all about fostering.

So Dawn texted me the morning after New Year's Eve and asked me to call her, so I did.

This is what she told me;

She and Terry (BTW he's been DBS-checked etc) are caring for a slightly frail and frightened 16 year old lad whose family has broken up badly. His dad is serving time for a repeat crime of no little violence. His mum is a chronic alcoholic and drug addict. The dad's crime was committed against the mum, the lad was in the house while it was happening.

Dawn told me the foster lad had contact meetings with his mum, usually at a MacDonalds, but that Dawn and Terry had never met her.

Now, Dawn and Terry love a family party. They don't go mad, but they both have large extended families plus friends who have boyfriends and girlfriends. So when they threw a New Year's party their house began to fill up from about 8.00pm and the guests all grouped up like guests do.

As for their foster lad; they'd discussed his attendance at the party with his Social Worker. It was agreed he should be able to circulate if he wanted to, maybe have a small bottle of beer, but he must feel free to retreat to his room if he needed to.

The place was throbbing by about 9.30pm, Dawn and Terry were making sure everyone was happy and also keeping tabs on their foster lad.

The lad was glowing! He moved easily around the party, hooked up with some of the guests who were about his generation, and seemed somehow at peace with everything.

About 11.00 Terry collared Dawn and asked her; "Is that woman one of yours?"

Dawn replied "I think I know who you mean. I thought she was one of yours."

They'd both noticed a youngish woman who seemed on her own. Terry had seen her smoke a roll-up in the garden - alone - and Dawn had noticed that she never held a glass of anything.

The woman looked a little nervous, had a piercing on her lip and some tattoos; no big deal, but none of the other guests did, at least not in the way she did.

Terry and Dawn agreed to keep a friendly eye on her.

At midnight it gets really interesting.

The countdown begins and everyone is crammed into the room with the TV. Everyone. Even the mystery loner. And the foster lad.

In fact the two of them are side by side. Then.. it's midnight! A New Year begins! Everyone's hugging in that vague hopeful way, the moment a strange combination of the celebration of life and a baptismal marking of the end of what's gone before and the beginning of new beginnings.

Then, suddenly, the foster lad is singing. Singing Auld Lang Syne. His arms crossed with the mystery woman. 

By this time Dawn and Terry have worked it out - or at least they think they have. They don't know for sure, and won't be sure even when they tell their Blue Sky Social Worker.

They're pretty sure the lad's mum did a quiet gatecrash and stayed sober just to be with her son on New Year's Eve. Probably feared that if she'd asked permission there'd be a bunch of paperwork and maybe a refusal. I doubt she'd have been told no, but scared people are cautious. So she and her son cooked up a scheme. Good for them. And good for Dawn and Terry for their vigilant but discreet monitoring.

Oh dear, now I've had to take my glasses off because some tears have gathered at the bottom of the frames.

How wonderful it can be when through all the muck and mire that life can pile on people, LOVE comes up trumps.

And how wonderful is fostering that it gives us carers so many extra moments of joy.

Friday, January 03, 2020

CHRISTMAS GIZMO

We had a great holiday thanks, hope yours was okay too. Not everyone's was.

I've talked about this before; Christmas is a hard time for chaotic families, very hard for tens of thousands of children in chaotic homes.

Carlotta is a lovely child, okay some would say she takes a moment to stay in the conversation, but she has a good heart and deserves better than she gets.

Her father left about five years ago and because her mum remains sore about him leaving, is still sticking pins in an effigy of him. So Carlotta's dad is sidelined out of her life.

Carlotta's mum hooked up with a boyfriend about two years ago, which was tricky for Carlotta obviously and also tricky for Carlotta's dad who, although it was he who did the leaving, felt resentment in case the new stepdad usurped him with 'his' former three females.

It's not known how - or even if - Carlotta's real dad pressured Carlotta or her mum or her sister to diss the stepdad (he might even have levered the stepdad man-to-man). When you've been in fostering a while you get a good gut on this stuff.

So the stepdad left. Walked out. Said nothing to the children, simply left. On the very day Carlotta  broke up for Christmas. Nice gift there big man. I believe the acronym is FFS.

What happened next?

Carlotta's mum picks her up from school and says "Kev has bogged off. You know you keep going on about a puppy?"

Carlotta agreed. 

"Well we're off to buy one!" 

And they bought one. On their way home. Total caprice, spontaneity and all that. These are the knee-jerk bad decisions that people whose lives are descending into chaos sometimes make. 

A spaniel/poodle it is. A cockerdoodledoo or something. 

And Carlotta's life is now borderline authentic chaotic.

Except this; our eldest foster child is a friend of Carlotta, they are round each others houses a lot.

See, Carlotta is not in care or any danger of it yet. My child, the one who is the rock for the other, is the one in care.

My foster child said to me: "Jeez, other people's lives", like our foster child prefers being in fostering to the alternative. Oh blimey.

The job is to get the foster child set to go home. 

But if they have a happy relaxing time with us, get to enjoy a bit of peace, not constantly hearing arguments and harsh words, what are you supposed to do, stage some unhappiness so they want home? Do me a favour.

So, yep, Christmas was happy.

Not least because aforementioned eldest foster child won the Christmas afternoon game of Scrabble, putting down "Gizmo" on a triple word.









Saturday, December 28, 2019

WARNING; RUSTY SPANISH AHEAD


How about this comment from El Chorizo Ingles which went up a couple of days back in response to a blog I posted... four years ago.

El Chorizo InglesSaturday, December 21, 2019
We've been discussing fostering for a while now and have decided to start putting things into place. It means moving, improving the other halfs English, getting everyone on board(6 kids between 5 and 22 and a Granny and Grandad who are all in)and lots of reaserch. But whats really pushing our desire to do it is reading words like yours. Thank you.

I sometimes get wind of people who are reading all the Secret Foster Carer blog posts, which makes War and Peace look like a short story. I guess El Chorizo is maybe doing just that.

You guys! What an intriguing background to bring to fostering; El Chorizo is proof that it really does take all sorts to make fostering work.


Forgive me showing how scrappy my Spanish is (I worked a summer as a tour rep in Lloret de Mar donkeys years ago), but I want to speak directly to El Chorizo's other half:


Ola Senora(ita?) Chorizo, que tal?


Siento pero mi Espanol es pobre, mi vocabulario pequeno (es el Espanol de la playa, por ejemplo "Donde esta un bar?"... "Donde esta mi hotel…?".


Pero yo quero a hablar con unsted como importante es mas cosas en fostering tambien con a hablar Ingles.


Es mas importante a entender la familia, esto es numero uno y los Chorizos tienen esto mas grande!


A Blue Sky, gustamos mucho la familia grande, y todos las cosas de un familia grande; especialmente multi-generacions(?) (esto es un problema in Inglaterre; muchas familias no tienen "Granny y Grandad" cerca). 


Si usted tienen seis nino(a)s tambien ustedes tienen un grande amor(?), y esto es mas imprortane que habler Ingles.


Pero, Ingles es no dificil, puedo con un acente Espanol es muy bonita! Aprende por favor.


Bona fortuna. xxx


The point I tried to make to Mrs Chorizo is that although language is very important, and it helps with everything if you can communicate well, there are facets of life and family especially, that are more important. 

Anyone who can mange a family as large and complicated as theirs is well in on the big basics; so good luck to them from us at Blue Sky.


Thursday, December 19, 2019

LOVING HAVING YOUR KIDS HOME

School holidays are a big thing in fostering. One of many joys is that for a week or several you don't have to battle to get children up and off to school.

Getting your child, any child - not just a foster child - to school is always an issue.

One afternoon just before one Christmas I was sat on a gym bench watching a primary school carol concert. The slightly out-of-date teacher who'd organised the show closed it by getting up on the stage and announcing;

"The staff are looking forward to three weeks of peace and quiet, and wish you parents good luck you're going to need it what with…"

I won't go on. The teacher's message, delivered in front of the children, was that they found the kids hard work and were relieved to be handing them back to the parents to have to deal with them.

A  number of parents in the audience chuckled along with the notion - that children are hard work and it's better if someone else is looking after them.

Oh dear.

We should love our children and always make them know that we enjoy them and love their company.

I had a foster child under my wings who had real problems with rejection. The child's father had made it clear he wanted nothing to do with his offspring. The mother felt likewise and spent as much time as possible away from them. The siblings were at each other's throats out of fear, confusion and anger - and the child who came to me, being the youngest, got the worst of it.

When the child's favourite teacher left teaching (couldn't hack the workload, the targets, the stress) the child felt even more rejected.

He became despairing, distressed, depressed.

It took us a long time to understand his reason why he hated going to school. 

Every child has their own set of reasons. Sometimes it's because they feel bullied. Sometimes they are sad that school seems to be showing them they are not very bright and therefore haven't much of a future.

This foster child's story was this;

The child felt that the reason we tried every morning to get him off to school was because WE DIDN'T WANT HIM IN THE HOUSE.

This discovery was a bombshell, and it had to be acted on. But how?

We went out on a limb. No parent should do what we did unless the chips are down - which they were. The child was doing okay academically, but was fraying at the edges, and the worry was the child would go off the edge.

When I say 'We" I mean my other half and myself. We took a decision that was awkward, and which would necessarily put us at loggerheads with the school, the local authority and maybe even Blue Sky (though it turned out not to be the case; they are great backer-uppers).

But the child was going downhill. Nobody loved or wanted this child, that is how he saw it.

So. 

After much thought we decided to try something radical. I don't recommend it but it happened.

The child came down in the morning, tearful, tremulous and sour. We'd talked about what we were going to do. So when the child said;

"I don't want to go to school." (Expressed more colourfully than that).

We said…

"We don't want you to go either."

Stunned silence, then;

"Seriously I don't want to go to school."

Me: "Seriously, we don't want you to go."

"What?"

"We like this house most when you're here."

There followed a discussion, heated at first, in which we tried to make clear that we…didn't want him to go to school. Actually, it was true. This child got so worked up and angry at school things were  so much better for the child every Saturday and Sunday, I began to wonder if it was so important they learn Pythagoras compared to finding some peace.

Child stayed home. For four schooldays. Eeek!

During that time child grew upwards and inwards more than ever before or since. Child experienced the feeling that people wanted him, liked him, loved him.

The following Monday morning the child CHOSE to go to school. Yes chose. I'm, not making this up or exaggerating a jot.

The child carried on testing us, like foster chidren do, to see if they can trust us. So the next day, the Tuesday, the child said he didn't want to go to school.

"Great!" we said, "we love it when you're HERE, at HOME, with US." Child stayed at home.

The child never missed a schoolday again, except for real illness. Moaned a bit, yeah, from time to time, but nothing anywhere near like before.

Our Blue Sky people were concerned with getting the details of this particular treatment (if that's the right term), but they backed it as a trial thing, then when it worked everyone nodded. The Local Authority got it too, as did the school once the new attendance figures started to come in.

I guess the point is that we must make sure our children know for sure that we want them.

As for the occasional teacher that appears not to, I think those teachers say things like that lady did by way of a joke. After all she'd been in teaching for several decades, surely you can't muster that if you aren't fond of kids.




Saturday, November 30, 2019

FOSTERING AND RESPECT

Fostering opens doors that aren't easy to kick down for normal parents.

I'm obviously not suggesting door kicking, it's just a term. 

Take for example doctor's appointments.

I called our surgery regarding my own needs and was told they had no doctor availability for nearly four weeks.

A few days later I called for an appointment for my foster child and got in THE SAME DAY.

And that's fair enough.

You also get better from the school if your child is in care. And from the police - who by the way are always fantastic about fostering.

What just happened is this; I was parked up waiting for my foster child to come out of school. His estranged real father is believed to be trying to make contact with him and the thinking is that it's best he doesn't. He's been asked not to. The father's not in any way a challenging individual - there are no physical dangers - but the child would be upset and it's considered best if he seeks contact via the proper channels. All I have to do is keep an eye; if it happens it happens and I report it to my Blue Sky Social Worker and they'll alert the local authority who'll decide what to do.

So I was parked up outside the school in a slightly dodgy spot, I was a bit too close to a corner, shouldn't really have been there, but it was borderline.

I wanted to be able to keep the school gates in view in case dad popped up.

Just before the kids came out a police car cruised up. Locals had complained about school-run traffic outside their homes (common thing) so a car was sent to make sure we were all behaving ourselves. They pulled up next to me and an officer lowered her window and said;

"That's not a very good place to park is it madam?"

Mortified, I replied;

"I know, but I'm a foster carer and my child is…"

I didn't get to finish. The officer held up a hand and said;

"Okay then. Just take care. Keep up the good work…"

And they drove off.

Now, I'm not suggesting that claiming Foster Carer status will get you off a bank heist or blag you grandstand seats at Wimbledon.

But every so often you feel the public's respect for what we do.

And we'd do what we do even if the public didn't give a hoot, but it's nice that they do.

Monday, November 25, 2019

FOSTERING AND FRIENDS

I've got me yet another new best friend, her name is Veronica.

In fostering you find yourself meeting so many new people with whom you have lots in common - namely fostering.

It's not unique to fostering, most people are drawn to like-minded people. But fostering brings out a very special camaraderie, and it's a good camaraderie too. It's a 'we're all in this together' thing, spiced up with a dash of 'no-one outside fostering has a clue what fostering is like'.

I found myself sitting next to Veronica at a Blue Sky coffee and catch-up session (they call them 'Support Meetings', I prefer 'coffee and catch-up').

Veronica is that rare and beautiful thing; a foster child-turned Foster Carer. Despite my antenna being 20/20 and always up and twitching, I would never have guessed ANY of her story.

One of six children by different men, she never found out who her dad was. She came home from school one day to find her mother dead in a bedroom. She told me what the scene looked like, but I won't pass it on. 

The children all went into care, but not all made it. One of her brothers hanged himself, one of her sisters took her own life in the same way their mother did.

Veronica spent time with three different families where her despair and anger proved too much, but eventually found herself in the care of an elderly woman. And that's how Veronica discovered what every grandchild knows (or at least should know), namely that if you stick a whole generation in between human beings the chemistry is superb. 

Veronica was unable to transfer any of the anger she felt towards her real mother onto her foster mother because of the age difference. Therefore Veronica was spared the shame she experienced whenever she felt angry about her mum. More than that, Veronica's elderly foster mum had that child-like carefreeness that comes back to us in our later years, and Veronica found herself learning how to be a child, by mirroring an elderly person.

Veronica became determined not only to avoid the life and death of her mother, but to help others avoid such a fate. She married and has two children. The marriage is secure despite upheavals - they decided to take a big risk six years ago and moved hundreds of miles away in search of a secure future for their children.

She is currently caring for a three-year-old whose story is tragic. One can only hope that with Veronica's help, and that of Blue Sky and the local authority, the child ends up more like Veronica than Veronica's mum.

I'm not Veronica's only new best friend by the way. She's single handed turned our coffee and catch-ups into coffee CAKE and catch-ups. She bakes one specially every time, from recipes taught to her by her old foster mum.

Last time it was a Drozdzowka (hope I spelled it right), a delicious plum cake.

Veronica's Polish, I forgot to mention.