Thursday, July 05, 2012

One thing I hope we can do on the Secret Foster Carer Blog is to swap experiences, especially things that have surprised us about fostering. My partner and I encountered something odd very early in our life as carers, and, as one tends to do, we put it down to being something particular to us. Only after many meetings with other carers did a pattern emerge.
I wish a solution would emerge too…
In the meantime, here is the phenomenon:


In my experience, most children in care have an axe to grind with their carers, at least during the difficult first months. As carers we know we can expect it.
Their hostility is understandable:

      they are angry about almost everything
      they think the carers are the ones behind the decision to take them from their real home
      it’s the carers who have to say “no” to things they got away with before
      they transfer conflicts from their real home – with parents and siblings - to their new home.

But what’s astonishing is the level of resentment they direct towards the woman of the house.  There’s no way new female foster carers can be prepared for their care and kindness to be met with total rejection.  The child responds completely in the opposite way to the proper reaction to one of life’s most basic deals: “I’ll be nice to you and you be nice to me.”

It comes as a shock, especially when the harshest behaviour is directed towards the foster mother.

And from my own experiences, and talking to other carers, this is the norm. In our house, a new and addled child will dish out some disobedience to the man. But they usually save everything from the subtle stuff (casual putdowns), to the blatant stuff (outright confrontation) for the woman.
The man gets more engagement and friendliness, even if he has the job of saying “no” and “bedtime, no argument please” more often. The woman can find herself in an ongoing battle, even though she is the one with the sticking plasters, soft voice and kind words.
Perhaps most surprising is that this seems to apply to boys in care as well as girls.

I’m going to skip this bit: because, in all truth, I think certain reasons are obvious and well known, such as they resent another woman trying to be their mother. Other reasons have yet to be unearthed and measured. I have a theory of my own I’ll run past you at the bottom.

This is the most important bit. Be prepared for it. Talk about it between yourselves and everyone else you trust who’ll listen, especially your social worker. Work hard on it, praise good behaviour towards the foster mother. If you think it’s possible, talk to the child and let them know they cause hurt. Try not to fall out at home over it. This is very hard, and it’s what’s led me to my theory.


This doesn’t explain it all, of course, but it’s a contributory factor, and something carers can control. A looked after child has probably been in a home where there has been a lot of conflict. It may somehow be a comfort to them. Certainly, if their parents were at each other’s throats the children were safer than if they were the target for the parent’s anger. All children play their parents off against each other one way or another, at some time in their lives. The looked after child may have learned a higher stakes version of this, and is putting their skills into practice to achieve the world they know, where the adults are in conflict with each other. And in order to have one adult as their friend, they must make an enemy of the other. As foster carers we have a child in our home who needs to know that a pair of loving adults stay a pair, and help the child discover a new place in the home.
If this is something you have experience of I’d be happy to hear your comments.

The Secret Foster Carer


  1. Hi,
    Thanks for writing this blog. I'm thinking of fostering in the future. In the meantime, real-life blogs like yours are great to find out what it's like. My (single) aunt fosters a teenage girl, who is often aggressive; lashing out verbally and rarely physically. I thought at first, because my aunt was single, that your theory wouldn't hold. On reflection, perhaps the "other adults" could be her birth mother, grandmother, teachers, or social worker, so maybe it does.

  2. Good point, I've met many single foster carers, women and men. I suspect the relationship between the child and the carer has a very different shape from where there is a pair, I guess the only people who could make an informed comparison are those who became single carers after being in a partnership, or vice versa.
    I have to admit I don't know how I'd cope alone, what with the workload and the need to share the day with someone.
    May I ask how far you are along the road to becoming a carer, or is it just something you are considering?

  3. Hi, I am a single foster carer and have a 16 year old girl with me. It can be very difficult at times and really challenging managing alone. Overall we get alone very well and my foster daughter has found it very difficult settling into care but seems happy with me and I have been her longest placement so far. Maybe that is because she does not have to share my attention ?

  4. Hello, I have experienced the same sort of reactions as your partner from two of our placements. My husband and I feel this is likely to be for different reasons. As you say, one is we feel because they feel I am trying to take the place of their Mum, who they adore and can in their eyes do no wrong. The other however, we believe is because the Mum was the one who abused them.
    In both cases it is difficult as it does hurt, despite the fact that you know intelligently that it is because they are battling with their own demons and don't want to thrash out at their parents.
    What I've found really important at these times is a good support network where you can let off steam. Partners, family and friends are vital of course but so are other foster carers. In fact, because they may well have experienced this behaviour themselves, the advice and broad shoulders they provide are second to none.