Thursday, April 30, 2015


Who would be okay at fostering?

There's no answer to that. If you think it might be you, give someone a phone call. Blue Sky's number is on the homepage. Worth an exploratory chat. It's what I did, turned out alright.

The key skill for me is that you can tune into a young person who is having a bad time, and you have a spare bedroom.

I've always thought that ex-teachers and nurses ought to have the right set of skills. They're trained and qualified in caring.

But one of Blue Sky's totally brilliant carers comes from a different direction.

The more I think about it, the more I think that him and his colleagues (people who often have to find a new career early in mid-life) are perfect for fostering.


I have to apologise immediately if that is no longer the term used to describe soldiers, or members of the armed forces; if 'squaddies' is deemed by anyone in any way derogatory, I don't mean that and I apologise.

To me, a 'squaddie' is a soldier or a former soldier. Someone who is neck-deep in discipline, order and responsibility. These are important things with particular foster children.

One of Blue Sky's stand-out carers, for me, is a former soldier of 13 years. I've never asked him where he served or what he did, but at the first training session I attended which he showed up at, there was a glowering professionalism about him. I don't think he got above sergeant, I don't know. He's a trooper.

And Blue Sky have matched him with exactly the right youngster.

The boy is 14 years old and has issues with a wayward, unreliable wobbly father. The boy tries it on from time to time, and only gets a result when he's right. The foster dad (squaddie) is straight down the line, no nonsense, shape up or shape out. Except, of course, foster children don't get the choice to shape out.

Although.. while I'm there, just for the record, foster children do have the choice to ship out, and I've always found it a supporting thing that you can say (if only to yourself) "If it's not working for you, you are free to move on".

The ex-Army foster dad is using conversation and kindness in resolving those issues, respecting the boy's real father, but acting like the dad the boy wants and needs. 

A solid bloke.

Squaddies are solid blokes, every year there are men and women coming out of the army wondering what? 

It occurs to me that some retiring soldiers might think fostering is a soft option.

Ha ha ha.

Again ha ha ha.

But they have a set of skills I think can work really really well in fostering.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015


A few weeks ago I nearly found myself driving  past the house where I was born.

When I say 'born', I mean the house I was brought up in after being born in a hospital.

What I mean by 'nearly' is that I was en route from somewhere to somewhere else and the journey took me a couple of miles from the house. 

So I did what everyone does, and went out of my way to deliberately drive past the house. 

It looked smaller than I remember, and more run down.

Got me wondering how the houses they are fostered in seem in the memory of looked-after children.

When I was little, about seven or eight, I was sent on a kid swap with some friends of my mum. The couple had two children about my age, and the deal was I'd spend a week at their house during the summer holidays and their eldest would come and stay with us for a week.

I can still remember every tiny detail about the stay, and I was only there a week.

The house seemed like a palace to me; huge and full of valuables.

I remember the layout of the house, the kitchen towards the back with the temperamental washing machine (we didn't have one in our house so I marked them down as rich). I remember the living room where we lay on the floor and watched Robinson Crusoe on TV. I remember the small bedroom at the top of the stairs where the son was allowed to leave his train set out, didn't have to put it away after every play. I remember the thing he liked to do best, which was put two trains on the same track and make them crash.

I remember that the mum was quite a good drawer, she could draw people. She and her husband used to get exasperated with their son because he was a bit wayward, and I noticed that he got away with things you wouldn't dare in our house.

I remember they had a black labrador. They'd given him the name which we now refer to as "The 'N' Word". It wasn't meant in a racist way, but it was a mistake. The N word was bandied about back then, used in various phrases, all of them rightly junked or banned nowadays. One of Britain's greatest war heroes had a dog with the same name, and when they made a film about him they had to dub the name "Trigger" for American audiences.

The family lived near Norbury Common in London and the dad used to take me up there every evening walking N. His own children didn't want to come. The dog would go off sniffing and being a black lab and the sun going down, when it was time to go home the dog was nowhere to be seen. Young as I was, I knew it was wrong to stand on a common overlooking Brixton shouting the dog's name out as loud as he could.

I think looked-after children start by noticing your house. The layout of rooms, and maybe things that are probably precious and want to avoid knocking over. They probably think your house is gigantic and probably on a pedestal compared to their place. It can be a shocking experience to visit a foster child's real home. We went to one, and noticed three day old squashed boxes of KFC and chip wrappers, which had been pushed down the sides of the sofa rather than disposed of. The sofa faced the biggest flat screen TV I've ever seen.

I guess that like me up at Norbury, foster children paint a big picture in their mind of the people in the house, that's where the impact is for them, and quite right too. We carers, our children, pets and wider family, we're what matters, and probably what they remember.

I suspect that when they get older some foster children will drive past our homes and remember. 

Hope their memories make them feel ok.

Hope they don't catch sight of us.

We'll probably look smaller and run down too...

Thursday, April 23, 2015


A lot of people, in fact the vast majority, come into fostering later in life.

By no means all though. I recently met two new couples who've just joined Blue Sky who are in their twenties.

Most couples wait until their own children have got a toehold on life.

There's no average age to start, well there probably is an average age if you did the maths, but that wouldn't mean it was the ideal age, because there's no such thing.

It's funny, most of us have our first child too early, or at least that's what it seems like when you get home with your first-born and all the well-wishers leave and you're stood there in the hall waving them off thinking "HEEEEELP! I'm not grown-up enough to do this!!!"

Spool forward a couple of decades and people reach for the phone to call a fostering agency and finding themselves thinking "HEEEEEELP! I'm too old to be doing this!!!"

I know I did. 

The best foster carer I ever met, and I mean this, is 73 and widowed. She has three foster children, at least she did when I met her. 

She'd been left high and dry when her husband passed away, not just alone (2 children both living abroad), but rudderless. She had pensions...but nothing to do with her life. 

She'd always liked children, and they'd liked her. She was a bit no-nonsense for me, but we all have out own style.

She could mind mice at a crossroads, know what I mean?

She was so organised that she used her spare income to hire a male friend (who had to be CRB checked and went on a few training days) to act as her kind of batman. He shared the driving and fixed leaky taps. 

She used to be in the army, so life in her house was spit and polish, probably a bit of "Stand by your beds, kit inspection is at 0600 hours!"

Did I mention one of her looked after children was in a wheelchair? Cerebral palsy. That was how we got to know her, we had the child in a chair stay with us for weekends when she needed a deserved break. We had a downstairs spare room which took a bed which is a boon if you put your name down for disabled respite.

Before the first weekend she arranged to visit and check us out, plus pass on some great tips to make the child's stay as good as possible.

This was several years ago, she found a respite carer nearer her home than us, so she rang up and thanked us and said her goodbyes. And put the child on to say his goodbye too.

She was with a different agency, so I have no contact with her.

She'd be nearer 80 than 70 now. Is she still doing it?

Hope so, for everyone's sakes.

I think that fostering loses a lot of good people who think they will be told their ship has sailed, and it's patently not the case. We came into fostering having thought through that it would be something we could do until we were too old. We figured that 60 would probably be the limit. But as we get older we find it easier. We get more experienced, of course. 

We've reached the point where we hope to foster until there's a blatantly obvious reason why it's time to hang up our fostering boots and head off into the sunset.

Until then I like telling friends who ask that "We enjoyed being parents so much we decided to go round again". And if anything takes years off you it's being back on the park swings again at half past nine on a Sunday morning.

Saturday, April 18, 2015


It's Saturday afternoon, the sun is out.  The French windows are open for the first time this year, April, not bad.

I was drowsing on our swing seat with my iPad hot on my lap, other half watching sport in a darkened front room. 

Birds are singing, there's been the odd buzz from an optimistic bee, or maybe it was just a bluebottle, whatever, the sounds are lovely.

There's one extra sound which beats the lot. It's coming from the downstairs back room. 

The room where we keep the family PC and XBox and the tubs of Lego and Brio and assorted toys. Having the toys and play stuff downstairs means we can keep an eye.

I could hear the sound as I drowsed because the French windows were open.

The sound lifted my spirits almost up there with the first time our own children said "Mama"

It was the sound...

...of our current foster child...


First time I've heard her hum, I think.

While I'm on the subject, you can be offered newborn babies yet to say "Mama". Up to you if you want to take the offer, as always.

Oh blimey, can I tell you about one we were nearly offered? It was a baby who hadn't been born yet. The very upsetting story was that a female prisoner serving several years for a crime that wasn't disclosed to us had become pregnant. In a womens prison. She'd been in prison for nearly two years.

You tell me.

Not only that, she'd managed to keep her pregnacy secret from the prison guards until she was close to giving birth. All the services involved; the prison service, probation, the police, social services were lined up ten deep to make sure the 'parents' would never locate their child and the foster carers would be safe from anyone knocking on their door. The child would eventually be adopted, but it's us foster carers who step in whenever a child needs a home pronto. We allowed our names to go forward but the baby went elsewhere. I hope things turned out alright for him or her, the baby will be three years old by now. I wonder what they are planning to tell the child when old enough?

Back to our child.

She is still humming, I can hear her now. She's been humming for half an hour. I don't know exactly what she's doing, drawing maybe, or having a game with the Lego characters, but she's humming while she does it. I'm nosy and I like to keep up with what they're doing, so I'll find an excuse soon to go in and see, maybe I'll cut up an apple and take it in to her. 

She's humming the hum of someone who is content with whatever their life is like when they start humming. 

This isn't big, it's huge. 

When your foster child laughs they're happy, but happy only lasts a bit longer than the laugh. What we are after is contentment. 


A mind free from turmoil and filled with either postive things or maybe just plain nothing.

I'd be the first to admit I don't get many moments of contentment myself, there always seems to be something to worry about. If a foster child asked me how to have a peaceful mind, I'm not sure I shouldn't say "Don't ask me".  That said I don't think my busy mind is as bleak and turbulent as the average foster child.

But here's this young girl humming a tuneless hum for thirty minutes now. I might start humming myself, because like a lot of us, I'm contented when everyone else in the house is contented.

I'd start humming except that the woman who was coming to buy the bike I'm selling on eBay said she'd be here at 2.00 and it's nearly half past. 

Maybe I fell asleep and missed her.

Maybe it was a scam.

There's always something to worry about.

Foster child still humming though.

Thursday, April 16, 2015


Jeremy Kyle Jeremy Kyle Jeremy Kyle.

You can't get more than a living room's length from him in fostering.

We've lectured so many of our teenage foster children about the good and bad of the Jeremy Kyle Show.

The fact is it's right up their alley, and actually given that we can sit and watch it with them it's not without its uses.

We were sitting round the TV waiting for the Grand National when we heard "Jeremy Kyle's horse is in the lead..." in the previous race.

Got us laughing about life as a horse in the Kyle house:




Anyway a couple of things. The swine thing about The Jeremy Kyle Show is not that it's compelling, which it can be, for about ten minutes at a time, or that it's largely negative - you don't get many success stories. The rotten thing about it is the scheduling of it. 

We had a teenage girl who didn't want to get up and go to school, no surprise there, but among other objections to school was the fact that she'd miss Jeremy Kyle.

Before she was taken into care she had largely skipped school, and she and her mum and her sister had sat and watched Jeremy Kyle from start to finish every morning, so the programme had comforting memories for her.

She said this:

"It makes us realise we're not that bad"

I asked her if she thought anyone watching ever mended their ways after listening to a dose of Kyle's 'wisdom' about "Sorting yerself out!" and "Being honest fer once in yer life!" and "It's always somebody else's fault ain't it sunshine!"

She said no.

I asked if she thought the show maybe gave people watching a licence to carry on getting things wrong as long as those things weren't quite as wrong as the things on Jeremy Kyle.

She said dunno.

We got around her addiction to JK by banning TV during the day, but taping the show for her. 

Anyway, I've saved the best bit for last.

Recently I got chatting to a cold caller (see earlier posts). Sometimes they enjoy a 5 minute natter with a friendly voice, you have to be careful they don't get into trouble (calls are recorded etc), I'm an expert on the weather and the traffic problems in Mumbai.

I digress. So, this cold caller, it turned out, had previously worked on the Jeremy Kyle Show, finding  problem families and getting them to agree to come on. They don't pay them a fee, you'll be surprised to know.

How do they do it?

Well, this is what he said they did. I don't know if it's true, or if they still do it. It's very clever.

They put small ads in cheap magazines, TV gossip rags and the like.They don't mention Jeremy Kyle. The adverts offer free help with things like obesity, tattoo removal, drugs problems, dental hygiene, relationship councilling, legal matters, and in a sense that's what the Jeremy Kyle Show could argue that it does.

Anyone who phones in for help has probably got a story to tell, a conflict that needs resolving.

The researcher listens sympathetically, and from there it's a short hop to offering them their 15 minutes of fame.

And for the record, I don't like the Grand National much for obvious reasons, but just as with the Jeremy Kyle Show I find myself watching when it's on.

Sunday, April 12, 2015


There's something one of our foster children once said that will stick in my mind forever, or at least as long as I foster.

The exact words were; 

"I didn't know that foster parents could love you"

As is often the case in fostering you get moments where the child says or does something and you need to sit everybody down and talk for a psychologist's hour (50 minutes) and settle the issue.

Psychologists can have the chat because they haven't got the pasta on and two other children wanting some parenting plus the phone rings and that'll be the garage about the MOT.

So when the child said it I think I kind of went "Well we can and do, if that's alright with you". I smelt the mince browning so I nipped down, botched a salad and found myself working through the dead lunch boxes extracting yoghurt pots and crusts.

Ten minutes later I'm laying the table while checking the paperwork from school (endless) and wondering if we want to sign up for recorder lessons, and this statement keeps coming back to me;

"I didn't know that foster parents could love you"

Two years on, I've had this statement in my head a lot.

It's got about a thousand layers.

First layer, for me, is the concern that children get 'warned' about foster parents by their real parents. I can see why some parents would do this.  A messed-up mum or dad must be in a pretty bad place with their own self-esteem if they are told they are a bad parent. So they try to rubbish foster parents.

The other ninehundred and ninety nine or more layers are about love, and what it is.

So  I keep coming back to what the child may have meant by love.

The whole love thing has been high in my mind again this morning, very early. One of our current brood is not terribly nice to me sometimes, and I totally get why. Nothing serious, just a bit of cold shoulder.  Worse, the child is all sweetness and light with my other half.

The child's life has been grotty. That's to use the scientific medical term. What, she's going to turn into Julie Andrews overnight? If you foster you know the long haul is the thing. When I say 'long haul'; you can do a lot in six weeks. 

So here's my own take on what the child meant when she said "I didn't know that foster parents could love you".

I think, in this particular child's case, this: she was talking about little things that the rest of us hardly classify as love, but actually they are: Someone laying out your clothes for the morning,  tidying your bedroom and making your bed, smiling at you when you get back from school, spending five minutes at bedtime softening down the day.

The tiny trademarks of companionship.

Things we scarecly notice as being love, but which mean a mountain to a child who might have felt the dreadful loneliness of lovelessness.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015


I'm getting fed up with cold calls. No surprise there.

Phone rings, you pick up. After a couple of second's silence a voice comes in "Am I speaking to Mrs....?"

I used to reply"Who is this?"

They have a stock set of replies which they read from a script. You say X and they say Y. I try to make it clear, without saying so, that I'm not stupid or bored or vulnerable in any way, but they are hard to shake off, and when you do manage to put the phone down, there's a sense of disappointment with the episode.

I think I had my first cold call on my mobile yesterday. I didn't pick up (driving) but who else would call from a number I don't know and not leave a message?

We've had a cowboy firm who'd got details of a minor car prang we'd had a while back (only me in the car). It was the other party's fault and they paid for the bodywork, but these cowboys wanted to make me pretend I'd been injured. 

Another lot wanted us to invest in wine, would you believe. "£5,000 is a good amount to start with". I'll bet. They actually made it clear we'd never see the wine we had bought, they would keep it for us in a cellar with a special climate.

Mostly it's some poor chuck in the sub-continent presumably getting paid precious little for a day spent constantly asking "Am I speaking to Mrs....?"

Mind, often they have teeth, I've had a mouthful more than once when I've said "Go away."

I've heard about screening services, but I've also heard they aren't much good.

I could switch my phone off, or turn the answerphone on.

But here's my point; in fostering you have to be reachable. It could be your child, the school. It could be Blue Sky;

"Would you consider taking a child who...."

Anyway, as a result of thinking about it, when I get the dreaded "Am I speaking to Mrs...?" I now interrupt and say "I'm sorry would you please get off the line, I'm expecting an important call."

It doesn't help with the fact that I may be standing in the hall dripping wet with a towel around me. But I don't get led the merry dance.

Fact is in fostering you can't ignore a ringing telephone. Every placement starts with a phone call. Blue Sky have a team of fantastic people whose job is to field requests from local authorities for a fostering family for a child who is coming into care. The experts have to make a judgement about the type of home and carers who would be a good match for the child, based on the information they have about us and the child. 

If it's you, you get the magic call. There's usually a sense of urgency about it. In my experience it's often a same day/next day thing, which is why you always should have a made up room and a bag of pasta and a jar of Dolmio in the larder (always a winner).
 I did get a call once asking if we could take 3 children but it might be a while before they came into care as the case had a number of conflicting interests. The family's GP had gone to Social Services with concerns. The problem at the heart of the case was that the parents appeared to be OVERLY CARING. Yep, they apparently wrapped the children in cotton wool to such a degree they were maybe suffering neglect. It all turned on the extent of social strangulation, the effect on the children, the motives of the parents (they may have been seeking extra benefits for having 'vulnerable' children), and the mental health of the parents. So we were on standby for 3 weeks, then it was decided to leave the children with the parents, under supervision.

Our policy is always to say "Yes", although there's no problem if you were to say "No" on the basis that, for example, the profile of the child might not be a fit with another child you happen to be looking after. That's your call and Blue Sky respect your judgement about your looked-after children's welfare.

One of the most exciting times in fostering is the hour or two between getting a phone call that says "They have agreed to the child being placed with you" and the social worker's car pulling up outside your house and a little one gets out. Their heads are always down. 

The social worker tries to make things bright and breezy, but there's no getting away from the enormity of what the child is going through.

Next morning the phone rings again, it's Blue Sky; "How are things...?"

The cold callers can't get to you for the next hour or so, there's always so much to share.

So my new tactic of "I'm sorry could you get off the line, I'm expecting an important call" is effective.

And it's the truth.

Friday, April 03, 2015


One of the things you don't realise before you go into fostering is how much every little experience in your home can contribute to a child ending up on the right side.

This is especially true when it comes to your family. Not just your partner and children, if you have any. I'm talking about your own parents, grandparents, your brothers and sisters.

If a child is with you for any length of time, chances are they'll have to be introduced to your wider family.

This can be a bit daunting. Not just for the child, but for your family, not to mention yourself. It's a banker bet that not all your family are trained and consumate in childcare...

That doesn't matter. 99.9% of the adults they'll meet for the rest of their lives aren't trained in human interaction either, so they might as well start learning what the mass of humanity is like, especially as with you around there they've got someone to guide them a bit.

Many looked-after children don't have experience of normal extended family. (I use the word 'normal' reluctantly, as there's no such thing as normal, but you know what I mean).

They may have come to you from a 'chaotic' home with all sorts of people coming and going and unusual relationships going on, maybe a bit strained or even strange. Sometimes chaotic families have a tendency to shut up shop, as though they know that people might not approve of the way they do things. When that happens the children are starved of people.

It does them no harm to see how older relatives are treated with a bit of deference, and that in family the children are part of what's going on, and how people just banter away about nothing much, with this undercurrent of respect and affection.

A good example of how useful this contact can be happened to me yesterday.

I had to visit an elderly relative who's been in hospital after a bout of forgetfulness and confusion, she was falling over a bit too, and leaving the gas on. She's much better now.

I had to take one of our looked-after children on the visit; the schools have broken up and I couldn't leave him at home alone. So I packed the car with driving snacks, drawing paper and pens, a puzzle book and two Sainsbury's empty carrier bags (I'll come back to the carrier bags), and on the drive over I told him a bit about the lady and how she'd been unwell but was a lot better now.

When we got to her house we had to pile back into the car, because the reason I had to visit her was because she'd asked to be taken to a local solicitors. To make her will.

The three of us filed into the solicitor's office, he established that the client was compos mentis to make her will, and I took the child for a walk round the local shops.

"Will I get anything in her will?" Was the first question I had to deal with, true.

I explained how these things work, and we bought two bags of crisps, a Dr Who magazine, some rainbow strings and a punnet of raspberries. And a pizza, he chose a Sizzler.

Then we picked up the lady and drove back to her house. Although it was her house, I put the kettle on, opened a tin of soup and whacked the pizza under the grill, I think the lad noticed that I was doing some mild caring.

Then it happened.

He was playing on the floor when she said to him;

"How long do you get off school for Easter?"

He replied;

"Two weeks"

I brought the tea and soup and sliced Sizzler in. She started her soup and said to the lad as he munched his pizza;

"How long do you get off school for Easter?'

He held her gaze with his eyes until she looked down at her soup, then he glanced at me. I made a face, I don't know what it was, I think it was meant to say something like 'Do your best'.

"Two weeks" he replied.

Then he glanced at me again and I smiled and nodded that he'd got it dead right.

We drove home and didn't need either of the carrier bags until the minute we pulled onto our drive (he gets car sick). The Sizzler didn't look much different from when it came out from the grill to be honest.

So. A good day; a lad grew up a little bit, a vulnerable senior got help, food and love.

And the carrier bag a) was needed but b) wasn't needed until the best possible moment in the journey.

PS It's worth saying that not every family issue is suitable for foster children to be a part of, obviously. It depends on what it is and who the child is.  If in doubt, that's what your social worker is for.