Tuesday, April 20, 2021

THE INTERNET? IT'S FANTASTIC!

 Children coming into care nowadays come into a home which contains an additional unseen foster parent. If the foster parents are partners there are three foster parents in the home. If the carer is single there are two parents in the home.

The add-on parent figure is the internet. 

By 'parent figure' I mean influencer, a term that used to be 'role model' in the good old days.

The internet has become a surrogate adult role figure. Back when I was little the potential surrogate parent figure was our favourite teacher, or maybe a TV figure or a pop star.

Not long ago a child's underdstanding of adults other than their mum and dad was limited to a small group of grown-up outsiders, but now they can hand-pick from millions of potential role models. Or, if you're not careful, be hand-picked.

On the whole, although ocassional problems happen, it's a great thing.

They can watch and listen to adults from all walks of life and find out who they like. Perhaps more important they can choose friends from any number of people of their own age.

One of my current trio of foster kids is a very particular child, someone who would have struggled to find a friendship group if the child's choice had been confined to schoolmates, neighbouring children or children of family members. That algorhythm was the total extent of potential friends for all children until recently.

Now, they have a world-full, but how do they pick and choose?

Easy, the internet narrows it down for them, narrows it down for all of us, actually.

It brings people with similarites together. Some folk will rush to the negative there, and there are potentiual pitfalls. But the positives don't get enough reporting, maybe because the positives don't result in headline-grabbing misdemeanors such as the Washington riots, they result in happy contented young people, relieved that they aren't the only one with that viewpoint, those likes and dislikes or that problem, whatever it might be.

Five years ago, on this blog, I posted a piece entitled "The Noise of.." about how us foster parents have to be half awake through the night especially when a foster child is anxious.

In the post I mentioned that I had begun using honey instead of sugar in my early morning cup of tea.

Five years later - three hours ago - I got this response, proving that the internet's trawling of information and it's dedication to bring people with what it thinks is shared interest is alive and well, if sometimes off key.

Awaiting moderation

Agriculture commented on "THE NOISE OF FOSTERING"

3 hours ago
Beekeeping (or apiculture) is the maintenance of bee colonies, commonlyin man-made hives, by humans. Most such bees are honey bee hive in the genus Apis, but other honey-producing bees such as Melipona stingless bees are also kept.



Monday, April 12, 2021

THE FULL ENGLISH

 Middle child not feeling too well come mid-morning, or maybe just a case of needing a metaphorical hug, so I got child settled on the sofa, under a duvet, and watching cartoons. Child had only nibbled at a bit of toast for breakfast, so I offered a full English, child bit my hand off;

"Oooo pleeeeease!"

"Full English". Aka "A Fry Up". Not to be confused with the "Ulster Fry" which the Northern Irish consider superior, but which is in fact exactly the same, so it is indeed to be confused. A "Full English" consists of anything that can be fried in a frying pan (a skillet to Americans). So. It can be bacon and eggs, sausages, baked beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, fried bread. If you like your hash browns, which Americans do, go for 'em. Some like black pudding (blood pudding to Americans) that's ok too. 

Not all of the above items at once, just any four or five of them.

So. To work.

Anyone who's watched "Four In A Bed" - a UK TV competition show about bed and breakfast (B+B) businesses where they take it in turns to cook each other breakfast - anyone who's watched that show knows the palaver of cooking a full English, only for hyper-critical B+Bers to tear each other's plateloads apart.

Well the whinging criticism of those 'professional' moaners would not amount to a hill of beans compared to how much criticism you'll get from a looked after if it's less than absolutely yea. Every detail and intricacy goes into the cooking of a full English for a looked-after child if you care.

And care we do…and I love it.

Preparation; all the ingredients out of the fridge first. Oven turned on to warm, put a plate in.

First, the bacon: Two rashers of unsmoked back with every single tiny bit of white fat removed. It goes into a frying pan which has been glazed with as little vegetable oil as can be coaxed across the surface, on a moderate to low heat so that the bacon doesn't get ahead of the rest.

Second….aaaaggghhh! I go to the larder and remember that I used up our last tin of baked beans on the jacket potatoes two nights ago. Go to plan B…

Second becomes... chips! Fries to be precise. They're such a crowd pleaser the child might not notice the lack of beans. The joy and decadence of French fries of a mid-morning is up there with Barack Obama's secret morning cigarette in the White House. To tart them up to their very best I shallow fry them in vegetable oil to get them that bit crispy - you don't get crisp if you oven bake them, you get floppy.

Third, a small tomato cut in half across its equator and lowered flat side down onto the pan next to the bacon.

Fourth; the acid test. The fried egg. I saw on TV Raymond Blanc telling the camera that if he was auditioning chefs for one of his restaurants he'd ask them to fry an egg. Some did it with a cavalier flourish, y'know, breaking the egg with one hand, all that flashy stuff. Then swirling it out onto the plate. They didn't get hired. Raymond "Voila" Blanc hired the kid who inspected each egg in its shell, who tested the heat of the oil by holding his hand above it and so on.

Same care goes into frying an egg for a looked after.

I use a separate frying pan with vegetable oil about the depth of the thickness of two pound coins. Then add the egg from as low a height as possible. Next is the tricky bit; getting the yolk to set in the exact centre of the white, it means waiting 'til the white has begun to set and lifting the pan and angling it so the yolk moves where you want it but the white stays still.

Gentle heat for the egg too. The fries are done, out they come, pat the oil off with kitchen roll, wrap loosely in foil and into the warm oven.

The bacon is coming on. Flip and, using same sheet of kitchen roll to gently wipe off the unappetising white stuff. I'm told it's only water, but no self-respecting looked after child would do anything but turn up their nose, quite right too.

Flip the tomato halves.

The egg is done underneath, the yolk still uncooked. Spoon some hot oil that had fried the chips onto the yolk to speed it up.  Using spatula, trim off the thin egg white that always oozes outsideways making a funny shape. Fried egg now done and perfect shape.

Time to plate up. This bit is critical.

First the egg, carefully tranferred so it lies across one quarter of the warm plate. Then the fries so they lie parallel to each other and opposite the egg. The two rashers of bacon go on next, slightly overlapping at a corner like a pair of playing cards, then the tomato, flat sides up.

Seasoning. Vinegar first, on the fries. Then salt on the toms and the fries (it is a cardinal sin of sins to put the salt on chips first, the arrival of vinegar washes it off).

A clean and polished knife (one with serrations to make it easier to cut the bacon) and fork…and we're nearly there.

All but for the final, and really, really important bit.

A helping of tomato sauce. 

The reason it's so important is not it's brand, which helps, nor that the helping is the right size (about 3/4 of a tablespoon). No, the importance lies in finding the right…

…location on the plate.

Quick story; when the first computer was flown to the UK from the USA it jammed and they had to fly an expert over from New York to see what was wrong. He took a look at the computer, which was the size of a removal truck, and asked for a piece of chalk. He drew a cross on the side of the computer and said "That's where your problem is". They opened it up and he was right. As he headed back to the airport they reminded him to send them an invoice. When the invoice arrived it was for…$10,000 dollars! They deciced to ask him to itemise his bill and he sent them the following; "To drawing a cross on the side of the computer: $1. To knowing where to draw the cross: $9,999."

Well it's just as big a deal to get the placing of the dollop of ketchup in the right spot. Some use the intuition of the Force. Not me. The tomato sauce goes on the edge of the plate with the chips on one side and the bacon on the other. These are the two items on the plate that need ketchup. The egg has its own moisture in the runniness of the perfectly fried yolk. And tomatoes don't need tomato sauce, obviously.

This done I take it in, and over the din of Homer Simpson I get a genuine "Thanks".

Not only that, when I'm not looking, the child clears up the plate and cutlery and leaves them in the sink. Result!

And. Not only that, there's more. Later same day the child has a wobbly about a Microsoft Account disabling itself on his PC which affects his school work. I keep my cool and we work out a solution based on the fact it's a shared account with the school so the problem probably originates at their end.

I get a text from child about an hour later saying problem solved.

Also saying the most beautiful word I've ever, ever seen on a phone screen.

He ended the message with a word the child has never, never used before; One word;

"Sorry".

Did the sorry have anything to do with the meticulously cooked full English? I reckon maybe it was in there. But most of all, the child is heading in the right direction.

And that means the world in fostering.

That...and a meticulously fried fry-up.




Saturday, April 10, 2021

COKE ISN'T ALWAYS COKE...

 Kennard was eleven when he came to us. In fostering you normally don't know how long you'll have a child for, or what you're going to get in return for your efforts.

You try to give something to the children and somehow they give something back, however long or short their stay.

In our home we work on the basis the placement might be for a long time, but always we're working towards getting them ready to go home. It's a what they call a dichotomy right there I suppose, but in practical terms it goes like this;

The instant they walk through our door and into our home for the first time they are family.

And we care about them so much that we want to help them go away; to their real home.

Yeah, it's a weird one, but no-one in fostering will tell you fostering is a straightforward thing.

So; Kennard…

 Eleven years old. Mum white British, Dad second generation Caribbean. I'm quoting the information we got at the time, if in a hundred years from now someone reads this and thinks I'm somehow out of order even saying it, it's how it was back in 2021.

Kennard's dad is in prison. Kennard loves and worships his dad. Kennard's mum is a wreck. Kennard loves and worships his mum.

So you have a situation in your own home like this; it's teatime and you sit down with your partner and your own kids and a foster child. The foster child is shy and quiet at first but soon discovers that he has a credential; he's more world-wise than anyone else at the table. When I say 'world-wise' I guess I mean 'street-wise'.

The foster child's version of the "my dad is tougher than your dad" thing is more like "my dad knows more about crack than your dad".

Yet Kennard was never more buzzed up than by the fact we kept cans of fizzy drinks in the fridge that they had to ask for…but we usually said yes. Fanta was Kennard's big one, we also kept a few tins of Coca Cola.

So. You find yourself at your own dining table with your own children listening to an eleven year old who you have never heard of until a week ago explaining to everyone how you cook up a batch. Or something like that. I wasn't really listening I was wondering what effect Kennard's world weariness would have on our kids, my partner and me.

Make no mistake, this is what fostering sometimes brings into your home; the stark reality of an existence you've striven to protect yourself and your loved ones from.

But. Life is a two way street. Kennard left us after nine weeks. His mum had sobered up enough and the person in her life who was a danger to Kennard had got the message.

Kennard left us having learned how to bake brownies and loving Spongebob Squarepants more than .. oh I won't bother you with the TV he'd been milked on. 

Kennard left us having picked up some tinges of normalcy. I wouldn't claim he had a song in his heart, I wouldn't be at all surprised if he's behind bars or even underground. 

But Kennard asked if he could keep the Teddy Bear we gave him on his first night.

Well, to be precise, he nicked it.

And in return, my family all know where to go to score coke...and how to make a snowball.

Exchange is no robbery...




Tuesday, April 06, 2021

HOW WOULD IT FEEL TO BE TAKEN INTO CARE?

 What must it be like for a child on day one of being taken into care?

If we foster parents can feel something of the shock-horror they have to deal with it'll be a big help to our fostering.

Every child is so different, so utterly unique. Each experience is subtly different in so many ways it's not easy to think of many features of their experience that are consistent. But there are a few things that are almost ever-present;

1. They didn't see it coming.

2. When it happens it happens fast - at least in their perception.

3. They have an awful feeling that the erupting events are maybe their fault.

4. They know nothing - or next to nothing - about where they are being taken.

5. So much fear...

I've found that the chidren who have come into my care never volunteer anything about the day they were removed, and I always respect their privacy over the event; my Blue Sky Social Workers tell me what they can.

One child who came to us, Marianne, was out of the house when the visit happened. The Social Worker had to sit with the child's mother - the father was off the scene - and await Marianne's return. The mother had no idea the child was out of the house, much less where she was or when she would return.

Social Workers are respectful of each famiy member whatever their concerns about the harm they may be responsible for, so for example, Marianne's Social Worker informed me that Marianne 'may have been witness to drug abuse', rather than say;

"The mum didn't make so much as a cup of tea for herself but kept having to nip to the loo and come back all trippy…" 

THEY DIDN'T SEE IT COMING. 

So for Marianne it came out of the blue. No matter how miserable their lives may be, no matter how much fear or pain or deprivation a child is experiencing, their home is their home and the familiarity of the people in it and the conditions of it give them some kind of comfort. 

They think their lives are about the same as every other child.

Children taken into care almost always have no idea that the investigations that Social Workers undertake could end in a Care Order, even if they know that some strangers have visited. They know nothing of the decision-making process which each case is subjected to, and the gravity that embraces each stage of the process. 

WHEN IT HAPPENS IT HAPPENS FAST

As far as Marianne was aware; she was out hanging with freinds, came home, walked through the door and next thing was in a car heading for our house.

When the professionals conclude that a child is at risk they can't set a date in the future to prepare the child and the family. Once a risk has been declared it's all systems go. Imagine if they ruled a child was at risk and decided to remove the child in a week's time? Delays can occur in search of the best foster home or for other reasons, but the need to act swiftly is high on the list.

So; often the first whiff the child gets that their world is turning upside down is the arrival of the one or more Social Workers tasked with the harrowing job of removing the child or children. There's usually a scene, but a bag is packed and the child says some sort of goodbyes.

Imagine.

Don't imagine too hard, you'll feel unwell, I just did, just then. Have felt sick often thinking about it.

THEY HAVE A FEELING IT'S THEIR FAULT

Marianne needed coaxing out of from the terrible notion that her waywardness had led to her being separated from her mother and 'family' of various adults who were in and out of the house. She felt a massive guilt, which would have enveloped her in the car as she was driven away. In truth it never left her, just softened a bit. But when she walked through our door and into our lives she was consumed, utterly eaten alive, by the rock-solid confirmation that she was a bad person, the worst person.

Children taken into care are usually comparatively compliant to begin with, one theory on this has to do with the above. They believe they have been found guilty of such terrible things, most of them unknown, that they better act perfect or something even worse will happen (goodness knows what they imagine that might be).

One fostered child told his foster parents his family had been broken up because…

…he didn't wash his hands properly.

True.

THEY KNOW NEXT TO NOTHING OF WHERE THEY ARE BEING TAKEN.

Way back in time Blue Sky had us make up a little booklet about who we are and what our home is like. It had smiling pictures of us and the dog, and some descriptions. I believe it was used once, when we agreed to take an older child whose fostering was teetering - but safe - but who was finding the journey to school too arduous. We lived closer. It was the one time (for us) the child could be prepared in advance, so she was given our booklet.

A few days after she came she told me;

"Your house is nothing like in the photos. And from the look of you in them pictures I thought you were all posh."

SO MUCH FEAR…

They arrive bearing a fearfullness that only children who have been taken into care fully know. We can only try to imagine it, then use EVERYTHING we experience when imagining to help the child through their first 24 hours in our care.

Everything. From - if they are small - kneeling down to their eye level to greet them to make ourselves look less intimidating…to making sure they know what do do if they wake in the middle of their first night with us and feel scared.

Everything.

It's our job, our profession.

Our utterly all-consuming profession.






Sunday, March 28, 2021

SLEEPOVERS IN FOSTERING

 One of the hidden benefits of becoming a Foster Carer is that it opens up your social world to a pool of people who are all candidates to be your new best friend.

Lonliness is one of the curses of the age, and there are times when we foster parents feel alone, such as the middle of the night with a restless foster child. Alone but not lonely, because next morning we can pick up the phone to our Blue Sky Social Worker and/or one of our new best friends; a fellow fosterer.

See, we carers meet up a lot. I don't know whether local authorities or other fostering agencies do this but Blue Sky hold regular coffee sessions (which they call support meetings) and catch-up sessions where we hear about the latest research into troubled kids (which they call training sessions). But these sessions are a roomfull of people who are doing the same thing. And nothing makes it easier to get to know someone than if they are doing the same amazing thing as you.

And fostering is as amazing as it gets. You only really really know what it is once you start doing it.

Our wonderful Social Workers get it, but at a kind of theoretical level. They know their stuff, they care to the nth degree, they'll do anything for you. But only carers know what it feels when the front door closes behind the last professional delivering a child, and you're alone and it's down to you from that moment on. Everyone in fostering except carers can clock off most evenings if they want and so they should. They can have a weekend off to re-charge. 

We are Foster Carers. For us it's 24/7.  

I promise you, if you come into fostering, you will be signing into a tribe of incomparable people, all of whom will have your back 'til they draw their last. Seriously.

We are a rum bunch.

My lot, my fellow fosterers in the Blue Sky catchment I'm in, without giving too much away, consists of a man who can't be reached by email not because he can't do computers but because he doesn't have good literacy. But he fosters great. Then there's a woman who used to have a top white collar job with a publisher, she's as literate as they come. Put the two together and you'd think they were sibs.

Fosterers...

A man who lost his job as a mini-cab driver, a woman who didn't know what to do when her youngest son left home for the army. An ex-professional footballer, a man who does baggage at the airport, a woman who can't have children of her own, a former nurse who had a bit of a breakdown with the stress of NHS. A divorcee who loves parenting, a gay couple who simply want to do the best for the world.

We could hardly be more diverse. But we are ONE, because we foster.

In our house we don't do dinner parties, never did - not even before fostering. But a few weeks after we were approved and got our first placement I was at a training session  and found myself sitting next to a carer and we simply clicked. The session was too short so I asked her and her partner to come over to us for spag boll the following Saturday. 

At the time we had a young foster child, one who was very compliant about bedtime, so there was every chance we'd be able to have a good chomp and yak with our new pals - they didn't have a placement at that point in time.

Long story short, they had such a good time (red wine was taken - in responsible quantities ie I had one glass then stuck to OJ) that we put them up for the night in our spare room and sent them off home in the morning with a full English under their belts.

They are friends for life, two of so many I've made in fostering.

I'm not saying people should consider fostering to improve their social lives. I'm saying that if you take the plunge you will have countless reasons why you'll be glad you did it, and one of those reasons is your new pool of pals.




Monday, March 22, 2021

I'VE BEEN EXPECTING YOU MR BOND

 Foster children who come into your home, into your life, they're all unique. Their uniqueness unfolds in the first days and weeks as you spot quirks and traits and oddities about them.

There are also several key things the poor dears have in common, one of which is a neverending surprise to me, despite all the years I've been at it.

They all care immensely about the adults who have let them down. They care about them more than those adults seem to care about the child. There's a powerful bond that flows from the child to the parent, but is scarcely returned.

Sometimes the phrase 'let them down' doesn't truly cover the awfulness of the parenting they were subjected to. They might have experienced chronic neglect where the child, however young and helpless, is simply left to fend for themselves. They have to find food, find somewhere safe to sleep in a turbulent house, find ways of keeping warm. On top of that they have to deal with the feeling they are worthless. They sometimes have to suffer the most unthinkable physical abuse, so unthinkable I'm not going to give examples of horrors I've come across. Then there's the other form of abuse; emotional. The child might have been ridiculed, made the butt of endless derogotary remarks, verbally threatened and made to live a solitary life in fear of everything about them.

Phew. It does me good to remember what they've been through, especially when they're being difficult.

But at the same time it pains.

I've heard of victims of crime meeting their perpetrators and becoming sympathetic towards them, surely human nature at it's very very best.

But in foster children the way they love their persecutors is beyond an admirable human trait, it's almost beyond understanding. My wonderful Blue Sky Social Worker and I are often in awe of the child's concern that their parents are okay. 

We rationalise it;

"Maybe they are worried that if their parents are sick or worse the child will one day have nowehere to go."

"Perhaps the chaos and awfulness of their lives at the hands of those adults is all they know and they experience a sort of comfort in the familiarity of the toxic home."

Whatever lies behind it it's one of the wonders of the world.

I mention it right now, in the middle of the Covid pandemic, because it's a hightened issue in fostering. Children in care have concerns for the wellbeing of their 'significant others' which are well grounded. Often the parent or parents have abused their own health and would be vulnerable if they went down with the virus. Contact between child and parent is difficult, sometimes impossible, and often all the child wants from contact is to see for themselves their parents are alive and well - or at least as well as they've ever been..

The last time I did a virtual contact between one of my lot and their significant other, the child wouldn't come to the laptop, they were satisfied from the sound of the adult's voice that things were ok.

I got to wondering if sometimes the children themselves are surprised and confused about the strength of the bond they feel for the other party. 

And surely they must sometimes grieve privately that the bond doesn't seem to be returned.



Friday, March 12, 2021

AN ARMCHAIR LEWIS HAMILTON

If you read this post anytime in 2021 you won't need me to tell you that there's a pandemic going on.  I suspect that someone reading this in the not too distant future will wonder "What's she going on about?"

Blogs tend to hang around in the ether, what a great tool they'll be for the social historians who'll try to assess how humanity dealt with this bizzare episode in our history.

Fostering seems to be weathering the storm that is a global pandemic pretty well, in many ways it's business as usual. 

The fact is the needs of children in care are so intense that us foster mums and dads can often be almost oblivious of the obvious dangers of Covid.

I drove off to the supermarket earlier today and it simply never ocurred to me to make sure I had a mask in my pocket. When I arrived I blithely got out of the car, grabbed my shopping bags and was halfway to the doors when I noticed a customer coming towards me with her trolley and I found myself saying to myself;

"What's she got that mask on for…?"

And the penny dropped. I'd been so wrapped up in fostering stuff I'd momentarily forgotten about Covid!

Luckily I keep spare masks in the car so all was well.

What had distracted me?

This morning I did a school run with eldest foster child. He's an absolutely fantastic person, I feel so lucky to know him. And know him I do, probably better than anyone else on earth. The courage he summons to deal with terrible things that have happened to him. The blazing intelligence he posseses. His wit. His joi de vivre. His incessant carping...

I said to him as we drove along:

"I want you to know you're dealing with this pandemic better than anyone I know."

He really is. Now he's back at school he takes every precaution against bringing the virus into our house. He has improved his diet because he wasn't getting as much exercise as when he has PE. He does all his school work and homework on time and does it well. He asked if he could have a bottle of white Listerene to keep his mouth healthy and his teeth white. He has built a set of virtual friends to keep his social skills on the move. He tidies his room. He might be the only teenager in the UK who does, but so he does. He looks after his pet lizard, he brings his plates down if he snacks in his room. 

However, when I gave him a word of praise he responded as I knew he would, he told me to shut up.

We drove on in silence for a bit. Then the usual criticisms of my driving began. According to him I either drive too slowly or too fast. I use my indicator unecessarily. I change gear too often. I am always in the wrong lane.

This is just a game we play, I come back at him calling him an armchair Lewis Hamilton, telling him he's the worst passenger I've ever had. 

Getting close to his school I tell him I'm going to drop him at the bus stop layby. He replies;

"Unless there's a bus behind."

I say "I know that, if there's a bus behind I'll go past the layby and drop you in the side road."

He says "Use your mirror to see if there's a bus behind."

I reply; "What, that mirror up there? I always wondered what that was for." 

He nearly smiled.

I dropped him off and drove home wrapped up in the joys fostering can bring if you keep your wits about you. 

And half an hour later set off for the supermarket still giving myself little hugs and clean forgot there's a flippin' pandemic on.

No harm done. 

Quite a bit of good, all things considered.