Saturday, June 27, 2015


The road to independence for a child is their M1; heads-down-keep-going, no turning off or slowing down, fast as they can.

Independence. The independence of the 'grown up'.

With your own children you remember each junction like it was yesterday; the first time they went to the shops by themselves, the first time they came home from school by themselves, their first boyfriend/girfriend.

With your own children it's a progression, they inch their way towards being a grown-up bit by bit. You know how far they've come and what should come next every step of the way.

It's a tad trickier with foster children, here's what happened to some friends of ours who foster.

They accepted a placement of a ten year old girl. We met her a few times, she seemed like any other ten year old girl.

Foster children have the knack of doing this; they can come across as an untroubled typical girl next door type when strangers are around. 'Self regulation' it's called.  It's when it's just them and their foster carers in the house that their real selves are revealed; the doubts, the fears, the inevitable quirks of having been through what they've been through.

Social workers often have to remind us that the reason they let it all hang out with us is because they have learned to trust us. That plus the fact they want us to re-assure them that we will carry on caring for them despite their hang-ups and whatnot.

This particular child had been left to her own devices to grow up. She had been given the run of the house and a front door key to come and go as she pleased. No questions were asked where she went or who she met with, or what time she'd come home.

She was given money to spend so that her parents were entirely free of having to look after her. She bought what she needed for herself and was used to catering for herself whether it was a takeaway or a ding meal (microwave).

The foster parents job became a reverse parenting exercise. Instead of mentoring growing independence, they had to slow her down, and give her a childhood back. 

They pulled it off, these fabulous foster parents. The girl is now approaching her teens and is up to speed, or should that be down to speed. She phones home if she's going to be late from school, sits down with the family for every meal, and is happy to answer questions about the boy if it turns out she was late home from school for tea because she was out with a boy.

I know how they pulled it off too. Perseverence. They did it gradually. 

Some people would use the zero tolerance approach from the off, but that can lead to confrontation after confrontation, which is not only unsettling for the whole house; it tends to get mixed results. 

These carers go for the bit-by-bit approach, which calls for concentration plus a good memory of how things were when the child arrived, which helped them chart her progress, which assured them she was on the right track, and they were getting it right.

The girl herself helped, of course. She knew it was wrong to be allowed to come and go at midnight aged ten. She wanted boundaries and what people call 'tough love' - I don't like the phrase myself, but I get what it means.

Now that she is at the right stage of independence for her age, they face some interesting challenges together, such as when she asks if she can go to a late night party and make her own way home when she wants to.

'You're only fourteen" will come the reply "Too young yet I'm afraid."

There'll be that elephant in the room, because she'll be tempted to reply;

'I was doing it when I was ten.'

But I don't think she will.

Too grown up.

Monday, June 22, 2015


We were at home in the kitchen, expecting a new foster child to arrive any minute, this was a good few years ago.

When I say “we” it was myself, our Blue Sky Social Worker and a senior person from Blue Sky.

I can’t remember exactly why the senior Blue Sky person was there; it doesn’t usually happen. It was early days for us in fostering, she may have dropped in to catch-up with the greenhorns. Or maybe she knew the child was a slightly special case and wanted to ensure things got off to a smooth start.

The clock ticked round to four oclock, the time the arrival was due.
A black saloon car, a small family one, pulled up onto our drive. A tall woman, maybe 28 got out of the drivers side. We couldn’t see the child, too small in the back despite the booster seat.

I was trying not to look, faces at the window would be a bit intimidating.
But I sneaked a peek. 

The social worker went round to the other side of the car and opened the door. She unbuckled a seat belt and a tiny foot dropped down unsteadily onto the tarmac. Then a  little face peered round the car door and looked up at our house.
I looked into the tiny face, small and round with two little brown eyes, full of trepidation. The social worker closed the car door and there was the whole child. Small, bony, pale. So vulnerable. What they used to call a “waif”.

The pair walked slowly towards our front door, and as they did the senior Blue Sky person whispered something that has become seared onto my brain.


Because, you see, it turns out to be the latter of the two. The rest of our lives. That’s the way it’s looking.

The child is now what's called a “Permanent Placement”. Family. One of us. We're no longer working towards the goal of getting the child home and happy, I guess that's the key difference when a foster child becomes a "Permanent Placement"

The process of permanency is complicated but Blue Sky and the child’s local authority social workers sort it out. The question of permanency came up after the child had been with us for quite a long period, to be honest I don’t think there’s a set amount of time for it, permanency comes up when it looks best for the child to have a greater degree of stability in their lives.

We sat down with our real children (there’s a funny phrase) and talked about it to help them have some ownership of what is, after all, a big change in the shape of their family.

The ins and outs were explained to us by Blue Sky; basically we have a greater say in certain things relating to the day-to-day looking after of the child. There’s a very interesting form with various responsibilities listed and the local authourity, who retain PR (Parental Responsibility) goes through it with you and you all agree on things like we would be able to take the child on a day trip to London and stay in a hotel without asking permission. Haircuts. Allowing mobile phones. 

“Compatability” is a big issue, you all need to fit together. There’s a form for that, where you go through the positives and negatives. The foster carers also have to write down why they want the child to be permanant. If the child is old enough they have to write out the same things from their point of view.Then there’s a panel. People at the local authority sit down and go through the case. Then you get the phone call “It’s been approved!”
We still share everything with both Blue Sky and local authority social workers, but we can act a little more like autonomous parents.

We coudn’t be happier, but it gets you thinking.

Before fostering I'd only experienced three basic ways in which someone comes into your life for ever. You fall in love, you bond with a friend, you make a baby. 

Permanent placement makes three-and-a-half, adoption would make it up to a solid four.
The difference is that with the first three ways you have a big element of control over who the person is, you have choices. With your own children you never quite know how they are going to turn out, but you are with them for the whole journey so there are no great mysteries.

Then you foster.

And in my case you hear the whispered words


And a new adventure begins.

Sunday, June 14, 2015


A couple of thoughts about something that comes up every summer term, and it often hits fostering quite hard: school sports day.

Blue Sky put on numerous events for their children during the school summer holidays and when they do sportyness, it's nicely done.

For me, schools could learn from Blue Sky. Schools get it wrong generally, big time.

Schools are big on the competitiveness, so the big thing is to get WINNERS. 

(Weak voice); 'Hooray...'


The losers are the children who have to demonstrate in front of their entire school and  a few hundered parents just how rubbish they are. They are the LOSERS. Official. 

And where do the children in care tend to come in these races? In my experience,  last or near last.

Why? Dunno. Maybe their life experiences to date have truncated their development or maybe they've got bigger things on their mind.

They often come home in a fume and we have to sort it out.

I've been told by schools that Sports Day is an opportunity for the children who don't shine at anything else to have their moment. It's a rubbish argument, based on the assumotion that unacademic children are better at sport than bright pupils. Who, it seems, need taking down a peg or two.

What about the foster chidren whose private lives are in turmoil, who can't keep up with lessons and who then have to trail in last in front of everybody, with the Head teacher doing their Des Lynam commentaries so there's no hiding place?

If it's such a good day out to have a school's physically vulnerable children identified as failures in front of a crowd why don't schools do the same with Spelling or Maths or Art? Why not? They could invite all the parents and get every class into a crowd then line up the kids in order of who can and can't read and write and parade them in front of pupils and parents and announce on the loudspeaker "Well done the clever clogs! And a round of applause for the stragglers."

Parents could bring a picnic and invite gran along.  What fun!

No-one would do that with acadaemia. But that's what they do with sports day.

And over the line the losers fall,  burning with embarrasment and anger.

To be harsh, the problem is partly that most people involved in Primary Education are unsporty, maybe even resentful of the whole sports thing. They block it out, hope it's an irrelevance. Maybe they were humiliated themselves.

At Secondary level most of the people involved in school sports have thick skins. I'm told that at teacher training the PE students are nicknamed 'Woodentops'.

Then there's the burden of one of Britain's greatest problem. Precedent. People think that they have to do what has always been done. And Sports Day has been with us since Victorian times. 

And those Victorians, they were famous for their handling of children weren't they? 

Boringly I feel obliged to state the obvious: some children gain something from sports day, some teachers input care and kindness. Every ten years or so a fostered child becomes a fleetingly famous athlete or footballer and so everyone assumes that sport serves foster children well.

Infuriatingly though, the majority of parents tell me the same thing when sports day comes up in the conversation:

"We have to watch these lefties with their non-competitive sports. Children have to learn how to lose".

They say that to me.

"Children have to learn how to lose".

Oh, I just smile and say "Mmmmm"

Foster Carers, remember; you're a pro. Ordinary parents are amatuers.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


I got myself into a sit com moment in the playground waiting for the last bell.

I found myself in a conversation with another mum, with me talking about one thing and she was talking about another.

It was to do with fostering.

I'm used to school railings looks. That is, when you foster you get used to mums gossiping about the fact that you foster. Not in a bad way actually, if anything the opposite. They are usually very respectful and you sometimes get really nice compliments about it.

"It's a wonderful thing what you do" etc


So I'm used to mums introducing themselves and doing a bit of fishing. People have natural curiosity about others - so do I come to think of it. Being interested in people is a boon in fostering.

So. A mum comes up and casually says hello and I say hello. She says it's a bit cold for the time of year and I reply we weren't sure if it was long trousers or shorts this morning.

She says she's guessing I'm Rachel's mum and I say yes. She says that her daughter Tamsin has asked if Rachel can come round for tea one evening, will that be alright.

I say great.

She goes on "Only I may as well mention that Tamsin doesn't make friends easily so I'm very pleased about this"

I say "Yes, Rachel has struggled to make friends"

True. Foster children often find it hard, what with everything going on in their lives.

Then she says "You see, Tamsin has low level Aspergers"

I say I'm sorry to hear that.

The mum goes on "The only other thing is to ask is if Rachel is alright with dogs?"

I say yes, loves dogs. How many?

"Two Westies"

I ask "Have you always had two together?"

She replies "We got them when we were fostering"


"So" I says "You don't foster any more?"

"No we stopped when Tamsin came along"

"Did you have many?"

"Yes" she said "Quite a few. Hard work"

I agreed, it can be hard work, but worth it. She agreed, she said "What would happen to them otherwise?"

I asked if she missed it, she said no, not now she had two of her own. She added that they'd had a difficult one, and it led to a re-think. I asked what had happened.

"He was a biter."

"Oh dear"

"He was dangerous. So after a lot of agonising we had him put down".


I asked her who she fostered with. She replied "Fostering For Dogs"

"Ah" I said.

The children were coming out.

"See you tomorrow" we said.

As Homer says; 


Friday, June 05, 2015


Summer holidays are never far away; you hardly get the sand out of your suitcases and you're being bombarded with advertisements and special offers to get you back to Lanzarote.

Decisions, decisions...

Abroad or GB?

Same place as last year, or try somewhere new?

Butlins or Pontins? (That old one was easy when I was a child; we couldn't afford either so it was Warners).

To have a holiday at all? Why not stay home and spend the money on something else?

It's a tricky decision, but fun.


If you foster there's a decision to be made that is much bigger than any of the above; you have to decide if your foster child is going with you.

Or at least, that's what I'm told by other carers and social workers. For us the decision is what they call a no-brainer; the child goes with you, provided they want to. But there's lots of things to think about, nothing insurmountable, except maybe one.


If your holiday has already been booked before the child was placed with you and there's no deal on supplementaries, your decision is made for you. I guess that can happen, but frankly, for me, if you're in fostering and you book a lock-down holiday for a set number of people way ahead of date it's because you've made your mind up you want your family holiday to be just that; family. No strangers. Fair enough, you'll save a few bob. But you've painted yourself into a corner if you fnd yourself with a child that needs to go with you.

For sure; taking a foster child on holiday is fraught with things you have to think about. Things you must try to get right.


Sleeping arrangements need planning, 100% more than when it's just family.

Family and friends muck in on holiday with things like sharing bedrooms and bathrooms and putting on your cossie with a towel round you on the beach. But when you're fostering you have to sit down with your social worker and talk it out.

We took a foster child away once, for a few days at a seaside hotel. We'd booked a so-called 'suite' to make sure there was a separate room which the child had to herself with an adjoining door so we could keep an eye. It was the closest we could get to our home set-up. We asked for a single bed to be made up in the second room. The alternatives were; either book her a separate hotel room (too young to have a room to herself for goodness sake) or get a spare single bed made up in our room (awkward; you don't want to have dressing gowns on holiday and same-room-sleeping means sensible planning of showering and loo runs and the like).

We asked if we could get two rooms side-by-side with a connecting door; the hotel only had one of those and it was booked.

Long story short; child got spooked in the early hours and ended up sleeping on the sofa under the blankets from the wardrobe in our bedroom, with me in the double and my husband in the single in the adjoining room.

Complicated, but we got there.


Safety is another concern, about 20% more than when it's just family. The worries are the same, but you're less familiar with the child's personal sense of safety, plus you have to always remember, it's someone else's child.

When you go on holiday with your own children you stay alert to all sorts of potential dangers. Water mainly. What's the least dangerous? (you ask yourself), the open sea with hidden currents and rocks? Or the swimming pool with concrete edges and hidden pumps? Snorkelling, pedalos, the diving boards.

One year we'd inadvertently watched Jaws a few months before our holiday, stupid.

I'm afraid if one wants to foster for all you're worth, the days of lying around the pool dozing under your headphones with half an eye out for the pool waiter so you can snag a spritzer before lunch, those days my Pedigree chum, are not with you right now, they lie happily ahead. Years ahead!

Then there's the general worry of keeping an eye on them. You want to know where they are all the time, for obvious reasons. And they want to go off and 'explore'. You stay on your toes for your own kids, even more so with foster children, who might have it in them to be a bit bolder, a bit more adventurous.

For us it meant we came home from holiday for a rest, and we were happy to do it. The foster children had a whale of a time. Mostly they had never had a holiday before; and holiday-time is up there with Christmas.


There are little things to bear in mind too. Well, not quite so big.

Diet for one. Most foster children have food fads; can you meet them in Spain? Will the child be ok running around in a bathing suit in front of people or do they have body-image issues?

Health: What if they are unwell while abroad? Is a foster chid covered by family health insurance (answer; in my experience the holiday firms take this question in their stride, and the answer is yes, but worth checking).

The other things to get right are usually handled by your social worker. They sort out if the child's real parents have any say in holidays, if there's any paperwork or procedural complications.


Respite has never been for us. 'Respite' is where the foster child stays with another fostering family while you either take a break at home or in Benidorm.

Fostering can be very challenging. Many carers who slog it out around the year need and deserve a break from the demands.

Listen; you will find that Blue Sky will encourage you to take respite rather than soldier on, if things are hectic. There is no shame or sense of failing about respite. Look, if you work hard in any other job you deserve and take a holiday, why should fostering be any different?

Respite has never been the way for our family because we've always wanted to do the very best for our foster children, and in every case the right thing was and is for them to come on holiday with us. We reckon it might set the child's progress back if they were sent somewhere else, and we have never been comfortable with the message 'we need a break from you'.


If there is any discussion, the child can come in on the decision making, if they are old enough. We have often looked after foster children who came to us for respite care while their foster family had a holiday. More often than not they missed their foster family, and on balance that can be a positive.

The one child whose experience sticks in my mind, and whose take on family holidays I keep in mind every year when we are booking our (bloomin' expensive!) foster family holiday, had this to say;

"Us foster children never like being known as foster children. There's that 'stigma' thing. I don't like it when people are looking at me and talking about whether I'm a foster child or adopted. I can tell when they are and I hate it. An' when I went on holiday with my foster family it happened all the time. So what I do is treat my respite like it's my holiday."