Saturday, September 08, 2012


We come into contact with a lot of people who have problems in their head. The children we look after have mostly had a terrible time, and it's messed with their mind.

Our job is to give them a safe home and feed and clothe them. In a stable, loving family.

But is it our job to make them get better?

If a child has been injured in a car crash, and her life is in danger, they're air-helicoptered to hospital, for doctors and surgeons to go to work on. Nurses and physiotherapists continue the repairs. Every one of them highly trained. Some of them very, very well salaried.

God bless the NHS.

If a child has been deeply damaged in a chaotic home, he may be a danger to himself and others. Now and especially in the future.

He is put in the back of a social worker's car and driven...round to your house. The social worker and yourself digest a few pages of notes about the child's history, the damage done, and what they need. Then the social worker finishes their second cup of tea and leaves. And it's just yourself.

God bless you sister!

Of course, you're not alone; as the weeks go on Blue Sky and the child's local authority social services will always maintain a strong interest in the child and yourself.

"Is the child getting everything they need?"
"How are you coping?"

Then comes the impossible question, every time:

"Is she making progress?"

And that's the thing I find myself wondering about, a lot, the more I do this fostering job. Are they getting better?

If you're new to fostering, you'll be made aware that "therapy" is available for the child, if needed. You may find, as I did, that a wave of relief passes over you if your child is given therapy. It means that the child is officially the handful you've been saying. It means that the reason the child isn't "getting better" is not because your efforts are rubbish, but because the child needs professional help. It means someone is going to share the hands-on burden of helping the child make progress.

But does therapy work?

My understanding is that the people who invented therapy called it "the talking cure". Although  by "cure" they seemed to think that if a person with problems understands the problems, they're kind of cured. Cured of the mystery as to why they are unhappy.

I have had counselling three times in my life, so far. The first time with a psychiatrist to help deal with an emotional trauma at the birth of our first child. The second when we were having a marital blip. Third when my dad died. Did it work?  I think I made it work. The therapist remains neutral and helps you re-arrange your thinking by asking the right questions. You put your problems into perspective, carry out some controlled shrinkage of the niggles that have grown into monsters. The reason I say I made it work is because I carried on the work through the week.

But my problems were nothing compared to those of many looked-after children. And we can't expect them to carry on the work through the week.

I think the best chance therapy has is for it to be a partnership between the therapist and us. The therapist will be able to make insights into the child's problems, build a programme of development, and measure progress. But it's the foster carer who does the work.

One of our current kids told me I must be going deaf. Maybe I am, but the reason he thinks so is because I have a technique for allowing myself time to think about what to say when talking to a child with problems.

Take this for example. I'm standing at the sink washing up a few cups, it's 4.30pm, tea is an hour away. A voice at the kitchen door asks "Can I have a biscuit?" With my own children it would be a straight "No, it's nearly teatime". But hang on. This child was deprived of  food. Food is a big issue. Is it the biscuit, or the knowledge that food is available? Or is it a control thing? The child is always trying to get control of the house as an antidote to having no control over his life. Will an outright "No" trigger a tantrum which will throw the whole house off balance? I'm thinking all this while the child is waiting. So I say "Sorry pardon, what did you say?", "Can I have a biscuit, are you deaf?".

In other words, I'm amateur-therapising all the time. We all are. I ended up saying "You can have an apple, and a biscuit after tea. Is that Spongebob I hear starting up?"  So I kept control, encouraged good eating, and used my fail-safe when a tantrum looms; distraction.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

As for progress, in my book, if the child wants to fit in, they will make progress. The younger, the better.

There was a quiz question on TV this week; "What is the only organ that can re-generate itself?" I shouted out "The brain!". The answer? The liver.

Speaking of which. my post-school-summer-holidays-health-drive has stalled. I dropped 1lb, put it back on. 

What was that man saying about the liver re-generating itself?  And would I like a glass of red to watch Dallas? Oh go on then...

The Secret Foster Carer


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