Friday, December 20, 2013

Fostering and Holidays

IT'S midwinter, which means that any day now we’re going to start getting bombarded with holiday advertisements. They usually leave it until about the middle of the afternoon on Christmas Day, then suddenly TV commercials start popping up alongside all the ones for Sales and keep fit products. Lovely images of golden beaches, or a handsome loving couple sitting in an exotic restaurant on board a cruise liner.

HOLIDAYS are interesting things every time, but when you’re fostering they take on a huge new significance.

BEFORE fostering, the biggest significance of the holiday used to be when you had to decide whether you and your new partner are solid enough to go away together. If you met him after you booked a singles holiday with your pals should you invite him along? Is it practical? 

IF you decide to go on holiday together it’s seen as taking your relationship to a new level, almost like buying a ring. If your relationship has been a bit up and down, but the holiday is booked, your friends will say that the fortnight will be “make or break”.

HOLIDAYS, when you’re fostering, have the same sort of impact on your family and your placements.

FOR a start, it’s risky planning ahead, or at least, it’s complicated. Who hasn’t kept putting off booking their holiday because, quite simply, you don’t know how many of you it will be?

WHEN foster carers accept a new placement, the job is to begin forming an attachment-based relationship with a young person, whilst simultaneously working to prepare them for successfully going home.

AFTER a short while, I find, you get a bead on the child’s situation, and say to yourself, for example “There’s no way s/he is going to be able to go home for months, at least that’s how it seems to me, having got to know the family through turning up at Contact”. You run it past your social worker and they lay out all the processes such as reviews, or court proceedings or whatever. 

WE once had a teenager stay with us for three weeks, the reason being his permanent foster carers liked to go on holiday without him. 

SOUNDS harsh, but that seemed to be it in a nutshell. Actually his carers were very fond of him, and he liked and respected them. But he was a teenager, and a cottage in the south of France is no place for a streetwise young man to while away lazy days reading a book before strolling to the bistro. He was far too polite to say so, but the prospect of being shacked up with a middle-aged couple probably filled him with one of the big teenagers dread fears, namely boredom.

SO he shacked up with another middle-aged couple (ourselves), stayed out late every night, then stayed awake till dawn listening to music and nipping out the back for a rollup (approved by his SW – he was old enough and it was normal baccy) every hour or so. 

HE had a fascinating quirk. You know those big spiders that come out in the house during the night? Apparently they are looking for a drink, which is why sometimes they end up in the bath, if you have a dripping tap. This lad would spot a spider scurrying across the carpet, and put a drinking glass over it. Then he’d write a note about the incident, and place the note next to the glass prison, with an arrow pointing to it. He’d use block capitals to write things like:


ONE morning we came downstairs and there were three glasses on the floor each with a prisoner inside sitting awaiting their fate. I’m a bit arachnophobic, so Bill let them out in the garden.

IT told us a lot about how the lad perceived his life in care. The spiders were captive in a glass prison, their fate to be determined by someone else, reports written about them, judgements passed about them, suspicions harboured about possible wrongdoing.

THAT'S one of the many fascinating aspects of fostering, you get to be an amateur psychologist all day long, which is rich, but tiring.

ANOTHER reason why foster carers need their holiday.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Fostering - The Importance of Being a 'Mum'

I mentioned to my own mum that I’m writing a Blog for Blue Sky about fostering. Mum says she gets cyber things like the internet and mobile phones, but, come on mum, if you’re reading this, you know it’s a bit of a mystery. 

I’M in a generation sandwich with technology. I have parents who don’t get it, and yet my kids think I don’t get it either.

MY kids tell me that not only is email dead, but Facebook is for losers, and as for Twitter, their generation never did it anyway. They are into the latest things whose names I’ve already forgotten, things which come as apps, which I don’t really get.

I remember when I was a teenager that anything about my world that my parents understood was no use to me because I wanted my own world. I hated it if my dad liked (or pretended he liked) bands I liked. If my mum approved of a new hair look I’d spent my pocket money on I was disappointed. I actually once went upstairs in a huff and ruffled up a style I’d spent ages on because my mum said it looked beautiful.

ANYWAY, I got the blog up on her PC for her, and she read some posts. She said some nice things, and a few criticisms like parents do. Parents criticise not because they don’t rate your efforts, but because they are desperate for you to be as good as you possibly could be at everything.

IF I was honest, I wanted mum to say “Wow, that’s fantastic, you’re a great blogger”. 

I wanted her to watch me write one, and be impressed. I even wanted her to say how amazing I am with computers, because computers are like magic to her. I’ll never forget the time she watched a fax come through on our fax machine, she almost ran out of the room spooked.

THING is, now that I’m a foster carer, bringing up children isn’t just a matter of being a mum, it’s my job. 

My vocation. I’m a professional mum. If you’re a foster carer the same applies to you. You’re a professional parent.

IF your child has a sore throat, you do a bit of mild medicalism; a spoonful of Calpol and feed them runny food. Then you get them to a doctor in case it’s tonsils or an infection, and let the professional take over.

OKAY a doctor trains for 7 years, whereas foster carers are assessed over 6-12 months, then do regular training sessions, but most of us have had our own kids, and that was a training session longer than seven years.

THE thing is that I was sitting next to my mum at her computer, watching her read my blogs, and I came over all childlike. I had a bit of what they call an epiphany. A moment. I learned something, something huge, that I now use with my fostering and I want to share. See if it makes sense to you.

WHAT it is is this; I wanted my mum’s endorsement of my blogs more than anything else. More than my husband, more than Blue Sky, more than anybody, I wanted MY MUM to say “Well done!”

NOW here’s the thing. When my own kids came out of school with a painting they’d done, I would gush how good it was. When they went to bed nicely I would tell them how good they were. When they played football or were in the school Nativity play I would tell them I was proud. 

THEIR reaction was always a warm glow at my engagement with their efforts.

SO far, so normal.

WHEN I started fostering, and a child did something clever on a skateboard or got a star for a piece of schoolwork I would do the obvious and act like I acted with my own kids, like it pleased me.

THERE was often a different reaction from the child. They might stop skateboarding and strop off indoors. I remember a nice painting being ripped up.

WHY? Because I was dumb enough to pretend to be their mum. It only reminded them that they’re being cared from away from their real mum. Maybe even reminded them that their own mum isn’t kind enough to watch them at play, or celebrate their successes. 

IF my mum had shown zero interest in my blogs, I’d have felt hollow inside. If I’d been told that another woman was going to stand in for my mum and be nice about my blog like a good mum should, I’d have been pretty poisonous about her efforts.

SO what I do now with this little corner of fostering, is to say to the looked after child, when they come and say they’ve broken their own record on Super Mario,  or they manage to eat some broccoli, or clean their teeth without being nagged is “Well done! We must remember to tell your mum at Contact”. Or something like that. Not every time, obviously, but often enough to make a subtle point.

I find you often get a peaceful reaction, as they envisage their real mum giving them a hug and saying how proud she is, and just for a moment, they have the mum of their dreams, literally, even if the reality a few days later, when they show mum their schoolwork, is a rude awakening.

PLUS I try to compliment their success by saying “Don’t let Bill have a go at that kerb trick with your skateboard he’ll break a leg” or having a go myself at Super Mario and crashing into the first cliff – not hard, that one.

Happy fostering.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Fostering - being non-judgmental

MY current looked-after child has been opening up about his life before coming into care, my social worker says it’s good for him to talk. She says the sort of things that have happened to him are all too common. The hard part for us is listening to the experiences he tells us about, it hurts to hear it. The even harder part is finding the right thing to say after he’s shared.

MY best friend who is also a foster carer, says her current child has similar stories to tell. It seems to be the case that the average parent whose children have to go into care hasn’t set out to be a bad parent, they just haven’t a clue about looking after children, and spend all their time trying to manage their own chaotic lives.

HE tells us things in bits and pieces, his social worker fills in the gaps, not by way of gossip, but because carers need to know as much as possible about the child in our care to do the job.

SO, this was a typical day for him (actually, this isn’t a typical day for him due to confidentiality reasons as I cannot share this, but the description below does reflect the typical day a looked after child may experience based on listening to others during our foster care support groups.

MUM gets up late and starts the day shouting at her own mum into a mobile that she’s getting a Court Order against “Dad” because he had it off with his girlfriend on the sofa last night while she was up the pub. According to Dad, he’s left mum six weeks ago because of her drugs. He says he’s been sleeping on a mate’s sofa. Mum likes to go to the pub most nights because she has a hard time looking after all the kids all day and she needs her “Me Time”.  Mum is incidentally, obese, pregnant, and was in care herself when she was a child. Dad is nearer seven feet tall than six and has been to prison for assault.

MUM hasn’t a job, nor has Dad. Dad needs money because he needs to go to all his teams home and away games, and that’s expensive.  His benefit doesn’t pay for his travel, beers, fags and other stuff, so there’s a big issue about how much of the child benefit he is entitled to.  Mum makes Dad do babysitting shifts so she can go out and she pays him. He brings fish and chips and beer and watches the big flat screen TV all evening. The children are locked in their bedrooms. The doors have had brackets and padlocks fitted. The doors were opened to push in sausage and chips in paper wrappers and they were told to be quiet. He leaves when Mum texts she’s on her way home.

AFTER midnight there’s a big argument on the phone, with Mum accusing Dad of everything from having his girlfriend show up even though she’s banned from the home, to pushing his fish and chip wrappers down the back of the sofa instead of clearing them away.

NEXT morning her eldest (now with us) has wet the bed again, and needs to learn he shouldn’t, so she removes all his toys from his bedroom, he can have them back when he goes a week dry. She opens his bedroom window and hangs the wet sheet on the sill to air, it doesn’t smell that much, if it’s not dry tonight he can sleep on the bare mattress. He has to learn. Mum probably thinks this sort of parenting is what everyone does, because it’s all she knew when she was little, and her friends agree with her, even help with more advice about how to control kids.

HER eldest goes out and stays out all day, she is worried sick. She calls her friends, then the Dad, her social worker then finally the police.  After her eldest comes home safe and everyone else has gone away she takes his confiscated toys into the garden and makes him watch as she smashes them all to pieces. He has to learn not to disappear. 

HAD enough yet?

THERE'S definitely more to come, and when it does we’ll continue to listen, trying to be neutral. By which I mean we don’t pass judgement on his parents while at the same time being sympathetic, which is the tricky balancing act. The thing is he doesn’t know his life was unusual and wrong, he assumes it’s normal, as all children do. Until they see what family life should be like.

OUR job as foster carers is to work towards the family getting back together, but every other carer I’ve talked to about this agrees that unless and until the parents get proper help with their parenting the cycle will just go on.

THE children? They all seem to want to go home, no matter what home was like, no matter what the parenting. They quietly plot and scheme ways they can get their parents to love and like them, it’s painful to see.

PAINFUL, and probably futile.

OUR own children have benefitted in many ways from our going into fostering. There have been problems, of course, but among the many benefits has been them learning, well, how lucky they are.

HAPPY Fostering

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Fostering and 'snooping'

WHEN Blue Sky asked me to become the new Secret Foster Carer, one of the things that worried me was that I’d say things that would come out wrong and that I’d end up making myself sound like a bad carer or parent. 

THE thing I want to talk a bit about here could easily be misconstrued, because it’s in the news a lot, and is universally deemed a bad thing. It’s SNOOPING. 

THE sneaky stuff that journalists  do, or governments, might be right or might be wrong, they are trying to get stories or control. As parents, we just want to know our kids are okay.

AS a parent, you can never be sure exactly what your children are thinking. Well, I’m speaking for myself here, maybe some parents do. Or kid themselves they do. Children say things, behave a certain way, or go round with a look on their face.

SO you ask outright, what’s up?

IT'S hard to pick the right moment to ask what’s up. I have a friend who fosters who says she sets aside 15 minutes every day to sit her children down and have a chat one-to-one. She says that sometimes it’s a straightforward catch-up, occasionally it’s a heart to heart. It’s not something I do, or have tried, because it strikes me as being a bit forced and anyway I don’t think “meetings” have a place in families, except when there’s an actual crisis.

PLUS it could easily turn into a bit of a pressure for the children, having to report to the kitchen after school every day. I prefer to rely on my antenna. Stay on my toes to pick up clues. Watch and listen, without them knowing, so they don’t feel like they’re being scrutinised.

THEN there’s the simple fact that I’m not organised enough to have a schedule which is built around a daily face-to-face.

THERE’S no point asking “Are you okay?” or “Is there something on your mind?”. You might as well ask them what the weather will be like at the weekend or how much baking powder goes into an 8 inch chocolate cake. They don’t know.

I went to a useful training session which touched on emotional intelligence. Emotional Intelligence is how good you are at understanding the different moods people have. Basically, we learned that a person gets some information, which may have come from outside or inside their brain, the information gives them a feeling, the feeling turns into an emotion which turns into behaviour. 

SO for example, supposing you see a little old lady in the street with one of those whicker shopping baskets on wheels and it reminds you of your dead nan. Sometimes you consciously think to yourself “That reminds me of nan” Sometimes you don’t even know your brain has made the connection. What might happen next is that you get a feeling which might be really warm and lovely (if all or most of your memories of your nan are wonderful) or else the feeling might be uncomfortable or bleak (if nan was one of those people who couldn’t do affection, or maybe you feel a bit angry or negative that she died).

SUDDENLY you feel either happy or sad. Or a bit of both. Then when your child asks for some sweets, you find yourself either buying them more sweets than normal, or snapping that they shouldn’t always be asking for sweets.

THE main thing is that it’s hard to read ourselves, let alone someone else. If adults who have been trained in emotional intelligence can’t work out why they are feeling up or down, how can we expect children to? Hard enough with your own children, never mind about foster children, whose past is largely a mystery.

I find that if you stay on your toes they’ll give you information about themselves which helps you make a picture of what’s going on for them. I like to watch mine when they are playing, whether it’s on their own, with others in the house, or with friends in the playground or at parties. 

IF they use a phone to speak to a friend or a family member, you hear a side to them that they never show you otherwise, and with foster children, if they are going through a rough time it’s more likely to be friends and family that’s upsetting them, but they don’t want you to interfere.

THEN sometimes, this happens, well to me anyway.

THEY are sitting in the back of the car, and they just open right up to each other. Or they are playing in the front room and you walk past the half open door. Your own child and your foster child start a conversation.  So you are basically snooping, no two ways about it. 

THERE are limits to snooping. As a foster carer you have to speak with your social worker if you have worries about what they are up to in private on their phone or laptop before you steam in and do a secret check on their history or their messaging. If they advise you to do what a responsible parent would do in order to protect a child in the home, then that’s what you do, but it’s not what I’m talking about.

I’M talking about picking up clues to how your child is getting on from moments when they’re not aware you’re switched on. 

BILL has told me down our years together that he can always tell when I’m a bit stressy because I start humming a weird song called “The Raggle Taggle Gypsies”. I learned it at Primary School when we were taught it from a BBC radio programme called Singing Together with William Appleby. 

BILL knows I’m on edge so he acts accordingly; he either keeps out of my way, gives me a cuddle or tells me to put a sock in it depending on how he feels.

WE all do a bit of snooping, or maybe it’s just staying alert, and if our heart’s in the right place it’s a good thing, and it works.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Fostering - The Night Shift

THERE’S  not many of us getting a decent night’s sleep at the moment in our house, and it’s hard to work out what to do. One of our foster children, a boy, takes ages to get to sleep so he doesn’t want to go to bed when it’s his time, because he’s going to be lying awake for two hours or more. I was talking about this with another mum outside school this morning. I said that getting a child into bed is one thing, but there’s nothing you can do to make them go to sleep. She disagreed.

SHE reckoned that if you get them in bed, lights out, and tell them they have to lie there and be quiet and close their eyes and be still, they’ll be asleep sooner rather than later.

SHE’S a doctor, this mum, very nice lady I like her a lot. She’s funny, and she looks after her children really well. But she’s never fostered, so I just smiled and said something like “I’ll try that, thanks”.

WHEN our own children were little they got the idea that downstairs was off limits once they’d been put to bed, but if they had a real problem they could call down to us.  My social worker says that many fostered children have been allowed to stay up until the adults went to bed, however young they were. Apparently this is usually done because the parents can’t be bothered with the hard work of supervising bedtime, so they let the children potter around the house until they are asleep standing up. 

ONCE in bed though, the children often have all sorts of horrible thoughts about their past, on top of which they’re in a strange home, and they’ve got no reason to think we are going to be any different from the adults they’ve been used to.  I suppose it takes a long time to develop trust in new adults.

WE go to bed about 10.30, Bill and I. Sometimes he stays up if he’s not tired. I go up on tiptoe, but there’s almost always something going on upstairs. Nothing to worry about, just someone awake and quite keen to let you know they’re awake too. But it means you are going to bed and there’s someone you are responsible for, still awake.

THAT puts you into a light sleep, if any sleep at all. 

SO suddenly you’re awake and you don’t know what woke you up, or what time it is. It feels like about midnight. If Bill is asleep I try to let him sleep on, but I can hear somebody either out of bed or making enough tiny noises to give that impression. So I creep across the pitch black bedroom and put on my dressing gown. Open the bedroom door, and there is someone standing by their own bedroom door, looking sad; “I’m thirsty”. 

SO you fetch a drink from downstairs, say a gentle goodnight and creep back to bed.

THEN you are awake again, this time about four. Somebody is going to the bathroom. This is good, it shows they feel at home. You stay awake to listen and make sure they get back to their room.  

I have found foster children to be light sleepers. I have found that it’s infectious, and you end up with a houseful of light sleepers.

ANYWAY, I’ve reached the age where you tend to be awake before six, and can’t go back to sleep.
OF course, because they don’t sleep well, they can be a handful on a school morning, complaining they don’t want to get up, and are too tired. I honestly find that making a joke of the whole thing works best. I say to them “What is it with being a child? They make you go to bed when you’re wide awake, and get up when you’re fast asleep” 

I’LL be honest, I’m napping in the day, in the front room, nodding off watching This Morning and waking up with A Place In The Sun on. It helps.

THEY, on the other hand, nod off in the car, any journey over about 15 minutes.  It helps too.

BUT the best tip I was given , to stay ahead in fostering, if they’ve had a rough day, and given you a bit of a rough day too, is to stand at their bedroom door when they are asleep, and see how being asleep reveals their angelic, peaceful side. Every child, fast asleep, looks like butter wouldn’t melt.

Happy Fostering

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Friends & Fostering

I’VE made two firm friends since I started fostering, both of whom are also foster carers. Before I fostered I had not made any real friends since my schooldays, to be honest. Once you get onto the merry-go-round of dating and having a family there doesn’t seem to be much of a place for making friends. I was close to a number of other young mums when my first baby came along, and I made a few new acquaintances at the school railings too, but they were flash in the pan.

I’M still in regular contact with several lifelong friends from school (Facebook!), and my new fostering friendships have a similarly good feeling about them. Basically, we share all our experiences in fostering which is more than just very enjoyable – it helps, big time.

HERE’S a classic example. 


IT’S always a big day when a new child arrives. You’ve gone through the process - the call from Blue Sky’s placement team outlining the child’s situation, the email with all their background and their likes and dislikes, you hoover the spare bedroom, get it looking neat but homely, put on a nice outfit (neat but homely again!) then sit looking out of the front window, waiting.

THE car pulls up, the social worker gets out, and you get your first glimpse of the new member of your family. They always look so vulnerable and frightened, your heart goes out to them. 

THEN you usually have a meeting of about an hour or so going through more background stuff, showing them their room and the bathroom, and explaining a few rules.

THEN the social worker leaves! And it’s just you, your family, and this young stranger. You eat tea together, usually very quietly, and watch a bit of TV together, always a bit awkward for example if Eastenders is on and there’s a shouting match, or the news comes on and there’s an unpleasant story. Then they go to bed. It all goes quiet.

THEN for some reason you just get desperate to TELL SOMEONE.

YOU can’t call Blue Sky’s Out Of Hours service, that’s for emergencies.

YOU can’t phone any old friend because you can’t discuss your fostering placement outside fostering out of respect for the child’s privacy.

SO I phone a fostering friend, and basically have a good long natter. When the shoe is on the other foot, and they call me, I know how much good it does them to offload all the grief they’ve built up inside, hearing about what’s happened to the child that’s ended them up in fostering. Every story is totally, totally unique, and it’s more gripping than Eastenders, and more relevant than the news. It’s your own real life. 

THE watchword is confidentiality, and Blue Sky know the value of the carer network, they often quietly say to carers “You get on well with x don’t you, why not meet up for coffee?”

SHARING the ups and downs of fostering with someone who also fosters is priceless. No offence to all the professionals I’ve met in fostering (let me see, that would be social workers, health and safety, local authority officials, nurses, guardians, teachers, solicitors, policemen and women, doctors, maybe others too many mention!), but it’s only when you are with a friend who also fosters that you feel you are with someone who’s been there and got the T shirt.

HAVING said that, it’s horses for courses, and I know a few Blue Sky foster carers who keep themselves to themselves, there’s even one who I call the mystery carer because I only ever met this person once at my First Aid training session (which is compulsory, every three years), and she told me it would probably be the only time we’d meet (ie every 3 years!) because she liked a low profile, and didn’t like talking about fostering.

SO each to their own. 

I personally would talk about nothing else but fostering if I could, as long as walls don’t have ears. 

BYE for today, and happy fostering.

The Secret Foster Carer

Tuesday, November 05, 2013


I think a lot of us go into fostering thinking that the most important thing is helping a child or children who needs help. I know I did.

HELPING is the most important thing. But it’s not the main thing. And I realise that what I just said doesn’t make sense.  I remember having to explain to my children the difference between big and tall, that a giraffe was the tallest but an elephant was the biggest, and that’s what I’m talking about.  The most important thing is helping the child, and knowing how to help and when not to help, and what the rights and wrongs of fostering are (which is where training comes in).

HOWEVER, it’s not the thing that fills your mind and your time all day long, and that’s how I’d define the “main thing”. No, the main thing about fostering is all the little things. The little jobs.

WHATEVER your family set-up was before you start fostering, it’s familiar to every family member, and there’s a routine. You all know each other, and everybody’s personalities and quirks. Their likes and dislikes, who needs reminding about what and how best to do it. 

FOR example, before fostering, we always had a regular routine on Sundays. Mum and dad go back to bed with a cup of tea and the children would come in with us and watch TV or generally play, then I’d get up and lay the kitchen table for a family breakfast which used to be quite late but then our son started Sunday morning football so we adjusted, and everybody sorted themselves out, and I’d get on with a few jobs because the next thing would be lunchtime, and we had a roast which went on the table at 2.00pm.  After that everyone would either sit and watch TV or finish homework, then when Songs of Praise came on I’d start getting people thinking about the morning, and clothes and satchels and so on.  We were always ready to adjust the routine, but everyone liked knowing how the day ahead looked.


THEN someone from outside your family joins your family.  Blue Sky get you as much information as they can about the child. They also get information about you and your family to the child in advance, which is a useful thing. 

BUT no matter how much planning and forethought there is, nothing prevents you having to examine all over again your family routine, and how to draw the child into it, and, most time consuming of all, how to adjust the millions of little jobs that make up your day. Jobs like staying on top of the bathroom (you’re got to explain it all to someone new), going round the supermarket picking out the usual favourites (what flavour crisps?) getting the usual arguments about not wanting to help with the washing up, who chooses what TV programmes, and the ever-present test of your good temper, bedtime routine.

WHEN I was first approved, and found myself waiting for the phone to ring, I tried to imagine myself doing counselling work with a child, talking and listening about their problems, as if that’s what fostering is about. It happens, of course. But most of the time fostering is all about making endless little judgements about how to help them feel welcome and at ease, and a part of your family.

THAT’S the main thing, for me anyway.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Working with social workers

I’M writing today’s blog drinking a mug of tea, but it’s not my “Best Mum In The World” mug. That mug has been put away out of sight. It was my Social Worker’s idea to hide it.

LET me have a word about what I think about Social Workers. They are a fact of life in fostering. You get a Social Worker attached to you by Blue Sky. They work for Blue Sky and their job is to look after you, help you foster as best you can. They’re always on the end of the phone or email, and they visit as often as is right, usually at least once a month for “Supervision” although I like to call it “Catch Up”. They want to hear about your problems, and there’s nothing better than having a good old whinge knowing the person listening is actually interested and sympathetic. But  if there are things going really well, you must remember to tell them about those as well.
IF a child comes to you for fostering, the child has a Social Worker of their own, which the child’s local Social services provide. That Social Worker’s job is to look after the child’s interests. If the child has a problem at school, or isn’t eating well, the first thing you do is let the child’s Social Worker know. Then you tell your Blue Sky Social Worker. Often the two of them will try to sort the problem out together.
NO shortage of backup then.
TO be really honest, when I started fostering, my first thought was “Oh Good! Loads of backup. Phew!”  But for some reason, probably human nature, I got a bit angsty with being in the spotlight. I got defensive about things I was advised I could do better, and then got frustrated that the things I was suggested didn’t have instant results. To be really, really honest, that was the time we talked about whether we had what it takes.
I’M so glad we stuck at it and worked out all those worries, because fostering is as hard as it’s rewarding.
WHAT we’ve identified, “Bill” and I, is that foster children often struggle with being told anything if it feels like authority. And so do we, Bill and I, to a lesser extent. This probably goes back to our time at school, and in my case working at a place where I had an unpleasant supervisor for many years. Being in any kind of situation where somebody is judging me, or telling me what to do makes me uneasy about old experiences.  I went to a very useful training session about this, it’s called “Triggers”. Sometimes you get a feeling  for no apparent reason, it’s been “triggered” by something deep down. A song in the radio might remind you of an old love affair, or someone looking at you over the top of their glasses might remind you of a horrible person. The thing is you often aren’t aware of it.
WHEN my Blue Sky Social Worker comes round we’ve agreed to call it “Catch Up” because the word “Supervision” doesn’t go down well with me.
IT’S also the reason my “Best Mum In The World” mug is hidden away. My foster child, first or second day after arriving with a lot of anger, said “My mum’s got a mug with that on it.” I mentioned this to my Social Worker, who suggested I try keeping it out of sight. The child’s mum had not given the love a mum should, if I can put it like that.
DID it help the child? Probably, a bit. But it’s one of those things you don’t discuss with the child, because talking about home life is usually a trigger in itself. It was worth doing just in case.
SO on the whole, having your own Social Worker is gold. You get someone who is a family priest one minute, then an IT specialist, then a psychiatrist, a lawyer, a doctor, and educationalist. The list goes on.
AND a friend too, in fact, one of my ex’s (ex-Social Workers) came round for coffee last time she was passing. She wanted to know how things are going for us because she’s interested, and, without wishing to get gushy, she cares.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Be Prepared

I found there are many things you have to get used to when you start fostering, such as being at the ready at any time to get a phone call asking if you can take a child who might turn up within a couple of hours. Blue Sky advise you to keep a few things at the ready, such as some T shirts and track suit trousers of varying sizes because sometimes the child has only the clothes they’re standing up in. Cans of baked beans, a spare toothbrush. And the spare bed all ready made up with clean sheets, obviously.

ONE thing that I found took a bit of getting used to at first was training. Foster Carers are offered training sessions which happen at the Blue Sky office closest to where you live, about every few weeks or so.

YOU log on to the “Carers” section on the website and it gives you a timetable of the sessions that are planned, and a description of what they are about. The “Carers” section is private and you are given a password to get into it.

ONE or two of the training sessions are mandatory, things that you have to know or be refreshed about, such as First Aid, which makes sense obviously.

FIRST AID has to be taken every 3 years, it was the first training session I attended after being approved, and it was run by people from St Johns Ambulance. It was interesting and useful, for example I thought mouth-to-mouth was the thing to do if someone has stopped breathing but it turns out that they prefer you to concentrate on pumping the heart, while giving mouth-to-mouth at the same time. You get to practice resuscitation on dummies of children of different ages which is also useful. With an adult you press down on the chest with both hands and your body weight. With an infant you just use the tips of your first two fingers.

BUT the thing I found I had to overcome with training was the feeling of going back to school. I don’t care what anyone says, no-one really liked school. I didn’t, my children don’t, none of the foster children I’ve had would rather go to school than not go to school. So going “back to school” calls for a big breath, but it’s well worth the effort.

WHEN I started going to Foster Training I remembered that the only time I’d been in a class since leaving school was when I signed up to do an eight week Aromatherapy course at our local FE College, and I found myself getting worried about being late, sounding stupid if I answered questions wrongly, or getting into trouble if I shared a joke with the person next to me.

A while ago I was late arriving at A Blue Sky training session being run by a retired police officer. I was nearly twenty minutes late. I listened through the door and could hear a loud, confident male voice in full flow, but I managed to knock (feebly) on the door, and open it enough to look in.

HE said “Hello! Welcome. Thank you for coming, please come in, let me find you a seat. You haven’t missed a great deal. If you like I’ll go over my introduction with you when we break for coffee.”

SO. Not like school at all!

WELL, there is one aspect that’s a bit like school, making friends. When you break for coffee during training sessions, that’s when you find yourself bonding, because everyone is in the same boat, and has plenty to talk about, and you find yourself swapping phone numbers or even arranging to meet up for coffee at one of your houses.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Multitasking at Teatime

THIS morning I was awake early, and as usual I was thinking about jobs. Sometimes I can't really imagine what people think about if it's not the jobs they have to do. It's actually quite a comfort to have a tick list in your head all day, with the things you've got done crossed off, and the next things to be done lined up. Yesterday it was time to cook tea and the table has to be cleared of opened mail and homework stuff and ripped up packaging from the headphones that came in the post but aren't right so will have to be sent back and someone will have to monitor to make sure that the payment is refunded because the website said you could and we do want a refund because we want a different pair now anyway from a different website so instead of throwing the packaging away I'm examining it to see if the rips are small enough to re-use the packaging and already you're behind in your jobs.

AND you start a pan boiling for the potatoes and at the same time get a tea towel off the hook to clear the draining board of upturned cups and spoons and cereal bowls, only you pick up one of the cups and notice tea stains near the top and it needs a proper scrub so it goes back in the dry sink and you notice there are two other cups in the sink and you need to have a word again about people not washing up after themselves.

YOU get five potatoes out of the bag, then an extra one to be on the safe side, hunt the potato peeler out of the drawer, and start scraping them, something you find you do furiously fast for some reason. You fetch the packet of sausages from the fridge.

THEN your foster child comes down and plonks on a chair at the kitchen table, funny how children are drawn to a kitchen once cooking starts. She says she needs a new phone, and you have to show some interest while getting the sausages out of the wrapper without touching them or you have to wash your hands and she's explaining that her phone is crap and that the screen is cracked, and you wonder if she did it accidentally on purpose to get a new one but don't ask while getting out the scissors to separate the sausages and simultaneously rub the tea stains off the cups in the sink and put them on the draining board.

YOU hear your foster child murmur; “Guess what?” and you have to reply “What?” and she says “I got detention Monday”. And you go to the freezer to get a bag of sweetcorn and there's not enough in the bag so it's going to be peas. Or maybe beans. You say “Oh no! What for?” and she replies “Nothing.”  You find your frying pan among the other pans and go to the larder for the sunflower oil because you need a drop in there to stop them sticking, and as you put the plastic bottle of oil in the larder you make a mental note you'll need to buy some more before the end of the week, you wonder how to follow up the detention thing without stressing her out.

SO you run the scissors under a tap while and stick them back in the drawer thinking they've probably still got sausage on them but people can take their chances. Then as you're getting four plates out and four lots of knives and forks you say “What are you supposed to have done then?” in your best casual voice.

YOU check the potatoes which are boiling hard but you don't want mash because someone doesn’t eat mash, you’re lucky they eat boiled, so you have to stay with the potatoes. You get a medium saucepan out of the cupboard and flick on the kettle to get some hot water for the peas. You mentally rehearse how to apologise it’s peas not sweetcorn. 

“I was wondering what you're supposed to have done then?”, as I pour probably a few too many peas into the pan and notice the kettle has gone “Phhhhhht” because it hardly had any water in it when I switched it on. So you cross to the sink to fill it up halfway and hear “I don't know do I?”

SO the kettle is boiling, the potatoes and the sausages are away, you have a moment so you go over and sit down and say “Is there anything I can do?” and you hear, “You can get Stephanie Whatsername and her lot off my back. And Mrs Munroe.”  So you sigh and say your “oh dears” and put a hand on a shoulder and now she's crying, or at least there are some tears. Anger? Fear? Or because you're being kind?

YOU have to get up to check the potatoes, turn them down, and flip the sausages, which suggests you aren't 100% focussed, so you say something to show you're in the moment; “ Were they being not very nice then?”

BUT it's like you've been rude by getting up and she says “Who cares?!” and you leave the food and sit down again to show she is more important than cooking and she knows she's kind of pushing you to ruin the meal and you want to say let's talk later but that isn't right so you say “I'll just turn everything down” so you do and come back. And it turns out there was a fight and she's on a warning for exclusion.

EXCLUSION. This happens to lots of kids not just foster children. What do you do when it's your own kids? You call the school and ask for the facts. You decide to do that in the morning, but don't say so. You have to think of a distraction.

YOU say “Have you chosen a phone you want?”
“What's it like?”
“It's a G4 Spukii Android phablet, do you know the one I mean? Like I saw on Hollyoaks dunno how they do that ‘cos they only came out two weeks ago and my mum says soaps are recorded six weeks ahead or something.”
“Is Jasmine still going out with that Brandon?”
“You what?”
“In Hollyoaks.”
“That's not Hollyoaks.”
“Waterloo St?”
“It's Waterloo Road”

PANIC over. I learned all this changing-the-subject technique at training.  What's more, I caught the potatoes before they fell apart, and the sausages were okay too, though I've never had a sausage sent back yet. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

I am the new Secret Foster Carer.

Hi, allow me to introduce myself. I am a relatively new foster carer and I confess I am still learning the ropes.

I'm also not particularly experienced in writing, but I enjoyed reading the Secret Foster Carer, and Blue Sky asked me because I mentioned the Secret Foster Carer often when having meetings with my social worker, plus I read a lot. Even when we have a placement, I can't go to sleep without reading a chapter of whatever's on the go.

Like the first Secret Foster Carer, I have to keep my identity hidden for obvious reasons. I have children of my own, plus my other half, "Bill" who has agreed that I can talk about how fostering affects him.

Blue Sky have been very understanding easing us into fostering and they always talk about "matching", which is where they look at your home setup and try to find children to fit it. To be honest we agreed, Bill and I, that if it affected the kids we'd pull out. So far so good. It's always something you can go back to when the kids are either mature or balanced enough or leave home.

We started with respite weekends, the same child three and a half times. What happened the fourth time was that she needed to be got to school and there was nobody else (the foster mother had another child who had to be driven somewhere else that morning) and they didn't think a taxi was an option, so I said yes I'd drive her. I can't remember if I got paid the allowance for it, it was one of those things you'd do to help out. She is a lovely girl.

Our first proper placement was a teenage boy whose placement had broken up, not through any fault of his. The family had a crisis all of their own and he had to be found a new home while they sorted themselves out. His foster mother drove him over to us, and he put a really brave face on it but you could tell he was upset about what was going on. Our social worker warned us that he might be angry, but he never showed it. What happened was he bonded with Bill. Bill likes his football and the boy did too. The boy didn't like his foster dad as much as the foster mum, I think the dad was a bit distant and not very blokey.

One Saturday evening when Match of the Day came on Bill offered him a can of lager (he was old enough), luckily the boy said no thanks. I looked daggers at Bill and later we looked up the rules in the Blue Sky manual. We talked it over with our social worker who said alcohol is basically a no-no even if they are old enough, but agreed that being offered helped the boy somehow feel like he was becoming an adult.

The boy's permanent foster carers came and collected him after their home situation was sorted out, and to the best of our knowledge he's doing fine.

We find you never forget a single thing about any of the children who come in and share your home and family life.

The Secret Foster Carer

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

From Blue Sky Fostering:

The current Secret Foster Carer is taking a well earned rest from blogging.

We have found a new Blue Sky Fostering foster carer who will be sharing their thoughts and experiences of fostering with you very soon.

We look forward to you continuing to comment and joining in with the debates.

Monday, September 16, 2013


I try to be frugal with advice. People don’t really want advice, unless they ask. Even then they probably know what they want you to say, and the best thing is to advise them to do whatever they intend to do anyway as at least they’ll do it with the enthusiasm you have for something that’s your own idea.
When our first baby was in the pushchair I had a T shirt made up that said “No More Advice Please”. I was tired, working hard to get everything right for the kid, and couldn’t get down the high street without a queue of ex-mothers-of-babies with their advice.
“Is she going to be warm enough like that?”
“She should be taking some solids by now”
My all time favourite:
“You need to keep the bottom of the pushchair clean or you get rats”
I’ll say one thing for fostering, it shuts up the stream of advice. Doesn’t matter how many children of your own you’ve had, you haven’t fostered until you’ve fostered. Not that you draw attention to your fostering, in fact you never mention it, except to family and good friends.
We sometimes do “Parent and Child”. If you don’t know, this is where the parent, usually the mother, stays with her child, usually a baby.
Going back to the advice thing, I do try to talk to the mother about contraception in cases where the reason she had a baby was because contraception failed. Or wasn’t even considered.
Often the mother is a young girl, and quietly determined to have more children. You ask them why they want lots of kids, and they shrug and say “I like kids”, or “My mum had six” or “Better than going to work”.
Like good social workers, foster carers don’t judge, just stand ready with support and information about alternatives.
I watch these young mums out and about with their pushchair. When their baby is a few weeks old passers-by go weak at the knees, a crowd gathers. You sit on a park bench and other women can’t resist coming over “Oooo isn’t he lovely!” “Aaaaah how old is he? Isn’t he georgeous.”
Around six months, when the babies are starting to get some wherewithal, the billing and cooing starts to dry up.
We had one mother who had a newborn and a three year old. When she was out and about people did the whole gushing thing about the baby, never even noticed the toddler.
Everyone wants to be somebody, maybe some girls only get to be somebody when they’ve got a tiny baby.
Maybe it’s one reason why they want to keep doing it.
I mention the advice thing because a couple of would-be foster carers have asked Blue  Sky if an experienced foster carer could chat with them and…
…offer some advice.
I have my advice ready, should I be asked.
My advice is: When a foster child first arrives, let them choose a mug in a shop which is theirs to keep and gets stored with everyone else’s.
That’s it. Apart from that, trust your heart.
The Secret Foster Carer

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Fostering and the Return to School

This time, when it was first morning back at school, I brought up Christmas during the school run.

The school summer holiday is a long haul, everyone knows that. I notice that in spite of all the various squabbles and splits, they are around you to such an extent that there's a deepening of the bond.

It's not a chocolate box bonding between foster parent and child. It's not a love thing, more a trust thing. 

So there's a bit of a mutual sadness when they clump down the stairs in their school clothes for the first morning.

When it comes to talking about Christmas, you obviously have to keep the conversation away from the matter of where they will be for Christmas and who they'll be spending it with. If that stuff comes up, you have to deal with it honestly, and move the chat to somewhere positive, and it worked.

"If you're here for Christmas, have you thought about what you'd like? It's never too early to start thinking about presents."

Daydreaming about laptops, mobile phones, electric pianos and puppies always takes the curse off almost anything.

It can backfire financially. We had a teenager in the build-up to Christmas, they couldn't say if she was going to be with us for Christmas itself, or go home. So we did the whole build-up thing, the gift list, the crossing out of things that were too expensive or inappropriate, and the antenna twitching for casual mentions of things for the stocking such as favourite band or singer, and nail colour dreams.

Then she went home on Christmas Eve. Laden down with our pressies in a sack. Brilliant. Although we never got to know what happened to the Blackberry because we rang it in January to say Hi and the line was dead.

We'd run all the gift ideas past Blue Sky, who have well-thought-out guidelines on mobile phones for young people.

It never came up, but I reckon Blue Sky sussed that the child asked us and her real parents for a Blackberry, ended up with 2 and flogged ours off. 

The conversation in the car worked and we all cheered up.

It cheered me up until I got home and went to work on the house. 

1. At least half a dozen opened envelopes with the letter put back inside having checked to see it's nothing too urgent but something that must be dealt with eventually scattered around the kitchen dating back to mid-August.
2. A smell somewhere towards the back of the fridge, not made by the glass of apple juice that did not get drunk at the time so got put in the fridge for next time someone asked and has been there since mid-August.
3. A child's vest that has sat on the landing outside a bedroom door in a semi-folded state so it's unknown if it's clean or needs a wash. Since mid-August.

The list goes on.

But before I got the hoover out, I made a cup of tea and turned the TV on. The house felt huge and empty. Like a Cathedral. A Cathedral that needed a good hoovering.

I turned on the Shopping Channel. QVC were doing Christmas. 

Who are these people that wish our lives away, thinking about Christmas in September?

The Secret Foster Carer

Sunday, September 01, 2013


I absolutely did not think I'd get a spare 10 minutes this weekend to write a blog, but guess what.

What it is at our house this weekend, is that one of our 3 foster children is having a sister and brother, who are also in care, over for a Sleepover. Or a "Stayawakeover" as I call them.

So that's 5 then, which we've never had under one roof before.

You know fostering is always surprising you? 

Well as things stand, it turns out 5 are easier than 3, which is easier than 1.

Right now, early Saturday evening, nobody is arguing about what to watch on TV, or whose turn it is on the laptop. In fact no-one is bothering about technology, toys or snacks at all. Why? They've got much more interesting gizmos to hand. People. People they share the big thing with. 

They've all given their early warning system the weekend off. The radar that alerts them when there's an incoming reminder they are different. 

Couple of weeks ago I was in the mini-supermarket with one of mine, a child of ethnic background. She was trying to reach down a mini-Toblerone from a high shelf, and a lady shopper helped her, I was watching. The lady is a neighbour, about ten doors along. The lady knows me, and has met the child several times. But she's 83, and I don't blame her for what happened next.

The lady looked around at the customers in the shop and saw a woman aged about mid-thirties. And ethnic. The lady called out to her "Do you mind if I help her get a Toblerone down?" The woman looked understandably confused. The child shot me a glance, one of those pictures that paints a thousand words. Then the lady asked the woman "Sorry, is she yours?" 

On the way home, I'd bought the child the Toblerone plus a lolly, and I apologised for the lady.

The child said "Shut up!"

Which I did.

Fostered children are permanently on Red Alert for little nuances that single them out, aren't they?

So it should be no surprise they relax to the end of their toes when the situation is top heavy with people who have the same backstory.

I had to visit a school for disabled children way back, and I'd always been a believer that children in wheelchairs should be in regular schools. But the Head said to me "Here they are normal." And we all need to feel normal.

Blue Sky crank up a bunch of social events during school holidays where carers bring their foster children and stuff happens. The ones I've been too have been brilliant. 

All these unique, vulnerable individuals with loads of problems, relaxing and sharing and supporting each other. That's just the foster parents.

The children really bubble, drop their exhausting guard, get stuck in because from start to finish it's a day where they are normal.

And that's what's going in our home this weekend. 5 young people sharing being normal early on a Saturday evening first time in a long time.

2 older people sharing a contented house early on a Saturday evening, first time in a very long time.

The Secret Foster Carer

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

CONTACT: A Better Way

It's hard work being a child. Most adults think children have got it easy, funny how grown-ups have such a pink-tinted memory of what they went through themselves.

I heard about a child who came home from school crying, ran upstairs to their bedroom, and lay on the bed sobbing. Mum asked what was up. The child said they'd been told by a teacher  that these were the happiest days of their life.

Then along comes Social Media: another way to screw up. Or is it? I wonder whether fostering is missing a trick.

I watch my looked after children, with all their jaw-dropping problems, unbelievable courage, totally unique life stories; each and every one of them completely hooked on their phones.

They walk around holding it, checking the screen every few seconds. They tap away at the tiny keyboard all day, probably half the night too. They don't give themselves a single free moment. I try to get them to come to the table without the phone; but sometimes you have to be flexible to avoid a scene. They sit watching Harry Potter and send/receive 100 texts before we even see the Half Blood Prince.They take it into the loo with them, they sit in the car tapping away. They never, ever speak into it. They conduct 99% of their life by written word.

Not GR8 written words tho.

Our children are evolving into people who communicate totally differently from all previous humans. There's nothing we can do about it.

I had a teenage girl stay who was almost mute by choice. "What would you like for breakfast?" "Arrdunno" "Would you like a ride to school?" "Fyerlike". Never off her phone messaging service.

One day I texted her during morning break."How did you do in the test?"

"Not bad. Some of the questions were ok, but I struggled a bit with the last section."

"Was that the stuff you missed when your placement went wrong"

"Basically yeah. They say I can re-sit if I want, but it's one of the courses I want to drop anyway."

I think today's children communicate better by text and messaging and the rest of the social media than they do face-to-face. 

Especially foster children. 

Nothing new about this, I'm told that relationship councillors often get partners to sit back to back to talk so they can't see each others faces. My partner and I find it easier to resolve a difference on the phone.

I wonder what the response would be if we proposed Contact should be electronic? Why not? If they communicate better with their significant others by written word, whether it's a series of texts or a closed messaging service, once a week, the transcript provided to social services is it's meant to be a supervised session.

The things that trigger anger and other negative emotions in a child are visual and audio signals, especially the faces and voices of people they associate with bad times. 

Texting would work really well for a lot of Contacts., not all, obviously. And there'd need to be appropriate safeguards. 

The Secret Foster Carer