Monday, March 30, 2015


When you foster you get good support with the big things in fostering.

The training sessions set you up with advice on keeping your diary/records  and how to keep children safe on the internet.

There are lots of little details which are so tiny that you don't even talk to your social worker about them, but there are so many of them that if you add them all together they amount to a big part of fostering.

Here's a good example; teeth cleaning.

No big deal one might think. We're all solid with the idea that it's crucial.

It either gets done, or it doesn't. There's nothing else to it. Well actually there's tons.

First off, there's the psychology of it. Us parents have had it pummelled into us that if our children don't clean their teeth they'll get decay and have to get fillings or their teeth will fall out. Maybe that's true, but it's a bit scary to hit up a looked-after child with that message twice a day. Many foster children have low self-esteem, some are tragically lured towards self-harm. Tell them their teeth will go bad and you could plant a seed that that would be fine by them, it'll teach the world a lesson.

I ended up with this strategy with a child who grumped whenever asked to "Clean your teeth":

I changed it to "Polish your teeth please". Then when he'd done it there'd be a contest to see who had the whitest teeth, him or me. He would win the "Best smile in the House" contest every time.

It worked well for a while, and  we still call it 'Polishing" rather than "Cleaning" or "Brushing" in our house, because "Cleaning" has connotations of tidying your room and getting the dirt out from under your fingernails; in other words it's a drudge and a bit of a negative, whereas "Polishing" is a bit more of a fun act. Better in the mind that you are buffing up a shine rather than weedling out dirt.

That's just one part of the whole dental hygiene thing in fostering. Other stuff includes:

1. What sort of toothpaste. I had a girl who hated the minty flavours. I searched high and low for a flavourless toothpaste, couldn't find one. I still wonder why the toothapste barons haven't come up with bacon sandwich flavour, or baked beans. Or nothing. Anything but the minty.

1a. Quit the junior toothpaste at the earliest, some foster children are 8 going on 18.

2. When to clean in the morning. There's a school of thought that children should brush straight away, and another they should brush after breakfast. I don't give a fig as long as they do.

3. Some foster children arrive with all their stuff but no toothbrush. I keep two spares still in their wrappers. Yes, two. A junior and an adult. Try giving a strapping fifteen-year-old lad a Thomas The Tank Engine extra-soft toothbrush and you've put your relationship back three days right from the off.   (P.s. on this one I buy green ones or grey. Some foster children have been contaminated with the out-dated 'Blue for boys' rubbish. Mind, I do have some sympathy with boys' resistance to pink, for some reason)

3a. Once in a while a child may come into your home who doesn't know how to clean their teeth...

4. You can buy £9.99 battery-operated electric toothbrushes. If you and your partner use an electric, why are the children deferred  a manual one? If anything their teeth matter more.

5. Ditto mouthwash. If they hear you having a quick gargle, they will rightly want a go. Mind, they only ask once, especially if you use Listerene original. But you can get nicer

6. Mirror. We had someone stay once who was too small to see himself in the bathroom mirror. I stood a little vanity mirror on the side of the sink for him.

7. 'Please'. I learned through fostering that saying please is something we parents don't do enough.

There's something else. Bigger than the above points. It's where the foster child keeps their brush. We foster parents are advised to welcome the child as a part of the family from the moment they walk through the door. Quite right. 

There's no better way to say they are part of you than by their toothbrush going in the family mug or into the rack alongside everyone else's. If they want to, that is.

Not forgetting the reward they should get when they jump out of the dentists chair with nothing to be done.  

I find a sticky pack of sugary Tangfastics is in order.

After all, they know how to polish their teeth, please.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015


There are two ways to look at fostering.


It's just like ordinary parenting except you have people looking over your shoulder all the time checking up on you.


It's just like ordinary parenting except you have loads of people helping you with everything.

I'd be a liar if I pretended there haven't been one or two moments when I've felt I was being checked up on. Why? Well partially because you are being checked up on, because fostering is important, and just like if I was a pilot I would want to be given my annual medical and have my eyesight checked and the plane serviced and MOT'd.

The truth is that 99.9% of the time I'm with number Two.  

For example, you know those tricky parenting decisions, such as the righ balance between what time is bedtime if there's school and when is bedtime if there's no school. And when does bedtime get put back a bit because young people get older? Well it's even trickier in fostering. So you ask the question when your Blue Sky social worker visits, and you have a back-up if the child disagrees; the social worker said it's officially bedtime. 

Pocket money is another good example. Mobile phone usage, that's another.

Plus, there are things that foster carers aren't expected to know inside out such as court proceedings, the legal status of various aspects of your child, the benefits system, smoking and the law.

Not only that, I once called my social worker from the car (having pulled over and turned the engine off, obviously) because I couldn't find any parking when I was taking a child to meet his mother and the SW sorted me out.

Mostly, they are trained in child development, and child psychology. They want to hear what you have to say about how the child is in herself, and then you get good feedback about how to move things forward for her.

Frankly, every parent should have that kind of support, but that's along way in the future, maybe when we don't have to spend so much money on missiles.

On top of all that, your support network knows how hard you're working for the child, even if it doesn't feel that you're doing all that much, they remind you that a warm clean bedroom, regular hot meals, someone to ask "How was your day?", someone to say "I don't think that remark was you at your best", those sort of basics, well, that's the job right there.

And every so often they just go ahead and pat you on the back for what you're doing, and that's a damn good feeling every time.

Yep, fostering is definitely number Two.

Saturday, March 21, 2015


If you get a chance to have a look at a couple of comments on the "WHEN AM I GOING HOME' post you'll see why the business of personal responsibility has been in my mind for a couple of days.

It coincides with a TV documentary by Louis Theroux about a detention centre in the USA for people who are deemed 'NGRI'.

NGRI stands for "Not Guilty for Reasons of Insanity". 

There are people locked up for, in the case of one man, murdering his father by stabbing him several times while not reponsible for his actions, in other words seriously mentally unwell. I haven't seen the programme, just read a preview in the internet, apparently the living conditions in the centre are a good bit better than prison.

Luckily we foster carers don't have to deal with serious crime or severe mental illness, but the business of personal responsibilty is never far away, even if it is pretty tame by comparison.

Foster children often say that whatever they did wrong it wasn't their fault.

I've had more than one child smart enough to blame (mild) bad behaviour on the fact that they've had a hard childhood -  and can you blame them,? After all they're 99% right!

When they are very little it's no good picking them up on every little thing, one of the first things you learn on the job is that zero tolerance may work for a small town police force in Alabama, but if you try it with some foster children before they can self-regulate you've got a big job on your hands.

'Self-regulate'. That's another nice term you pick up in fostering, as in when someone knows the difference between right and wrong and does the right thing, either because it's right or because there will be consequences. Obviously far better if they do the right thing because it's the right thing.

I had one child who wouldn't tidy up after herself, at all. Not in the slightest. She'd scatter stacks of toys and books and pencils everywhere, make dens out of all the sofa cushions, colonise the entire downstairs with her stuff, take over the house with clutter in less than an hour, then refuse to lend a hand at the end of the day to put it away.

Some deep dark cause, never got to the bottom of it.

The other frustrating habit she had was to laugh long and hard at anyone else's discomfort. Fall over the hoover wire, snag your cardie on a doorknob, she'd shreik with laughter. We used to point out it was wrong, but what're you going to do, especially when we were sitting around laughing at Basil Fawlty when the moose head falls on him.

Then, one day, she collared me to do some painting/drawing. I got things set up on the kitchen table, but knocked over the mug of pens and pencils and about 20 of them clattered to the kitchen lino.

She started a big laugh. Then throttled it.

Then she bent down and started picking them up.

This might seem like a big nothing to some people, but if you foster you are always on the lookout for fresh green shoots of good behaviour.

I bent down to help, and together we got the mug filled up again.

I said nothing, because the change in her wasn't anything conscious or the result of us going on about not laughing at people's mishaps and helping tidy up.

What happened was personal resonsibility kicked in. She got it, acquired it. Only in small measure at first, but it blossomed.

God knows how or where from, maybe God literally knows.

It kicked in as part of growing up, developing. Just like second teeth or armpit hair, it arrived.

Some people think that a lack of personal responsibility in adults can be caused by abuse in childhood and of course that's possible.

I think there might also be a case for it being in the genes. Or absent as the case may be.

Whatever, it's a Holy Grail in fostering, to coax personal responsibility in young people who've been raised in a climate of personal irresponsibility.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015


Sleeping is a big problem for most foster children.

Come to think of it, it's a problem for most children.

It's not a new thing either, I can remember lying in bed, landing light on, my bedroom door half open to allow a bit of light. Wide awake, mind alert, listening to all the little noises from downstairs.

Getting afraid of patterns on the wallpaper, shapes and shadows. My mind working overtime.

I never had to sleep in a strange bedroom in a strange house full of strangers. Foster children, their minds must be on double time.

We had one young man stay with us, nearly old enough to leave fostering and get out there in life. He'd been in care for twelve years. Different foster homes, no fault of his own; he was a lovely bloke.

Could he sleep? No chance. He was awake until dawn, every night, whether he had college the next day or not. He would stay up and watch TV in the living room, with the volume very low.

It was a warm summer he was with us, and he had a quirk which stays in my mind, probably will be with me forever.

Every morning when I came downstairs I would have to pick up several upside down glasses from the floor around the downstairs.

Under each one was a house spider, and a note.

The note would say "Appeared 3.50am going from under the sofa towards the fireplace" There'd be an arrow drawn indicating the direction the spider was scurrying when he had put the glass over it.

Each morning I would pick up each glass with the note underneath it, flip the glass so the spider was in the bottom, then take it outside and drop the spider onto the garden.

His quirk really got me thinking.

Nobody I know likes spiders. They spook me wherever they show up, whatever type of spider. It's the big ones with spindly legs that do about 15mph that make me go "EEEEK!" Nowadays most people don't like killing them though, so lots of us put a glass over them and slide something underneath, flip the glass and drop them out the window. I hate even having a glass of spider in my hand, and find myself half running to get rid of it fast as I can.

But the thing is; nobody I know is tuned into how the spider feels about having its busy life suddenly put under glass and a report written about its activity before being transported somewhere strange and made to get with a new life for no fault of their own.

Interesting that the lad couldn't bring himself to do the transporting bit.

Bit of profound behaviour by him if you think about it.

I hope he's alright, I heard wind from a previous carer of his he's going along fine.

I wish him a good night's sleep.

I wish them all a good night's sleep.

Friday, March 13, 2015


If there's one question that tugs my heart all over the place every time it's when a foster child begs 'When am I going home?'

I remember the first time we were asked, it knocked us for six.

It was our first ever placement,  a boy who came for a weekend. His regular foster parents had requested a weekend off. These respite breaks are built in at Blue Sky, they are pre-prepared to give foster carers a weekend, a week, a fortnight to themselves, it can make the difference. You don't lose out either, a respite allowance goes in for you up front.

He asked the question on the Friday evening he arrived, sitting having tea. He enjoyed his food. Besides getting a full tummy, foster children find that eating round a table means there's something to do to take the focus off just talking. Eating helped talking.

We told him the plans for the weekend, and he responded mostly with eating noises and the ocassional 'yeah'. 

The question came out of the blue just as we were about to get down and do the washing up;

'When am I going home?'

See, we didn't know which 'home' he meant. The foster home he'd been at for 5 months or his real home. 

So we did what we are always advised to do, and told the truth in an age-appropriate way. Well actually, in an ability-appropriate way. I keep meaning to advise the experts to change 'age-approriate' to 'ability-appropriate', because we've had children of secondary age who needed words of one syllable, but more often than that we've had what the psychologists call enhanced children; 8 year olds whose understanding is beyond their years. 

This boy was 10. A round faced bruiser who was going to grow into a big handful, but his question came from the heart of a little lost soul.

I replied 'You're going back to Susannah and Derek on Sunday afternoon, is that what you meant?'

I'll never forget, he couldn't clarify his question.

I went on 'Did you mean that or did you mean when are you going back to your old home?'

He just stared into his empty plate.

That's when I knew how to translate the question; 'When am I going home?', which you get asked by pretty much every foster child, pretty much all the time.

The question means 'When will everything be alright?'

Roughly translated it means; 'When will my Mummy and Daddy love me and love each other and love my brothers and sisters and the arguements stop and we'll do family things together like get in the car and go to the seaside and dad'll take me to the football and I can have toys and watch TV downstairs because they like me being with them and mum'll spend ages cooking lovely meals and we'll all eat round the table and laugh and I'll get a bedtime story and a goodnight kiss. When will that happen?'

Gee kids, it's a sixty four thousand dollar question every time. I had a Moody Blues album when I was a teen, they had a song about never being able to go back home because it was never like you remembered anyway. I Googled it, the whole idea comes from a famous American novel "You Can't Go Home Again"

But instead of going there, I tried to reply correctly with something like 'I'm afraid I don't know when you're going back to your old home but if and when a date is set you'll be told either by your foster parents or your social worker'

For the record, I was never 100% sure he WANTED to go home. 

Turns out he never did go home. His parents, particularly the 'mother' couldn't cope. When I say 'couldn't cope' I don't mean she was struggling to keep her head above the water, she was flying along in life. Shiny black Mitsubishi Shogun, best clothes on her ample frame, booming voice telling everyone what to do and what was what. If she'd had a better start in life she'd have been a high flyer. She had that bit missing that many makers and shakers suffer from; absolute disregard for anyone other than their own material self. Total disregard for her children's physical and emotion needs. She had babies because she liked babies. When they started to turn into children she locked them upstairs and had another baby.

'Home' means so many things.

That's where the boy is now, not at his foster home or in his real home but in a Home, a Children's Home. I hope he's alright. 

I hope he manages to make a home for himself one day when he's old enough, a home that matches the dream.

That's what we all do really. In our case fostering turns out to be the icing on the cake of our little dream of home.

Sunday, March 08, 2015


I think there's massive confusion in a foster child's mind about what a foster carer is, especially during the early days.

It's usual for the child to be taken into care after social workers have completed an exhaustive examination of the facts about the family situation. That assessment might be over a long period of time or a short one. The decision to intervene is always agonising for them, their duty is to protect the children and if they get it wrong one way or the other it's awful for everyone.

We've got things wrong big time twice with foster children. Social workers steered the decisions we made, but we were in there and could have done better.

One of the decisions was about choosing the best school for a child. The other was about whether a child's sister should join us or be fostered separately. Both decisions could have been better, and we beat ourselves up sometimes lying in bed talking about our fostering, but only because if those decisions had been better the children would have been happier.

There is a local authority social worker who played a big part in the decision to take one child into care and I'm still able to hear how the child is doing from another carer, and I phone the social worker from time to time to reassure her the child is coming along well, because the social worker genuinely cares that deeply. I'm careful what I say, and economical with the details.

I shouldn't really do it I suppose, but who wouldn't, out of raw kindness.

There's so much agonising about taking a child into care that when it happens they haven't any opportunity to prepare the child who is thoroughly bewildered. Strangers arriving in their house, putting them into a strange car with a case of clothes and a favourite soft toy and driving them to a stranger's house while trying to explain what's happening and why. The child has almost certainly suffered all sorts of bad things prior to this, then this.

Children don't have the capacity to understand the basic concept of fostering.

Suddenly (and it must seem like very suddenly) they are whisked somewhere else to live. 

They have to get used to a new bedroom, a new bathroom a strange kitchen. I find things like that hard on the rare occassions we stay with someone else.

How do you begin to get used to having a new 'family'? How do you deal with sitting round a table with say two new adults and two other children you only met an hour ago and now seem to think you're somehow one of them?

What's happening to me? Why is it happening to me? Where's mum and dad? Are they alright? Am I alright?

What did I do wrong? Is all this my fault? 

The pasta is lovely and there's loads of it but are my brothers eating dog biscuits again tonight when mum and dad are in the pub?

I hope you haven't read this post this far wondering how I'm going to explain the best way to deal with the child's confusion on day one, because I honestly don't believe any such solution exists.

What we have to do it be consistent over the first few days and weeks, answer any questions which they ask with care and truth and pin our hopes on the child coming to a useful view about being fostered.

Time heals. It does doesn't it?

Mind, I don't think that even time heals everything for most fostered children, at least not until they are many years distant from their experiences.

If I have one reservation about fostering it's that the memory of the day they were taken away will be another scar on their chance of happiness, albeit one that made them stronger and better.

Obviously there's no alternative to the process as it exists,  but we have to remember that despite our hope that the child will find peace and security with us, for the child, the day they came to us was a nightmare day of strangeness and suddeness and total strangers in total control.

There's no answer for them that day, to the question "Who are they, these 'foster parent' people?"

Wednesday, March 04, 2015


That previous 'Mommy Dearest' post and a reader's comment got me thinking about the many poignant times I've had so far in fostering.

This one is up there. The hoo-hah about the blue/white dress reminded me.

We had a lovely girl come to stay, call her Tamsin, very much on the big size. I would say about 18 stone, and when someone is 3 stone heavier than their age there's a problem alright.

Actually it was about the least of her problems. Oh dear, here I am again wondering how much I can say to illustrate the various joys of fostering, and where the line is drawn on privacy.

I'll err on the side of caution. 

Tamsin's father was in prison for what he did to Tamsin's elder sister. Regularly. The notes we were given explained that social workers believed that Tamsin had deliberately ballooned to deter her father having the same designs on her.

Tamsin was an angry overweight girl, we had a few words at first. We had to let her use an extra room for all her clothes. She brought an enormous amount of stuff with her, both literally and emotionally. We quickly came to like her a lot.

My husband and I have plenty of family still living locally. Brothers and sisters, nephews and neices. Tamsin must have caught a glimpse of my other half's two nephews, sporty lads one aged 16 the other 18, because when she heard they were all coming for Sunday roast she took it all in. 

Sunday morning came and went and Tamsin hadn't come down.

Lunch was set for 2.30. The family arrived at 2.00 and we negotiated that the meal would end before 4.00 so the men could sit down and watch the Man Utd match.

I set a pair of tables butted together in the kitchen for nine people. Bit of a squash, Tamsin was to sit at one end...

Anyway, they arrived. Two chickens almost done, two trays of roast potatoes. We're an informal lot, T shirts and jeans are fine. The men helped themselves to a tin of beer, the kettle didn't stop boiling. At just after 2.30 I called out that dinner was ready.

Our two families were assembed at the tables, then we heard Tamsin coming down. She came into the kitchen, and there was a brief silence, quickly broken by gallant young men helping her into her seat.

Gulp. Tamsin had gone the whole hog. Evening gown. A blue satin job gathered at the neck, not much at the back. Hair up. Heels. Jewellery.

Nice make-up; expensive looking foundation, some blusher with just enough glitter, slightly too much blue on the eyelids, I don't think the mascara had much to work with, but she'd twirled it on.

I immediately felt like a fool. I'd told her we were having people for Sunday lunch. It must have sounded grand; she'd feared it was a Royal Yacht job with Elton J at the piano and silver service (whatever that is).

I watched her for a while checking she was okay.

Then the penny dropped. She wasn't dolled up because she thought it was a fancy occassion. 

Fact was she had a crush on one of the two nephews, but being new to that scene, she'd gone over the top poor love.

Luckily the seating had worked out that the teenagers were all at one end of the table, so they could talk about everything from X Box to X Factor. The elderly were sat at the other end so they could discuss what's wrong with the youth of today.

I have to say, the lads were fantastic. They avoided anything that might hint she'd made a slight social error, instead they asked her how she was settling in, agreed what a bunch of idiots teachers are, and discussed at length what a pillock is Wagner off X Factor and how One Direction might just make it. 

The lads were respectful of her, and the truth is there's nothing wrong with the youth of today that isn't the fault of the middle aged of today.

Tamsin didn't get a boyfriend that lunchtime. 

But the nephews were kind and generous enough to make her feel good about herself. This is what happens in fostering, your whole family comes on board and you see stuff you didn't know they could do.

I do know how Tamsin has turned out, by the way; ok. I don't know what happened to the blue gown but I do know it's too big for her now. Not that that matters much compared to other things.

Maybe it was white and gold anyway.

Sunday, March 01, 2015


One of the big things foster children have to struggle with is that when they come to you they sometimes quickly see what they've been missing.

Not always, no sir. Often they are so beat up by everything they can't see straight. Anyway, it's not part of our job to make them compare their new home with the old.

It's a universal truth that children think that whatever life is like for them is how it is for everyone else, so they've got no reason to complain. I'm guessing lots of children go through their childhood with awful lowlevel things going on around them, are never helped and only come to the truth about their early years in later life - if ever.

For some foster children the contrast between their life in their real home and their foster home is so stark they get very confused about their feelings. Some of them want to resent their parents (or whoever the adults in their home were), but can't get past their deep-rooted love for them.

It's this deep rooted love for their parents that gets their heads spinning. They don't choose it. 

We had one girl stay with us, it's impossible to spell out what a dreadful creature her 'mother' seemed to be. I say 'mother' like that, because although she was the girl's biological mother, she was not a mother in any other way.

Are you ready for this? I mean, don't read any further if you are at risk of running out of hope for the human race.

She'd had four daughters with her husband, at least that's what she'd told the husband according to the daughter who was placed with us. The whereabouts of the father were now unknown, the girl said that he'd been at home most days when she'd got back from school, and he'd interfered with her regularly, as he had done with all the daughters. He didn't work thanks to a carefully cultivated back injury.

The mum threw the dad out when she had enough of his sponging off her. She drew up schemes for different ways of sustaining her lifestyle.

I never met her, spoke to her once on the phone, voice like a chainsaw. The daughter wanted to show me pictures on her phone. The woman was clearly a former head-turner, and she'd kept her figure. She was tiny, with blue-black well cut hair, a bit too much make-up over her fake tan, turquoize around her brown/black eyes. The hardness showed in the eyes, but mostly in the lips which had got thin with years of anger. Her favourite colour outfit was black top, black leather mini-skirt.

After she threw the 'dad' out she started a sucession of boyfriends, the purpose of which was to get their money. According to the daughter her maxim was something like "Find 'em, screw 'em, and chuck 'em". The 'screw' bit was a reference to getting as much money out of them as possible.

She worked the benefit system, according to the daughter, with the comittment and skill that foster carers get used to hearing about; four child benefits and housing, plus the one I've come to recognise as the Holy Grail; sickness benefit, invalidity, doctor's certificates. In her case it was a non-asthma respiratory ailment which had nothing to do with 40 a day. A habit the whole household enjoyed.

Of course there are plenty of people who need these benefits, and people who moan about scroungers should also be proud to live in a country where we help those who need help. 

But there are exceptions, and we come across them from time to time in fostering.

So anyway, this woman. It gets much much worse. She threw each of her daughters out of the house when they reached the age where they no longer brought in child benefit. Just told them to get out, on the exact birthday the 'payday' as she called it, ceased. But not before she'd got their compensation money off them.

"Compensation money"? You're wondering what that is.

Okay, here goes. At this point it's worth remembering that this information comes from the mouth of a damagaed teenage girl. Having said that, the girl's social worker appeared to confirm all.

All four of the girls had been awarded compensation money for being raped. 


One by one, about every 12 months from what I could gather, each of four daughters went to the police and reported being raped. Each ended up with compensation payments in the region of £7,000.

The mother spent the girls compensation on cars, holidays for herself, cosmetic surgery and a particularly nasty pair of black leather sofas. How she wangled the money off the girls and blew it all on herself I don't know. She was one of those little women with a cruel tone in her voice and a personality to match.

Look, I don't know the exact truth in any of this story, but the girl told it very convincingly.

The girl used to phone her sisters (all in supported accomodation), and tell them how lovely her new home was, anyone would expect she was happy now and well shot of her mother.


Big "but" coming: every week, once a week, she got the train and went back for one last chance for mum to show her some love. The hope her mother would eventually melt and show interest, concern, love; that hope never diminished. Week after week after week she went, unwavering. Nor did the 'mother' waver in the cruel derision, nasty remarks, viscious criticisms and ridicule of her daugher.

Don't know where the daughter is now, she was with us nearly a year, I have her mobile phone number but resist the temptation. 

Pretty sure what the 'mother' is up to; same old same old.

All the daughter wants, in order to get on with life, is something from this apparent monster. Mind, when you've been in fostering a bit, you know that the 'monster' was a victim herself somewhere along the way, which doesn't excuse her. Maybe her daughters know what happened to her to make her so vile.

Maybe that's part of the reason they still want to love her. 

Maybe not. Maybe this enormous love which children feel for their real parents is too huge to need justification even in the case of awful mothers and fathers.

But from time to time in fostering you see what's happening in their minds. They wonder why their real parents  can't be a bit more like their foster parents.

You know what I think happens then? I think they decide they're going to get themselves home and TEACH their real parents what they've learned.

It's not going to happen, but it's a noble dream, for them to have.

To learn all they can about comparitively stable family life and take it home to repair their parents.