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. 









Tuesday, November 19, 2019

MEETING THE PARENTS

In fostering you sometimes meet the parents of your foster child.

Before I came into fostering I had no idea I would, but you do. Not always but often.

There's a law that says that children in care must have contact with their 'significant others', usually once a week on average. And it often falls to us - the Carers - to transport the children to these contacts. It might be at a Contact Centre or sometimes at McDonalds. We get to see, sometimes greet and even have conversations with our foster children's real parents.

Awkward isn't the word. But it usually works out.

It is never - in my experience - unpleasant (the real parents are aware they are under scrutiny so even if they feel any resentment I have only ever found it to be controlled and mild).

From time to time I put myself in their shoes. How must they feel?

The parents of children who come into fostering have, in the eyes of authority, got parenting wrong.

We all get things wrong and it hurts to admit it. Better to blame someone else. When I get a parking ticket it's because the signs weren't clear or the machine was out of order.

If my children were taken away from me - and I can hardly imagine anything much worse - I would be unlikely to accept it was because I got my parenting wrong.

So let me tell you how it seems to me for most parents of children who are taken away from them and  put into care. It's this; they don't know how innocent they really are.

When you bump into them, often in a car park for example, they are usually at pains to be model parents. Sometimes you believe you can see where they might be going wrong; they might berate their children for being 'naughty' - as in running across the car park towards them.

One thing I've noticed a lot is the real parent's demanding their children are 'polite' - which seems to be little more than the extensive use of the words 'please' and 'thank you', which is nice but a bit superficial.

Here's my thing; I often ask social workers what they can tell me about the parents. The problem here is data protection and privacy rights and fair enough to  all that, but that's balanced by our need, as Foster Carers, to know everything we can know to HELP our foster children.

The information that helps us sometimes comes from the foster children themselves who might tell us, unprompted, background they've learned about what happened to their own parents when they were younger.

You might wonder 'such as?'

Okay, here's an example.

A child who stayed with a Foster Carer who is a friend of mine had experienced a terrible time at home, her mother had mental health problems and the child had begun to become her mother's carer.

Her father, who had been absent for years but turned up every so often, spent much of his time in Lincolnshire. The child had heard him repeatedly telling her mother that his father - who he had never met - was believed to be working in Lincolnshire. She heard her father shout as she listened from upstairs to the arguments, that he wanted to find his father and have it out with him.

The child's mother had, at age 17, conceived her second baby. The child, from an early age, knew that her mother's father had been abusive to her mother but was still too young to understand what that meant.

The child's mother and father had themselves had an awful childhood. Yet they somehow thought they knew enough to get it right when it was their turn. Or did they give it any thought at all?

In fostering we are often aghast at the awful parenting that results in children being taken into care.

But meeting those parents often helps us understand how they came to be awful parents. 
















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, then like all families there are those of them who couldn't because they wouldn't, but what would Blue Sky say to those of the Royals who might wish to be Carers? 

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 to 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


ED AND FAMILY

Young family, if you foster while your children are young you just have to remember your own 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.