Monday, December 28, 2015


In the last post I was going on about what Christmas is like in fostering.

One thing I deliberately didn't mention was our new arrival; Romeo. It's been his first Christmas with us, he only arrived a couple of weeks ago.

He's settling in. That is to say he knows where everything is, our basic routines and a bit about what each of us are like as people.

We are getting to know him, and matching the experiences we know he's been through with the behaviours.


The two basics to start with.  His eating is below standard; refuses to drink water or vegetables. He likes junk food available at all times, in his room, playing the PC. He doesn't always eat it, takes a bite then lets it sit at his elbow. Comfort of knowing he'll not go hungry. At school lunchtime he leaves some of his packed lunch in the box so he's got food available all day at school.
He sleeps okay once he's gone to sleep, but kicks against bedtime. Normal child in this respect, except he rejects bedtime stories: "stupid", gets out of bed and kneels at the top of the stairs making the smallest of noises in order to be detected (wants to know we won't get cross with him for being out of bed). Probably more to this than fear of dark and being alone. We wait for clues. We think he wants to stay vigilant to re-assure there's no rough stuff going off downstairs.


By 'compliance' I mean responding to reasonable requests to do things no child wants to do such as pause the PC and help lay a table or go clean teeth before school. He now trusts me enough to dispute the request;

"Wait. I'm nearly at a new level".

"I brushed last night and I haven't had any sweets".


Not shy any more, except of the other children in the house. They are all older and he's learned from the playground there's no mileage in trying it on with a bigger child; you'll get your comeuppance in ways which our other children wouldn't dream, but he's not yet secure that he can trust them. With his foster parents, different story, and a common one; he's transferred his own family to us; the 'dad' is frightening, the 'mum' must be challenged, so I'm getting snipes about being useless, bad language when no-one else is about and snubs.


His mother is out of hospital. He is worried sick she's going to die. They had a conversation on the phone before she was released.  She sounded drowsy but bolshie with me. Then I handed the phone to Romeo and he didn't get a word in, just "Yeah", "Yeah"and "Nah". The absence of "I love you" or anything close when the call was ending was pointed. "Bye" sufficed.

The dad is not on the scene.  Romeo has two older stepbrothers of his father's who are with their mother, and a stepsister by his real mother who is with the father (not Romeo's father) and this guy's current girlfriend and their two children plus her son from a previous relationship.


His social worker has done a great job piecing together how things were for him, and we foster parents owe them for that because the more we know about their past the easier to understand how they are and what we need to do. Romeo was more neglect than abuse. His dad was in and out of his life; he used Romeo's mum's social housing as a convenience; a bed when he wanted, food and presumably other necessities and niceties. They fell out a lot over substances; she wanted to escape, he wanted to bulk up. The dad was physically absent, the mum was emotionally absent. Romeo looked after himself as so many kids like him have to, and knew when to keep out of other people's way, but had the normal urge to engage and seek support and affection, which was non-existent.

So that's where his anger will most likely be; when he is treated with kindness.

You get used to the fostering paradox; the kinder you are the more unkind they can be. Your kindness reminds them of a birthright they never got at home.

I have sometimes had more peaceable relations with some foster children when I was out of steam and reduced to giving them no more than the basics and precious little TLC.  It goes against the grain though and I'd rather risk a hissy fit for being nice.

Contact with the mother is planned. I'm not looking forward to the first school morning either, but then there's this;


He was sat playing Minecraft on Christmas afternoon. He was gently humming.


Monday, December 14, 2015


Christmas and fostering.

We could be here all day on this one.

The more Christmases I foster the more hard work it becomes because you learn stuff and build it in next year and end up with a bunch of practices the size of Encyclopaedia Brittanica.

And there's absolutely no guarantee it makes much difference; but you try, you try. Every year it throws up the same mystery for me and I suspect many people in fostering.

Can I get something off my chest? I get cross with all the TV cooks making endless fancy Christmas recipes of indulgent stuff with home-made sponge bases and cuts of meat you never see in Sainsburys which they tell you to 'ask your butcher to prepare for you'.

The media generally portrays idyllic family gatherings. You get the feeling you're the only household not hosting 27 laughing back-slapping souls; glamorous sons with noble wives who've flown in from Durban, granddaughters down from Oxford. Cheerful children, twinkling grandparents.


The first thing is to set your fostering sights realistically; foster children are likely to appear greedy and ungrateful. They are neither, of course. Their materialism is no different from anyone's they just lack finesse in going after the goods. And they don't know how to be gracious, not surprisingly.

They might moan about certain aspects of your idea of Christmas, maybe even try to make out that they had a better time before coming into care. In some ways of course, they did; they weren't from a broken up home back then and they often got everything they wanted and more ( I find chaotic parents often compensate for lack of care with expensive treats).

They might get grumpy about your own family traditions. You might want to play Buckaroo on the table at midday because you always do; they'll not get into that will they? Their Christmas traditions might have been that everyone was under the table by midday.

The build-up to Christmas Day is just as fraught. Foster children miss their real home and their real mum and dad more at Christmas than any other time of the year, the Contacts beforehand are tense, the present-swapping is so poignant, the phone calls to family, if allowed, are difficult. They have a wobbly about something trivial, but the real reason is because of what being in care at Christmas does to their insides.

The days after  Christmas can be rubbish for them as well; that dead period between Boxing Day and New Year's Eve; toys all played out, weather bad but not actual snow, TV dreadful.

So what's the fostering mystery? It's this;

Every year you know it's going to be a mighty slog, fraught with pitfalls and dramas. But every year you long for it, plan for it, lie awake daydreaming of the best Christmas ever. You shop til you drop, you cook and cover the house with decorations, you go the extra mile to get their presents dead right, you wrap them beautifully and hesitate what to write on the tag ("From Mum and dad"? "Merry Christmas, love...."?  "xxx"?).

You slog through Christmas embracing all the emotional carnage, remembering it wasn't  much easier before you fostered.

Now you are fostering it's a fantastic stretch of days; you're all together under one roof (you can hyper-foster), you are giving them toys, fancy food, affection and warmth. 

Yes there are tears sometimes. But Christmas gives us a chance to do such intense fostering that maybe we should wish it could be Christmas every day.

I know this is true because we've had children stay for more than one Christmas and it's amazing how they remember each detail from the past year and ask if it's going to be the same again:

"Will there be pork pie for breakfast again? Yeeeeugh!"

"Can I put the star on the tree again?"

"The dancing Father Christmas goes on the other end of the mantlepiece!"

Of course, plenty of foster parents and foster children are non-Christian; so when I say Merry Christmas at the end of this post I mean it in every language and in every faith as an expression of goodwill and affection;

Merry Fostering Christmas!


Wednesday, December 09, 2015


Romeo is settling in well, has slept through the night since the first night hiccup. We keep seeing little flashes of life in his previous home coming out in his behaviour. I heard him say to the dog when no-one was around;

"Listen mister. You do exactly what I say when I say. Or else. And you know what 'Or else' means".


When you get a new arrival there are quite a few practical things to get done.

Stuff like signing the child up with your own doctor, booking trips to the opticians and dentist. The local authority sends a nurse to give the child a check-up.

I don't know if these things throw the child or make them feel cared for, I hope the latter, not that anyone likes going to the dentist.

The child's school has to be notified, obviously. A PEP has to be arranged. A PEP is a Personal Education Plan for the child. The Plan is constructed to meet the child's needs. It starts with a meeting either at the carer's house or the school. It's attended by; yourself, the school, your Blue Sky social worker and the child's social worker. Sometimes the local authority sends an additional officer with special knowledge of education. 

It always does my heart good to see so many people gathering with one aim in mind; to help a lost child. These are the sort of things our country should be proud of.

Everyone involved tries to keep the child at the same school if possible, but the school's office need to know someone else will be picking the child up from school, plus a new address and phone number. New email address too.

Whinge alert: Don't schools send out loads of emails with attachments where the attachment could have fitted in the body of the email and saved a pfaff?

All the mechanical business can divert your attention from the main job, which is getting to know the new arrival so you can make things better for them.

Sleep patterns. Play skills. Clothing whims. Bathroom habits. Conversational levels. 

It's a whirlwind forty-eight hours.

A big part of getting to know them is food preferences. 

Romeo, like most foster children, likes red food; pasta, pizza, baked beans, tomato sauce (on everything). Anything red, except tomatoes. 

Absolutely no salad stuff.

So; I can slip carrot and red lentil and tomato soup past him when he's not on vegetable alert by calling it 'Superman Soup', but to begin I feed them just whatever they can and want to eat. I have heard carers say they like to start as they mean to go on, but I'm not one for forcing a child who's just been wrenched from their family eat a plate of cabbage.

I ask his favourite food;  McDonalds, and we will have a McDonalds, maybe at the weekend, why not? All things in moderation. 

Food is huge for looked-after children. They are often underweight even in this day and age. I give Romeo a snack the minute he gets in from school; a cheese sandwich with a few crisps on the side and...three cherry tomatoes. No fork. Eating with fingers increases the chances of food being eaten by 50%, don't ask me why. I put a dollop of mayo on the plate and said; "Goes well with the cherry toms".

First day he left the tomatoes until last, but the business of dipping them in the mayo lifted the whole thing; he ate them. Yesterday he ate the (five!) toms first.

If you told a stranger that the biggest thing in Romeo's first two days was that he ate 5 cherry tomatoes they'd think you had low expectations.

These are the tiny, almost microscopic improvements in a child's chances that make this fostering game the thing it is; a continuous challenge to enhance every tiny aspect of their lives.

Oh yeah; maybe one day Romeo will go to Oxford or play football for England, but right now I'm as proud as you like that he's eating a salad vegetable albeit disguised as party finger-food.

Is Romeo sad or angry about what the world has done to him?

Not outwardly. Children the world over don't know when they are getting a raw deal, they think that whatever is going on around them, however awful, is the norm.

Inwardly though, he's incubating stuff, of course. 

One of the many mistakes I made when I started fostering was to assume the child would be eternally  grateful for a calm, fair household and return the goodwill with interest. 

I knew to logically expect some behaviour, but my heart kept hold of this idea that they'd never bring it out on me; not me, not lovely earth-mother saviour ever-loving ever-patient me.

Romeo will need to get some things off his chest. In the meantime I'm enjoying the calm before the you-know-what and seeing moments of a child at some kind of peace.

An eight year-old who has discovered tomatoes.

Monday, December 07, 2015


A new foster child has arrived, and knocks on our bedroom door at 1.45am first night.

First night is always huge in fostering for all parties.

The child is pretty much an unknown quantity; you have their notes plus titbits of information their social worker can offload, but there's a lot to learn. 

Of course, from the child's point of view their foster parents are an unknown quantity too. Blue Sky prepare a child-friendly profile of the parents and their home which the child gets to read before arrival, which is a great idea. In our case they almost always show most interest in our dog.

It's a big moment when the social workers leave and it's just you, your family and your new placement. For the child, waking up in a strange house must be unthinkably baffling and scary, especially at 1.45am.

I'd assured him at bedtime that if he woke up and was frightened to get up, put on the dressing gown I'd given him and knock on our door. I'd shown him how to knock (three gentle ones; you don't want the whole house to wake up). 

I sleep nearest the door anyway, and first night I'm always in a very light sleep. My husband always stirs and stays half-awake until I'm back.  I put on my dressing gown and silently opened the door.

"Hello" I said, "You alright?"

He was standing there looking so sad, rubbing his eyes with a small fist.

"I had..." he said.

"I had..."

I waited for him to get it out.

"I had a horrible dream".

The middle of the night is where you become a professional foster parent. A lot of the time you're just a full-time parent, doing whatever you'd do if the chid was your own. But the middle of the night is a particular time.

Why? Because if it's your own child you make room in your bed for them. Obviously in fostering that's not an option. 

"Oh dear," I said "That's not very nice for you".

Looking at him I could see that although he was awake he was ready to go back to sleep, so I put a hand on his shoulder and guided him round to face his bedroom door.  I went in ahead of him and straightened his duvet, discretely checking that the bed was dry.

As he clambered in I noticed he'd drunk the beaker of apple juice I'd given him, and I was tempted to fetch him another one out of consideration; you want a new child to feel well cared for. On the other hand you don't want to trigger a bout of bedwetting. I settled for;

"Can I get you anything?"

Silence. He probably wanted me to get him his mum, get him a peaceful life, get the world off his back.

I said;

"You're a good boy Romeo, well done for knocking on my door".

I took his clothes off the chair in his room, put the chair outside the door and said;

"I'll stay here until you're sleepy again".

I sat there for about five or ten minutes listening to him breathe, my thoughts running all over the place, like they do when you've got time to yourself and you're forced to do nothing.

I find myself thinking;

"This fostering lark. What would I be doing without it? Why didn't I get into it sooner? Why doesn't everybody do it? Don't they realise what they're missing?"

I got up and began to tip-toe back to bed, but a voice came;

"I'm not asleep".

I think the staff of life is to be useful, to be needed, to be wanted. 

And to do something important to the best of your ability. I didn't want the boy to get the habit of wanting me to stay every night until he nodded off. So I said;

"I'm still here. I was going downstairs to make a cup of tea and come back and drink it while you're falling asleep".


When I got back with a cup of (weak) tea I whisper;

"I'm back"

I could feel the sense of re-assurance in his little voice, he simply went;


Now, I've fostered long enough to know that this first few days and nights, the bit they call the honeymoon period has two characteristics;

One; butter wouldn't melt. But the moment will arrive when they relax and trust you. And probably tell you to bog off.

Two; it's a rapid first-strike in repair.

Repair from all the trauma they've undergone. So I try to get everything right as rain; every kindness, every comfort, every detail. It's a long road, but it begins the first night they are in fostering. You go the extra mile and more.

I couldn't keep it up, but during this getting-to-know period I think it's crucial.

So I sit and sip, trying to synchronise my breathing with his and slow it down. Then I try the almost silent yawn trick. 

Funny how you can tell, even sat outside the bedroom, when a child has gone to sleep.

I creep back to bed, reminding myself I'd have made a good burglar.

But on the whole, fostering is much more rewarding.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015


New arrivals (Romeo arrived yesterday, see "HE'S ARRIVED") are very quiet at their first teatime up at the table.

Not surprising, must be scary. 

I have a thing where I don't load their plates for them, especially if it's a new child. I lay empty plates and put the food in the middle for them to help themselves. Having control over what's on your plate is a relief for looked-after children; if they don't like mushroom bits in their pasta sauce we can carefully dollop the sauce onto the pasta making sure there are no mushroom bits on the plate. If onions make you sick you don't want to have to look at and smell a little heap of onion on the side of your plate while you're trying to enjoy the rest. And I don't insist on clean plates either, I remember the tyranny of that Dickensian notion from school. Green veg I hide in soups, they don't know they're getting their five a day in my house.

So there we are at the table: me, husband, our children, other people's children and a newcomer.

I'm sitting beside him and trying to get a handle on him. You make quick judgements; does he seem like a talker? Is he desperately shy? Is he ashamed he's in care? 

One big thing is where he fits into the new family dynamic.

He's youngest and smallest, plus he's the newest; he'd be bottom of the pecking order then?

Nope. We have a dog. Romeo's one step up from the dog, so he's not at the bottom. It's amazing how relieved and emboldened looked-after children feel that there is a family member who's more dependent on others, someone less privileged than himself (eg dog not allowed to sit up at table).

Romeo's table 'manners' are good. He says "Fank you" at the right places, and knows how to work a fork.

I've never had anyone who didn't know how to use a fork, but fellow foster carers have told me about children who've only had takeaways on the floor, so no cutlery or plates to wash up, no table top to wipe.

I had one who'd never been taught what a toothbrush is.

Silence. Awkward silence. The adults don't want to raise topics the newcomer might find difficult or excluded from so the usual pleasantries are out. 

In this case, thank God for football. My eldest says; 

"So Romeo, mum says you like football? Who's your team?"

Romeo perks slightly. His shoulders go up a little. The faintest possible smile happens;

"Man U"

Interesting fact; most looked-after children who support a team say "Man U", I think I get why.

"Man U?" says my husband "They're a great team"

My eldest isn't having that;

"They're not at the moment dad"

Dad turns to Romeo and whispers so everyone can hear;

"Ask him who he supports"

Romeo thinks, then trusts Bill that the question is going to work for him, so he says:

"Who do you support?"


Laughter. Romeo wins a small win, my eldest is used to Portsmouth being ridiculed, it's good for his character. I get all this even though I don't quite get why men fall back on talking football all the time, but it came in handy at the table.

After the meal comes the tricky thing of staggered bedtimes. Do we send Romeo up first which might make him feel like the baby? Yes. The youngest is the youngest, you can't pretend otherwise, it's not fair on the older ones who are right to expect to go up last.

I settle him down and tell him, as I always do, that if he wakes in the night and is frightened to put on the dressing gown I've given him and come knock on our door.

I always wonder if I'm instilling in them the idea of waking up frightened, but they don't always wake up.

But he did, at 1.45am...


Friday, November 27, 2015



He's arrived, our latest placement.

I don't like calling him a 'placement'; he's a little boy.

It never ceases to amaze me the difference between what you expect from the information you're given in advance and the child who turns up.

I'm not saying the information is skewed or anything, it's hard to sum up a human being in a few pages of notes. Especially a troubled person.

He arrived at 4.00 o'clock, after school.  He'd spent the night at a police station then was picked up by a social worker and taken to school, then picked up again and brought to our house.

You might think it's odd that with so much turmoil in his life it was felt that he couldn't miss a day's learning; but the social worker's point was that it's important for his routine to be maintained. Fair enough I suppose, but I'd have preferred him to have arrived straight after my morning school run so I could introduce him to a quiet house, then have him meet his new family one by one as they returned from school and work.

The house was heaving when the social worker's car pulled up. Our Blue Sky social worker was sitting at the kitchen table on her second cup of tea. Blue Sky always send your social worker to help out on arrival day (unless you get a call at midnight, which can happen).

The TV was on, the downstairs PC was pumping out some kind of lego-like war game, I'd briefed everyone to keep a low profile until the new arrival had been settled into his room. I'd got the dinner organised and in saucepans on the cooker so I only had to flick a switch. I watched through the window as the social worker got out of her car and fished a rucksack off the back seat and a big holdall from the boot.

Then she opened the passenger door and the child slid off his booster seat and onto the pavement, his gaze fixed on the ground. The social worker said something and he closed the car door, very gently. The door barely clicked, the social worker had to put down one of the bags and slam it shut. She locked the car, pocketed her keys and they walked slowly up the path.

I wanted to run to the door before they knocked and welcome them but that would make it look like I'd been watching them.

I did it anyway.

I smiled and haunched down so I was at the same eye level as the boy.

"Hello." I said "You must be Romeo" (not his real name, trust me his real name is even more extravagant).

I wanted to put my arms around him, but you don't.  I said;

"Come in," then I said to the social worker "The bags can stay in the hall for now". She set them down and said in a clear voice; 

"Romeo you said you needed the bathroom, shall we ask the nice lady where it is?"

"I'm sorry," I said, and quickly introduced myself adding "Our Blue Sky social worker is in the kitchen".

"Hello!" came a voice from the kitchen. She'd stayed out of sight so as not to crowd the boy.

I went along the hall and showed Romeo the downstairs cloakroom, how the light worked and how it flushed, using the gentlest voice I could. He closed the door, and I hurried back into the kitchen, we had 45 seconds where we could say anything he didn't need to hear.

His social worker said;

"He's very quiet, understandably frightened. He's very worried about his mum."

"What can I tell him if he asks me?" I asked. I knew the woman had been taken to hospital having been found in a drugs and drink stupor bordering on a coma.

"You can tell him she's in good hands. If there's any change I'll let you know."

I suddenly had a horrendous thought. If his mother died who would have to break the awful news?


Surely not, surely the social worker would come round and do that, after all the local authority has the final parental control over a child in care, and with that would come that kind of unthinkable responsibility.  We moved on, I asked;

"Is there anything else I need to know besides what's in the notes?"

She hesitated. There were probably a thousand things, but we could hear someone trying to flush the toilet.

"Not really" she said as I went off to the cloakroom door and said;

"Romeo, don't worry about flushing it, come out and I'll do it for you."

He emerged and I took him to join the others in the kitchen. I made tea for the adults, he had apple juice. We briskly did the paperwork, the social workers left having set appointments for their next visits.

I fetched the gift I'd wrapped for him to make him feel welcome; a small foam football. 

He said;

"How did you know I like football?"

It was in his notes. Should I tell him that? Will it make him feel like his private life has been under the microscope? I said:

"A little bird told me you were a good player."

I showed him how the upstairs bathroom worked, and how the lock worked. It's not a strong lock, which is a good idea in case anyone decides to lock themselves in. Never happened yet.

I showed him his room and left him to unpack. The holdall belonged to his social worker who was going to pick it up on her next visit.

I told him to come down when he was ready so I could introduce him to the rest of the house.

Before I did I asked him "Have you any questions you'd like to ask?"

He thought, then said;

"Who's the man in the picture in the toilet?"

"Oh," I replied "That's a boxer called Muhamed Ali. My husband likes boxing."

Silence. Then he said;

"My dad does cage fighting"

Silence. I said;

"Do you like pasta?"

He does. I asked if he'd like a biscuit to hold him until teatime. He would. I told him to take three, and come on through and meet my eldest. 

New foster child meets seasoned foster child...fingers crossed.

To be continued.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


We've had an interesting time last couple of weeks, like you do in fostering when you've got a spare bed.

The phone rings from time to time and it's the $64,000 dollar question;

"Would you be willing to take a child who...?"

Our policy is to say yes always, unless there's a really pressing reason not to, as happened once, which I may have touched on before; the child in question was on a charge of murder.

Now, if you're new to fostering, don't freak out. It was a once-in-a-millenium placement. I've never been asked such a big ask before or since, nor heard of any such extreme placement coming up again. 

We turned it down on the basis we had another foster child who we felt would have been thrown off balance by the whole thing, mainly because we were told the press might get hold of our address and there could be reporters outside our house.

Thankfully the child was placed with a family which suited him better geographically; he needed to be the right distance from his family.

He wasn't a murderer, we were told all the circumstances; he'd got hotheaded in a confrontation with an older boy and overdid the survival instinct, God it could have been any teenager, frightening thought.

So;  a child of ours went home and a bed is going begging. The child, as far as we know is going along okay. One of fostering's frustrations is that when a child leaves that's it. Job done.  Human curiosity alone makes you want all the details of the rest of their lives, but a line is drawn underneath.

Saying that, a fostering friend goes all soppy when she recounts the knock on her door late one evening. Standing there was a young person who she took a moment to recognise;

"It's me, Chloe." Came the voice "I just wanted to come and say thank you for everything you did for me".

So they had a cup of tea and a catch-up; it had been four years. Brilliant.

We've had a couple of calls with proposals which were difficult fits for us;

One was for a young person, Sherri, who was having problems fending for herself on the outside world having been chucked out by her family. She wasn't up to life in any kind of hostel or supported accommodation. The term 'learning difficulties' came up in her profile.

When a local authority acts to bring a child into their care they sometimes have scant information about the child, especially if the case has only recently come on their radar. 

'Learning difficulties' is such a broad church isn't it? Blue Sky came up with a good bit of wisdom which I've put in my back pocket; when they say 'learning difficulties' it's different from that other broad church; 'mental health issues'.

We said yes. 

In case you don't know, when a child comes into care the word goes out to every possible foster home; local authority and agency. It means that several potential homes are asked the question, then the social workers sit down and work out the best one for the child.

They found a home for Sherri where the foster parent had recently had a successful placement with a child who had mosaic Downs Syndrome (partial but not full-blown), so it was felt that experience was key.

The phone rang again last week;  I was driving to school for the afternoon run and pulled over. It was an emergency. A child who had made accusations against his stepfather and needed somewhere  immediately because he couldn't go home.  I left a message for my other half to call me before saying yes. One of the big things in fostering is keeping yourself and your family safe. Before Bill got back to me the phone rang again to apologise that the placement had been withdrawn, the child had apparently made it all up to get back at the stepfather. 

Up and down you go. People talk about 'the roller coaster', they don't know nothing unless they've fostered.

So, yesterday the phone rang late. 

"Would you be willing to take a child who..."

We said yes. He's coming. I'm up early, pretending I'm being practical about getting things straight, actually I'm buzzing like hell. I told them to bring the child over straight away, they said they couldn't as there was no-one to take him (foster parents don't pick the children up, they have to be brought to you).

I asked where the child was staying the night.

In a police cell. Not because there had been any wrongdoing, but because there was nowhere else. It's not uncommon.

Can you imagine?

I've fished out one of our hot water bottles (foster children LOVE hot water bottles). He's getting the grown-up one. The Thomas the Tank one probably would be wrong after a night in a cell. 

I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


This week of focus on bullying has really got me thinking.

Am I ever guilty?

And if I am, is it justified by the ends?

I'm sitting at the kitchen table, big mug of tea, the sun's not up, everyone is asleep. Good time to think.


Suppose a foster child crosses a line;  calls me an unacceptable word.

I know his past, I know why he gets angry. I know the harm that's been done to him. 

Nobody previously fought on behalf of him and his heart; he never experienced justice coming to his defence. He is victim of a thousand wrongs, mostly inflicted by the adult heads of the house or older brothers and sisters.

I've been to enough training to know he's not calling me a bad name. 

"A stupid b***h"

He's transferred his anger from his parents to me. He's calling his mother a name. He did it because it somehow made him feel better.

Sitting here in my kitchen I'm full of resolve that next time something like that happens I'll use Plan A; count to ten and say, in a calm and neutral voice;

"I know you don't mean that, please try not to let your anger out in that way"

or change the subject and say;

"Would you like a lolly before tea?'


But it seems wrong, it feels wrong. It feels like I'm chickening out of doing my job, like I'm not showing myself proper respect, not maintaining my essential authority which as head of the house is pretty essential.

So. What am I doing if Plan B comes out;

"That's it mister! You're grounded! No pocket money on Saturday and the wi-fi is off every night for a week!"

 Is that bullying? Well...think about it...

  • I'm doing it because I can (Tick). 
  • My peer group (rest of the family) say he had it coming (Tick).
  • I don't think it's bullying (Tick).
  • He feels bullied (Tick).
  • There's some emotional hurt in me which is coming out in what I'm doing (Tick)
  • My justification is that he's got to fall in line. (Tick) This last one is the complicated one. I tell myself it's all about him behaving as I want, which is what bullies want. Maybe I'm aiming for a noble outcome, but am I going about it hypocritically? Are my sanctions really justifiable inducements to improve behaviour? Or is there an element of retribution?

The answer is easy. Dress my reaction up any way you want, I'm guilty of inflicting inconvenience, theft, even a form of imprisonment. No room for appeal, my word is God. 

I'm doing it partly because it somehow makes me feel a bit better.

There is an element of bullying about Plan B.

If a child of mine used bad words against me I'd be similarly incensed. But a foster child is a different proposition. If I go into heavy mode, I'm transforming myself into another of the big people who used to impose unfairness on him, in their case for no good reason. If nothing else I'm storing up trouble for myself.


We have to suck it up, along with all the other little things we normally call "bad behaviour" and keep an eye out for slow but sure improvement. It always happens in the end, in my experience.

I've found that thinking about fostering during Anti-Bullying Week has been useful, and I'm better for it.

Mind you, next time I'm up to my ears in a pan of boiled dry spaghetti, the school's just rung to say someone didn't show up today, the dog's been ill on the doormat because I didn't let it out when it wanted, my innards are flushed and someone's just called me a bad word; I may have to count to more than ten.

How many is a 'google' again? 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015


It's 'Anti-Bullying Week' 16th - 20th November.

Usually these 'raising awareness' exercises pass me by I'm afraid; if you're a foster parent your awareness of the specific needs of your looked-after children is so acute you've less time for national campaigns than ordinary folk.

But bullying is different. It's huge, it's everywhere.

It's a global epidemic. It's bubonic. 

It's ruining zillions of lives, it can be fatal. How many more poor bullied teenagers will take their own lives because of it?

It damages the victim at the very heart of their soul. It's perhaps it's the greatest fear in childhood.

We, in fostering, have to pick up the pieces more often than the average parent, it seems to me.

Children in care are sitting targets. 

Our placements, the young people we try to help, are vulnerable on so many counts;

  • Foster children are often small, unathletic, not good at sports. They often have to wear spectacles.

  • They frequently find it difficult to make a best friend, join a social circle or a group.

  • And, crucially, they are different. Through no fault of their own, they are 'in care'. Among other children it singles them out. 

Bullies attack the weak, the loners, those who are different.

Dear God if you remember your Darwin it's Survival of the Fittest in action in the playground.

What are the Professionals doing?

The organisation behind the campaign is the Anti-Bullying Alliance and they've put together tips and hints for bullied children, their teachers, and their parents 'and carers'.

It's worth a look at their site; I doubt there's anything the seasoned foster parent doesn't know but it's good to have one's thinking sharpened from time to time.

Schools will do it as a topic, some will do it well, others will slot it in between the Tudors and fractions and move on.

Our schools are at a loss; they know it goes on, they know who the culprits are and who the victims are (sometimes it's one and the same), at least we have to hope so. But what can they do?

Maybe our community cops will step in at the bus stops, the train stations, the high streets, back allies and playing fields after school with everyone in their standout uniforms that mark them out as fair game. The pupil/community cop ratio is worse than 1000/1.

Then there's the internet stuff. Horrendous; you think maybe the victim could avoid it by switching off their gizmos and watching a Simpsons, but that would only isolate them further, make them feel defeated, lead to more trouble when 'friends' suss they are lying low.

The professionals will do their best. The charities, teachers, police, youth club staff. Daytime TV will have a stab at it. Internet firms will point to their' policies' and 'safeguarding' measures. 

But it will go on. 

In the end who makes the big difference?

The real work is done by you. Parents in the home, and it ain't easy. It roughs up your soul to learn a poor child who's already had more misery at home than anyone should have to cope with is getting roughed up physically or verbally. 

The victims come back to our homes in bits and we have to do the hands-on support and encouragement through the strangled tears.

And we do. 

That's all we can do, but we do it, and it achieves more than anything anybody else does or can do, make no bones.

If you're a foster parent reading this, it's a safe bet you've had to cope with horrendous bullying against your looked-after children. While your social worker will be able to give good advice and support, you're the point of contact for the child, it's always down to you.

If you're anything like me, our help and kindness never seems enough, the bullying never seems to go away.

But you keep going for the child.

What's the opposite of bullying?

It's what you do.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015


How can foster children overcome the shocks they've been subjected to?

If you see your parents at each others throats and get a dread of raised voices how can you watch Eastenders without your gut wrenching?

                                                                          Jenny Drew Something *
If you experienced terrifying loneliness how can you make solid relationships without testing their limits and losing those people who get fed up with your tests?

I bet even you (assuming you didn't go through the trauma of being put in Care) have memories you'd give your left arm not to have? Memories which change your mood without you even knowing?

If you were beaten, derided, starved.


Is there anything we can do to help?


The reason I'm wondering is because one of the shocks that happened to me as a child came back to me in the kitchen today.

I was stirring a tea bag and humming a tune. The tune was "Men of Harlech". Maybe Zulu had been on ITV4 at some point. Maybe the act of stirring made me think of a stirring song. Then I hushed, in case anyone might hear.

I can't sing, you see.

I was told so at school. By an old witch called Mrs Garrard, who took us for singing. Every Thursday after lunch in the hall. I loved it; we'd sing stirring songs like "Hearts Of Oak" and "D'ye Ken John Peel". Great fun.

One afternoon she tapped me on the shoulder, hard and said; "Non-singer! On the floor!"

"Non-singers" had to sit silently on the wooden floor.

My point is that this crippled me for singing for life. I mime in church. As for Karaoke, forget it.

Nothing I can do to overcome it, it's deep inside me.

Luckily it doesn't matter a fig. Learning you're a "Non-Singer" is nothing compared to learning you're a "Non-Person".


In other words, where is the brain's Delete Button.

Would that be great? If you could highlight an experience, click "Trash" and it's gone. I think they made a film about it with Jim Carrey*

I expect there are some rats in a lab somewhere who are having it done to them right now.

And yet. I'm remembering a training session where the human was described as;

"The damage that's done to us, nothing more or less"

It's how come we are individuals, and there' little dearer to us than our own self, warts and all.


As foster parents we have two options for helping with their traumas; talk about them or not talk about them.

We're ever-alert in case they want to open up.  I find they never gush and they don't understand the importance of certain experiences against less important ones.

We never go in head first do we? They take the lead; it's their life and their experiences are their only private property. But if and when they do start a conversation the best we can do is listen neutrally and reassure them that they did nothing wrong, and they are entitled to see their past the way it works best for them. If they have any facts wrong we can put them right, but I reckon that's about as much adjustment as we should make.

The rest of the time we offer the support and celebration of their lives you'd give any child, without them noticing you're feeding their self-belief. Get their perceptions of their traumas to work for them, somehow.

I hope they're not hurting those lab rats, but at the same time I wish they'd hurry up with the "Trash" button.

image kindly provided by Jenny Drew Something:

*Interesting fact about "The Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind": In order to get the right performances from Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey the director took each of them aside.
He told Winslet "This isn't a drama! It's a comedy!"
He told Carrey "This isn't a comedy! It's a drama!" 
Perceptions eh?