Sunday, June 08, 2014


We foster carers are used to being advised by the Blue Sky team that looked after children are big on what they call "control". 

Is there anyone alive who hasn't been accused in the heat of the moment by someone they're arguing with of being a "control freak"? I doubt it. I have. So has my other half, oh yes...

Who wants to be out of control? A speeding bus with a bomb and Sandra Bullock on board maybe, or else there's no action movie, but apart from that, being out of control is a nightmare.

Of course there's a difference between being not in control (of a situation) and being out of control (of yourself). I'm talking about the first one. 

Children want control but not total control. They want just the right amount. Enough to feel safe. But not so much that they are in charge of everything. Only megalomaniacs want total control.

The challenge for everyone in charge of children is to find a way to give them the right amount of control. As with so many things in fostering, this is important with your own children, but even more important with foster children.

Foster children probably had zero control over anything before they came into care.  Their parents probably had no control over anything either. Except their kids. They couldn't control the benefits office, the police, their landlord, their debt collectors, their drinking, you name it. One of the most common traits of chaotic parents is that they are scarily authoritarian over their children, as if they boss the poor mites around to make up for their absence of control in everything else. No negotiation with their children. No discussion to find out what the child is thinking or needing. You hear it all the time; "Do as you're told" or "I'm not asking I'm telling".  

Last Sunday morning we went to the park; myself, Bill, and youngest looked-after child. We took a football and a cricket bat and ball and bicycled down the cycle path. Child wanted to be in front all the way. Got there and child ordered us to sit on a bench and watch while he went on the swings and climbing frame, so we did. After about 5 minutes the child came back and said he wanted to play cricket. We set up to play, but before a ball was bowled he told us that after cricket he wanted to play chase, followed by football. 

I bowled the first ball. The little chap missed it and stomped off, got on his bike and cycled away. Towards the gate. Beyond which was a quiet pedestrian road. If he went through the gate he'd be in sight long enough for us to catch up to him, but the big control thing was whether he went through the gate.

We were both tempted to give chase. But then he'd have us in the palm of his hand. So we went and sat back on the bench, watching him out of the corner of our eye all the time. If he'd gone through the gate we'd have been off after him like our tail was on fire. But, as we reckoned, he didn't go through the gate. He actually didn't want that much control. 

We watched him acting casual, sitting on his bike beside the gate. Then he started cycling slowly around the perimeter of the park, leading eventually back to us. All the time we acted like we were confident in his ability to make good decisions; which we were.

Halfway back to us he got off his bike, then in re-mounting he "fell" off, and lay on the ground. We trotted over, full of sympathy. He had controlled us over to where he lay, but returned overall control because we were now in charge of his welfare.


He had enjoyed the right amount, then gave it back.

When you acquire a puppy the dog whisperers tell you to make sure it knows who's in control. The big argument in politics is whether we control ourselves or Europe does. Control is everywhere. 

Especially in the brain-teasing, exhausting, but always brilliant world of fostering.


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