Wednesday, December 01, 2021

Ho Ho Ho (Not)

 Christmas is increasingly a difficult time for the British and not only for the UK's dwindling band of Christians. The Christmas period affects everyone somehow. And very few people are as affected as children in care.

One 16 year-old girl who came to us was allowed to go home for Christmas Day. The plan was for us to drive her home on Christmas Eve. We bought her a bunch of gifts, wrapped them, put them in a gift bag, and gave them to her as she was going out the door, heading for our car. The drive to her home was an hour, and it was starting to get dark. We had expected her to put the bag alongside her overnight bag, take them to her home, and open her presents on Christmas morning.

No.

She turned around and marched the bag into the kitchen and started opening them. A bottle of Badedas, a Terry's Chocolate Orange. A pair of headphones. A top-up card for her phone. An HMV voucher.

She opened each and every one with great care, smoothing out the wrappings, making the right "Ooooo!" noises each time.

Then she thanked us profusely, got up and took her gifts up to her room, where she left them. And set off for home.

We never asked her why. Her business.

Maybe she couldn't wait (unlikely). Maybe she didn't want to have more and better presents than her sisters who were also going to be at home on Christmas morning (possible). Maybe she wanted to reward us by showing her gratitude with her delight at her gifts (we like this explanation best).

Personally, I've not yet had a child over Christmas who wasn't up for a traditional Western Christmas. It nearly happened once when I agreed to take 3 orphan children refugees from Afghanistan, but they were found a Muslim foster home, for the best.

Every other child I've had started getting anxious-excited on the 1st December.

No matter what their chaos at home, children whose families tried to make any kind of a go of a 'traditional' Christmas will have slightly false memories of good times. Of presents, games, extended family. Some sort of magic.

They'll like as not blank out the disappointments, the tensions and the arguments. Not to mention the drink and whatever else.

More children are taken into care over the Christmas period than at any other time of the year, due largely to the family being cooped up together so that the  simmering angers and petty hostilities boil over.

At the last Blue Sky Christmas lunch I sat next to a young Muslim couple who were in their first year of fostering. They told me they'd respect and engage in all and any festive needs any foster child brought along. They didn't voice any crityicisms about the masses of people who get Western Christmas so badly wrong that it brings about the break-up of families en masse. I suspect none of Islam's significant calendar dates trigger family anguish. 

In fostering we try to do what's right for all the chidren in the house, but it's a balancing act that would go to the top of the bill if there were still such a thing as the circus.

See, speak of 'circus' and I'm right back into remembering the Christmas of my childhood. My mind (just like everyone else whose family did Christmas) fills with stuiff sich as Santa, the tree, the decorations, a chicken in the oven (a chook was a once-a-year treat in our house). Grandad showing up in his best suit, gran wearing her 'pearls'. Piles of presents, Christmas crackers on the table. And on the telly? Billy Smart's Circus.

Of course, if I had a Tardis and went back in person I'd watch myself and realise that the thing I really loved most was that we were all together. No work for dad, no shopping for mum, no school for us kids. No shops open, no cars on the roads.

Christmas can dish up the saddest blow to children in care. Namely; their family is not all together.

We work with our Blue Sky Social Worker to get the gift thing right. But there's so much other stuff.

You do your best, enjoy whatever joy they experience , and look forward to New Year's Eve, because that's easy to get right; they're allowed to stay up until midnight and, y'know what?, that beats most that Christmas has to offer them.





Friday, November 19, 2021

YET ANOTHER WAY TO FOSTER

 How many and varied are the jobs of the fosterer…

Here I sit in an armchair in the hall watching over our recently-operated on dog. She's not meant to lick her wound now that the dressing is off but you try telling her that. She wears a collar at night and takes a sedative but in the day the collar drives her crazy so we take it off and simply keep an eye on her, which is time-consuming, but the newly eldest foster child takes his turn when he can.

I describe eldest as "newly eldest" because 18 year-old Ged has left, and being "eldest" again is good for him; this morning he asked how the toaster worked and he used it for the first time.

He also engaged me in one of the friendly arguments that he loves. To the outsider the arguments would sound a bit heated, but we both know they're his substitute for saying 'thanks' to me for being his mum.

He started it by asking me;

"Have you heard of Radiohead?"

I had. Then he asked;

"Who's the best band ever?"

I replied "Maybe The Rolling Stones?"

"The Rolling Stones!?" he incredulated.."You must be (expletive deleted) joking!"

"Well,"  I replied "I think there's general agreement that their mix of R and B with stagecraft has kept them up there for longer than anyone else."

I always quote the Rolling Stones, I quoted them to annoy my parents, now I quote them to annoy my children. 'Annoy' in that friendly way.

Him; "That's not the point. Have you ever listened to OK Computer?"

"Er…possibly…"

"It's the best album of all time everybody knows that."

"Well Sergeant Peppers wasn't bad."

The argument went its course, and ended with me being verbally frogmarched in front of the TV to watch a YouTube documentary on OK Computer (a Radiohead album).

The argument ended with me agreeing to download the album onto my phone so that I can sit in the hall a) keeping an eye on the dog b) writing this blog c) Fostering eldest. Fostering by listening to OK Computer. 

OK Computer is described as alternative rock. Not my cup of tea really, I was more Top Of The Pops than Old Grey Whistle Test.

But. When next asked I'll tell eldest something like "WOW!* I was amazed. It's fantastic."

And he'll try to pin me down that it's the best album ever.

Will I agree? I don't think so.

I'll hold out for the GOAT* album is a tie between OK Computer and Abba's Greatest Hits. Which will annoy him and kick off another friendly argument…his way of saying 'thanks for being my mum'.

And my way of saying 'thanks for being my son'.

xxx

PS

* "GOAT" - Greatest Of All Time

* "WOW" - A well dated exclamation used by parents to remind youth that we were young once and that our music is better than theirs.



Tuesday, November 16, 2021

THE MISSING EAR BUD

Ged is now proper gone. He was the soon-to-be 18 year old who came to us for a short spell, and part of our fostering brief was to gear him up for the outside world. Only a short time but even the ones who only stay for a weekend stay in your mind for the rest of your life. I’m not sure if it’s the same the other way round and that we fosterers have as big an impact on them as the young people have on us.


I’ve talked with our Blue Sky Social Workers about how they all stick in my heart and mind, they say it’s a healthy sign of how we try to offer attachment from the get go. 


It’s not a painful thing, quite the opposite. The only ache is that you hope with all your might that they are ok.


With Ged, it’s so far so good. He’s happy with his independence, or at least, if he isn’t he’s not letting on. He’s looking after himself; eating well, not staying late out and partying except ‘weekends and bank holidays’. 


He’d been promised by his somewhat dodgy father a windfall to set himself up on his 18th birthday, which ‘hasn’t happened yet’, but he’s ok financially thanks to a brilliant scheme Blue Sky do.


Basically; they open a savings account for the child and pay into it every month they’re in care. The money comes out of the allowance we fostering folk get for each child. It’s not a vast amount, I don’t even notice it. If I was good with paperwork and spreadsheets I’d know how much it is. But I’m not, so sorry. If you’re interested I’m sure it’s on Blue Sky’s website somewhere.


Ged had been in care for yonks, so he received a decent four figure sum. 


Now, the question you might be asking is this; since there’s usually no contact between Carers and children after a child leaves Care, how come I know all this?


Easy. See, Ged is an adult now and can do what he likes.


So. A few days after he’d been driven off by his SW my phone pinged. It was Ged;


“Have you seen an ear bud?”


“No. Where might it be?”


“Maybe in my bedroom?”


I loved that; “MY BEDROOM


“I’ll have a look”


Obviously I searched high and low, no luck.


I messaged him back;


“Can’t find it. When was the last time you had them both together?”


“Maybe the last night. I fell asleep on the sofa.”


I went and checked down the sides of all the sofa cushions and was about to message him again. But sometimes it’s easier and quicker to chat. So I phoned him, and we spoke. For nearly ten minutes. About everything and nothing. It was wonderful, and I could tell he found it great too.


We haven’t had any contact since, but there’s not a day goes by without me hoping against hope that next time I move a mat or rummage the contents of the fruit bowl where we ‘store’ random objects, I’ll come across the missing ear bud.


What I’d give to be able to phone him and say;


“I’ve found it mate!”


Then a thought flashed into my mind. Maybe he hasn’t lost an ear bud. 


Maybe he just wanted to hear his ‘mum’.


I know she wanted to hear her ‘son’.



Tuesday, November 09, 2021

A DOG"S LIFE

 They say every cloud has a silver lining.

Not sure if that's applicable to what's been happening in our house this week, but it's fair to say that oftentimes something good comes out of something bad.

Our lovely, gentle, kindly golden retriever dog had an accident. She was 'playing' with a bigger dog on the green when she suddenly let out a spine-chilling shriek and went down. The vet diagnosed a ruptured knee ligament in her left hind leg, but when they x-rayed her it was worse; her whole knee was a mess. Result; an emergency op, then home for complete rest. They recommended she be kept sedated in a cage, but that woudn't work, she still too much of a puppy and easily worked up.

So. We built a confined area about 4 foot by six foot in the hall, right next to the front door so she didn't have far to limp for a pee. The vet gave us antibiotics and painkillers and sedatives but, while the sedatives took the edge off her, there was no way she could be left alone. One of us had to be sitting beside her area all day.

And all night.



(Pic not much cop, dog's lying on her right side, tail to the left, nose towards my hands. Sitter is lying on her right side too.)

It's meant that one of us sits an arm's length from her all day. And one of us sleeps, on sofa cushions, on the hall floor, every night. 

We've got this for 6 to 8 weeks, but hoperfully at the end of it, she'll be almost good as new.

Now, to the positive spin-off;

One of our foster brood is hard pushed to develop any empathy.  Not surprising what with the life the child led before Care, a fear of people and a fear of attachment is bound to happen. We've tried anything and everything to get some warmth and…well to be blunt, some kind of love into the child. 

Can't claim any big success. Yet.

The child does have a soft spot for our dog. But the treatment of the dog has been what the child describes as 'playful'. The dog doesn't seem to mind, which is just as well because no matter how hard we've tried to get a gentler approach such as smoothly stroking her rather than ruffling her about, no avail. The child is always deriding the dog as "Stupid", "Fat" and "Ugly". No prizes for guessing where that sort of talk was learned.

Then, the morning after her op, the child came downstairs to see us flat out next to the dog's area. We were in our PJs and dressing gowns and pretty exhausted, not to mention anxious. 

The child asked what was going on so we explained. Then the child marched off shooting off something unappreciative such as "Well make sure you get it right then!"

But that evening we saw the glimmer of new child. A child who tip-toed thoughtfully towards the dog and placed the palm of the hand on her head, and whispered "Are you alright then? Are you? Good dog…"

Sea change.

And it's not only the dog who's getting a new, softer housemate.

The child seems to be starting to turn the corner with people.

Maybe I'm over-reaching here, but I swear that in the last few days there's been a bit of re-thinking. We're not so bad after all. People don't all suck.

Perhaps the child remembers that for the first few months after coming to us I slept through the night on sofa cushions outside the child's bedroom door to help when night terrors kicked in.

Maybe the child can see, logically, that being kind is a good way to be, and is now faced with squaring up to some monstrous demons that live deep down in the innermost, and will probably always be there.

Can cold logic combat deep-held emotions?

I dunno on that one, who does?

I do know that our lovely dog is on the mend, fingers crossed.

And - perhaps - she isn't the only one on the mend around here.


Sunday, October 31, 2021

BEING HAMPERED

 Had a nice fostering-related surprise this week.

Fostering is chock-a-block with nice little surprises.

Surprises such as when you bump into a young person in the street you once fostered. On one amazing ocassion there stood this fine upright chappo with his wife at his side and their baby in a pushchair. He was holding down a good job in construction which his family needed him to do as they were geting ready to buy a flat.

This was a young man who had once been so troubled he spent time in a secure unit. I'll never forget the look of sheer delight on his face when he twigged that it was me and how his step picked up as he came towards me with a smile. Lovely surprise.

This week's surprise came out of the blue.

Out of the Blue Sky actually…

So. We'd had been sent an invite to a Blue Sky lunch they were holding to celebrate their fostering folk who had been with them for a long stretch. Unfortunately we couldn't attend, the venue was a bit too far and that day was already in our diary with a bunch of things - manily fostering things - we simply had to get done.

We recieved emails saying how missed we would be and so forth.

Then the doorbell went. By the time I got to the door the delivery person was scurrying away like they do now, part Covid safety, part because their schedule is so tight I hear they don't take on board liquid for fear of needing a pee, poor people.

Anyhoo it was a sizable package. I called out "Has anybody bought something that's come in a huge great box?"

"Nah" "Nope" "I haven't," etc

I hauled it in and got it onto the kitchen table.

"Wossis then?" Enquired other half.

I replied;

"Better find out." 

So I went at it with the kitchen scissors. Beneath the brown paper wrapper was a brown cardboard box.

Inside the box was…

…a whicker picnic-type hamper.

Inside the hamper was loads of straw and on top of the straw a jar of designer marmelade.

"Ooo!" said other half;

"Free range jam!"

Then he said;

"Wait! What's this monogrammed on the lid…'F and M'…"

Surely not…Fortnum and Masons?

Short story long; it was.

Something I've never owned nor even seen. A bloomin' Fortnum and Mason hamper chock full of top of the range non-perishable foodie goodies. From Blue Sky. To say thanks.

We haven't dared open any of the jars or packets yet, the hamper looks so majestic sat brimful in plain view.

When we do, we know it'll taste wonderful.

Almost as wonderful as the taste of being considered, being thought of, being appreciated.


Friday, October 22, 2021

FINDING THE RIGHT MOMENT

 Our eldest foster child - not a child at all - is getting ready for the outside world.

He leaves fostering any time soon.

Ged's smart, in a street-wise way. He's only been with us a couple or three months, but he's still our boy. You have no option but to let them into your life from day one. Seeing him go off alone to face his future alone is emotional.

On the surface it seems more emotional for us, his foster family, than him, but I suspect his nonchalance is about acting grown up.

You remember how you fussed first time one of your children went off on their first sleepover? Making up that overnight bag of toothbrush, clean underwear, pyjamas ("I'm not wearing them mum, no-one's going to be in jim jams!") pieces of paper with phone numbers. And so on.

Well, let me tell you getting a child ready for an everlasting sleepover is a site worse.

Luckily his Social Worker has been on hand with the information about what he needs and what he's going to be provided with. Say what you like about the state, our country is magnificent at caring for young people who have problems.

He's been offered accomodation in a sort of sheltered home; a block of single room apartments with communal facilities. He's been guided towards several employment opportunities, and helped with his benefit rights. 

However, the poor lad is still dangling on a thread as to whether or not his estranged father will come through with his verbal promise of providing him with funding. And we have had no option but to find a way to break it to him that he may have to go it alone.

He'll be disappointed as heck, but surely less bamboozled if he has prepared himself it may happen.

The conversations are similar to so many that we fostering folk have with chidren in our care about their real parents.

We try to help looked-after chidren get a bead on reality about what's happened to them but have to tread warily because they don't ever want their parents to be criticised by someone else. One often  finds oneself diplomatically acknowledging that the parents meant well, and had a lot of bad luck, and may well be all the better from having some help with the routine problems that previously they faced alone. 

Only when you've laid the ground can you go into the matter that the children themselves deserve better.

Ged is reluctant to 'split' on his dad. Like many of us, he pictures his dad as somewhat heroic and noble; a victim of circumstances and other people's failures and deception.

I'm pretty certain that his dad is either in prison or spent plenty of time inside. Which can be quite colourful for a lad-about-the-streeets. It beats having a dad who's an IT manager. 

However the question remains; if Ged comes into his windfall, where has the money come from?

Technically and ultimately it's not at all my problem. But.

When one fosters each child who arrives becomes your child the moment they step through the door. It's the only way. You offer attachment and empathy from the get-go. You don't merely care, you also worry, fret and fear for them. You lie awake plotting how to make things as good as they can be for them. You live for the moments when you see them smile where previously they didn't, or hear them singing in their bedroom.

You simply want them to find some peace and ight-heartedness.

I'm gearing up to wondering out loud with Ged if he'd be better off without any apology money from his dad. Even if it materialises.

Got to find the right moment, and the right way of saying;

"You're smart. You've got what it takes to do what everybody does and try to build a good life and living on your own ability and hard work."

Then I know he'll say "Then how come everybody buys a lottery ticket?"

See what I mean about him being smart?




Monday, October 18, 2021

"PROMISE NOT TO TELL…?"

 One eternal dilemma faces most fostering folk at some point.

It's when a foster child says;

"I'll tell you something if you promise not to tell anyone."

I suspect we face this one often and it's forever tricky as so much depends on so many things, not merely what the child wants to tell.

At the crux of the dilemma is this simple fork in the road;

If the child's disclosure has to be reported and the child discovers that you told someone in authority it can damage your relationship to the extent that the child may never tell you anything again, and you may miss out on even more substantial information, which might be a damaging thing for the child.

A lot depends on the child's age and ability to understand if you reply to the request like this;

"I'll respect your privavcy in what you may want to tell me but you must understand that if you tell me something that I'm required to pass on I'll have no option but to tell someone."

If you're not in fostering you might be wondering what these revelations might be, okay;

I've had kids tell me about being asked to do things in their bio home that are breaches of the laws of abuse. Those things simply HAD to be passed on, and when the police visted to collect the allegations from the child that child rightly guessed I had disclosed. In the most startling of such cases I first informed both Social Workers involved who rightly advised me to contact the police officers who were already investigating the child's adult family and needed all possible evidence as the case was heading to court.

Most incidents of this headache aren't so straightforward.

For example, recently a child told me that it upset her that one of her (older) teachers repeatedly told her class to 'pick a partner' for an activity such as walking crocodile down to the public library. The problem lay in the fact that the child had been only recently placed in the school and being new, none of the other children wanted to pick her. To my way of thinking this was completely wrong, the teacher should put in some effort and pair children off so that some positives are had. I spoke to the school and it blew up in my face. The teacher took the child to one side and, rather than apologise, explained the reason for her practice, which, incase you're wondering, was some convoluted argument about children needing to feel comfortable with who their partner was when out in public as there was traffic and other pedestrians to worry about.  

I've got a recent one of these on my hands, they're always tricky. I can't reveal, so I'M not going to say to you "If you promise not to tell…"

It's going to be between me, my kid and one other eprson.

If in doubt ask your SW, and my lovely Blue Sky person has taken control with the usual clear mind, good heart and professional acumen.

X