Sunday, September 28, 2014


I was reading (yet another) newspaper article about obesity when something occurred to me about fostering.

The article started (as always) with statistics about how many of us are seriously overweight. We hear nothing else these days; we all need to drop a stone or two.

The article then listed (the usual) ways to slim; cut down on food and exercise more.

Here's the thing I got wondering: food is very important to most foster children, more important than it is to ordinary children. The reason it's extra-important is because their supply of food before they came into care was likely to have been erratic. Children need to know the When Where and What of their food supply or they get anxious. 

We had a child placed with us way back, he'd been deliberately starved. Unbelievably he'd been consciously deprived of food as a way of trying to break him. He'd even been forced to sit with the rest of the "family" and watch them eat while he starved. His sister used to steal scraps from the kitchen pedal bin and sneak them up to him late at night. Not surprisingly he needed food to be available 24 hours a day. We told him he could use the fridge any time. We put fruit and biscuits in his room. We put more into his lunch box than a coal miner could eat. He never went anywhere without a snack at his elbow. He eased up after a while, developed confidence that food was there for when he was actually hungry, but he taught me a lot about food and needy people, because for him it was more than eating. It was a substitute for all the emotional things a person needs. Love.

So maybe all the overweight people are lacking enough love, because they aren't lacking food are they?

I say "they" when I ought to say "we" because I could lose a stone and a half. I put on seven pounds for each of my two children and the weight's never come off. If I had the flu I'd drop 4 lbs but they'd creep back on. I've put on about 2 lbs per year since having children. Was I unloved? No, but I didn't feel I was very important compared to my babies and that's a type on unlovedness, putting yourself behind everybody else in the house.

Here's the thing, fostering has taken away any shades of unlovedness, because I haven't put on an ounce since I started fostering.

It's not that our foster children love me. They don't. I'm not hoping they ever do. The job is to get them back to the parents they love. 

What it is is this: fostering has taught me to love myself better than I used to.

In fostering your social worker keeps your self-esteem up. The going gets tough at times and in real life you cut yourself another slice of cake to show you that you love yourself. In fostering you have two things going that beat that. 

One; your social worker's job is to make sure you are appreciated. That doesn't mean they give you a round of applause for everything you do. If you could do better at something they'll explain it, that's exactly how it should be. If you can't take constructive criticism  you're just making things harder for yourself. I found it painful at first, but when I had a moment to think I realised the criticism was correct. And when they praise you, that's correct too. So if you keep your end up you'll get praise, and that makes you feel loved.

Two: Blue Sky leave you in no doubt that you have to put yourself first. This advice stunned me at first. How can you put yourself above some of the poor little mites who come shuffling into your home in need of so much of everything? The answer is easy: if you go under you'll take the child under, and everything else you hold dear. When you put yourself first you realise that you matter. And the act of looking after yourself is also a type of love.

The Fostering Diet is not foolproof though. I still find myself eating the crusts I cut off the lunchbox sandwiches. It's easier than putting them in the bin. Saves approximately 5 seconds, but I still nosh 'em. It's what Nigella would do isn't it?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


I've just picked up the mail, and it got me thinking.

Who'd be a postman? Sorry...I guess I should ask "Who'd be a post person?" 

Hang on. Isn't Postman Pat still going strong? Although, in order to be completely non-sexist I should make it clear that in principle he is going no stronger than a puppet Postwoman would go, as men do not necessarily possess greater physical strength than women, and in any case strength relates to other qualities such as mental and emotional resilience, where no gender bias exists.

Ain't modern life complicated? Hurrah!

Where was I...yes, who'd be a postie?

Every morning our letter box clatters with half a dozen items flopping on the mat. This morning was about typical. Two letters, one from the building society about balance transfer deals, one from a random outfit telling us we might be owed PPI. Three glossy high colour leaflets advertising a Pizza restaurant and another from our local Homebase-type warehouse and another one I didn't even bother to look at. And two letters for addressed to former foster placements of ours. I get about half a dozen a week; letters addressed to children or young adults who are long gone from here. They are official looking letters written and mail-merged by machines I'm guessing. I write the child's re-location address on each of them and put them back in the post. I don't know who they are from because I don't open them. You hope the child or their parents or new carers or whoever they are with now might think to tell the letter writers of the child's new address, but it doesn't seem to happen.

Here's something interesting about what is otherwise a standard moan: 

I find that foster children always express a wish that someone would write to them. One child we had begged us to adopt a snow leopard at £2 a month, which we didn't do because I'm a bit sceptical about all that. Turned out the child's slightly animal "loving" mother (3 cats 2 dogs several rabbits in the garden and a guinea pig in the unused bath) had done the same. What the child liked was the monthly "letter" telling the adopter what their leopard's latest news was.

Got me wondering if there was room in the world for "Pen Pals for Looked Afters"? People who had passed some sort of course who could write letters to a foster child which supported the carer but also re-enforced the child's sense of self worth and individual needs.

Then again there's the worry when your foster child gets a letter or a package; whether you should open it for them. I had one child stay who asked me to do this because she didn't want any nasty surprises. Nobody should know your placement's foster address unless it's been cleared, but stuff happens. Blue Sky give you the guidelines on the mail thing (it's mainly a matter of age and agreement) and if in doubt it's the sort of thing you ring your Blue Sky social worker and ask.

We get the odd phone call too for ex-placements, mainly from debt collection agencies. Just hope our address isn't on any credit unworthiness database.

When I say "Who'd be a postie?" what I mean is that the job used to be a cherished role in society, where everyone knew their postie and he (for it only ever used to be a "he") only delivered letters from distant friends and relatives.

I started to turn against mail when I noticed that banks have a tactic of posting you a sniffy letter that you're overdrawn on a Friday afternoon so it arrives on a Saturday which meant you had a whole weekend spoiled sweating and fuming.

So anyway, what I say to a foster child when they say they wish they'd get a letter is to write one, then they ought to get a reply. 

One child said she had no-one who'd write back. So I sat her down and got her to write one to me.

It was poignant. It started out painfully formal;

"Dear X

        I hope you are very well..." 

and fizzled out after a short list of "news" that included she watched Strictly Dancing last night

        "I can't think of anything else to say.

                                 yours sincerely"

The fact was that she had a great deal to tell someone, but didn't know how, definitely not in a letter.

I wrote a reply, but never got a another letter from her, even though I asked her to write again. Novelty gone.

I wish the writers of circulars and unwanted letters would take a leaf out of her book...

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


We've just had our Annual Review. Me and the other half.

Blue Sky runs the rule over your fostering every 12 months. It's yet another example of how thorough the support is. I worked in various different jobs before fostering, and there was never so much back-up.

The review was friendly and informal. You sit down with your social worker and a chap who is called the Independent Review Officer. There's no paperwork involved, although if you filled out the little questionnaire they send you a couple of weeks in advance, that piece of paper might be on the table.

Then; you chat. Cup of coffee in hand, you chat. It's not anything more than that.

Your social worker is your support during the review, because they are about 50% responsible for how you're doing and they field any questions the Review Officer has about the technical side of fostering.

The idea of having a Review person who is independent of Blue Sky makes sense; if Blue Sky reviewed themselves it would look less than transparent.

The chap we had was someone who had just retired after many years work in social services, so he knew the ropes, and was very kind and supportive.

In fact, he had a good idea about something to help one of our current placements.

Not only that, he said that in all his years in social work he had never fully realised what a magnificent job foster carers do. He said exactly that. About ten times. He said it was a real eye-opener. He didn't just say that foster carers do a magnificent job about ten times, he also said thank you on behalf of the Great British public for being a foster carer. He said that several times too. He also said that meeting so many wonderful people doing such important things was very humbling for him.

In fact, at each piece of information about what we do and how we (try) to do it, the Review Officer raised his eyebrows and muttered things like "That's wonderful" or "Brilliant".

We all laughed a lot at the silly things in life and fostering.

The chap did ask why I didn't attend every single training session and I explained why, and my social worker totally backed me up and that was that. In other words, the review wasn't what they call a snow job.

Later that evening the Review Officer phoned me at home to say what a pleasure the review had been, to keep up the good work and he looked forward to next year.

Me too.

It doesn't end there. Three days later we received a written report on the review, which makes such good reading that I've put it somewhere safe (i.e. where no foster child can see it) so that mid-morning I can sit down and read it again.

Although I allow my eye to skip the bit about training, because even though it wasn't a criticism, it felt a tiny bit like it. Maybe I will up my attendance...

Saturday, September 13, 2014


It is probably a truth universally acknowledged that a foster carer with a placement is someone in need of a good moan.

Not just carers, everybody needs a good moan. Every day there's something to moan about, and we moan to whoever we can find to listen.

The second best company if you want a good moan is someone who shares your circumstance and your point of view. The moaning can get stoked up to mountainous proportions. Such fun!

The absolutely best company if you want a good moan is someone who is a professional listener-to-moaning, and they are thin on the ground, but not if you are a foster carer. Because, among many other things, your social worker is a professional listener to foster carers moans.

They don't just listen and nod. They genuinely care if you were on hold for forty minutes on the phone to the benefits office trying to sort out your placement's situation. Your social worker will sympathise, praise your efforts and tell you a story about one time they had to wait on hold they heard "Your call is very important to us" a hundred times.

But mostly they'll just listen. Which is a fantastic skill.

Sometimes they will try to help with the problem you are having a moan about. Often they know that you just want to get it off your chest, speak your piece. Have a good moan.

I had a social worker who believed that constructive moaning isn't just good for us, it's good for society. Her view was that moaners were people who wanted the world to be better for them and provided what they were doing was good, the moaning meant they wanted it to be even better.

That's what she said.

There is a limit though.

You might lose friends if all you do is moan, but you won't lose your social worker. So it's only fair to play the game.

When they arrive at your house for their visits, let them have a moan about the traffic. Then it's your turn to have a moan about the state of your placement's bedroom. If the social worker raises the game with a moan about contact, then bingo! In you go with your moan about the real parents.

Do I moan to my social worker. Very rarely, says I. What I do do, is carefully explain the current challenges concerning my placements, outline the specifics that are in need of attention, and give a considered profile of how procedures and other people should be performing better. Yes, that's what I do. 

And my social worker agrees with almost all of my points. Never even hints that I should stop moaning.

Sometimes, if I'm paying attention to what I'm saying, I'll finish a moan by saying "Well that's enough of my moaning", which always seems to go down well.

After all, I just want things to be great for the child, that's what's behind my observations.

If my social worker does think I moan, she keeps it to herself. Or maybe she goes back to the office and has a moan about me and my moaning with her colleagues...actually I doubt she does that, they are too professional.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014


If you ever were to come round my house and use the downstairs loo, you'd notice a lavender blue plastic coat rack stuck on the inside of the door, all down to my policy with pocket money.

If you remember back to when you were small, your pocket money was a big deal. Those pennies meant a lot, every last one of them; freedom to do something, whatever you wanted. Sweets, a toy. Or a toy. Or maybe sweets. The choice of what to spend pocket money on is much wider now, especially with computer games and apps and iTunes tracks and whatnot being cleverly priced to skim off those pennies, not to mention the pounds.

But while there've been big advances in what to buy, the old-fashioned system of pocket money stays much the same. The amount is still determined by a mysterious formula of; the child's age, what they say their school friends get, the general stinginess of the household, and the nearest round amount.

Is it fair? Not in a million years. That's because it's run by a body of people whose expertise as paymasters is approximately zero. Parents. That's why we do such a lousy job with pocket money preparing our children for independent life. Does anyone in the workplace get a pay rise automatically on their birthday? Or end up with an exact amount in their pay slip every week? Nope. At work the amount gets jigged around with stoppages and ends up with a curious .27p on the end of the final number. Does any parent subject their child's pocket money to stoppages based on uneaten cornflakes or leaving the bathroom light on? No. We should.

Then again some parents don't bother with pocket money.

If you think about pocket money; you're setting your child up to believe that money comes for nothing, a fixed amount, regardless of what the child does or how they behave.

We're lucky in that Blue Sky share the responsibility of fixing the amount, and they've so much experience you can bet they'll nail it for you. Plus if the child queries the amount you can always say it came from on high.

Generally I love dishing out the weekly pocket money to foster children because it's often a new experience for them. Not just the money, but the trust. I trust them to spend it in an okay way, and if that means sweets, well to start with that's fine by me, as long as they brush their teeth. Having a couple of pounds to blow is a healing thing, it's therapeutic. I'll make mini-interventions along the way if needed. But I don't expect them to save up for a Bible and a pound of apples.

One foster child I had for a while loved to be let loose in Poundland. She deserved all the treats in the world, this girl. I'll never forget the Saturday she came out with some sweets, a dinosaur whose head swivelled and a small coat hook. The coat hook was for me. 

I never asked why. Just went "Wow that's what I really needed!"

Personally I'd scrap pocket money, and instead pay a fixed fee into the school each term for the approximate amount, say £2 per child per week at age 8. Then, each Friday afternoon the teacher would assess their work and behaviour and punctuality and attendance etc and give them a pay packet with a slip explaining why they're getting the amount.

Until then, I stick to dishing it out and standing out of the way.

And in the downstairs loo I have a very nice coat hook glued up to prove it.

Friday, September 05, 2014


If you're thinking of fostering you'll be interested to know how the training sessions work. Blue Sky puts on a session about once a month in your area, at the offices of your social worker, so it's all friendly faces.

The sessions start at 10.00 so there's plenty of time if you do a school run, and end about 12.30 so you've got some of the day left for other jobs. There's a hefty coffee break in the middle, which is my favourite bit, where you catch up with your fostering friends. Blue Sky put on a cold buffet afterwards which is also a nice social time unless you're watching the pounds...

Training is mostly voluntary, a few things are compulsory. Take today; I'm off for my First Aid refresher. St John's Ambulance put on the morning; it costs £60 but Blue Sky pick up the tab.

The last one I went to was a hoot, even though the things they covered were obviously of massive importance. What to do with a burn, if someone's got a piece of food caught, something in their eye, how to put someone into the recovery position.

The thing that used to be called artificial respiration isn't called that any more, it's got revamped a bit and I seem to remember it's now called resuscitation although that may have been upgraded again, I'll find out later.  Mouth-to-mouth isn't really the thing any more it's all about pumping the heart, you get to have a go on specially made dummies.

Someone from Blue Sky said something very wise about the training sessions; "It doesn't matter how much you already know, there's always two or three little gems you can pick up from every training session".

The thing I remember best from my last First Aid training session is to get someone to call 999 if a situation looks serious because even if the paramedics take 10 minutes the operator can put you through to someone fully trained who can talk you through things until they get there. If you are on your own it's still best to call 999 first. I have the number on my mobile phone's speed dial. I had to list it as "A999" to ensure it was on the screen when I press "Contacts" because my phone lists contacts alphabetically, contacts that are just numbers are listed last, so if I listed it as plain "999" I'd have to scroll down. Not what you need to be doing in an emergency.

I've not had to use any of the First Aid training in fostering. Touch wood. The toughest moment so far has been the removal of a foster child's stubborn splinter, but I knew about sterilising the needle, washing my hands and around the skin, disinfecting the tweezers, having a plaster ready, and putting ice on the spot where the splinter was as a poor man's local anaesthetic. The child was mightily impressed with the whole thing, and I went up a notch in estimation.

By the way, the ice thing was my own idea, they didn't teach that at First Aid, but I'll credit them with getting my thought processes going in the right direction.

And that's the thing about training; it underlines the fact that you are a professional, doing an important job. Keeping up with the latest thinking in all sorts of areas. Being as good as you can.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014


Can you imagine what a better world it would be if all parents had to be like foster parents?

People need to be told the full facts about parenting before they have children. Not a few hairy stories from Auntie Flo but the whole story layed out from on high about how the rest of your life will change, and change for the better if you do the job right, change for the worse if you don't.

People should be vetted and approved before they have children. Someone once accused me of sounding like a Nazi when I said this, but I've not met anybody who doesn't agree. No-one's trying to create a master race for goodness sake, just pointing out that bringing up babies is not for everyone just because they know how to make babies. We already accept the idea that intervention is acceptable; people are not allowed to have children until they are 16. So the principle that some people aren't ready to be parents is agreed, we just need to roll it out further.

You need training to know how to bring up a child.  An old schoolfriend of mine married an architect; he'd had to train for 7 years to before they'd let him loose on designing a building. They have three children with not an ounce of training between them. What's more important a child or a kitchen extension?

You need support to bring up a child. Is there any lonelier place than 3.00am standing on your landing with a screaming baby red in its face and clearly in some sort of pain, but you've no idea what the problem is because you weren't trained to be a parent and you can't phone anyone to get advice or support because the only number you can dial is the rubbish government non-emergency faceless nameless NHS Helpline 111 thing which everyone says is a waste of time.

You need an expert to drop in once a month. When you have a baby a nurse pops in every so often and it's fantastic. Just having someone in a uniform in the house takes a huge weight of responsibility off. They give good tips about  babies. Then they stop coming. And you're on your own. The only advice you get is from unqualified ignoramus women such as "Let them cry if they want to it helps with their learning to talk when they get older."

You need to write down how your children are coming along.  Keeping a diary of weekly happenings is a fantastic way of separating important things and getting a focus on solving problems. Everyone writes and receives reports on their work, schools do reports on every child on every subject, there must be something in it.

Every child needs a Personal Education Plan. Foster children get one. The school sits down with the foster parent and their social worker and everyone hammers out a tailored plan to get the best out of the child. Why can't every child have one?

In fostering you get checked out and fully informed up front of what the job entails, you get constant training in every aspect of the job, there's always someone on hand to help; 24 hours a day 7 days a week. You get visits from social workers; that's why I keep running out of coffee. You write reports and someone reads them and responds. You are part of a team, and your parenting is valued and rewarded.

If the above happened the world would be a better place, so much so there'd hardly be any need for fostering, and the day that happens will be a great day for the human race!