Saturday, January 10, 2015


It's easy to get the wrong view about foster children. It's easy to assume that they are different from children who aren't in care.

Yes, they can try your patience at times, no question.

But they're not a separate breed. They are normal kids, dealing with life as best they can.

If you ever think they are somehow unusual, then do what I did the other day and help out at a local school and see what today's 'normal' kids are like.

When I say 'normal' I mean kids who live at home with their own parent(s).

I have often talked about children I have fostered, being careful to protect their privacy, let me have a word about just one of the half a dozen children I was asked to look after on a recent school trip.

One to six is roughly the ratio of adult-to-schoolchild they have to have nowadays when they go out and about, so the trip is dependent on enough parents being available to wear a fluorescent bib and chant "Stop that. Come here. Be quiet. Leave him alone. Get off that".

This lad was aged ten, undersized and over-energised. He wore a smart sky blue v neck pullover over a clean white shirt, pressed grey trousers and scuff-free shoes. His hair was blond and trimmed in an old-fashioned style with almost a parting. In fostering you notice all these things, they are clues.

His parents were probably house-proud types, paid attention to outward appearances. I'm thinking a smart semi-detached with a gleaming two-year old Toyota on the driveway. Lots of dust-free porcelain ornaments on the window sill, and nothing out of place.

The boy had a spare frame and clear complexion, was fed properly and not indulged with biscuits crisps and coke. Three square meals a day, clean plate please, and no extra helpings.

But boy, was he starved of loving attention. 

Everything he said and did was driven by his urgent need to be noticed, and, as is often the case with youngsters, they learn the only surefire way to get an adult's attention is to misbehave.

So, knowing that he is required to walk along the pavement side by side with a partner he breaks rank continually to tweak other boys two or three ahead of him which meant overtaking, which is a problem because of traffic.

He knows this means an adult has to walk next to him for safety which is what he wants. Proximity. An adult who is devoted to him. Let your attention wander from him onto other children and he is off.   

When we arrive at the museum he immediately climbs onto a sofa in reception and puts his feet up on the cushion. This probably apes something he does at home either to be noticed or as an act of rebellion when he's alone. I have no option but to fuel his attention-seeking because the museum staff are agitated about feet-on-furniture. In the 45 minutes we are in the building he returns to the sofa to put his feet up at least a dozen times. 

His eyes, wide and unblinking, followed me everywhere, only darting away to identify the next piece of behaviour which would pull me into his orbit to say "Don't do that". 

I tried being fierce to get a quick result. No chance.

I tried my fallback practice of rewarding the children who were focussed on what the museum had to offer (not a lot, by the way), but one of the museum staff would draw my attention to the fact that I shouldn't allow children to run/shout/wrestle/touch the exhibits/climb on the exhibits. 

The boy's friends had learned that they could get me to notice them by putting their feet on the furniture, running, wrestling and the rest. This meant he had to escalate his 'misbehaviour' to higher levels to be the winner (the winner of my attention). This meant doing something dangerous, so he climbed over the bannisters and began going up the wrong side.

So he won. I left the children who wanted to learn and the half a dozen who wanted the corrupt love of scolding to give my devotion to this boy, who needed coaxing down from a perilous position. And all the while I was policing him, he felt that he existed.

He existed. He meant more to an adult than porcelain ornaments, or museum pieces.

Poor lonely boy from a 'normal' home.

I often think that private boarding schools are a necessity because any parent who wants to send their child away to be parented by a paid stranger isn't fit to be a parent, so the children are probably better off than in their own home.

It's a pity that some parents keep their child at home but think that as long as their child is well turned out he'll turn out well.


  1. I was a foster child and I had more failed placements than you could imagine or than I can remember. I ended up in a Children's Home as being impossible to place. Few people want to foster a teenager like me. But I made it to university, I got married and I wrote a book about my time in care.

    And I write a blog that you might want to look at.

  2. Thanks for your post, I've been over to your blog (if anyone else reading this wants to look, they may find as I did that you have to copy the link and paste it into your search window).
    I've just bought a copy of your book on Amazon and I'm looking forward to reading it.
    May I say how much I admire you, and all your achievements.
    My very best wishes to you and all your family, friends and colleagues.
    Secret Foster Carer

  3. I think that is important to differentiate between different age groups. The experience of boarding school will differ when starting at 8, 13 or 16. There is quite a lot of flexi-boarding now and except us international students hardly anybody didn't go home from the start of term to the end (there are also the half term holidays). I might have started a bit to early and I wouldn't let any of my (potential) children go before they are 13, but saying that children who board have parents who are unfit to parent simply isn't true. In some cases boarding schools can provide things which parents simply cannot provide - how could parents be able to create an environment in which a child can immerse themselves in a foreign culture and language?

    In a previous post you mentioned that ‘welcome back gifts’ seem to be to make up for something - at home we had welcome back traditions and I think for us it was always an expression of love by our parents and excitement to see us again rather than my parents trying to make up for something. It was always a special and precious time to be at home and we ‘celebrated’ this by having these traditions. Especially at prep school these traditions were tremendously important to me as they strengthened my relationship with my parents and turned the holidays into a very special time where I was indulged with love.

    I understand the point you are making about boarding school and if I think about it my criticisms would be that you could argue that some children could be rushed though to adulthood and that the independence required isn't necessarily right for every child. I think it boils down to quality v quality of love and time spent with your parents - I don’t know the answer to this and whether one is better than the other or whether you need both quality and quantity. Perhaps I am just seeing my own experience though rose-tinted glasses.

  4. Thanks for commenting, and for your loyalty to your parent's decision to board you abroad.
    In this country chidren are broadly only reared by people other than a child's real parents in one of two circumstances;
    One because the disadvantaged real parents lack the love to provide for their children's welfare and development, so they are placed in care - for instance a foster or a care home. It's often a repeat behavior because the parents were themselves put in care when they were children, which partly explains why they cannot parent.
    Two because the advantaged real parents lack the love to provide for their children's welfare and development - so they send them to private boarding school. It's often a repeat behaviour because the parents were themselves put into boarding school when they were children, which partly explains why they cannot parent.

    1. I am not an advocate of boarding schools however, I think there are a good many children who benefit from the stability this offers when their parents are in the military or occupations where they are required to travel frequently. One might suggest that such parents are selfish in having a family at all but so long as the child feels genuinely loved by it's parents and spends quality time with them as much as possible surely that is better than being moved from pillar to post.

  5. Yes, I agree under extreme circumstances an alternative to home must be found, if it must. The closer it resembles a conventional family the better, or else attachment issues are inevitable. But I think you'll find it's comparatively rare that boarding school is a practical necessity. Most children are boarded to keep up their parents status and buy the child a leg up in the world.