Tuesday, September 11, 2012


I suppose I've always kept an eye out for low-grade parenting, I don't really know why.
But ever since I started fostering my radar has got even sharper. I find myself working out what's going on and how it might hurt the kids.
I've only challenged parents in public on two occasions and got a mouthful back both times. Both parents were below the breadline, as we used to say.
I was on the verge of calling the police a while back as a young woman, fag on, effing and blinding, dragged and smacked a child along a pavement, for a long way.
And a few weeks ago I called my local social services after a man, palpably drunk at 9.30 in the morning (he was holding a can of special brew) was pinning a child into a wheelchair and yelling threats. They thanked me, turned out the family were known to them.

Then again, sometimes the poor parenting is subtle, even apparently well meaning.

We were in a pub garden a few days ago; it was a gastro pub.  The only other family sitting outside consisted of a mum, the gran - almost certainly the mother's mother - and 3 boys aged about 6, 4 and maybe nearly 3. The women sat diagonally opposite each other and barely spoke. The children roamed, and were periodically told by the mother what not to do: "Don't stand on the seat." "Don't go near the doggy." The grandmother's face set into a grimace. The mother's body demeanor was "I'm very relaxed with my children's behavior".
There was clearly a tension between them. The grandmother was becoming embarrassed that the children she was with were not "behaving", ie sitting upright at the table and not speaking until spoken to. The mother was sticking to her more relaxed parenting.

Then the eldest two  boys pottered around the two foot high wooden rail separating the garden from a safe grass field, and peered over at their mother and gran. The gran hissed to her daughter "Look where they are now."

The mother turned and said "Don't go too far".

The youngest followed his two brothers round the rail  and peered over the rail, just like his brothers. The other two took a few steps further out into the field. the mother started "I said..."

The gran leaped up and marched round the rail. The 2 year old had his back to her and didn't know she was coming. She picked him up by his underarms, fast, swung him over the rail and plonked him down on the garden side. The lad burst into tears, frozen with surprise and fear. The gran commanded the other two "Get back in there."

The 2 year old was inconsolable. He'd been innocently copying the others when he was unexpectedly hoisted - fast  and roughly - into the air and dumped down, he didn't know by who or why. 

The grandmother returned from her triumphant, decisive sortie. Order had been restored, discipline applied. Oblivious she'd traumatised a tiny infant - something that would have seen her in court if she'd done it to an innocent adult.

His mother said nothing, did not console him - it would have seemed like a challenge to her mother's behaviour.

One boy was sobbing, the other two on a knife edge. They didn't know what they were supposed to do by way of play or exploring.

Harm had been done. In our training we learn about the impact of confusion about rules and the inconsistent consequences of breaking them, and how that can develop into neuroses, stored up anger against authority, personality disorders. The "family" ate their deep fried battered fresh local cod with roasted potato wedges (fish and chips to you and me), in silence, and sloped away in their Range Rover.

I doubt any of those children will end up in care, hope not. More likely they'll bond with other young men with similar dispositions at prep school and become useful members of society, running banks.

As foster carers we see our fundamental principles of  respecting the child, sharing their world, protecting them from harm, being denied to other children so often it is quite grievous.

That said, the vast majority of mums and dads are absolutely brilliant; loving, patient and caring.

I guess my point here is that the bad stuff isn't confined to sink estates.

The Secret Foster Carer


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