Thursday, January 09, 2014

Our family were all very interested when they found out we were becoming foster carers. We didn’t send out the news to all four corners, nor tried to keep it secret.

Part of the process of becoming approved as a carer is having Blue Sky go and meet some people who are close to you. In my case they visited my mum and one of my best friends. After the meeting my mum phoned, said nice things about the young lady, and how interesting it was to have a long chat about things that are dear to her, such as our children and what we’re like as parents. She also asked if she could tell her sister, as she was going to be seeing her soon. From that point it’s top family news, right up there with who’s having a baby and why a cousin is getting divorced.

When you start fostering, and the placements arrive, the family stays interested, and the tricky bit is choosing which relatives to tell what information about the child. The child’s right to privacy is paramount. It’s not right to tell even your mum anything about what happened to the child before they came to live with you. It’s hard, because you sometimes feel that you’re suggesting that your own flesh and blood can’t be trusted. It’s hard because you crave an outlet for some of the harsh realities of fostering. You can, and should, pass on healthy stuff about how your foster children are getting on as part of your family, things like how much they are fascinated by your tropical fish, how you’ve persuaded them to eat peas.

Christmas has just come and gone, and that meant meeting up with family, at your house or theirs. For the child, a bewildering bunch of strangers; something they may find alarming – strangers in the house. You tell them in advance what it’s going to be like, who will be there, and that they are allowed to go off and be with the other children and play.

The gathering will all be aware of all sorts of changes to the family make-up over the previous 12 months, the cousin’s absent husband and ...the foster children.  So, when asked (usually in a whisper) you say they are doing great, and have brought a great deal of pleasure to the family, which has plenty enough truth about it to remind you that you’re doing okay.

Most of our extended family are brilliant with our placements. They behave as if the foster children are family children, ask us on the phone about whether to give the child a present, compliment the child on their skill on X Box or how well they’ve built their Lego Friends house, ask if they want another glass of juice when they’re doing a drinks run, and so on.

But, there’s always one adult or two perhaps, who struggle a bit. A family member much loved, but whose social skills are well, not world class. Or maybe one of those people who simply don’t get the world of children, astonishing because they were once a child themselves, have they no memories? Have they shut out their childhood? They're harmless, of course, just a bit clumsy chatting with other people's children.

Annoyingly, they will “make an effort” with your children, including your foster child, and you can hear the unmistakeable sound of toes curling all around the room as they;

·         Ask a streetwise twelve year old who is in the process of giving up smoking and already has a tattoo; “What did Father Christmas bring you this year?”

·         Tell the child what Christmas was like in 1953

·         Tell the foster child how lucky they are

·         Talk in front of the children about sensitive things like why Twerking is disgusting and why a cousin is getting divorced

·         “Joking” that if the children eat chocolate their teeth will fall out or they’ll get fat

·         Asking a child which football team they support, then getting stuck in because they have a problemt with Man Utd


This year, to his enormous credit, our foster child actually fought back. A married couple, family member’s of Bill, asked the boy what he’d got for Christmas, so he went and fetched his main present to show them. They looked at it for one and a half seconds, said something like “Oh, isn’t that lovely” without the slightest understanding of what it was. Nor did they care; they were much more interested in adult gossiping. The child started to explain how the toy functioned when they both turned away to continue discussing Arsenal and why a cousin is getting divorced. The child threw the toy to the floor. I asked if he was okay. He announced in a loud clear voice, that he had been asked what he’d got for Christmas, then when he showed them they all started talking. Cue slightly embarrassed silence. Excellent. Out of the mouths of babes etc.

Bill and I have talked about whether we deal with the problem in advance, by speaking to the family and advising them how to behave. Or by staying on full alert throughout the gathering, and talking to the children afterwards to make sure it’s a positive experience. For us, it’s the latter every time.

We believe that part of the process of childhood is the child discovering for themselves that there are adults in the world you like, because they have time for you, and respect your world, and adults who just don’t. They discover this is true at school, because they have teachers they look forward to and others they don’t. We are happy to share with them that my gran is a hoot and has a heart of gold. And yes, cousin Victor (not real name obviously), is a bit of a misery guts when it comes to children. But we love him too.





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