Saturday, August 10, 2013

When They Go Home

Two went yesterday.

It's always a strange time in the house, depending on the circumstances.

It's six in the morning I'm writing this, just been downstairs to make a cup of tea. Their bedroom door is half open, the beds made, silent and empty.

A fostering friend had a ten year old boy who was severely emotionally damaged. A very angry mixed up child, physically huge for his age. He'd had four placements break down.  It was her first placement, and she and her partner were learning as they fostered. They tried everything, but the downward spiral was speeding up. The boy stayed with me a couple of times to give my friend respite. It was clear that the boy needed lots of help, and his helpers would soon need protection. He was removed from my friend and is now in residential care. My friend is now doing a great job with another placement, she's a great carer. But my point is that when the boy left she didn't know what to feel.

Blue Sky's chief psychotherapist is adamant that we carers begin offering attachment from the day a child arrives, even if they may not be with you for long. I agree, and all the good carers I know try to do the same. He refuses to call us "Foster Carers", he says we are "Foster Parents" because the child needs a parent. I don't always agree with everything the "psyches" say - I've never met one who's ever fostered - but as far as this bit of advice goes; spot on.

My friend felt guilt at feeling relieved, she felt discomfort that maybe she failed. She struggled to feel proud of the good she had done, the unending care she had poured into the child. She and her partner came round to our house a few times in the aftermath and we talked about the boy most of the time. They used to go to see him in his high security residential unit. My partner and I felt they had formed an attachment with the boy, even if they couldn't define it themselves.

How can you not form an attachment with a child who has suffered enough to be taken  into care? 

I have to stop myself from trying to find out how each and every single one of the children who've been with us are doing.  Most social workers are the same. You can ring up the social worker of a child who was with you years back and they grill you for every bit of news about the child.  One child we had spoke to me about a previous social worker in great glowing terms, so I rang her up and told her, and she almost cried with a mix of joy and relief. She'd been the worker who had taken the child from her real parents. She remembered having to prise the child's fingers from around the banister to carry her into her car.

The two who are gone, no-one had to have to prise any fingers from around any banister. They were prepared and proud. Blue Sky, the children, their social workers, and us the foster parents, laid out the programme from day one, all boxes ticked. Forward planning done; fallbacks in case of future problems all agreed.

But emotions don't have tick boxes do they?

These two were only with us for six months, and here I am marking their departure with the same sign of respect I used when our flesh and blood children left home: their bedroom door exactly half open. Not closed, not wide open, exactly half.

Is that because I care about them as if they were my own? Or is it because my own children have got their room available again if they want to come and stay?

It's a strange time in the house when they go.

It's a strange time in the heart too.

The Secret Foster Carer


  1. Thank you for the comment about letting them attach straight away despite the length of placement. I have a very damaged teenager with me, he arrived just two weeks ago, and he is desperate to bond with a parent. I was told by one SW that this was probably the only thing that would keep him out of custody...then by another that I shouldn't let him get attached because he would soon be 16 and chances are he won't be allowed to stay.

    I have gone with my gut feeling and I think I was right, it's about time he felt like someone cares about him.

  2. The Secret Foster CarerSunday, August 11, 2013

    Thank you for your comments, I feel I can picture your face when you get one bit of advice from one SW and different advice from another. Clearly this means you have to decide, and going with the gut has to be the only way. Trust your parenting instincts. Those gut feelings have been two million years evolving in us, they work well. Your good heart can play the biggest role in limiting the trouble he will draw to himself. If he longs to attach to you, stay safe, but yes, reach out to him.
    I don't get the idea of avoiding attachment, how does anyone do that?

  3. Thought I would let you know that he's been with me a month now and, despite a few wobbles and a creative approach to his court curfew, he has remained out of trouble. Lost cause my backside :)

  4. The Secret Foster CarerTuesday, August 27, 2013

    Brilliant! When people have a mountain to climb they need every bit of motivation. I'm sure your main drive is the child's welfare, but there's nothing wrong with adding a dash of wanting to do it your way.
    I think I know what you mean by "creative".
    Stay in touch, let us know all your triumphs, mini and major.