Sunday, January 17, 2021

ALL'S WELL THAT…(YOU KNOW THE REST)

 Since you're sitting where you are reading these words about fostering it's safe to assume you know a bit about fostering, even if you're knowledge goes no further than giving thought to taking it up.

Therefore I think you'll get why I ended up over the moon yesterday despite a rotten start to the day.

Yesterday was a Saturday. We're in lockdown so, like many homes, our house is a bit low. We are feeling the sadness mingled with all the other negatives, one of which is being cooped up. Luckily we have a dog who needs walking, so even though the weather was absolutely wrong (freezing cold, blowing a gale and raining that painful rain which is almost but not quite sleet).

I togged up with a waterproof jacket, thick jeans and my favourite trainers (they are comfy and I wasn't planning to go on wet grass.

I kitted up with the dog lead, some poo bags and some dog treats for when she sits when asked.

Not forgetting my face mask, just in case.

I set off at 9.30am, no-one else in the house was stirring but my dressing-gowned other half was left in charge.

I realised 100 yards on from our house that I'd forgotten a hat, gloves and a scarf. Not only that, my 'waterproof' coat was soaking up the rain like a sponge, so I decided it would be once round the block and home for a cup of tea.

However…

We turned the corner and there it was; the biggest and loudest drain clearing truck ever. Stood still, lights flashing with a bunch of people in hi-viz waterproofs. It looked scary. So scary that the dog froze.

One of the men saw us and kindly pointed out the gate to the meadow. He seemed to be saying they were going to be where they were for some time and the only way we could go on was to take the gate.

I acquiesced. I did as he suggested. I can be pathetic like that, but at the time it seemed the best idea.

The meadow was a sea of mud, and on the far side was another dog walker with two labradors. Our dog begged to have a play with them. I didn't want her off the lead but I flipping well acquiesced again. Before she set off she did a quick poo. By the time I'd scooped it into a bag she was half a mile away and rolling in a muddy puddle the size of a duck pond. 

I wanted to have a nice chat with the other dog walker, but all we coud manage was shouting;

"Lovely day for it!"

By now I'm soaked and freezing so I grabbed the dog, her put on her lead and we headed home.

But when we got to the road the drain-cleaning monster machine had moved and was now right between us and our house. There was no way the dog would go past it.

This meant going the long way home, butat least it took us past a dog-poo disposal bin so I could…

….wait a minute! Where's the bag of dog poo?

I'd dropped it inadvertently somewhere out on the meadow! 

I'm one of those dog walkers who gets riled up when she sees bags of discarded dog poo on the ground. So I had little option but to…go back and find it.

Which took half an hour, by which time I'm aching with cold and wet to my skin.

Luckily when we came off the meadow a second time the truck had gone, so we hauled ourselves home and in. But it wasn't over. The dog was a mudball but I was so cold and wet she could wait for a towelling down, I gave her a dog chew and settled her on the doormat and staggered upstarirs to dry myself with the hairdryer and put on dry clothes.

When I came downstairs the dog was nowhere to be seen. Egad! She must be upstairs! She was, sitting proud as punch on our bed, oozing mud and dribbling bits of dog chew on the duvet.

Cross with myself, I chased her downstairs and into the garden for a hose down.

It was still raining so I got soaked a second time.

Okay, you've been there haven't you? When all the little things that might happen but usually don't happen all happen one after another and you end up cursing the very universe.

Then this happened;

I was sat shivering at the kitchen table hands wrapped round a mug of builders tea, when eldest foster child came downstairs.

I said;

"Morning. Would you like me to make you some breakfast?"

"No, it's alright," he replied.

"I'll make myself some."

See, it's the tiny things in fostering that make you feel warm about the world.

It was the first time he'd made himself a meal.

I acted casual, y'know, you don't want to make them feel self-conscious, in fact I said something cheeky like;

"I'll have whatever you're having."

Which got the usual snort of mock-derision which has become our affectionate way with each other at the moment.

And the dog-walk was forgotten. 

The world was back in my good books, all thanks to our wonderful, brilliant, mixed-up but doing his best to repair himself foster boy!

Friday, January 08, 2021

TIME TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

 A reader writes;

"Thanks to you, Secret Foster Carer! It was your blog that pushed me over the edge to foster. I love the small moments you capture. And I love noticing when they happen to me. I fostered a 1 month old baby for 3 months recently. When she went back to her mom, her mom (who is 20) wrote me a note that thanked me "for having her back". It was such a wonderful young person thing to say, and it meant the world to me. Everyone deserves to have someone who has their back. -Roma"

Pushed Roma over edge? Blimey, sounds like a hairy moment in a Hitchcock film

…no, wait a minute…come to think...that's exacty how you feel when you're on the point of giving fostering a go.

You've read up on it; back in my day it was books and newspaper articles, today there's plenty of stuff on the internet. All the while you're browsing, you're thinking and wondering and imagining.

You picture yourself doing it; sometimes you see yourself as the perfect foster parent with a brood of smiling foster kids. You dote on them and they dote on you. They cheer your dinners as they arrive on the table and thank you with their eyes for all you do for them.

Sometimes you see yourself up the creek without a paddle. You know which creek; temperamental child, disconsolate, ungrateful, unmanageable. You wonder why you got yourself into fostering.

You are indeed standing looking over the edge.

So you put it off. You say to yourself; "It's something I shall do when the time is right for me".

Fair enough.

But picture someone else, a real person, one I know.

You are a six year old girl. You have never been loved, never told a bedtime story, never been sung a nursery rhyme. You have never been to school because the adults in your house were worried you're plight would be discovered and they'd get into trouble. You have two older siblings who are as frightned and angry as you, but they take it out on you because you can't fight back. You're allowed out to wander the streets, even late into the night; the adults in the house don't want you under their feet, they've got drinking and smoking and other things on their altered minds. You are never fed, it's up to you to creep into the kitchen and find some food. Sometimes there's nothing, not even some cereal dust in the bottom of a box. It's a shame the dog died, you could lick the sides of his bowl if he'd left some smears of dog food. You sometimes had luck checking the cartons from last night's takeaway for a stale pizza crust or the bones of a KFC. 

That child - and thousands like her - can't wait while good people such as your good self, people who have all the skills but probably don't realise it, put it off until a bit later.

I KNOW it's a scary thought. I KNOW you feel you're standing looking over the edge. But Blue Sky is your parachute and the drop, once you jump, is not that big. Remember; you're not getting into anything you can't get out of if you need to, for whatever reason.

Have another read of Rona's words.

Then pick up the phone.

You're on Blue Sky's website right now, there are lots of ways of contacting them. They're friendly, kind and understanding. They're on your side from day one.

I remember with total clarity the day I plucked up the courage and dialled their number. I remember the song in the voice of the person who answered;

"Blue Sky Fostering, how may I help?"

I said:

"I'm thinking of becoming a Foster Carer"

She replied;

"How wonderful! Oh that's really great news! Good for you…I'll put you through to someone who you can have a chat with…"

She did.

It was the best phone call I ever ever made.

Is it all smiles and plain sailing? No.'Course not.

Is it hell on wheels? No. 'Course not.

Most days it's in the middle, like normal life. Only in normal life you're on your own, imagine normal life with an army of positive-minded professionals  looking after your back!

The allowance, which I recieve fortnightly (I don't know about others, I don't ask), is respectable and the tax people are, shall I say, fair (it's not a wage, it's an allowance). I'm not saying it's tax-free but it's taxed differently from how earnings are taxed, and it results in the allowance being a useful addition to the family income.

There's been a huge spike in the number of chidren needing a foster home.

They need you, and not sometime in the future.

Blue Sky are waiting for you.

So too is a poor frightnened child somewhere.


Thursday, December 31, 2020

THE QUICK FIX

I'm not one for quick fixes. Come to think of it I'm not one for anything done 'quick'.

For example you can keep quick drivers. And 'get rich quick' schemes.

Our children are facing the most chaotic academic year since WW2, all down to the covid pandemic.

Government UK seems hell-bent on getting schools opened asap despite the obvious risks. They tell us that if we don't cram hundreds of kids cheek-by-jowl under the same roof the children who were schooled during the pandemic will be disadvantaged compared with children who left school before 2020, and those that come later.

IMHO they're going to send kids back to school too quick, way too quick. 

Not even a 'fix' is it?

There is a solution. It's plain and simple. It levels the playing field and reduces unemployment at a stroke:

Forget the academic year 2020-2021. 

Just scrub it. 

Kids in year 10 right now should start year 10 again in September 2021. Kids who started school in September 2020 start all over again in Septemeber 2021. It means raising the school leaving age by a year which will mean unemployment will go down. Universities will experience a drop in applications but since they're run by people who are necessarily brainboxes they'll think their way out. Will commerce and industry miss a drop in job applications? Not if the avalanche of replies to every situation vacant ad is anything to go by.

Not only will this help stamp out Covid it'll take the heat off children, expecially those facing external exams. Make no mistake they're deeply worried about their future and parents (including foster parents) are having to constantly re-assure them that things will be alright for them. Exams are always a big worry, now they're even more so. 

It'll take the heat off teaching staff who are worried about their own wellbeing as well as getting the right results for the sake of the children, not to mention the matter of the schools targets.

I'd write to our MP but I'm anti-post at the moment, what with having to wipe down everything that comes through our letterbox…

Oh and PS;

BTW this is my own personal wheeze, not the policy of Blue Sky…

…yet. xxx


Monday, December 21, 2020

FLASHBULB MEMORIES

Foster children come and go and we're left with little flashbulb memories of them as souvenirs.

Kate was a big sixteen-year-old girl - I never normally include people's size when decribing them but in her case it was so significant that her social worker told us about it in preparing us for her arrival.

Kate had been removed from an abusive home.The father went to prison and her adult sister was allowed to stay partly to look after the mother who was disabled.

It had been a very abusive home, and it remained chaotic, but it was Kate's home and foster children always (almost always) want to go home.

Kate was allowed to spend alternate weekends at home provided she attended school. A crude deal but it was well meant.

However Kate wanted to go home every weekend. So this would happen every Friday evening when she was due to spend the weekend with us.

Kate would appear and say to me:

"I'm confused." Only she wasn't.

She would then whitter away about the deal, her home, her school attendance and finally come to her conclusion, namely that she was due to go home that weekend. She would always end her pitch with the same words;

"If that makes sense?" Only it didn't.

Thwarted she'd stomp upstairs and slam her bedroom door.

An hour later she would stomp back down in her hat and coat with an overnight bag and head for the front door. I would say;

"Kate, you're not due to go home this weekend."

There would follow a long and often passionate debate which would end up with me reminding her that if she left without permission I'd have to contact Blue Sky's Out Of Hours people and they'd have to decide if the police should be called. That decision would be based on how distressed she was and how vulnerable she might be.

The clock would tick towards 10.30pm which was the time of the last train back to her home town.

So far so bad..then things would look up. I would say;

"Look, I know how disappointed you must be. Is there anything we can do to help you feel better?"

And the answer was always the same;

"A Big Mac?"

So now the race is on because our McDonalds closed at 11.00. I'd hurry into a coat and we'd both jump into the car and hurtle (lawfully) down to the drive-through window.

The flashbulb memory I have of Kate came one Friday night as we were driving home and she'd had her first bite. She suddenly said, to no-one in particular, maybe just to herself;

"Don't the trees look lovely at night in the headlights?"

You've got to have some hapiness in your heart to notice suchlike.

Oh yeah, the reason she was overweight and it was a matter to be understood is that she'd made herself as unattractive as she could to ward off her father doing to her what he did to her older sister.

Dear Kate. I wonder where she is now?

Hope she's okay.


Sunday, December 13, 2020

A BIG SURPRISE FROM ONE FOSTER CHILD

Eldest foster child took a stance about Christmas that surprised me.

Eldest is tough as old boots, has never knowingly done or said anything sentimental in the several years I'm proud of having him in my brood.

I didn't get his stance until I heard someone say something on TV about Christmas and the penny dropped.

The programme was on Sky Arts which we watch sometimes for Tales Of The Unexpected.

It was a discussion between 5 film critics about the best Christmas Films.

There were some surprises; Fargo, for example. There were some obvious ones like White Christmas.

The thing that drew me in was that the film critics were truly enjoying each others company, sat at a mock-up of a Christmas dinner table with a stately home giant fireplace behind them. 

What was refreshing was their sheer love of good films and their shared respect and liking for each other.

Then one of them (I think it was Stephen Armstrong the Sunday Times critic) said this simple thing that stopped me short;

"The reason we love Christmas Day so much is because for one whole day we all step out of our lives."

Isn't that it in a nutshell?

Obvious really, and yet I'd never noticed.

I had spent decades thinking the reason we love Christmas is all the stuff: decorations, tree, presents, turkey, bucks fizz and of course family.

Wrong. They're nice, but they're not the essence.

The essence of Christmas is that for 24 hours we blot out the mundane bits of living, we eliminate work or school.

If we're concentrating on it being Christmas Day we're free of our worries, bad memories, lurking fears.

THIS is why Christmas is such a day of days for foster children.

It's even more important for them to have a day out of their lives than the rest of us, because they have had a much harder time than the rest of us.

Eldest foster child had come downstairs to find me dying a bunch of white socks red. 

"What you doin'?" he asked.

"Making some small Christmas stockings to hang this year."

"WHAT!!!" he roared…"WHY???"

I replied; "The huge ones are too big now, it costs a fortune to fill them and the wrapping of a hundred stocking-fillers is a killer. And I have had to make them because you can't buy small Christmas stockings, not even on Amazon."

He stared at me eyes blazing;

"You CAN"T use anything but the usual ones. Everybody expects it. We love getting all the stupid things like Post-It notes and an orange!"

I gave in quicker than you can say a partridge in a pair tree.

Christmas to him, to foster children everywhere, is a precious day when things are as they should be in their lives, or at least a lot closer to how they should be.

It's the most different day of the year, and yet it must be either exactly the same as all the previous ones or exactly the same as they imagine it will be.

A day of lovely surprises, which are eagerly expected, looked forward to for weeks and cherished.

A day out of their lives.






Saturday, December 05, 2020

FOSTERING FAMILY MONTH

 December is Fostering Family month at Blue Sky.

We (me, my other half, and our children) used to be a family, now we are a fostering family.

When we were just a family we were typical of many families; we managed to stick together through thick and thin, we had likes and dislikes about being a family, and like most families we didn't pay enough attention to the likes, instead harped on mostly about things that got our goat.

If we got anything wrong big time it was that we never once realised how lucky we were to be a family.

Fostering changed that, totally, and overnight too.

In a trice our being a foster family made us a happier family. Not merely because helping someone less well off than yourself is something that should make everyone feel better about themselves, it went deeper.

They say you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone, well our family didn't have to go our separate ways for us to begin realising how lucky we were. We got to know and understand the sheer horror facing innocent children whose families are no more; probably never were.

We had failed to notice and enjoy the warm feeling of connection you get when you struggle home through the door and someone is prepared to shout an enquiry as to whether you were born in a barn. We missed how lovely we felt when someone moaned that we'd used all the hot water and they wanted to wash their hair. 

Instead we had to imagine what it must have been like to have your single mother screw a padlock onto the outside of your bedroom door so she could go to the pub every night, and burn your toys in the garden on Boxing Day to teach you a lesson. Those things had happened to our first placement, they were there in black and white in the child's case notes.

Such things bring you to the surface with a jolt and make you appreciate the things you've got going.

You can't learn about things like that happening to children and not feel like hugging every one of your family. You also can't help wanting to give the world to that poor kid, every foster child who comes your way, not just because they deserve it but because they help you see your own family in its true light. They help you feel warm feelings for the home you've created.

Fostering is as good a tonic as "It's A Wonderful Life".

Which it is, obviously (a wonderful life). A Fostering Family has a wonderful life twice over, once because of the good we get to be involved in (with Blue Sky along for the whole ride, and as rides go it's the best roller coaster in the world) we also get to realise how lucky we are as a family to have avoided chaos, to have swerved the crash and burn stories of all too many families.

If you're one of the growing number of people who are wondering if fostering is something you might be able to do, now's the perfect time.

Contact Blue Sky the minute you click away from this page.


Sunday, November 29, 2020

TOBLERONE AND THE SWEETNESS OF FOSTERING

 Having been in fostering a while I sometimes risk getting to think I know most of it.

That silly notion comes up and bites me every time.

So what happened a few weeks before the first lockdown was this;

Youngest foster child, who has been with us about 15 months, says they're ready to go into town on their own on a Saturday morning, hook up with school friends and come home as and when.

Didn't actually say "As and when".

The exact phrase was more like; "I'll come home when I'm ready, alright?"

Many foster children need to show a bit of attitude to aid their self-respect, I roll with the little punches;

Me; "Yeah, only it's pizza tonight so you want to text me what you want?"

Answer; "Maybe."

All children reach an age when they start to cross the bridge away from their parents and strike out on their own. It's difficult enough with you own kith and kin, much more complicated when you're managing it with somebody else's child.

I let the child go into town. I talked to our Blue Sky Social Worker and we reckoned it was about right for the child; right for their age and development. Anyway…what you going to do if you want to keep the child home, put a lock on the door?

My own feeling was that it was a bit early for the child. The child is, in my guess, a tad too young, too unstreetwise to deal with being in town without a parent/guardian.

I told the child my misgivings and said that if the child wanted to prove me wrong, stay out of trouble and be home before dark. (I know you see what I did there, it's not rocket science). I told the child I'd worry all the while, and the reason I'd worry is because I don't just care about the child, I love the child). I told the child I don't worry that the child will get it wrong, I worry about other people who can make mistakes about children's behaviour and attitude.

The child went. Walked in. And was gone about four hours. Where the child went and with who was their business, and late afternoon I got a phone call;

"Er yeah can you pick me up?"

"Where will you be?"

"Er yeah like..by the bus stop."

"Which bus stop?"

"The one by the lay by! Obviously!"

I drove down.

Child got in car in silence unless a grunt counts as "Good evening and thank you for picking me up."

When we got home child jumped out of the car, slammed the door and dashed for the front door.

I noticed some forgotten shopping the child had done; not much, a Toblerone. I picked it up and stood it on the kitchen table. Child had disappeared upstairs, not to be seen until tea time. The family began gathering and when he showed up I said;

"You forgot your Toblerone, it's on the table."

And the child shot a look at me like I'd said something ruinous.

After tea everyone dispersed and I was left alone to deal with the debris as is often the case (I find it less hard work doing it myself than trying to commandeer an army of reluctant 'helpers').

The child appeared, or at least poked a head round the kitchen door to whisper;

"The Toblerone is for you innit?"

Child then added;

"Don't get emotional alright?"

And then was gone.

Can't bring myself to eat it yet, it's on the window sill above the kitchen sink so I see it every time I'm there...