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.


  1. I'm a carer too and we are lucky, very lucky, that our friends and family are close and supportive. Our current, long term, kids have relished this, forming close relationships within our social circle. They especially love having "cousins" (their title for all the kids in the extended family) and watching them learn how a normal family interacts has been a joy, if rather eye opening. Thanks for sharing your experience, it really resonated with us. X

  2. That's great to hear, thank you and keep up the great work. The 'cousins'' thing is a good one. Something similar happened in our house a while back and the looked-after child seemed so pround of being a 'cousin' to some of our family members.
    On your reference to 'eye opening' I feel we carers have so much to learn from each other, so if you get another moment, love to hear your insights. I'd love to sit down and have a cup of tea with you, I think there'd be a lot of tea and laughter; it's a pity the professional need for anonymity means we'll never be able to do it.

  3. Perhaps I was just unlucky but because I got shifted around so often I never bonded with any extended foster family. The closest I came to success was the family where I was happiest and most settled but then my foster Mum got cancer and I got passed on to yet another bunch of strangers.

  4. That's truly awful all round. I imagine it affected how you form attachments in later life, at least at an instinctive level, but maybe with determination and a clear picture of what you want, the right individual can overcome those impediments, at least in part?