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?"


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