Friday, October 12, 2012

When the phone rings...

...and it's Blue Sky's placement guy. You know your life might change a lot and fast.

I was standing in the playground waiting for a looked after child to come out of school on Thursday, raining. The mobile rings. It's the Blue Sky placement guy. The placement guy is the person who's contacted by a Local Authority Social Services when a child or children need a foster home. When placement guy calls it's always, always a massive call. 

He said "Would you be willing to take three boys who have been found in the back of a lorry from Afghanistan, they are technically asylum seekers. All aged 16. They speak no English. Two are Sunni Muslims, the other is a Shiite."

So what do you say? Obviously, the answer is yes. Placement guy says "Thank you, we'll put you forward and I'll call you, it may be tonight."

When a local authority suddenly have a child or children who need a home, they check out all the possible foster carers, and Blue Sky, covering most of the south of England and with a high Ofsted ranking; they usually get a call, especially when it's a challenger. It's the Local Authority Social Services who check out all the possible foster homes, and make the decision.

You phone partner, partner agrees.

Now you're walking to the car with looked after child. "You know we love you very much, and you are very important to us."


It's an issue for looked after children when other looked after children arrive. They will almost certainly feel anxious. They will wonder why you want other children; is it something they've done? Are we bored of them? Will they be sidelined?

Actually, there's some sense in that last worry, that they'll be sidelined; how can you avoid devoting time and effort to new placements, and that means a bit less - or what seems like a bit less to them -for the children who've been with you a while.

We try to make the incumbents feel like they're sharing our job.

In the car I explained to child the new children would be frightened and hungry. They came from a country far far away and were trying to make a life for themselves. And they couldn't speak English.

Child was quiet, thoughtful. 

When we got home I looked up the language: Farsi. Used to be called Persian. Taught myself to say "Hello" - "Salam". Child runs with the language thing, learned to say "Welcome my friend" and "How are you?", in Farsi.

Call from Blue Sky; the boys will not be brought to us until next day at the earliest. They email over a guide to looking after Asylum Seeking children. 

We spend the evening sprucing up spare bedrooms, sorting towels, looking up recipes with rice and lamb. Wondering if we should take down the print in the hall of a woman who happens to have bare arms. Make a list of things to get from Tesco first thing: toothbrushes, flannels, T shirts, track suit trousers. We have enough spare dressing gowns. We talk through up-grading Safe Care.

"Safe Care" is the little things that prevent big embarrassing moments, like people forgetting to lock the bathroom door. Or nipping to the loo at 3.00 am in their pants.

Next morning, you sit waiting for the call. You try to imagine three boys who've stowed away in a lorry and sat across Europe all the way to England, then get caught. Who paid for them? And why? Did their parents, despairing of their children's chances in a war-torn country pool their pennies to get them on the truck? Are they really sixteen? Do they really know no-one in England or is someone waiting in the shadows for them? And if so, why?

You know the Blue Sky Office is manned early doors, but you don't call. They'll call you when there's something to tell you. 

You sit wondering how your life is going to change. 

Call comes: "I'm afraid the boys have been found a family in London who are Muslim, and it's felt they will be better suited there, than with you. We're really grateful you were up for this placement, and hope you've not been through too much in preparing yourselves for this".

"We're fine about this, it makes perfect sense, we hope the boys will be okay."

I phone partner. Partner understands.

I pick up child from school. "Those boys aren't coming to us, they're going to a family that follows their religion, and that's best for them".

"Yeah" says child. "Can I have a lolly?"

Child got lolly.

The Secret Foster Carer


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