Saturday, June 28, 2014


We're going to be looking after someone's dog for a fortnight this summer, as her owners have had no luck with kennels.

I've checked with Blue Sky that this is ok, we had to take the dog to a vet for a "psychological profile". The dog was certified sane, which cost us £30. Obviously you don't want a dodgy dog around foster children.

The dog will stay with us for a night next week, then the whole weekend a fortnight later, so everyone can get used to each other before the family go on holiday. We're getting a running commentary on the dog's likes and dislikes, what various woofs and whimpers mean, how often it likes to go to the toilet, and what sort of walks it likes.

Contrast this with how it can be when a looked-after child arrives. Sometimes the phone rings and it's "Would you consider taking a child who needs a bed tonight, she would be with you in about 3 hours time, she's 11 and is at a police station, if they can't find a foster home for her she may have to sleep in the cell..."

One time I said "Yes", put the phone down, and in the whirl I realised I didn't even ask the child's name.

It's not always like that of course, most times you get plenty of background information, food preferences, and a character profile. Blue Sky always try to provide the child with a dossier on the family they are being taken to; photos and information about the family and the house.

I find myself getting almost confused with anticipation when a new arrival is imminent. If the appointed time is 4 o'clock then from midday I'm usually going round the house double-checking little things like making sure the bedside light in their bedroom glows the right amount (they naturally like some light through the night), and that all the bleach is locked away (Health and Safety). I kill time by doing one last hoover and putting the ingredients for the evening meal in saucepans (it's usually pasta - quick and easy plus it's on most children's list of ok food).

You never forget Day One with each and every child; they seem so dreadfully, dreadfully vulnerable. No matter how challenging they turn out to be, on that first day in your home their shellshock and fear manifests as shy humility, and you just want to give them a massive cuddle. You don't of course. You keep yourself neutral and functional. You show them round the house. Funny showing someone round your house, you feel like a bellhop in a seaside hotel:

"This is the bathroom. This is how the lock works. Towels are for everybody's use. You can hang your toothbrush next to ours after you unpack"

You're more than a concierge though, you're in detective mode too; discreetly looking for clues as to everything you need to know to help. Their possessions are a starter.

Unless the child is too small, I leave them to unpack by themselves. Two reasons. One: It gives me ten minutes alone with my social worker who is always there on arrival day. Just for a few last details and thoughts. Two: I always find their little bag of possessions utterly heartbreaking. Blue Sky has a fantastic policy that no child should carry their life in a bin bag. If there's no suitcase or holdall at the child's home, Blue Sky will shift heaven and earth to get one from somewhere, and I have to take my hat off to whoever came up with this deeply caring little detail.

There's usually a soft toy. Battered and rueful looking, like it's owner, and it tugs at the heart.

Sometimes there's no toy at all.

That's even harder on the heart.

But it's your first big clue as to how it might have been for her, and the type of job that lies ahead.

And in case it crosses your mind, yes. The dog will be arriving with a bag of possessions, and yes, its favourite toy will be among them.


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