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.


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