Thursday, December 27, 2012

"I'M BORED..."

I don't remember being bored as often when I was a child as children are nowadays.

And fostered children seems to get bored even more quickly than our own children.

A real-life Downton Abbey-type Lord of the Manor once said "The average scullery maid now expects more excitement in a weekend than her grandmother expected in her entire lifetime."

So maybe this increasing need for interesting things to do is part of evolution or something.

I remember once snapping at one of my children, when I was getting ready on a Sunday to go off to my second job (to make ends meet): "I would love to be bored, actually"

But I also remember some terrible days in secondary school in double maths. The logarithms and sines and cosines were always flying over my head. The teacher, a sad drink of water whose first name was Brian, didn't mind if we weren't learning, as long as we were quiet and appeared to be watching the board. For 55 minutes on end. Then, one Friday:

It was 11.45, there was a quarter of an hour left to go. Something began to stir in me, a slight panic, a bit of anger. A sense that life didn't have to be like this. That my time, my life, was being wasted for me.

I started to literally squirm in the seat. Every time Brian turned to write in the board I would writhe clockwise then back again in sheer frustration. Sheer boredom.

Maybe some instances of boredom are linked to feelings of helplessness, defeat, imprisonment. Maybe what's behind a lot of moaning voices saying "I'm bored" is that terrible feeling your life is passing you by, your chances disappearing as quickly as the days on the calendar.

If you're a looked-after child, you must feel as though you're starting the race a lot further back than all the other children; so what chance have you got? 

Maybe the words "I'm bored" translate as "Help me get going in life, to feel a bit of traction, some movement." or maybe they simply mean "Give me a distraction to stop my mind going back to things I don't want to think about."

Whatever "I'm bored" means, it usually gets "You've got a pile of toys in your room you've never played with, and I have to peel the potatoes." Which means "Big deal. Leave me alone"

Now, if our looked-after child came and said "I'm anxious" or "I'm frightened" or "I'm depressed", we'd drop the potato peeler in the sink and go to work.

So what to do when the dreaded "I'm bored" is heard? It's dark and raining outside, there's nothing on the telly, and potatoes don't peel themselves.

This is a good one:

"Have I ever told you the 10 things I like best about you?"


"Well, do you want them in reverse order or the best thing first, I think reverse order is best don't you?"


"Well, at number ten, of the Top Ten Things I like about you is your laugh. You know, the slightly wicked one, like do you remember when I knocked that stupid china horse off the mantelpiece and a bad word came out?"

"..oh yeah.. (laughs)"

"There it is! That's the laugh I'm talking about! Love that laugh!"

This kind of play/work takes a lot of concentration, but you know what?

Peeling potatoes can be very boring.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

"Innocent Parent" left a long and heartfelt comment about the post below this one, with a few digs at Foster Carers and the system in general.

The thing I took from the comment was a moment to think what it would be like to have your own children taken away.

I've had Social Workers tell me that, shockingly, some parents are, on balance, glad to see the back of them.  I imagine that if you can't cope with children, if everything about them is a mystery to you, if you've run out of ideas to get them to be what you want them to be, it might be a blessed relief to have a quiet home, and to be able to go up the pub whenever you want.

Blue Sky's Child Psychotherapist told me during a one-to-one, that a foster carer would not necessarily be truthful  if she said to a looked after child;  "I'm sure your mummy and daddy love you", because, he said, he'd come across parents who genuinely had no feeling for their children, none at all.

This is, I hope, rare and exceptional. But we can safely agree that lesser degrees of emotional indifference are common.

I had assumed that the parental bond, especially the maternal instinct, was so strong it was universal. The evidence is that in some parents, it's entirely absent or deceased. And in many others, sub-standard.

I can't imagine what it must be like to gaze down at your new baby sleeping, or crying, or laughing and feel nothing? Or to pick them up from school and your spirit falls rather than rises? 

I can't imagine what must have happened to such parents when they were little, for them to grow up like this.

But. I don't have to imagine the effect it has on their children. Nor do you have to imagine either, if you are a foster carer. Because we have to deal with the effects, day in, day out, from the moment they show up at our front door.

I'm going to go on believing there are parents of children who are taken away that are distraught. Not because of the shame, the inconvenience or the cuts in their benefits. But because they have good feelings for those children. 

It's for them to turn those positive feelings into positive parenting.

They could start by supporting the Foster Carer.

I was approached once after a Contact, by the Contact Supervisor who said to me discreetly "The child told his mother that you'd got cross with him earlier that day" My first thought was: "Oh dear, some sort of complaint?" But then the Supervisor said "The mother replied "I'm not surprised, you can be very disobedient, I'm sure your carer dealt with it properly."

As a Foster Carer, that mother's support helped me. And, above all, helped the child.

The Secret Foster Carer

Thursday, December 06, 2012


This comment was added today by a new reader:

"I have just discovered your blog and am so pleased. I have thought about doing it myself but with 3 kids all very young in placement plus my own teenager the time is never there! I have tried really hard to get contact stopped for my little ones as the family brutally abused in every way and the psychological trauma is reawakened esp for one child in a dramatic fashion. The Guardian felt 'the children enjoy contact' having observed one session... I despaired although many months later it is being reduced. I will read all the other posts when time permits"
Firstly, thank you for finding a moment to add your comment. I totally agree about how hard it is to find time for anything outside the bubble of our own placements, our family, and ourselves.

Also, I totally sympathise with your general concerns about Contact. 

Talking to other foster carers, I find an almost universal frustration that Contact could be so much more valuable than it currently is.

My sympathies also go out to the professionals who are required to uphold the 1989 Law, which quite rightly, made reunification the priority, and states, as I understand it:
  • The Act imposes a new duty to promote contact between a child being looked after and those with whom he or she has a significant relationship.
However it also stipulates:

  • Contact must also be offered in accordance with children's developmental needs and take account of their wishes and feelings.
  • The aims for contact should be clearly identified and integrated into the care plan. Contact aims should have clearly stated and measurable objectives that identify:
  1. the identity of visitors and the timing, frequency and venue for contact;
  2. the arrangements for indirect contact;
  3. the carer's role in contact
  4. the social worker's role - in supporting parents, carers and child, and;
  5. the services required to support the contact plan.
Research shows that the following factors are key to successful reunification;
  1. a good attachment between parents and child
  2. a well motivated parent who is willing to change and seek help
  3. purposeful contact aimed at improving the parent-child relationship
  4. contact that is a positive experience, with the child responding well to increased contact

Here's what I think has gone slightly wrong with a perfectly well intentioned initiative: people have got their heads around the bits that are clear and easy to validate. So contact happens, because it must. The time and place and the names of the visitors, you can write it up easy using names, places and numbers. The bits that are hard to validate and quantify have been a bit ignored. How do you "measure" the carer's role? Or children's wishes and feelings? You have to use language and personal judgement; "He got very, sort of, angry, well, livid really, for about an hour and then again for oooh, about another hour, at bedtime, and I think it was because he remembered all the things his parents did to him."  This can never be as unequivocal as recording "Contact took place between child BS, his mother HS, from 4.00pm to 5.00pm on Thursday 22nd, at McDonald's, supervised by Ms PH"

As for "a well motivated parent who is willing to change and seek help", well, shall we come back to that one another day?

Above all; there is a bit of the Act that's missing, and it's the bit that the comment above is partly referring to. Namely, the impact of Contact on the foster home. I couldn't find a single reference to it in the Act. Maybe I need to try harder or something, but as far as I can see, there is no provision for balancing the child's needs, and the priority of reunification against the toll that Contact takes on the people without whom there would be no system; you and me. Oh, and our other halves, our children and friends ("you're looking a bit rough lately"). And, just for the record, my dog, who is still on sedatives.

My own suggestions  to make Contact more valuable are as follows:

At Blue Sky we have a directive to record the impact of Contact on the child. Foster Carers must lay it out, on the line.

We should record the wider impact of the child's reaction on the foster home.

Foster carers should get clear guidelines from Local Authority Social Workers on how Contact is aimed at working towards the child's successful outcome.

We carers should press that the parents are receiving support and guidance in how to achieve reunification, and above all, how they behave at Contact. The parents  should be supportive of the fostering, recognise they got things wrong: maybe apologise to the child for the things that have gone wrong, things they did wrong.

One Foster Carer said to me "Contact? I feel like I'm just a taxi driver, to be honest."

Yeah, but then afterwards, what? 

A firefighter.

The Secret Foster Carer

Sunday, December 02, 2012

You know how you always think of the perfect put-down about 5 minutes too late?

Well, today, for about the first time in my life, it came out right away, and it was a great feeling.

It all started a week ago. Driving home on the school run I was waiting to pull out onto a busy roundabout, the car behind hooted. You just don't take any chances with looked-afters in the car. I waved sweetly at the car behind, to remind that I wasn't a car I was a person. In the mirror the teenager sitting next to the driver started giving us gestures.

The looked-after was mortified. They've seen so much confrontation they don't want any more, however mild. This child's parent had fought with everybody; social workers, the police, benefits officers. Neighbours, friends, family. The child would have been stood there, time after time, burning up with embarrassment. 

I apologised to the child, tried to explain safety is everything, felt a bit guilty that I'd reacted as I did.

Today we went to PC World to check out stuff for Christmas. Child is contemplating a big budget main present against a bundle of lesser ones. Wanted to see what these tablets are all about. 

We'd already decided that child is not getting a tablet. Not before me anyway, for crying out loud. Too expensive. An upgraded DS maybe (hand held children's mini computer to play safe sophisticated games on). 

But the child is entitled to check out all options, so we went to a counter where there were tablets and laptops set up for you to try. The child found one, started browsing, picked a car race game, fired it up. I walked to the end of the aisle to confer with partner. "The games aren't that brilliant, I think we'll get a walkaway." But suddenly, here's the child stomping past us with a grim face. I asked what's up. The child said "A man said could I get off the tablet, he wanted to go on it."

This, as a parent, one does not like. I looked along the aisle to the tablet. Mr and Mrs Important. Salmon pink V neck cashmere over a light blue weekend button down shirt, crisp silver hair, moleskin strides. Her husband was dressed the same. 

We live in a country full of people who think children are irrelevant. It's not just the lost souls down on the sink estate, they're everywhere. 

The child must have seen my face get somehow set. "Don't say anything! Leave it! Alright!"

So I respected the request, and we decided to go. As we got close to the sliding doors, I discreetly hid a carrier bag of pet food we'd bought earlier. When we got to the car I said "Oh flip, I left the pet stuff in there, I'll just nip back." 

Mr and Mrs Important are still at the machine. 

"Excuse me" I said "Did you throw my child off this tablet?" 

Mr Important not at all thrown. "We said would you mind letting us look at this please?" I said "You had no right to do that, you upset the child, you wouldn't do that to an adult, ever, would you?" 

Mr Important replied "These aren't for kids to play on!"

I said "The child is here choosing a Christmas present, has as much right as anybody to use these things, and if you knew what the child had been through, you'd be ashamed."

Mrs Important kind of gets it. "Oh dear, we do apologise, please apologise for us."

Mr Important's expression is clear: not convinced that he might have no more status than a mere... child.

Then it came out of my mouth, perfectly, for once.

"Treat children like adults. Then I won't have to sometimes treat adults like children."

There was a 2 second silence. I'd actually managed to hit a spot. I turned and walked away.

Sometimes it's easier to stick up for someone less well-off than yourself, than yourself.

Got back to the car. With the pet bits.

Child pretended, I think, not to know I'd had a word with Mr Important. 

If the child is with us for a long time, one day I may ask if child remembers the incident, and if child knew I went back in and stuck up for child. I would like to think the answer will be yes. 

I hope the child felt good that their foster carer wanted their foster child to be respected.

The foster carer felt very good about finally getting the right put-down out on time.

The Secret Foster Carer