Saturday, November 17, 2012

They say that  one of the drawbacks about the prison system is that prisoners find out from other prisoners about new ways of behaving anti-socially.

The same thing can crop up, on a much smaller scale, in fostering.

We had a foster child, been with us about six months, aged 6, I'll use the name "A" for anonymous.  The poor child had had such a terrible life. Knew it too, and was somehow dealing with it. Matter of fact, whenever I'm feeling sorry for myself, I don't ask myself "What would Jesus do?" or anything like that. I say to myself "What would little "A" make of my "problems" and "worries"?" The answer in my head is always "A" saying to me, like Crocodile Dundee in that knife scene; "Aw, that's not a problem. These are problems.

"A" learns faster than anybody I've ever seen, but not always in a good way. What I mean is "A's" capacity to absorb and remember is huge, but there's sometimes a lack of understanding about what's important and right. I remember the nurse asking "A" many questions during a routine health check  including "Do you feel tired in the morning". "A" replied "No" and didn't get a "That's great!" from the nurse.

Next morning, and for quite a few afterwards "A" wouldn't get out of bed, lay forlornly on the sofa, walked to the car at a snail's pace. We worked out that "A" had assumed wrongly that the question implied that it was good be tired in the morning, that answering "No" was the wrong answer, and to prove that "A" was a normal kid, why, better act tired. We sorted that by explaining.

Anyway, a second child arrives with us, "B". A mature teenager, weighs around 14 stone, loads of attitude and occasional anger. We'd read up on the history and the behaviour was nothing more or less than you'd expect. I'd go so far as to say that "B" deserved opportunities to be angry.

But when "B" blew a gasket, everyone sat up and noticed. "B" was never violent, or in any way a danger to anybody, not even "B". Like many looked-after children, "B" could switch it on, and was in control. But there was noise; bellowing, bad language, and doors slamming.

The first time "B" had a wobbly it was downstairs in the kitchen, and "A" was there too. We'd been asked to tell "B" there'd be no Contact with mum that weekend and "B" flipped. "I AM going to see mum, and you can't (expletive) stop me!" "B" stomped up the stairs, went into the bedroom and slammed the door.

Foster Carers are expert at analysing door slamming. This was an 8.

A 9 or a 10 is damage. A huffy slam, where the hand remains on the door handle, and the noise can be heard around the house if it's quiet, is a 4 or a 5.

"B" came back out of the bedroom, shouted down the stairs, and went back into the bedroom and slammed again with another 8.

"A" was watching all this. I find that troubled children feel a security when another child is behaving badly. They know the focus is not on them but someone else, and that they are going to be regarded as "good", because they're not sounding off.

However, just as we expected, "A"'s next episode rang with the sound of slamming doors. It was a new behaviour, and because we'd not over-reacted when "B" did it, we stayed cool when "A" experimented with it. Finding out what it felt like. Testing to get a similar 8. "A" slammed a 5 first, then a 6, then a 7. Then an 8 followed by another 8, getting the timing and the swing exactly. No 9 or 10. About half a dozen slams in all. Always from within the room.They never slam the door as they exit back towards us, I find. The slam is to close the door behind them, and close them off from us. From the world.

We didn't even mention it back at "A" when we were going through de-escalating. And "A" never did it again.

"A" also aped the bad language. Having witnessed another child get away with using the F word, but to no-one in particular, "A" asked me in the car on the way to school if the F word was the worst you could use. I said it was bad, very risky to use to stranger or a teacher, and not right use to a foster carer. 

I didn't tell "A" that in my opinion there is one particular word that's worse.

Couple of days later "A" had another episode, and standing at the top of the stairs whispered the F word three times. Got no reaction from us.

And never used it again.

"B" was also very kind to "A", and I heard them talking a lot about fostering, comparing their stories. "B" told "A" that fostering was often the best thing, one time, in the car, and somehow, coming from "B", it was official.

"B" left us after a while, is now doing fine I gather. "A" is still here, still kicks off from time to time, doesn't slam doors or swear. 

Thing is, you can't wrap a foster child in cotton wool. Having more than one foster child in the home, if you stay alert to the good transactions, and manage the bad ones, can be a really healthy thing.

Maybe other carers have different experiences.

The Secret Foster Carer


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