Tuesday, June 26, 2012


When they used to send Apollo rockets to the moon the countdown would go “…three, two, one, zero…Contact!” and on the word “Contact” all hell would break loose. You can see where I’m going here.

Nowadays “Contact” is the term for when children in care meet up with their real family. Usually weekly, sometimes more. It’s an absolute. You can’t avoid it. The Carer has to escort the child into Contact, and therefore meet the parents. Then you leave them to it. “Contact” usually takes place at a Contact Centre, with a professional supervisor in the room. Sometimes it happens at an informal location, such as McDonalds.


A court, of some sort, mostly. And they don’t want to be accused of splitting up a family. Before I became a Carer I would have argued strongly that staying in touch with their real family was essential for a looked after child’s wellbeing.

I now have different views, expressed below, which are mine and not those of Blue Sky.

Contact is a real powder keg, and should be very, very carefully tailored to the child’s needs.  By tailored, I mainly mean reduced to bare necessity. This would benefit the child, the Carers, and social workers. Maybe even parents too - although I had to deal with a mother of six who wanted Contact because she thought her child benefit (for all six, even though they were all in care) depended on it.


They want to go home, be back with their real family, almost always. No matter how chaotic their life was at home, it’s what they know, and being in care means so many new things to deal with. 
If they look forward to Contact it’s because they hope that this time their mummy and daddy with scoop them up in their arms, shower them with affection, food and gifts, apologise for what’s happened and tell them they love them. It doesn’t happen, in my experience.
The child comes away disappointed, frightened and angry, and dumps it on the Carer.


They are often embarrassed and defensive about their situation.  This comes out as a frostiness towards the Carer, which the child picks up, and complicates the work you’re trying to do. The parents hope your care falls short, which will in some way exonerate their parenting.  Aware that they are under scrutiny they affect “good parenting” by asking the child if he’s being good, and commenting that their shoes need a clean. To be fair, it’s hard to deliver loving affection (even if you know how), in a neutral environment, with strangers looking on, at exactly 4.00pm for exactly an hour every Wednesday.


A foster carer works 24/7 with a child. You’re on the clock for 167 hours a week. You strain every ounce of brain matter, heart and sinew to build up the child. Then Contact comes along and down goes the house of cards. 

I know there are exceptions, but it's broadly true.


  • Make a proper assessment of each child’s individual profile. If family members behaviour has been unacceptable, why stick the child in front of those people every week?
  • The child’s family should be helped as to how to behave at Contact, rather than allowed to continue with their dysfunctional parenting. Which must seem even worse to the child; being unloved while a supervising expert looks on and says nothing.
  • The Courts need a wake-up call on how Contact fails. The public need their awareness raised. I have a fancy dress Superhero suit, anyone want to be Catwoman and climb Big Ben with me? Worked for that Fathers 4 Justice mob.

The Secret Foster Carer

ps For those who like to extend metaphors: Those Apollo missions that started with Contact did manage to get somewhere. Somewhere cold, dark and uninhabitable.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Fostering is hard. It’ll come as no surprise to anyone if this blog goes on to sometimes resemble a wailing wall.
But we do it, this fostering thing, so there must be something about it we like, maybe even love. And as this is the first post, why not start by reminding ourselves that it can, occasionally, be brilliant.

There are the little things, the ones that are actually easier to spot. I had a six year old who refused to hold my hand when crossing the road. I stuck out for him to do as he was told - he was a bit of a runner, and the fostering goal of returning them to their real home becomes an even greater challenge if you have to keep pulling them out from under a truck…

So every day on the way to school we’d get to the kerb, I’d reach down for his hand, he’d pull it away. At first I’d have to grip hold of his wrist as I didn’t want to squeeze his tiny hand. After a few weeks he’d hold my hand, but always unclasp the second we reached the pavement. After a few months the “hold hands to cross the road” thing was on board, but it didn’t seem much of a triumph, until one day, in Tescos, when we were doing a quick bread and milk run. Walking past the bacon section (I can remember the moment with absolute exactitude) he reached up and clasped his hand in mine. Without a word. And he kept it there until we got to the milk. If it was, as my social worker said, an even bigger deal for him than it was for me, then this was a deal as big as the great outdoors.

Then he went and had a major wobbly in the car, as in:  “I hate you!”. But because I’ve tried to keep up with the training, I knew it was not because he hated me, it was because he felt guilty about holding my hand. So that’s another little triumph in itself, learning the ropes, and putting the knowledge to good use.

The Big Triumphs in fostering are, I think, harder to measure. Helping a youngster to like themselves, and others, and enjoy life in general; that’s a tall order, a long road to travel. And anyway, they’re achievements that seem to elude a great many people in general, never mind about looked after children.  The closest I get to this particular reward is when my partner starts a conversation “Do you remember what he was like when he came to us…?”

Next time, I want to talk about one of fostering’s big bugbears, namely Contact.  Until then if you have time to mail me a fostering moment that brings a smile to your mind’s eye, here’s thanking you in advance.

The Secret Foster Carer