Tuesday, May 28, 2013

MY CONTACT CAMPAIGN is starting to work. If you're a foster carer, how are your Contacts going?

A few posts back I talked about a Contact which is really throwing one of my foster children. After carefully logging everything that happens at Contact for over a year, and recording how much disruption the child's family were causing before during and after Contact, I found myself invited to a review. Present were all the usual Social Workers, plus a "high up" from Social Services. In a situation like this, the foster carer is accompanied by their own social worker, in my case a very professional person, and their job is to support the carer and take an overview; help the carer keep perspective and get the balance right between all the different standpoints.

One of the things that happens to us all when we take a view is the danger of the view hardening when someone else puts an alternative. Not only that, I usually find myself arguing more passionately on someone else's behalf than for my own neck.Especially if the person I'm supporting is a child who's had a rough enough time before being taken into care, and is still getting what seems like a raw deal in one or two respects.

I don't know about anyone else, but I can end up frustrated and then a bit cranky. 

Take this bit of the review meeting: one of the child's "significant others" is suspected of colluding with an unknown other person, and committing a crime against myself. Obviously, though it's highly frustrating, I can't give the tiniest details, save to say it's a worry. The police have been working with Social Services to nail the "Perp". (Sorry, I've been watching too much cop TV).

If you're a would-be foster carer, let me tell you straight, something like this is almost  unheard of in fostering, and Blue Sky, social workers, the police, have been fantastic. 

As the discussion about this aspect of the Contact went on, something gradually dawned on me; I was the only person in the room who didn't know the identity of the suspect. Me. I'm the victim and the person working closest with the child at the centre of the case, and I'm being kept out of the loop.

Driving home from the review meeting I found myself having a great time winding myself up. Do you ever do that? Get the whiff of self-righteous indignation in your nostrils and start fuming and plotting all sorts of extravagant activity to right a massive wrong.

Actually, deep down, I knew that, as usual Social Services and the Police were right. A suspect is only a suspect, and as the person is definitely known to Social Services, they need to be involved to help the police get closer to the truth and build a case.

And I did manage to walk away with a reduction in Contact, which was my main hope. By about half actually, which is not bad. Plus it was agreed that the family have to behave during Contact, especially they have to treat the child with affection and respect.

So I suppose, all in all, my campaign is starting to work.

The Secret Foster Carer

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Foster Carers should all re-marry.

We should get married again, those of us that that did (and still are), not that you have to be a pair to foster well.

But if a fostering couple were at some point spliced together in a ceremony, prior to fostering, religious or otherwise, they should re-marry each other all over again with a new set of vows.

I'm serious. My partner and I were talking about actually doing it; re-dedicating our marriage to incorporate  some focus on our new and overarching thing; fostering. But mostly to remind ourselves about our own family.

We married in a church;

"I take thee___________ to be my lawfully wedded wife/husband to have and to hold from this day forward for better for worse, for richer for poorer in sickness and in health to love and cherish til death us do part"

You can download all manner of vows now:

I, (name), take you, (name), to be my partner, loving what I know of you, and trusting what I do not yet know. I eagerly anticipate the chance to grow together, getting to know the (man/woman) you will become, and falling in love a little more every day. I promise to love and cherish you through whatever life may bring us.

I (name), take you (name) to be my (husband/wife), my partner in life and my one true love. I will cherish our union and love you more each day than I did the day before. I will trust you and respect you, laugh with you and cry with you, loving you faithfully through good times and bad, regardless of the obstacles we may face together. I give you my hand, my heart, and my love, from this day forward for as long as we both shall live. 

If we do this thing, my partner and I, and to be truthful I don't know how we'd find time, but if we ever do, the key thing would be to have our own children there. As for foster children; if they are permanent then maybe they're there, that would need some thought. Plenty of wider family and friends around for the hooley afterwards.

It would go something like;

I (name) take you (name) and our children (names) as my lawful, only family. You are each the love of my life and mean everything to me. You are more important and valuable to me than anything or anyone and always will be. Thank you for understanding the life we now live, even though it sometimes hurts or upsets you, more than ordinary family life. I hope you each feel as much warmth as I from who we have become. Many people who are not here, in our past and our future, would also wish to thank you, if only they knew what they owe to you.

The thing is, I think we need to make sure our own children are certain they're up there with us on the fostering, and that they're not simply getting semi-siblings temporarily bolted on to their layer of family.

Then there'd be an Eighties disco, obviously.

The Secret Foster Carer 

ps If you're bothered I'd want "You Are The Wind Beneath My Wings" for the walkdown.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Fostering and the school

Are schools awake when it comes to our foster children?

It's a worry, because when the bell rings/whistle blows just before nine until they run out to  us waiting at the railings we don't have any first hand knowledge of their day. It's an even bigger gap if they're old enough to travel by themselves, we may not see them for 8 or 9 hours, 5 days a week. What happens to them in that time? Are they getting what they need?

As Foster Carers it's down to us to get them to school no matter how much they don't want to go. And if they are involved in trouble at school, it's up to us to do most of  the damage limitation.

If a school excludes or refuses our foster child, our Social Worker will come alongside and try to set up a solution. But we often wonder how much the school is helping.

These are concerns raised by one of our anonymous contributors to the blog, and I'm grateful to hear how it is for others doing this darned job. The contributor wasn't able to post  much in the way of specifics, to ensure the child's anonymity, and that's the way to go if you're thinking about adding a comment (use the tab at the bottom of each post).

I think there's one key thing to always keep in mind: schools get extra money if they take a foster child. I'm afraid I can't say how much exactly, I suspect it varies and may even be information that foster carers are not considered qualified to know. But it's money that should be spent on our child, not absorbed into the school's general budget and end up as the insurance payment on the mini-bus.

Schools have to pay their way in this day and age, and if a school refuses a child it's worth remembering that they cross off some revenue, and will only do that reluctantly. They will be weighing the loss of funds against the way in which the child is impacting the education of their peers.

I've always found the vast majority of teachers hugely sympathetic towards the looked-after children when talking to us Carers, but a bit confused about whether to single them out for special help or treat them as they would any other child in order to avoid distinction that can generate discrimination.

Most head teachers hope they can help the child, but often end up resigned that the child's presence is too disruptive. They have to be protective of their statistics, which include attendance as well as academic success, so they sometimes set aside an isolated building to house their difficult pupils. A bit like the cooler in The Great Escape.

If there's one thing that always helps,it's the teacher who cares that extra bit. Every school has plenty of them, along with the one or two who don't.

I've mentioned this before but it's worth repeating in a post about schools. I asked to meet a child's Head to discuss her schooling. The Head arrived ten minutes late,didn't apologise and began by listing, in front of the child, her shortcomings. At the top of her list was poor punctuality. Honest. 

We have to keep plugging away at the school, talking to the teacher, the Department Head, the Head Teacher, the pastoral care officer or spiritual guidance liaison coordinator or whoever deals with the tricky children. Even if the worst comes to the worst with the school, the child will know you've been battling for them, and some good will come of that. Maybe not today, or tomorrow, but someday soon, and for the rest of their lives.

The Secret Foster Carer

Saturday, May 11, 2013

"40% of Carers suffer from depression..." 

That was the headline on Radio 5 at 5.00am this morning as I sat in the bed in our spare bedroom, typing this post.

The news comes from the Royal College Of GPs. The newsreader has just added:  "...at some point in their time as Carers. And can lead to problems such as strokes." So they are calling for us to be screened.

I woke up early by the way, because I'm not sleeping well just now, I tend to wake up suddenly. Have done for quite a while now. I'd taken ages to get to sleep, and that's become the norm too. As usual I lay there in the dark letting my mind go for walks around my problems.

I'd had a call from a Social Worker asking me if I wanted to attend a meeting of professionals to discuss whether Contact for one of my foster children should be reduced. I've never had such an invitation before and it's probably come my way because I kept a very precise diary of all the Contacts this child had to endure over a two year period, and documented how the "family" had disrupted the Contacts as much as they could. When I compacted it into a list on a single sheet of A4, it showed they failed to turn up on 30% of occasions, and were late by up to 20 minutes a further 20% of the times. They turned up with other people in tow such as "friends" or banned members of "family", passed contraband to the child, even allegedly did something to me that I can't divulge because it's subject to a police investigation.

After every Contact the child has a massive anger attack, destroying things, running away, self-harming, hurting us. Nobody else sees these attacks but us. You write in your weekly report "Child had a tantrum as a result of Contact" and it feels like you're being dramatic. How can you get across World War Three in a text box on a form?

So there I was at about 1.00am lying there in the dark picturing myself getting the law about Contact changed. I'm standing up in Parliament explaining what a stupid piece of legislation it is, and behind me the Prime Minister, The Education Minister, The Minister For Children and Families are nodding and going "Hear Hear!" MP's of all parties carry me shoulder high out into the sunlight where thousands of foster carers and social workers are cheering and waving banners saying "No To Compulsory Contact!". Now I'm on a loud hailer shouting "Sisters and Brothers, our threat to go on strike has been averted."

At some point I nodded off. And woke up to the news that 40% of us suffer from depression. Now, one of the many useful things I've learned from our training sessions is about depression. There's a tendency to think "depression" means feeling fed up, low, miserable. It can be that, it can also be all sorts of other things.  It can be obsessive behaviour, it can be anger, it can be eating disorders.

It can be sleeping problems. It can be delusions.

On the radio I listened to an interview with an expert on depression among Carers. She said that GP's could identify it by asking us to fill in a questionnaire. Then she was asked how it could be treated. "Well," she replied, "There's no guaranteed effective treatment for depression, there are medicines in extreme cases. The best thing is get Carers to talk about how they feel."

I said to the radio; "The best thing would be if Carers didn't have their care sabotaged by bad Contact."

Here's the thing, if you're a Carer reading this and you're with Blue Sky, and you wonder if you're one of the 40% talk to somebody at Blue Sky. If you aren't with Blue Sky, talk to somebody, anybody, your GP. 

I had a colleague once who played Sunday football and he was always coming in on Mondays limping or with a black eye. He reckoned that if he hadn't been wounded he hadn't played well. 

I often think it's the same with being a Carer.

The Secret Foster Carer

ps I heard on a later news that this report refers mainly to carers of elderly relatives at home. Mind, the 40% figure probably is about right for us...

Saturday, May 04, 2013


Nobody has ever asked me; "Why do you foster?" 

Honest, hand on heart, nobody has ever asked me that question outright, apart from way back when we were going through assessment, and even then it seemed only a routine question along with "Do you have a car?" and "Do you have high blood pressure?"

People do ask about the child you're fostering, and often say things like "How marvelous". But they never ask "Why do you foster?"

Mind you, when I think about it, I've never asked anybody; "Why don't you foster?"


I was driving home after the school run yesterday and heard another radio advert asking people to become foster carers. 

Sometimes, when I'm reminded that there are tens of thousands of children who need a safe home, I wind myself up a bit and feel like going round asking people "Why don't you foster?" 

Take the married couple in front of you in the Saturday morning supermarket queue. They live comfortably enough, judging by what they're buying. At least one of them works, or else they'd do the weekly shop on a weekday. But it's a trolley piled with adult food, so the kids have grown up. They are bickering with each other quietly about whether they should have bought packet ham or paid the extra at the cheese counter. He wanted Parma, she says it's not worth the extra as it's only for sandwiches. He's in a sulk.They will go home to a house with probably two or three empty bedrooms and rattle around it for the whole weekend, getting on each others nerves. Eating ham sandwiches and dreading another long empty Sunday.

Then there's the woman friend of yours. Acquaintance really, who dropped out of teaching young, you met her when your children went to the same school as hers and you've stayed in touch, which is easy now with Facebook. She is bored with her part time job doing the books at her local golf club, where the money is poor and she doesn't see many people. She is good with kids, she's got two who are both at secondary school. She always asks how your kids are doing, with genuine interest.

Or the couple who live opposite you, who mentioned during the Jubilee street party last summer that they had thought about fostering.

Or your own brother who can't get the building site work he used to since he has to be careful now he has an artificial hip, and his girlfriend's curtain business isn't doing very well.

I have never yet asked anybody why they don't foster, because it might sound smug, pushy. They might give me a mouthful, or never want to speak to me again because they'd think I'm trying to be one-up on them or maybe I get paid commission for recruiting (I don't if you must know).

Obviously, most people have sound reasons; their family is complicated enough, they haven't the space, they intend to try fostering when the time is right. I get all that.

I'm guessing, but I suspect most people who give it some thought end up agreeing with themselves that they simply "Couldn't do it". 

But if fostering has been through your mind more than just the once, it's time to find out from people who will know whether or not you can do it. Here you are reading this blog. Next step is to click the "Could I Foster?" tab on the Blue Sky home page.

The Secret Foster Carer