Saturday, February 23, 2013

"I Was Proceeding In A Westerly Direction..."

Writing up a recording of your fostered child can be a bit of a drudge sometimes.

And a bit scary too.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, it's this; when you foster a child, you have to keep a record of various things about how they're doing. Usually when they first arrive, you're asked to write one for each separate day. If things go okay, it gets reduced to weekly. Eventually, maybe, they become one per month.

At Blue Sky you get given a standard form with different sections relating to things like "Health" and "Education". There's a little note by each section reminding you of the type of thing worth adding, like; "Did the child see the doctor this week?" and there's a blank box for you to fill in with your information.

The blank form arrives as an email attachment, and you have to make a file and save it. I make several copies of the blank form in advance and stack them for future use. I understand there are carers who do it the old fashioned way with pen on paper and I think that's fair enough. We're not hired as typists, or internet whizzkids. Mind you, doing it with a word processor is a hell of a lot easier.

Blue Sky do regular training sessions on how to write your recordings. Plus when you see your Social Worker once a month for supervision, it's worth asking "How am I doing with my recordings?", because the fact is you just don't know. You might be driving them round the bend with too much waffle and Social Workers being generally overly kind, they don't want to disappoint by saying less is more. Worse you might be missing out important stuff; and how would they know that unless you talked.

If you're a Social Worker I'd ask this, there's nothing wrong with saying to your Carer "Nice piece of writing in last week's recording, where you wrote up the incident with the mobile phone. You stuck to the facts, made it clear how you acted correctly throughout, and then wrote a sentence of your opinion about what caused her to behave like that, then another on how you plan to nip that one in the bud in future."

Writing up a week with a looked-after child can be good for the soul. Like anything else in life which is challenging, getting it off your chest can help. But this is the big trap. Because our recordings are not meant to be a getting it off your chest session.

Sometimes, when I'm about to write a recording of something difficult, I find an image pops into my head. I don't know where it comes from. It makes me smile, and it helps with the recording. It's an image of me dressed as a policeman standing in the dock, opening a notebook and reading to the court. Every time I get the image, my police officer always begins with "I was proceeding in a Westerly direction..."

Then, another image jumps up, from an old American TV series, I think it was Dragnet. The Detective says to every witness he's questioning; "The facts ma'am, just the facts."

And instead of writing 

"Kicked off again for no reason didn't she.'Typical."

I'm writing; 

"At 7.30pm on Tuesday 23rd, X appeared at the top of the stairs in an agitated state that her pay-as-you go phone was out of credit. Her phone frequently triggers anger, as she is aware of her general communication problems. I politely requested her to come downstairs carefully, as I was concerned about the danger of her location."

The Secret Foster Carer

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Love and Fostering.

Do you love your partner more or less once you're fostering? I ask because St Valentines Day has just come and gone, and you may not have got a treat either.

I think it changes things between a couple. You're not short of something to talk about for a start. On the minus side, lots of little tensions worm their way into the relationship. One of you thinks it's time to put your foot down about something, the other wants to try softly softly. You give in and find the disagreeable half of yourself hoping your partner's strategy fails, which is shameful, but fostering can be mentally tiring, and carers can get frazzled. It doesn't last.

On the plus side, you get moments when you wonder how you managed to put up with the relative meaninglessness of your previous life. Moments like when you get a cup of tea made for you by a young person who couldn't use a fork when he arrived. Or when you realise it's been a month since the last time they came down for breakfast with a new scab on their arm.

Then there's what happens to your sense of humour;

My partner said to me at breakfast on St Valentine's Day; "I've got a bit of free time at work today, why don't you meet me for a morning coffee?"

I agreed, a bit annoyed, but don't think I showed it. Didn't seem much of a St Valentines gift; a coffee in a polystyrene cup in a works canteen.

I showed up, we bought our lattes, sat down and chatted. A woman down by the main door was setting up a stall selling roses for a pound. Another woman was setting up a bigger stall with leaflets and posters. Suddenly an ear-shattering burst of disco music cut short our small talk. All heavy breathing and whimpers. However the CD was scratched, so whatever we were being subjected to was stuttering like mad.

Partner said "Excuse me I'm just nipping to the loo."

Alone, I screwed up my eyes to see what the posters on the stall were about. Saw the word "Prizes" and underneath it what looked like... "Gon..." I guessed it was a romantic competition, perhaps based on love films like Gone With The Wind.

Partner came back. Music still blaring and stuttering. Partner shouts in my ear "The vicar was coming to the canteen to bless marriages, thought it would be nice. However he's held up, and I have to be back in five minutes" We air kiss and partner goes off through door to the workplace.

I go to the main door leading out to the car park. Woman asks me if I want to buy a rose. No thanks. I look at the poster. It's a competition alright. You get a prize if you can successfully identify the symptoms of the major sexual infections.

Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, Genital Herpes, and the rest.

The woman sidles up to me and shouts, over the night club music, "Would you like to brush up on your STIs?"

I go all Victor Meldrew: "No I would NOT like to brush up on my STIs thank you very much!" 

I phoned partner and told the story.

Ever since, when things go slightly pear-shaped, we look at each other and one will say "Would you like to brush up on your...." Then roar with laughter.

Which actually, is more help than a vicar's blessing, to be honest.

The Secret Foster Carer

Saturday, February 09, 2013

I did something yesterday, in the daytime, I haven't done for years. Not since I started fostering. 
I felt guilty at first, then felt a real buzz.
I recommend it, if you can wangle the chance.
What was it? 

Not a thing. I did not do a thing, between the morning school run and the afternoon school run.

The Friday started normally enough; the breakfast routine, the getting out of the house on time routine, the general dragging of reluctant young feet routine, the chirpiness of the partner looking forward to a weekend, the quiet resolve of the foster carer, for whom the weekend is no picnic, actually.

I'd cleared the sink and put away before leaving, hate coming home to a grotty kitchen. I dropped everyone off, and nipped to the supermarket to top up. 

Then what happened was this: I was passing the magazine shelves, and saw a copy of a magazine I used to love back when I had time to read magazines. So I put it in the basket. Then I saw a second magazine I liked, and that went into the basket too.

Now I'm off and running. Instead of buying the usual staples; sliced white bread, milk and Chicken McNuggets, I bought some goats cheese. Enough for one. A ready-to-eat avocado, two crusty white rolls, and a carton of pineapple juice.

Driving home I felt quite floaty. I had that mixture of guilt and excitement I imagine people feel when they embark on a fling.

When I got home I fired up the laptop, luckily no emails in the Inbox. Googled Amazon and started window shopping, cup of coffee at the elbow. About eleven I remembered the magazines. Creamed the avocado into a roll, glass of juice, and retreated onto the living room sofa. Took total control of the TV remote, and started on the letters page.

Resisted temptation to pick up some bits of something or other on the living room carpet, and told my eyes not to keep noticing them.

Kept the second magazine back for... a daytime, uninterruptable bath. Except I'd just settled in the really hot water when the landline phone rang, an energy recycling company, who got slightly short shrift from a dripping wet foster carer who was determined that the carer was going to enjoy a day of being cared for. Being free from jobs.

From half past nine to 2.43pm I did nothing at all, except wash up my avocado plate.

Whilst soaking and reading, I remembered why the magazine burned into my mind as I scuttled past the shelves. On Monday I'd had to wait for an hour outside the treatment room while a looked-after child had therapy. They had a collection of magazines to help pass the time, and I found myself losing myself in the fictional world of shiny people and their triumphant make-overs.

Then at 2.43pm I had a missed call on the mobile. It was the school saying I was not to worry but they thought I ought to know something that happened today.

Turned out I did ought to, and what with a tricky contact on Saturday, we were heading for a lively weekend.

Partner went to the fridge in the evening and said "What this goats cheese doing?" 

Oh, and in case you were a bit worried about someone who drinks pineapple juice, it goes back to childhood and tinned pineapple chunks, and me being allowed to take the tin and drink the syrup. A guilty pleasure.

I hope you have a few guilty pleasures, and, especially if you're a foster carer, you indulge.

The Secret Foster Carer

Sunday, February 03, 2013

I hope you have your antennae set to "Spot a compliment", otherwise you can easily miss it when they dish out a bit of praise.

Your foster children I mean.

They struggle to say thank you, don't they? Even if you pass the ketchup across the table as demanded, the best you can hope for, in most cases is a grudging grunt. I don't labour the please and thank you thing any more, don't even bother with saying it back to them when they pass the ketchup with that slightly exaggerated voice you use in the hope the words will rub off.

They're in care, not finishing school.

So if they can't say thank you for passing the sauce, what are we doing hoping they'll say thank you for trying to get their lives on track? In any case, it's not what we're in it for.

Nice when you get a little compliment though isn't it?

So we had this girl staying with us, fifteen years old. Had two big problems; going to school, food. Plus,like so many looked after children, she didn't want to talk about any of it, as if it made her a lesser human being.

One Monday morning, about three weeks after she arrived, she refused to get out of bed. I'd already tried everything on previous occasions; gentle sympathy, negotiation, getting cross. Nothing worked once she'd dug in, so this time I just went: "OK, I'll bring you tea and toast. See you downstairs when you like, Jeremy Kyle's on in about an hour."

While she watched TV I phoned the school and started cooking a full lunch. The works, laid it out in warm bowls on the table so she could pick and choose.

After Jeremy (who we wish a full recovery) had said goodbye, she joined me to eat.

After a bit of chit chat, I seized the moment:

"We admire you a lot. It must have been hell."

And she talked. And talked and talked and wept and talked and wept. Wept gently, dabbing her eyes with kitchen roll.

Must have talked for about twenty minutes. Every time it was my turn to say something I just nodded.

Lunch over I let her go back to the TV, and did the washing up.

She never opened up again.

The session did not result in any improvement to her behaviour, and I only remember the lunch vividly for this reason: she left us about 3 months later, and as part of the deal I visited her at her new place. we chatted over a cup of tea, then as I got up to go she said "You was alright actually." I said "How so?" She replied "At least you listened."

I guess that session where I was all ears and no advice meant a lot to her.

I know her little compliment meant a heck of a lot to me.

Rarity increases the value of everything.

The Secret Foster Carer