Monday, August 20, 2018


Our latest foster child, Ryder, a girl, has been with us about a month now.

Thinking about it, it's amazing how quickly most foster children find a place in their foster family. I'm not saying they always ease cheerfully into the right slot, not saying they shine a light where before there was darkness, blimey not saying that at all.

But what they often achieve is just as much a piece of human magic. They establish a relationship with each of the other family members - very quickly. It might not be totally harmonious, but minor tensions are what family is about as much as bonds, in fact sometimes the bonds are the tensions.

But wheras in a 'real' family the relationships evolve and grow over years, a foster family adapts to a new member in a very short time, mostly according to that child's wants and needs. I've seen it over and over. Each family member - especially the other foster children - make concessions to the new person, as long as they're reasonable and any concessions are recognised by everyone and respected.

We sort of all shift over a bit and make a space.

And the child, however young or bruised, finds ways to function with each family member and the family as a whole.

There's no scientific forensic thinking on the child's part, it's mostly - maybe entirely - instinct.

They look for a solid adult who is strong; stalwart about rules and guidelines, consistent and fair.

They look for an adult who is warm and gentle, loving and friendly - and generous.

Often these things are all found in the same adult, sometimes it's a team thing.

They look for similar yins and yangs in the other features of your family life, the other children (if there are any), the pets, the layout of the house, the facilities (PC, TV, larder, fridge, bathroom) and the essential rhythm of your home.

They look for their place in the pecking order, which brings me back to Ryder and her settling in.

She's very  comfortable with my husband. She chats with him, and jokes. She's polite with him. Same goes with everyone else in the house.

Except, to begin with, me. 

I remember the first time I came across this; foster mums often notice it. Social workers are well used to it.

The professionals tell us that a typical foster child will have a confused picture of the whole concept of 'mother'.  They tell us that very young children need to make an attachment to a loving parent. Having spent 9 months inside mother's womb, she's the most likely candidate. Plus she might be the provider of her own milk, so the mother/child attachment should be well ahead of any other.

But attachment needs more than just those things, and some children don't receive the necessary and end up with a poor sense of attachment, something which can make all sorts of relationships difficult for them through life.

The infant gives out love and devotion towards an individual who doesn't give it back.

The child ends up with a confused and upsetting view of her own mother - and mothers in general. 

Taken into care, their reservations about 'mother' are complicated further. Here's a new 'mother' - what? She's trying to replace my mum?

I've tried lots of tactics to lessen this problem for new foster children, including telling them to call me by my name rather than thinking of me as 'mum', behaving more like a sister/friend than a mother, I've even tried to extend my non-mothering to things like sharing the cooking. Every little bit helps, but in the end you just have to be patient.

With Ryder it took about a month. Now she's happy not only to sit next to me when she plays a video game on my iPad, but snuggle up. Lets me put my arm around her shoulder.

Even manages to let me know that deep down she likes feeling close. 

We don't know yet if there's a clear plan to re-unite her with her real family, it seems unlikely for while, her contact with her mother is less than great. 

Doesn't matter if the child is going home almost straight away, the job is to offer them attachment from the moment they walk through your door. 

It's a great job, too. Best job in the world!

Wednesday, August 15, 2018


There's a phrase I like;

"The smallest fish are the sweetest." I'll tell you how I first heard the phrase shortly.

In life our greatest moments are simply great, how could they not be? There are the traditional milestones if you are lucky enough such as falling in love, marriage day, birth of our children. We might be lucky enough to enjoy other milestones such as passing exams, getting that job, getting promotion. 

People beat diseases, they pass driving tests, they win £500 at online bingo.

And for many people in this wonderful new world we have, there are new and huge milestones; coming out and being accepted, discovering who you really are and that your friends and family are happy for you.

Whatever your backstory, being approved to foster is one of life's biggest milestones. I'll never forget walking out of the room knowing that people who knew what it took thought I had what it takes.

To be honest fostering doesn't throw up endless milestone moments. It's real life. Mind, you get a few; the best milestone moment we've had so far was when a foster child who was with us was nominated for an award, it was going to be staged at a big hotel in a big town so we splashed out and booked a suite at the venue. The child was so agog with the accommodation that the evening was given over to watching back-to-back new-to-view films in the suite's dining room while room service brought endless chips with everything.

Here's the moment... when it was the child's turn to go up on the big stage and collect the medal and certificate, he ran up and punched the air. First and only time the child was unequivocally in a great place, hopefully he found more such moments as he grew.

Well done social services for organising it, it was a moment the child will never forget and nor will we. Milestone moment.

But milestone moments don't have to be massive occasions, and in fostering if you are on your toes, the little moments come thick and fast.

So here's last night's one, I hope you can get that it wouldn't have even been a tremor on any scale, but it was seismic for us.

Foster child brought the eating debris down from the room. 

We didn't ask. We've never nagged. Sometimes on a Sunday morning there would be dead plates which once were spag boll or Chinese. Empty crisp packets, apple cores, juice cartons. The child ate healthy but was territorial and seemed to be attached to the clutter.

So I'm standing at the sink keeping it moving as cups and plates and cutlery go through. And suddenly, there in front of me without any flag up that he's coming is foster child with all the debris.  An armful of plates with cups and food remnants piled up, the child is heading for the kitchen bin to scrape off the waste and then looks at me with doe eyes saying "Do you want this stuff in the sink or the dishwasher?"

Any idea what a killer moment that was for me? So what did I do?

I went (casual as you like); 

"Yur thanks, can you stick them in the dishwasher?"

So the child did. A tiny thing, but huge, huge.

He'd probably had it up his sleeve for a while, wanted to deliver his surprise new self as and when it suited him.

Milestone.  Small one, but in fostering you have to stay alert for them.

I mentioned earlier where I came across the phrase the smallest fish are the sweetest. Years ago I was at a birthday celebration for a girl friend who happened to be Irish but the bulk of the folk were local. It was staged in a big pub backroom, and a darts competition broke out. Men and women had come from all over, some from across the water, and  my other half (who follows darts) said one of the Irish fellows looked vaguely familiar. 

The darts got very competitive, except for the aforementioned little fellow, who seemed not to care much but managed to scrape a win every time.  He ended up in the final, against the overwhelming favourite, a slightly cocksure local man.

Short story long the Irish fellow won (by a whisker) and a while later myself and my other half found ourselves at his table. We said to him "Do we know you from somewhere?" He put his finger to his lips and whispered who he was. He'd made the finals of the World Darts Championship several years ago.

So I said to him; "What does it feel like then, winning fifty quid in a little occasion like this?"

And he smiled and said (and I'd like to believe it was true); 

"Just to make it fair I threw with my wrong hand."

Then he said (and I know this is true);

"The smallest fish are the sweetest."

As they are in fostering.

Thursday, August 09, 2018


It's amazing how many people are interested in fostering but can't get past thinking about it.

Literally, our next-door neighbours and the people who live diagonally opposite us have both let us know they are up for finding out more,  but this is the thing;

They've been 'Up for finding out more' for YEARS. 

They keep having inquisitive conversations with us which end in me saying I can put them in touch with someone and they quickly say something like "Well actually now is not a good time because..."
And they cite a reason such as one of their children is moving up a school, or a grandad is going through a rough time. 

In many cases the real reason has to do with their suspecting that they might not be up to scratch. No-one wants to be told thanks but no thanks. 

In my experience, people sometimes put off making that first contact in fostering in the same way as some people who can sing a bit or act a bit never actually try to make something of their talent because they were afraid of being told they weren't good enough. They can keep the dream going in their head and tell themselves they'll do something about it when the sun is shining. 

It's a shame. I once heard someone say there are thousands of Frank Sinatras out there, but he got up and gave it a proper go. And he benefitted.

With fostering, if you get up and give it a go and you help just one child - just one - you're bigger and better than Frank Sinatra.  A child will benefit.

All because you had a go.

You took the risk (not that it's much of a risk) - it doesn't cost a penny to find out if you, your family and your home have the potential. And the fact is the majority of people who take the plunge discover they are five star fostering material. I haven't got the exact figures, but not many applications fail.

Then there's fear of commitment. I once had a boss who, when we started talking about my work arrangement said "Hey nobody wants to get into something they can't get out of", and that's a good way of looking at many things in life. In fostering, if you make the call, a process starts which you can end any time, without giving a reason, no shame or recrimination. And for anyone on a budget, absolutely no bill or fees.

Even if you get on board and foster; it's not a ball and chain for life. You have help coming at you from every direction and if you need a breather - it gets arranged. We ourselves had years away from fostering while our own children were little, and came back when they could grasp what was going on around them. Just for the record I regret the break; I didn't need to do it - I now know our children could have coped fine, it might even have matured them faster.

I could blog on til the cows come home but the point I want to make to people who are thinking about fostering is that the only way to allay any worries or misunderstandings (believe me we had plenty of those ourselves way back - all of which turned out to be docile) is... make the call. 

Speak to a human being, Google for your nearest or friendliest looking point of point of contact and start talking. 

It's what I did and I'll never forget how in the first 2 minutes of talking to someone (her name is Di by the way and the last time I visited Blue Sky she was still there picking up the phone to strangers and engaging them), I felt better.

I also remember how nervous I was making that first call.

A little voice inside me was saying something like..

"Are you really sure you might be able to do this fostering thing?"

Well, turns out I am, and I sometimes even  get told I'm alright at it, which sounds best when it comes from the kids.

It's a huge leap from thinking about doing something to actually doing something, but every day a person puts it off is another day for a child with no roof, no bed, no home, no hope.

Make today the day you stopped thinking and starting doing.

Sunday, August 05, 2018


One of the many things that social services and fostering agencies hope we foster parents to try to get right is keeping our foster home as normal a home as possible.

Yeah. Right.

I always think it's like trying to keep a rowing boat on the level when someone steps in with no balance. The thing rocks, everyone hangs onto the sides, then after a bit the newcomer stabilises and so does everyone else.

Mind, sometimes those moments are half the fun.

So; we have a new child Ryder, and we happen to be in the middle of a school holiday.

And my sister-in-law is going in for a new knee.

I could talk about Maggs until the cows come hime, she's a rock.  You value your friends in fostering. Don't have to be lifelong friends, can even be trusted colleagues, just someone you can have a whinge and a laugh with. Maggs bounced back after a difficult marriage break-up - on better terms with her ex these days than when they were married, funny, there's a lot of that about - and met the love of her life on the internet when the whole IT dating thing was about 20 minutes old. That was years ago and they have two children age 8 and 6. Thing is that he works nights.

And now she's going to be crock for at least a fortnight.

Maggs has bailed me out more times than I can count. She got herself security checked so she could look after our looked-after children for a morning or even a whole day. Maggs has never said no.

So, boot on the other foot, Maggs needs cover while she's laid up. Obviously I'm there. It's a bit more complicated when you're a foster home, but the job is to run a home that's normal, and helping out a pal is normal and after all her other half is my other half's half-brother (ain't modern life wonderfully complicated?).

Anyway, last night, tonight and tomorrow night Maggs two children are staying here. Brilliant! the house is like the youth club I always dreamed of!

A houseful consisting of; me and him, our own children, foster children and 2 others. The others sleeping on cushions and pillows in the front room (everyone else envious). Stuck in the middle of all this mayhem is new foster child, Ryder. I'm watching like a hawk in case she boils over, but if anything the chaos gives her cover.

It started out awkward, everyone not sure who was who and what was what, but believe me in minutes there came a businesslike calm about the house. First off people scattered to their own corners with their phones, then gradually got drawn to the TV where one of them had got up videos of a band (Green Day?) and deep discussion began as to whether they were rubbish.

It was a GREAT evening. We had a houseful of; children whose parents foster alongside children who are being fostered alongside children who know nothing of fostering.

We watched a Netflix film that was edgy and therefore cool and kept an eye out if any of the younger ones found it tense. If they did they kept it in, and no-one had nightmares. Everyone had my home-made popcorn and complained there were more un-popped kernels than the quality stuff you get at CineWorld.

There was no big result. In fostering it's about bit by bit. The bit on this occasion was that fate chucked us a situation which meant we had to be a normal home and do what a normal home would do, and we did, and it was a winner. And some foster children from homes where things hardly ever clicked could relax in the atmosphere of a home where there were clicks going off everywhere.

Me and him went to sleep with the torch on the bedside cabinet just in case of a power failure (happened to us in Spain). I told everyone that if there was any problem in the night I'd come and find everyone. Didn't want to end up with a houseful of children who watched a slightly spooky film and are all spooked out in the dark.

Eldest foster child sidled up to me at breakfast next day and said "Mum..." (Always sends me doing cartwheels when they choose to call me 'mum'). "Mum," he said "Just so you know...torches are so last century, we all have a torch on our phone duh?"

Perfect weekend, right down to the essential rebuke for being a dinosaur.

A happy dinosaur though...

Tuesday, July 24, 2018


We have a new arrival in our house, Ryder. She's settling in really well, a lovely young person. I'll tell you something that'll warm the cockles in a sec.

I often have to pull myself up and remind myself how hellishly stressful it must be for foster children, especially the first week.

Someone once researched  life's most stressful experiences, things like getting divorced or a death in the family. If I remember rightly the most stressful thing of all is moving home. Hard to believe, but then anxiety isn't going to be anything but unpredictable.

Someone else researched things that scare us. Public speaking ranked scarier than dying. So there are people who, if they went to a funeral would prefer to be in the coffin than delivering the eulogy!

Everyone who'd ever done it knows that moving house leaves you seriously frazzled so we tend to stay put. And most people dread speechifying to strangers so much they manage to avoid it most of their life

So that gives us a bit of insight into the shock of being taken into care and placed with a foster family, because it's those two things wrapped up in one. On day one in fostering the child is not only put in a new house, they are often alone and surrounded by strangers. Plus they don't have any control, and double plus...they are children.

Small - tiny sometimes - defenceless and innocent.

Re-housed (against their will - it doesn't seem to matter how grim their lives at home, it's home to them and we're all suckers for the comfort of the devil we know even if it's bad for us).  On their first day, and for the first few weeks, they have no option but to talk to the foster family. In time we will become (hopefully) a warm and familiar unit for them. But on day one, there's no getting away from it, the fostering family are strangers. Members of the public, and there you are at tea-time, speaking publicly. Answering questions, telling people who want to know - need to know - about yourself and your likes and dislikes. 

They move home and on the same day have to speak publicly to strangers...they have every right to be all over the place!

And yet.

Ryder was a bit of a pickle on days two and three of her arrival (the weekend).  She had two episodes, one on the Saturday when she just boiled over with it all (see above) and another smaller one on the Sunday to do with being asked to have a bath. In the end she didn't, and it's on my list to see if I can find out (without worrying or upsetting her) why bathtime is frightening.

Ryder went to school throughout her first week, then the school broke up for summer on the Thursday.  

Ryder had told me that she'd like to play tennis through the summer. Don't ask me why, I guessed she may have watched a bit of Wimbledon and something clicked.

So I booked a court for 3.00pm on the same afternoon her school broke up. They came out at 2.00pm and we went straight to the park. The shop sold me a junior racket and a tube of balls and, armed with an old racket from the garage we went out on court. I'd suggested we start on the junior courts but she'd have none of that.

I hadn't played for years, but used to play a lot when I was young, mainly during the summer holidays, so being out on a court t took me back.

Poor Ryder, it turned out she assumed that without a single practice shot she'd be able to hit like Serena Williams, creaming the ball to all corners, pounding first serves past a hapless me.

I think she thought a tennis racket was some kind of magic wand a la Harry Potter.

She imploded in frustration. Running back and forth sobbing and smashing balls everywhere but across the net. I was worried that passing strangers would think I was one of those tyrannical tennis parents you hear about. Ryder stuck it out for twenty rotten minutes in the hope it would turn out that tennis would be her saviour, something that would lift her out of her life and into a safe happy place of fun and achievement.

I patted her tears, she turned down a lolly on the way home, and disappeared up to her room when we got back.

I made a cup of tea before my next job which was to pick up with the rest of the brood who were due home from their various clubs (one of which appears to be an informal association whose main activity seems to be hanging around outside the One Stop, don't worry I'm watching that one).

Then Ryder appeared. She'd forgotten about one bit of her tennis experience and wanted to draw a line under the whole episode by chucking it into the mix.

She came towards me, I was sat at the table, and offered her hand for me to shake!

Then.. and this is the really fantastic bit...

She put her other arm over my shoulder and pulled herself towards me in that little embrace that women players do over the net when the game is over.

A hug. Not by any means a bear hug, but a hug all the same.

A rare reward in fostering, and a big moment.

Thursday, July 12, 2018


Dana comments on a recent post in which I mentioned that mild self-harming is becoming some sort of misdirected fashion fad among young people. Dana says; 

"I don't think self harm scars could ever put anyone in the realm of 'cool'. As someone who has several hundred that I have to live with (and cover up for work etc) they're certainly not. They represent a period of intense trauma and the coping mechanism for. Whilst there may be a small minority of children who mistakenly think it's fashionable there is usually an underlying cause and finding that out - and helping is important. 
Also I think some don't appreciate the lifelong negative affects of living with serious scarring. The looks from others the questions, the concerns over judgement.
On the flips idea, having recovered from this 'habit' of over half my life, which was initiated and sustained by a series of negative events I'm confident I can help children with the issue, whether they are trying yo be cool or not. Suspect not mind;I rather suspect they're hurting. 
I'm open about this with my SW too btw. I can't exactly hide it now. Tshirt weather (that is something to watch out for - is your LAC wearing long-sleeved despite the heat). We've changed it into a positive- how I can help others."

First off Dana, can I say how much we respect and value the insight and personal experience you bring, which will stand you in great stead in fostering, and which can be a huge benefit to so many damaged children and young people.

Dana, I think maybe if I was someone whose experiences had caused me the trauma that leads to what is called 'self-harm' I'd be upset about the youths who right now scratch themselves and wear it as a badge of some kind of stand against the world or statement of rebellion.
It's going on, in school huddles and at shopping malls at weekends. They roll up their sleeves so their peers can see they 'belong' to the aggrieved. Seems to be mainly 13-15 year olds, round our way anyway.

Dana makes the point better than I can which is; this sort of 'self-harming' bears little comparison to the very real and very significant problem that Dana and many others experience.

I dare say (have no evidence) that kids who haven't got marks are dissed as wusses and goodie-two-shoes. 

As a foster parent I often try to put myself in the shoes of the child who has come into my home. The experience is always harrowing. Rarely more so that when the child/young person has taken to drawing their own blood. What do we do?

Dana is coming up for panel to become a foster parent who will bring special background to the job. Perhaps if she gets a moment she might write up her advice to foster parents who discover marks on their child's forearms.

Our Blue Sky trainings most recent advice to us foster parents was that there's little point sweeping a child's bedroom for sharp things. I remember one child who stayed with us removed the tiny disc that cut paper on this device I had for cutting paper to size. I hardly used the thing, but I demonstrated it once to her to help her with a school project. She secretly removed the disc and used it on herself in her bedroom. We only discovered this when we called an amnesty on sharp things. She'd also found an old Stanley knife blade somehow somewhere; all her sharp things were hidden behind a drawer in her bedside cabinet. 
What, we're going to do a fingertip search of their room every morning? Keep your eyes peeled yes, but don't overdo the vigilance.

Our training teaches us to be trusting and understanding.

We're taught that some poor people have a NEED to do this.

It was harrowing to visualise, but we were advised that if a foster child appeared with bleeding arms, to say something supportive such as; "Can I get some paper towels for you?"

We're advised to be alert to the moods of a young person rather than the likelihood that they've been sneaking stuff from the knife drawer or the toolbox. 

The training officer who delivered the session on self harming was brilliant, I especially remember the section about WHY people do it; to transfer their emotional pain to a limb, and turn it into a pain they have some control over.

But, to the best of my knowledge, she was not a person who had first-hand experience, as in actually experiencing the need to do it to herself.

So over to you Dana.

Tell us about it, if it's not too painful or difficult. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2018


Ryder slept through on her first night (a Thursday) with us okay, or at least didn't wake us up.

But first early morning with a new child, you're alert.

On a school morning I need everyone to be getting going by 7.00am, the family knows how it happens, but when you have a new addition you are on your toes to mother the new child without being overbearing.

How to wake her up and make sure she's on track?

Take her up a bowl of cereal and a glass of apple juice and gently say; "Good Morning Ryder..."?

or treat her like family from the off as in calling out from the bottom stair;

"Oi! Everyone! Breakfast up! Let's go!"?

Last night she held her own at what could have been a daunting family meal. She spooned her food onto the plate (I always let them choose what to eat by putting everything out in separate serving bowls so they can control their plate, not only the content but the quantity).  Then she ate and joined in the chat, answering questions. Simple questions such as favourite foods and TV/PC games preferences.

Everyone is polite enough not to go near the $64,000 dollar questions such as "What the heck has happened in your life so far?"

Ryder gets meals at school, so that's one less packed lunch to make. She arrived on a Thursday, so has one day of school and then we're into that awkward first weekend.


On Friday afternoon I made Ryder my first pick-up on the school run home having fixed a 3.00pm meeting with her school Senco (Special Education Needs Coordinator) and her Headteacher. They report that Ryder is behind in most subjects; expected. They aren't specific about whether she has any friendship groups, and this worries me a bit. Children with deep-seated problems at home are frequently so troubled they struggle to get and keep mates. Being a loner they can be targeted in the playground by other children. 

I make the point to the teachers that playgrounds need the same levels of supervision and vigilance they give classrooms. I've been making the point for 30 years. 

When she got home with everyone else my job was to keep an eye on her but leave her free to feel her way around the house and the other children.  I manage to get her to sit at the kitchen table and have a chat with me. I finish with: "Any questions?" Interesting that she doesn't ask the usual: "When am I going home." She simply shakes her head.

It's Friday, 4.45pm, Ryder has been here 24 hours and has behaved impeccably.


Her trust in us develops so quickly that she has her inaugural wobble the following day, Saturday lunchtime. It was all very reminiscent of a first-time wobbly I had with a new foster child a while back. What happened on that occasion was this;  we'd agreed to get a goldfish for the child to keep in the bedroom. 
Child and I drove to the big pet shop on the retail park. Bought a glass tank the size of a toaster, some rainbow coloured gravel, a plastic plant, a rubber shipwreck and a goldfish.

I always remember we had to fill in a questionnaire at the shop to demonstrate that we were capable of rearing a goldfish. Amazing really, our society pays more attention to the welfare of a goldfish and her minders than it does children...

We arrived home and were about to start assembling the tank when the child began finding things wrong. The frustrations developed and grew to the point where everything stank and I was an idiot. My husband was in earshot but we've found that a crowd doesn't help with defusing an episode so he kept clear. I helped the child up to the bedroom and said he should stay there until he felt better and that pretty much solved it.

It wasn't his last wobbly by any means, but they lessened and lessened to the point of zero in time and that progress kept us on track.

His initial problem had been with what the professionals call some sort of "guilt".  He was being treated with kindness and generosity, and may have even suffered from the realisation that his previous experiences ought to have involved the empathy which we try to bring to our fostering.  The professionals use the term "guilt", but I see it as something that needs its own term. I think the poor kids have a watershed moment just after they come into care when, subjected to love, they discover that their early years were not the same as everyone else's, most other children didn't have the bad stuff they did, and they have been unfairly treated. 

And then they boil over. Wouldn't you?

I'll hold back the details of Ryder's Saturday morning episode for now, except to say it was also connected to what is called "guilt". My Blue Sky social worker is due to visit and I'm 100% sure she'll confirm that. The big question is, as always, how to let the wobbly exhaust itself, because unless the foster parents treat the child in the way they were previously treated , they will get these feelings.

Ryder attended some kind of dance class at some kind of centre across town on Sunday morning. She's been doing it for a while, paid for by social services.  We've been asked to keep that up. Continuity again. The travel arrangement used to be that the mother of another girl who goes to the dance class would collect Ryder and drop her off, but it's agreed that I'll take her.

And I'll stay and watch.

I always do, when I can. They like it. Even if I'm not their real mum I'm a supporter. They feel a bit more secure. Mind, you have to keep a low profile. They are ultra-aware you're there. They generally don't want you to talk to other parents (and reveal the fostering), and need you to be cool.

I don't know about anyone else, but my boat to the Land of Cool sailed a long time ago. 

I have no tatts, no piercings, no purple streaks. 

Not even the latest badge of 'cool'; mild self-harm stripes on the forarm. I'll come back to that.

So Ryder had another meltdown in the car home from dance. This is one reason why we have foster children sit in the back. She gave the back of the front passenger seat a couple of mild kicks, didn't mean them. The rest was just a bit of shouting and tears.

It was a smaller wobbly than Saturday's. 

Fingers crossed we're on our way with her.