Tuesday, March 26, 2013

We've had yet another rotten lousy Contact, and the child went off the rails after being chronically let down -again - by family members who kid themselves their refusal to co-operate amounts to a valiant stand against the establishment, but all they're really doing is walking all over one of their own children.

"Contact" is where fostered children are taken to meet their real family members. It's the law, but it's rarely a happy experience for the children.  All those issues and memories. Sometimes the family messes with the arrangements to assert themselves. On this occasion they simply didn't show up.

So the poor mite comes home and rips into us, the family, the home. Turns the anger towards itself, writhing on the floor punching itself in the face. 

Thanks Contact.

That was the night before. Tonight, a different moment. Brilliant. If you're going to get onside as a foster carer, you HAVE TO be alert to these bliss moments too, just like you're adrenaline sharp when there's angst in your house.

We've got two placed with us, not related, who have never really known family life. Never known parenting or the family thing where you get a sort of inverted pyramid with the parents at the bottom supporting the layers of children and family pets and extended family and the Inland Revenue.

So these two don't know anything about how to behave like siblings. No idea what brothers and sisters are like with each other. 

They spend their time separately, showing each other the respect of strangers.

Recently they've been kind of prowling around each other as if they want to see what being "family" might be like.

Then tonight, after tea, the older one asked if it would be okay to move the furniture around in their bedroom. We agreed. We had a request for a tape measure. The other child had one in their room. They went upstairs together. 

Partner and I feigned doing the washing up while we kept a discreet eye. So many issues. Foster children involved in other foster children's bedrooms, eek! Generally it's a complete no-no. But sometimes, as long as you're covering everything, you can get a big bucks reward for a ten cent risk.

Protocols observed, permissions sought and granted, doors left wide open, foster parents clearly surreptitiously present but not intruding.

They faffed around mainly on the landing for ten minutes, then began to joke-squabble. One teased the other one, then got teased back. They abandoned the bedroom furniture project and spilled around the landing, high-fiving and fake biffing on upper arms, then tumbled, laughing hysterically, to the top of the stairs, where we stepped in. They went down the stairs side by side, still giggling - at the new depth of their relationship - and had a jumping contest to see who could jump off the highest stair onto the hall floor.

In the kitchen they took it in turns to mock-kick each other on what Americans call the "butt". 

Their laughter was non-stop. Their sense of achievement at finally finding a bond which most of us take for granted; well, it grew and grew to the point where they were nearly ready to love and hate as only siblings can. 

But they both decided, unilaterally, that would be for another day.

Instead they bagged the family tablet and teamed up for some (parent controlled) app game.

Incidentally, one of these two was the Contact "victim".  Or maybe it's the child's family who are "victim", because this child has found someone else to have a loving bickering relationship with, and it was the child's choice.

Still the best thing you can ever do, this fostering.

The Secret Foster Carer.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

I see they've shifted Chris Huhne to what's called a "soft" prison.

Must be nicer for him somehow.

Smaller queues for the ping pong table. Own bed instead of a bunk. Able to make himself a cup of Gold Blend as and when. 

Actually, it's not really a creature comfort thing. It's a people thing.

In an open prison he's going to be with white collar convicts. Men who've done VAT fraud and the like.

Men who can hold a conversation about the EU, and can talk fluently about the best lease deal on a BMW.

One of the hardest things to do is to stay interested when you're having to engage with people who are several rungs away from you on the social skills ladder. It's a problem foster carers often find themselves dealing with.

I'm not talking about young people with learning difficulties or any identifiable cognitive disorders. I'm talking about the poor children who have heard nothing but negative nonsense from the time they were in the womb.

For example, we once had a teenager placed with us who was in the house all day. Followed me around wherever I went. When I sat down at the kitchen table for my cup of Gold Blend and to do the dreaded paperwork; there was my shadow, plonked next to me, ready for a two hour "conversation".

What about? Regular topics included:

"Social Workers. They're useless."

"Benefits office. Don't know what they're doing."

"Social services. They're all horrible."

Everybody, every human organisation = useless. This is a rock solid absolute truth with all members of a particular section of society, who I suspect are amply represented in normal prisons.

There were "anecdotes" illustrating an Alice In Wonderland take on the world. And a soul-destroying habit of saying something, anything, of no interest and for no reason. I've listed a few examples at the bottom, but unless you're in need of a sense of despair, skip them.

My point is that there are many skills and qualities you need in fostering, and most of them are covered in training, and nurtured by a supportive social worker. But there are also aspects of the job you have to sort out all by yourself, such as spending large amounts of time with people who have very negative opinions and a distorted view of the whole world - and are in need of improvements these traits.

Any psychotherapist will tell us about the need and value to the child of these interactions. And they should know, because they have to listen to them all day long too. Except when it's their break time, and they can enjoy a cup of Gold Blend in the like-minded company of other psychotherapists yakking about how useless the ref was last night or how the boneheads at the garage cocked up their MOT.

I guess all I'm saying is; lucky old Chris Huhne. He's been put with people similar to him, and we all crave a bit of that.

There are aspects of his situation that wouldn't feel like a punishment to a foster carer, more like a holiday.

The Secret Foster Carer

Those "conversations" - some examples. Please bear in mind that for me, staying part of conversations like these is an important part of fostering. It calls for patience, tolerance and a particular social skill; one where you are perpetually and discreetly encouraging the other participant to think a little better and to engage a little better.

Child: "My mum right, she got stopped and didn't have no licence, right, and no tax or insurance or nothing. She never took the test. And the car didn't have no MOT neither."

Me: "Gosh. What happened to her?"

Child: "Nothing. She got off didn't she."

Me: "Really?"

Child: "Bent copper weren't it."

Me: "I wonder if your mum exaggerated some of that a little bit, just to make the story fun?"

Child: "No. I was in the car."


"Do you know how you can tell a baby's got wind? It goes blue."

"Where did you learn that?"

"My boyfriend's dad said. And he's had seven."

"I think if a baby turns blue it can mean something more urgent than wind. I'd call for help"


"Why did he have seven children?"

"Dunno. S'pose he likes children".


Watching TV, an ad comes on for Samsung. 

Child: "My sister right, she wanted one of them."

Me: "Really"

Child: "She never got one though."

Me: "Really"

Child: "She was well gutted."

Me: "We often get disappointments in life."

Child: "Yeah. She got over it like. In the end."


"I hate apples, I ate one when I had braces and it broke one of my teeth."

"Really? Oranges?"

"Hate them."


"Hate them an' all."


"Aren't they like peaches?"


"Pears are like apples."


"So I wouldn't like them."


"I don't like peaches."


"So I wouldn't like nectarines."


"They're like oranges." 

"So you wouldn't like them?"


"It's a good idea to try things first to see if you like them."

"Uuurrgh. I don't want to eat nothing I don't think I'll like""


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

This isn't a post.

It's just a postscript to yesterday's post.

I wrote yesterday's post about Sofa Surfers and later the same afternoon got a call from one of my sons to say things had gone a bit pear-shaped for him and he was in the dumps.

I sorted things with partner, and at 6.00 pm hopped in the car and drove the 60 miles to my son's flat.

We chewed the fat over a bottle of wine. He felt a bit better, no way would I even consider driving home. He offered me his bed, but I insisted he get a good night's sleep so for me it was...the sofa.

First night I've slept on a sofa for twenty years. 

It was a leather one (see post below). And had been rescued by son and his student girlfriend from a skip three weeks ago.

I slept badly. But; the joy and laughter from the Sofa-Surfing new girl in our house, when I told the story of my night, was well, well worth it.

The Secret Foster Carer

Monday, March 18, 2013

Do you know what a "Sofa Surfer" is?

I didn't until today. 

When a new child joins your home, you have to nip them down to your doctor's surgery, usually, to register them. On this occasion  the receptionist asked "Address?" I gave my house address.  Then the receptionist asked "Is that the permanent or temporary address?" I replied "Temporary, at the moment." The receptionist asked "What is the permanent address?" I replied "She hasn't one." 

Homeless, see.

Only the receptionist couldn't see. She tried again; "What is her permanent home address, the one she came from?" I replied; "She has no permanent address, she hasn't come from any address, she is of no fixed abode." The receptionist persevered "What was the last permanent address?" And I whispered, feeling a bit like John Cleese in the parrot sketch; "She has never had a family address since before she could remember addresses. She is 'omeless. She 'as no permanent address. No 'ome; past, present or - at this moment in time - future. She is without address!"

The receptionist said "Excuse me" and got up and went round the back. She came back with two women reinforcements. "What about her PREVIOUS address?" she said, with a look of triumph, as if they had got us over a barrel, they'd get some sort of address, however irrelevant, one way or another. The girl mimed deep thought. For a moment I thought she was going to say "Third park bench along from the swings just off the seafront in some town or other." But she went "Er...it was Swallow somefink. Swallow Drive. Swallow Road."

The receptionist wrote it down hungrily and moved on. She had an address. The box in her form had something in it.

The dentist receptionist was much more savvy. She went "Previous dentist?" I said "Not known" She looked up at me and sort of winked. I'd told her about the homeless thing. She squiggled a fictional name in unreadable hieroglyphic in the box. 

Back at our house the girl and I sat around the kitchen table getting to know each other a bit. Course, I can't put anything up here that could identify her. Or any of her children...

But I asked her when was the last time she had a bedroom and she said it was in a hostel years ago, just before "they took away" her first baby. 

Apart from those couple of weeks in a hostel, she hadn't hardly slept in a bed for four years. She'd slept on other people's sofas. About twelve in all. She is an authority on what you're looking for in a sofa to sleep on. In your clothes. Why cats are a problem: "They climb all over you" But dogs aren't so bad. Why Ratners-style mantelpiece clocks are a problem: "Bloody things rings their bells every quarter of an hour" How you get up early and change out of the clothes you've had to sleep in for warmth because you don't get given a duvet or a blanket or even a coat over you.

She had slept in some beds. But only shared single beds of young men who lived with their parents, offers which were extended for reasons other than selfless kindness.

She had slept two or three times in a broken bed belonging to a friend who offered it whenever the friend's older sister was "away for the night", and the friend could use the unbroken bed of her sister, thus freeing up the broken bed.

Apart from those few nights, she had slept on sofas for four or five years. "Yeah, it's just a type of homeless. Homeless ain't only people sleeping on park benches. You can always beg a sofa off somebody."

I asked her if it was common practice. "Yeah. Social Services have a name for it. We're Sofa Surfers."

I asked her which of our sofas she'd prefer to sleep on if she had to. She didn't even pause for thought: "The brown one in front of the telly. The big one's too soft. And I hates leather ones. I got stuck to one once."

After partner and I shared a couple of stress-busting jokes at DFS's expense, we got down to wondering how many kids/young people are sofa-surfing their lives away underneath the homeless radar. 

And ended up agreeing our leather one is indeed rubbish.

The Secret Foster Carer

Monday, March 11, 2013

How often does the average foster carer think about giving it up?

Quite often, if they are anything like me. Obviously, you think about it more often when something is going badly at home.

That's when your brain rekindles your favourite fantasy. In my case a fantasy where I've not only packed it all in, but gone off to live in the sun. I see myself lolling all day on one of those mahogany 4 berth yachts moored in a Mediterranean marina.The local Deli delivers a crate of wine every week and a hamper of luxury food; duck pate, stuffed olives. 

The longer I have to daydream, the richer the fantasy gets; I'll be driving up into the mountains for lunch, and a secret rendezvous with a very attractive neighbour from 3 yachts along the jetty. All my old friends from as far back as school are arriving at the weekend for my birthday party...

Above all, I have nothing to do. No obligations or responsibilities. Bliss.

That's about the point where the daydream ends. Why? Usually because someone's locked themselves in the toilet and won't come out until I've changed their Social Worker, or somebody phones from school to say there's been an incident. Or, even more likely, the washing machine pings that it's finished or several emails have accumulated.

Just for the hell of it, about ten minutes before writing this post, I kept the fantasy going. I'm lying on the yacht. A trifle woozy from last night and the sun. It's half past eleven. I'm bored. I turn on the radio, but it's some French station, and I'm wondering what's going on at home. I won't see anybody until the afternoon, so I've only got myself for company. I notice the veins on my shins and remember that time gets us all. I pick up my book, but it's not as interesting as my old life used to be. I'm going to a dinner party on Saturday with a new bunch of bores, and as usual I'll regale everyone with stories from my time as a foster carer. 

Before I knew it I wanted to be back in the thick of it, honestly, I really did. Try it yourself and see. You'd go numb with tedium. It's like combat veterans who talk about finding themselves walking towards the sound of gunfire.

I remind myself that every ordinary job I ever had before fostering, I used to daydream about packing it in. And yet every time I had a break between jobs I couldn't wait to get back in the saddle. It's the same, maybe even more so with fostering. With some children, their troubles are nine parts of the joy. Some children, let's be honest, you're relieved to see them move on. But  when the door closes behind them, the peace and quiet is an emptiness. 

Thinking about packing it in is normal. If the voices get loud, we're told to talk to our Social Worker or other carers. Maybe that would help, I don't know. I talk to myself, and my thing is this; that time gets us all, and I don't want to fritter it hiding behind the sofa. 

Nor do you, I suspect, especially if you're a foster parent. 

That said, I thought about the yacht at least ten times over the weekend, dammit.

The Secret Foster Carer

Friday, March 01, 2013

What do we foster carers do about alcohol?

I'm gonna avoid the temptation to answer the question with a flippant joke such as: "Make mine a double"

Another report out this week finds that we're drinking far too much and lying about it to ourselves, our loved ones, our doctor.

As foster carers we often find that drink played a big part in the lives of looked-after children. And they want to try booze too, like other young people.

Before writing this, I did a quick Google, because I wasn't totally sure of the exact law about alcohol and young people.


Almost every other country on earth makes it illegal to sell alcohol to young people under 18. In the USA it's even older than that. Perhaps more importantly, in almost all other countries it's illegal for young people to drink alcohol at all; anywhere, anytime. Until they are 18 years of age. Obviously it doesn't stop kids entirely, but it's a good positioning statement. 

The UK is so standout different it's practically hilarious. It's illegal to buy and sell it until 18. Legal to drink it with food in public at 16. But; heads up folks: it's legal for children in your own house, or in a friend's house at 5. Yes, five years of age. It's even legal to give it to children under 5 for medical or other valid reasons.

No other country has laws anything remotely like ours. You can give alcohol, or more likely allow the consumption of alcohol by your six children aged between 5 and 15 when you're round your neighbours playing Foxy Bingo.

You can keep your 5 year old quiet with a slug of Drambuie in their can of Coke while you go upstairs with your husband's brother.

Seriously, genuinely, I find this the most gobsmacking, stupid, inexplicable, unbelievable law in the history of everything I've ever learned about any laws anywhere on earth. Ever. 

Actually, come to think of it, Apartheid is probably way more ludicrous, but at least it's off the law book nowadays.

Just for the record, this is officially the stupidest law in the world:

                                      In Ohio it is illegal to get a fish drunk.

Yet doesn't that show that the lawmakers of the state of Ohio care more about their fish than we do about our children?

Incidentally, if you want to keep up to date with Blue Sky's policy on alcohol and looked after children, it's in the Handbook, page 148, if I remember rightly. It's clear and thorough, sensible from every angle. In a nutshell, whatever the law allows, we don't give alcohol to looked after children, or tolerate them using it in our home. We don't promote it as being normal, or use it on ourselves (to the point where it compromises our care). There's also some information about how to deal with an intoxicated young person. which is worth checking out.

Oh and one other thing, the official stupidest law in the UK is:

                                   It is illegal to die in the Houses of Parliament.

Does make you wonder how many of them were dead from the neck up when they were making our drinking laws?

The Secret Foster Carer