Monday, April 28, 2014


I have a problem, it comes with fostering. It's not the biggest problem ever, but it's there.

It's this; almost every time I use my mobile phone to make a call I scroll down to the name I want. This usually means my eye has to go past the name of a child who was with us about a year ago.

The child owned a mobile phone, so I added the number to my phone, obviously, while the child was with us.

The child went home in the end, after about three months with us. It wasn't an easy placement, as if there is any such thing. The child had good times and bad moments; everything between being down in the dumps through to slamming the bedroom door one time so hard that a bit of plaster came off and left a gap the size of a humbug down by the skirting board.

The hole is still there, needs Polyfilla. The phone number is still there too, on my mobile.

I have a strong suspicion that my social worker would advise me to delete the number and move on, I haven't asked. Come to think of it that's definitely the professional thing to do. Delete it. Move on.

That's my problem; I keep worrying I ought to delete it, but deleting it seems so callous.

I called the child once. It was a couple of days after the return home and the call had been agreed by all concerned, just to check that something that had been promised had happened. It had, so all was well.

That was a year ago.

So why can't I let this number go?

I let other numbers go. Sometimes I come across a name and number on my phone and I can't work out who the person is, or why they are on my phone. I delete those, but not without the temptation to call the number and ask who they are.

Now that I think of it, my phone's Contacts pages are loaded with fostering numbers; previous social workers, a child psychiatrist, a Contact centre, schools, guardians, mums of school friends, a police officer, Blue Sky people of all shapes and sizes.

And an ex-foster child. Well two ex-foster children to be precise, but the second one's a mum who was with us as a Parent and Child placement and has just moved out. She calls and texts us plenty, so that's a live contact.

But this young person I haven't talked to for a year. Come to think of it, the young person isn't a child any more.

Part of the reason I haven't deleted is that there's always the possibility that I may need to get in touch. You never know. Blue Sky might phone me and say; "Remember that young X who went home, we wanted to ask about their experience with Blue Sky, you don't happen to have their contact details?"

But deep down, the reason is glaring. This youngster shared our home, our lives, for long enough for us to care. There's two types of care; Care (with a capital "C"), which in fostering is where you provide the necessary, and care (with a lower case "c") which is what happens when you attach to someone.

The advice from Blue Sky is to offer attachment the minute they walk through the door; even if they're only going to be with you for one night. So when it's three months, the attachment is there for yourself even if not always for them.

So how could I delete this poor dear person's number in cold blood? I get a positive just seeing the child's name on my phone's screen.

Yes, I hope one day to find out that things have turned out well for the child.

Yes it would be great to get all the child's news, even to reminisce about some of the times we shared.

But I would never, ever make a call on those grounds.

It's simply that the child is part of my life, part of my memories of my home and my family.

In fostering you can't keep a bedroom the way it was in memory of departed foster children, for obvious reasons. You're supposed to remove all records of any previous placements from your systems. 

In any case, it's almost a given that the child is probably on their fourth or fifth phone since leaving, so it's most likely the number is dead anyway.

So I haven't deleted, yet. And I'm glad I haven't.

So if it's a problem, it's a fine problem.

Thanks for listening.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


One of our children once said to me "Why do you make us go to bed when we're wide awake then make us get up when all we want to do is sleep?"

My answer, something along the lines of  "You have to be right for school" was true, but rubbish, really.

The big truth is we probably used to go to sleep when it got dark and got up when the sun rose, for millions of years. Then along comes electric light and industrial life. 

I have never heard of any modern parent who hasn't had struggles at bedtime. Come to think of it, I've never met any modern parent who is getting a good night's sleep. So it's a big problem.

There's probably no solution, not while we're living modern industrialised lives. I say this because some friends of ours have a daughter who is travelling the world, lucky thing.

She's stopped off for 12 weeks in India to do some teaching in a village, she gets bed and board from a charity which is helping her journey. When I say "bed and board" I mean she shares a hut with a family. A single room hut, where the family eat, play and sleep, all in the same room, together. Everyone goes to bed together, at the same time, mum, dad, all the children, and her. Nobody fights it, nobody complains, everybody is asleep in minutes. She says the gentle swell and fall of breathing of a roomful of peacefully sleeping people is the most sleep-inducing thing imaginable.

We put our babies in separate rooms from the day they come home. We put them upstairs to bed from the earliest age, then go downstairs to watch TV.  And we wonder why they don't like it when it's obvious why they don't like it, it's not natural.

I've never met a foster carer who hasn't had trials at bedtime. We tell each other the problem stems from the fact that looked after children come from "chaotic" backgrounds. "Chaotic" is a technical term by the way. Before I got into fostering a chaotic person was just someone who was always running a bit late and looked like she'd smeared herself with glue and run around in the wardrobe to get dressed. In fostering a "chaotic" home is one where the lack of structure, lack of normality, reaches dangerous proportions.

A child from a chaotic home often has no fixed bedtime. One night they go to bed when they want, next they're locked in their room for 24 hours. For them, being sent to bed at a set time is huge, and they'll never prefer it to X Box.

You can use logic, you can beg, you can bribe. You can try being strong and firm (ha ha with that one). You can be patient, loving and kind (draining, but it's the next best thing to what we've discovered).

Here's what I suggest, take it or leave it, up to you.

Buy them a big bed, one that's as big as you can get in their bedroom, it makes them feel grown up and safe. I checked this out with Blue Sky before we went ahead, their view was whatever works, it's your home.

And go to bed yourselves at the same time as them. Nine o'clock is perfect. With an older foster child, ten o'clock, maybe.

Turn out all the lights downstairs, come up and get into bed yourselves, leave your bedroom door ajar, like they often want their door ajar. 

The key is to avoid the "them and us" of a massive struggle to get them upstairs, pyjamas on, teeth cleaned, actually in the bed, lights out or dimmed and bedroom door ajar the exact agreed amount and then dance triumphantly downstairs for what is obviously a bit of "quality time". Turn yourselves in.

You don't have to go to sleep. God has given us laptops, it's His way of hinting that there's more to life than the News At Ten.

Does this cure the problem, no but it makes it a lot better.

The only downside is that I find changing double duvets about three times more of a pfaff than changing single ones, on your own at least. I asked one younger child why they were so fond of a bigger bed, he replied (get this) "Because there's no danger that if my feet or arms hang over the side when I'm asleep the monsters under the bed will be able to bite them off".

An added bonus is we often are asleep earlier than usual. And awake earlier than usual, which again, is what laptops are for.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


When the Royal family go on holiday my other half usually shouts at the telly: "Holiday? From what?"

He didn't used to like going on holiday; he wasn't one for getting a tan or picking at croissants for breakfast. He was only happy when there was sport on at the beach bar. One year we beat Australia at cricket, the matches lasted five days, started straight after breakfast and went on until early evening; he had to learn to sit in a pub all day, surrounded by taps and bottles, drinking coffee.

His attitude to holiday has changed since we started fostering. 

When you foster they encourage you to have a holiday. Hang on, let me get the facts right; they PAY you to have a holiday. Without the children. Hang on again, let me get the facts totally correct, they don't pay, they provide a respite allowance. And they take the children off your hands, find a respite carer for them, while you go off for a break.

This is because of two really important facts about fostering:

One - it's hard work.

Two - they look after you. 

Respite can be a Godsend for obvious reasons. There hasn't been a child born who never caused their parents a headache one way or another. Waking up ridiculously early, fighting against sleep, having bad dreams. Behavioural quirks; anger, anxiety, food fads, sibling rivalry, moods...with foster children, add at least ten per cent per child.

When the children are your own, you soldier on. Mind you, one time when ours were toddlers, my parents had them for a week and we went off to Portugal, and it was just about the best holiday we ever had. But I'll never forget looking down from our balcony one lunchtime to see what was taking Bill so long. He'd gone down for a dip in the sea, he said he just fancied washing off the sun cream in the briny. I went on up to our room and washed the sand off in a shower. We were heading for the little harbour restaurant we'd found for sardines.

Bill was down on the beach. On his hands and knees in the sand. Helping two small boys and their dad dig a deep hole about six feet from the incoming surf.

It's funny, we've never talked about this, him and me. In many ways it was a small thing, not worth the hot air. But now I'm fostering, and thinking about my holiday with just him and me, it's popped back into my mind.

He was missing our children.  He was missing them so much he borrowed someone else's children.

But there's something else, something a bit darker which needs to come out and be said, because it affects us foster parents and we need to deal with it.


Helluva thing in the human condition, guilt. One of the first things they teach you all about when you sign up for fostering. How guilt eats into looked after children. How guilt makes them think it's their fault their family has floundered. How guilt makes them angry when they suddenly realise they've had a nice day in your care. 

In our case, as adults, we feel guilt at leaving our own children and going off to re-charge our batteries, but we can overcome that with logic. We say to ourselves and each other "We've earned the chance to pamper ourselves and we'll be better parents for it".

If we beat ourselves up by saying that our children will feel rejected, well we've got some logic for that too; "They'll have a great time being spoiled by nana and grandad, I bet they won't want to come back."

But it all gets a bit more complicated when you pass your foster children over to another carer and go on holiday.

So much so that Blue Sky had to practically push us onto the plane the first time. And they were right.

With looked after children you worry that they'll get feeling they've been rejected, again. You worry that the respite carer won't know enough about their fads to keep them on an even keel. You even worry that they'll have such a good time with the respite carer you'll get nothing but bad reviews for weeks after.

Blue Sky dealt with all our reasons for not taking respite, and the thing was, they knew what they were talking about, from endless experience. 

The bottom line argument for me was this (and it's brilliant). Looked-after children often need to learn to manage their own feelings starting with self-awareness. They will benefit from knowing that sometimes the world sucks because it does actually suck sometimes. And other times it seems to suck to them because they've been letting things get on top of them. If a looked-after child's carers can't manage their own feelings, and show how to do it, then the children have nothing to learn from them. Looked after children are usually aware that you're going the extra mile for them. They will accept that it drains your batteries. They'll get an important message; learn to look after the bit between your ears.

Oh and they'll also learn that you'll bring them back a holiday gift, obviously.

A guilt offering.

Friday, April 11, 2014


We've never been much bothered about Mother's Day in our house.

My mother never bothered. If we asked what to do on Mother's Day, she tended to say "Don't bother about it". Her view was that she knew how much we loved and liked her, and she didn't need time and money wasted on schmalzy offerings. Nor did she go much on breakfast in bed, although me and my brother did enjoy being downstairs unsupervised one Sunday morning, making a pig's ear of boiled eggs and toast.

I took the same view with my children when they were small, but I was very alive to the fact of children finding it hard to articulate the depth of their emotions towards their parents, and I always celebrated any efforts they made, which usually began and ended with a card they'd made at school.

The school card.

I always thought it was the whim of a teacher, they're invariably lovely in a mumsy way, aren't they, Primary School teachers? 

But as a foster parent I find myself floored every year, left reeling and having to pick up the pieces as children from disintegrated families have their noses rubbed in their deprivations by this plain stupid annual event, and I've had enough.

Turns out, (and shame on me for only discovering this recently) that it's a cross-school compulsory activity, especially in Church schools.

It's a crock of you know what, "Mother's Day".

Anyone who thinks it's worth a light is dead from the neck up.

I've looked it up to see if it's based on anything concrete.

Some woman called Jarvis got it rolling in the USA (where they know a thing or two about commercialisation) back before WW1. She walked away from it a few years later saying it was too commercialised, that was back in 1920. 

The church suddenly woke up to it when they noticed it had something in common with one of their thousand and one mysterious ceremonies. They rolled up "Five Loaves Day" and "Rose Day" and other odds and ends of hokum and pinned it to the fourth Friday of Lent. They dropped the bit where the congregation kissed the wall of the church, and claimed that their Mothering Sunday dated back to medieval times and had been a Christian fixture since the days when a girl was eligible for marriage aged nine. 

I'm not making up any of the above, this is the crock of you know what it's based on.

Schools, the Church, Hallmark, Cadbury and garage forecourt flowers in a plastic bucket are locked into an annual cycle of marking "Mother's Day" because they always have done and therefore always will do.

They don't go further in their thinking than to picture the bog standard nuclear family of their own childhoods. 

The existence of fostering isn't on their radar. They have their fingers in their ears and are humming la la la to drown out the utter brutal stupidity of making a child who is living away from their natural mothers dwell lastingly on that specific and gigantic part of their life.

It's not just fostering families, there are plenty of different family units nowadays.

How dare the world stick this on everyone like everyone is the same?

Monday, April 07, 2014


A well-meaning social worker once said to me "You can't call it a paddy these days; racist overtones." 

I'd been describing how a looked after child had lost their cool. 

The child had been diagnosed with ODD. Stands for "Oppositional Defiance Disorder". Maybe I'm a bit cynical, but I reckon the experts who came up with "ODD" sailed a bit close to the wind with what they thought was a mildy funny-clever name for something that isn't funny and they weren't clever.

"Ho-ho, let's make up a name for it which spells 'Odd' that'll give the conference something to giggle about..."

It doesn't bother me if a child gets het up, they're just letting off a bit of steam.

How can a looked-after child not have some anger? All sorts of people get cross with the world.

Look at the cabinet minister who blew up at the Downing St gates when they wouldn't let him cycle through. We only ever see foreign parliaments on the news when they are flailing arms at each other and screaming "Walk away Prime Minister he's not worth it!" Millionaire footballers are always seeing red mist. 

Tantrums. Wobblies. Episodes. Screaming ab dabs. Flare ups. Hissy fits. Handbags.

The eskimos (sorry, Inuits) are supposed to have 28 words for snow because they're up to their knees in it. Well here in the developed world we're clearly up to our necks in dissatisfaction because we've got hundreds of words and phrases for being over the top.

Winston Churchill had his very own one, he used to refer to it as his black dog. Although to be precise it was more of a depression than an anger.

He used to get the blues. Down in the dumps. Hacked off. Low. Fed up. Bummed out. On a downer.

When I was a child people merely got depressed. Now the thing is better understood, and often gets proper diagnosis. For example, they might be suffering from bipolar disorder, a miserable medically diagnosed condition which I believe used to be called manic depression, where the unfortunate person swings from an often unpleasant high to an always unpleasant low. Steven Fry lives with it.

But they haven't got round to a medically approved word for when someone blows their top. 

Consequently we foster parents are left with nothing but street slang terms which I find undervalue the child's experience, and consequently minimise the professionalism with which we deal with it.

Perhaps it would be useful to be able to describe the kind of anger which is out of control as a kind of seizure, as the person has been somehow taken over. I have honestly never witnessed such a condition in a looked-after child. In my experience they are always sitting in the driving seat, watching themselves, exercising shrewd judgement about the level of their behaviour.

I'm not saying a child could never cross the line and become a danger, I'm saying that in my case - and I've seen a few - there's always a self-awareness. 

And we don't have a word to distinguish this type of anger, which ought to be recognised by the professionals.

But not the boys and girls who came up with "ODD", please, or else:

"Apparent Anger And Acrimony Alongside Aware And Regulated Guided Hyperactivity"


Wednesday, April 02, 2014


I don't really like talking about things in the news on this blog, I think these pages are more about the day-to-day human aspects of fostering.

But they've just announced that Parliament is bringing in a law to make it a criminal offence to emotionally abuse a child, and this might end up affecting everybody in fostering, on a day-to-day basis, and on a very human aspect of fostering.

At the moment a parent or carer can only be prosecuted in a criminal court for abusing a child either physically or sexually. 

Social workers can make a civil case that emotional abuse is ongoing, and a family court can then order the children are taken into care.

When that happens, that's when a foster carer gets a phone call asking if they can take a child. 

An emotionally abused child. Meanwhile the parents go free. 

Often the emotional abuse continues. At Contact. When the looked-after child is taken to meet their real parents there's no sanction to force the parents to treat their children properly. 

The parents don't physically abuse their children at Contact - the meetings are supervised.

But they continue the emotional abuse. 

Refusing to give love; or even a hug or a kiss, showing disdain for the child, showing no connection with the child, being intolerant, short-tempered, disdainful. Or worse.

I will always remember a child whose mother had told him many times that it was all his fault that the family was in shreds. I took him to meet her for Contact and she shunned him , didn't look him in the eye, or touch him. She mocked everything he did.

He's now in a secure unit.

Looked-after children often leave Contact is a terrible state, and the foster carers have to pick up the pieces.

Which we do.

I adore fostering, it's fantastic. If we can get these new laws right, fostering will be even better.

If the real parents of looked after children know that when they meet their children at Contact they must: love and cherish them, hug them, be interested in them, show them understanding and care, respect their achievements, join in their games, share their laughter, share their concerns


Things will improve for these poor mites.

I phoned the charity Action For Children who have been campaigning for this new law. They told me that any lobbying of the people who are drawing up the law would be useful.

So if you're a foster carer, and you agree with the idea of having the law against emotional abuse of children to include how the real parents of looked after children behave at Contact, please leave a comment at the bottom.

It might not be end end of Contact, but it could be the beginning of Contact doing the job it was intended for; building bridges between the real parents and their children.