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:

“QUARTER PAST FOUR THIS MORNING CAME OUT FROM UNDER THE SOFA RUNNING TOWARDS THE DOOR LIKE THERE WAS A FIRE SAME ONE AS LAST NIGHT I THINK SAME SIZE AND DEFINITELY GOT THE SAME WALK BIT ARROGANT YES?”

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.

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