Monday, August 31, 2015


The thing that got us into fostering was taking in some foreign students one year.

We had a Russian girl, then a Japanese boy, an Italian girl, then two Spanish girls.

Other half had been working at the local college when the cry went out for more homes for the students who came to study English.

We were nervous at first.

Who would we get?

Would they be happy with our house?

We figured they'd come from well-to-do homes if they could afford months of study and accomodation fees.

We also figured that because they came from well off homes they'd have their heads screwed on. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

We had to deal with; an unwanted pregnancy where the girl couldn't tell her extremely Catholic parents so we had to sort things for her, a student with chronic loneliness and another who had the opposite of home-sickness; she couldn't bear the thought of going home once she'd found some peace - of being away from her father.

The cream of the crop was a firebrand girl, most popular student in the college with girls and boys, and no moral compass at all; a tea-leaf, a man eater. Used to drink a bottle of vodka before heading out on a Friday night, got brought home one night by the police. Her dad's money came from what she called a night club in Estonia, but it turned out it was a casino/brothel. 

We enjoyed a full house, the students amused our children round the table, but it was a challenge to our parenting skills.

Then we remembered that when we married and planned our lives together (on the back of an envelope), we'd talked about fostering one day. It couldn't be harder than what we were doing, so I did some digging and Blue Sky's name kept coming up.

I made the phone call, liked the woman I spoke to, and before I knew it we were being visited and chatted to. That's all, just chatted to, once a month. It was cosy and rather enjoyable; they were interested in our lives, our childhoods, our chidren and our wider families, warts and all. They didn't make notes or anything as I remember; they must have written things up afterwards.

The process took about six months. I've often wondered why; they could have done it in a fortnight with a session every other day. I'm going to ask one day (there always seems so many other things to talk about once you're signed up). I'm guessing they need to get to know you over a period of time, and ensure you have stickability.

The part of the process that stays in my mind is the period around what's called "Panel'. It's the final stage of the process of becoming a foster parent. You go before a bunch of people each of whom have various connections to Blue Sky and fostering generally. They ask a few questions, they usually have a good idea of the answers if they'd had a look at your file. It's very friendly, but still calls for a deep breathe.

They've already sent someone round to do a Risk Assessment. Our man asked us to get rid of the glass topped coffee table (didn't like it anyway, took it to the charity shop) and to put a safety net over the garden water feature (chicken wire did it). 

It's a period where you feel like Neil Armstrong strapped into Apollo on the ground waiting for the whole kiboodle to start. How did we feel? I don't know about other half, but I felt like I was eight and it was Christmas Eve. I knew there'd be some surprises under the tree but that what was to come would be warm, memorable, nourishing, exciting, chaotic and slightly life-changing.

If you foster too, I expect you'll remember that feeling of sitting on the tarmac listening to the countdown.

If you are thinking about it, do it.

It's one small step for a man, but a giant leap for some poor kids out there.

Monday, August 24, 2015


Home from abroad.

Nice holiday, it had a fantastic highlight!

Always dented a bit by a day of travelling home; checking out, getting to airport, the crush to get through, the wait. The stressy getting onto the plane, never enough space for the hand luggage, everyone seems to be pushing the limit these days, the bumpy flight, the wait for luggage. Airport to home. Phew!

The mail on the mat. The dog to be collected from the looking-after family.

One thing that's nice is seeing everyone take to their home.

The adults unpack, make tea, one does a quick One Stop run for bits.

The children fly off to all corners of the house, and back into their lives. 

They go very quiet until tea-time, luxuriating in their own space, their own bedrooms, their technology, their textable mates.

One of our foster children seems quietest.

He had a holiday 'romance'!

It started two days before we were due to fly home.

It started as a buddy thing. The beach was nice and sandy, he'd been sandcastling, there was that tiny Mediterranean tide and he did what others were doing and built a castle which the waves would reach in about an hour. 

The beach was packed and there was a family next to us, their children had the same idea. The dad and the sons, big lads, were at it like McAlpine, digging deep, so deep the dad cut his hand on a shard of a shell  about three feet down and they stopped for a bit. Their 'sandcastle' had the feel of that mountaintop placement in the Guns of Navarone (if you go back that far).

Their only daughter, about the same age as our lad, hadn't really joined in much, but had been watching. She was more interested in our boy's castle. His looked more like a home than a fort. It had four small walls and a single heap of a dwelling in the middle with a door and windows. He had planted some little sea ferns in the garden.

Now I'm doing sandcastle therapy.

So now the waves are getting close, lapping the front wall. He starts digging a breakwater pit in front. But the waves are winning, he starts digging more frantically. He is aware the girl is watching and she's making encouraging sounds; shouts and gasps each time a wave hits the front wall. 

Then she does it; she jumps down and helps. Now the two of them are digging wet sand and throwing it everywhere to try to save their 'home'.

We are lying on our loungers shouting support.

The sea wins, of course. The home is engulfed. The girl's brothers laugh half in sympathy half in jealousy that she had a better sandcastle afternoon than they did. They shout something to her.

In French.

I thought to myself; "Merde!"

Our lad and his new friend had been too busy to talk. "Busy as a one-legged man in a grass fire" as my grandad used to say.

Now we're watching it dawn on them they have no way of communicating.

Five minutes later he comes and asks for the kite. The beach is emptying, there's a nice breeze getting up. He flies, she watches. He hands her the string. She flies, he assists, miming advice about the start-up run and the ocassional tugs.

Her family start to pack up. The dad has a sprinkling of English. Nice chap, pity he smokes. They will be at the same place tomorrow. We are coming anyway.

The next day is more like Brief Encounter than Guns of Navarone. He and she make another sand home, I give them money to get ice cream. They both take their phones (there's a fantastic app called Find My Phone, can tell you to within a few feet where they are). Watch them the whole time obviously, in the queue, choosing. Coming back side-by-side, making each other laugh with the trying-to-slurp-the-cone-drips-before-they-reach-your-hand thing.

They wash their hands in the sea, then go in up to their waists. The body board gets launched, him demonstrating his Bondi Beach surf king stuff, making complimentary faces when she has a go.

We ask her parents if Ann-Katrin can join us for lunch up at the top. She does. He and she sit side by side. She out-styles my family, cutting her burger in half. He entertains her with his "fries for fangs' Dracula.

Back at the beach they collect shells and pebbles. Her family give her a punnet of strawberries and one for her friend, payback for her burger, which they share perched on his lounger. 

Not sure if he's looking a bit trapped, but honouring the relationship he's wound up in.

The day is ending. We're going home tomorrow. 

They have to say goodbye.

Her family are packing up.

I don't know about him and her, I'm feeling it.

O2 lends a hand. They swap texts. Not that they can say much to each other, it'll probably be all emojos.

Now it's the moment. "Say goodbye to Ann-Katrin". They stand opposite each other about a foot apart. They both make a sudden move as if to embrace, then freeze on it. He begins to offer a hand, then pulls it back. She goes to do the French thing, you know, the peck on each cheek, but pulls out. 

The family move off. Him and she wave until she disappears up one of the little streets.

He goes for a quiet paddle. It was all so gloriously innocent, they didn't even get to hold hands.

I'm thinking that one day later in his life, perhaps on his way to the church he'll remember his holiday 'romance' and wonder whatever happened to Ann-Katrin. And maybe even wonder what sort of life they might have had together.

By the way he is 10, Ann-Katrin 8.

Can't add any more.

Filling up.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015


Obviously, in fostering you come back from holiday for a rest.

Here we are abroad, I've just come up from the pool via one of those little shops that sells everything except actual PG Tips, to make a family lunch and catch up on emails. Other half is having thirty minutes of eyes-in-the-back-of-his-head time then he'll round them up for melon and salad bits on our balcony.

There's a funny feeling going round the family. One of our looked-afters might be going home soon and despite the good feeling that you have hopefully played your part in helping them get back on track, it's poignant.

One of my emails confirms the possible date when the child will be collected by his social worker.

The child hasn't been plain sailing. We had one group of sibs once who were plain sailing from start to finish; I felt like Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music. 

We're not in it for plain sailing; we stuck our necks out when we joined Blue Sky and said we're not afraid to look at any case.

I say this purely to get the point across that our experiences are probably a bit more colourful than most, at least that's what social workers tell us from time to time. Maybe they're just being encouraging. The point I'm on about is that in fostering you can set your own limits; we're all different, have different things to offer. I met one brand new foster carer who was waiting for her first placement who told me she only had one stipulation, that was that there'd be no bad language. That was about 3 years ago now, I keep meaning to find out if she's still waiting; you've got to be realistic.

Back to the might-be-going-home-soon child. The bugbear as you would probably guess is that the other(s) aren't going home soon.  So you've got yourself an exercise in diplomacy.

Mustn't overdo the "Isn't it wonderful to be going home soon!" stuff with the lucky one, because the other(s) will be dented, which can come out as "Can I have a new XBox?"

Here you are giving them a holiday of a lifetime (hopefully) and they may never have a holiday again, at least not as children. The child in question had never seen the sea before even though the family 'home' was 2 miles from the coast.

So you split the difference with your sympathy and support. There's something of a bereavement about it too. Someone who was there in their pyjamas at 6.00am in your house and made you miss your turn in the bathroom because they were in a grump becomes family of sorts, no doubt about that.

Then...they're gone.

You sometimes half expect them to appear again, even years later. Someone says their name and Bang! You almost call up the stairs to see why they're so quiet.

You tidy their old room, change the bed, inevitably find some ten pence knick-knack of theirs which you put somewhere safe in the unlikely event it's asked for. You notice it from time to time, it brings them back.

You should throw it away really but that would be to somehow throw the child away.

But fostering is about the future, and one of the other emails was from Blue Sky asking if we wanted to wait a bit before being approached with another potential placement.

I replied that provided the child goes home on the date that's being talked about, we'd be up for another from the same day. 

Provided I've had a 20 minute rest after this holiday.

Friday, August 14, 2015


Right, here we are on holiday. 

You fly off partly to get away from the day-to-day of fostering, but I'm blogging because it's amazing how hard it is to actually get away from it. This happened yesterday;

Up at 4.00am, to the airport.

Arrived and did what you do; unpack, check fridge for milk, make sure of wi-fi.

Down to the pool.

Youngest foster child made a friend, Sam, and they're still mates, Sam came knocking on our apartment at 8.30am.

It's a child-friendly complex, our third year in a row; multiple lifeguards on the pools, security gates front and back.

Sam's parents came over at the end of the day and introduced themselves. I got talking to the dad Paul, lovely northerner.

He's late thirties, but doesn't work anymore;  Army pension.

Not huge, from what he said I'd guess about £18,000 a year. 

He'd been shot. In Afghanistan. I know he wasn't making that up either, I'll come to that.

Out of the blue he asked me; "I hope you don't mind, but I got the impression that maybe you're looking after one of yours".

I said that was the case. Told him which were ours, which were foster, since he asked. Turned out he knew a bit about these sort of things.

He'd been in care himself.

Wanted to talk about it too, and I was happy with that, a meaningful conversation beats chit-chat any time.

His parents split up when he was eight, he realised later in life that he'd blamed himself.

His mum teetered then went over the edge, Paul and his brothers and sisters were taken into care. 

He said the experience had made it difficult for him to have relationships.

He wasn't Sam's real dad. He'd met Sam's mum when he'd gone back to his parents to convalesce from being shot. She'd just got divorced. They'd been together two years.

By this time the karaoke was full blast so we were holding one of those conversations with short loud sentences, lots of hand gestures, pausing every three minutes to clap someone who'd sung 'My Way'.

He talked about why he joined the army and the lure of danger; and said it probably had to do with his early life.

He asked did I want to feel the bullet hole. He turned his back and pointed just below the nape of his neck. Sure enough there was an indentation you could put your finger in. Wierd. But he was opening up.

The bullet didn't kill him because it caught the top edge of the armour they strap to their back. The armour comes up to the bottom rim of their helmet. If the wearer is looking down at the ground there's a gap, if you're looking upwards there isn't.

Paul said that the Taliban sniper aimed for the gap between the top of the armour and the bottom of the helmet. The sniper who'd tried to kill him missed by half an inch. He wasn't sure if he survived because he'd been looking upwards or because the sniper was off target.

I wondered if he'd got close to wanting to get out of this world. 

Eldest foster child is having a go at karaoke; 'Stuck In The Middle With You". 

Some people think it's sweet a kid singing a Scottish folk song.

Only I know it's because of Reservoir Dogs and the ear scene...

Paul said he wondered from time to time about becoming a foster parent. I told him that one of Blue Sky's top foster carers was a former soldier.

We saw them around the pool again this morning, normal as anything. 

I reminded myself of something my grandad used to say from time to time;

'Hard, being a human being'.

Monday, August 10, 2015


We had a family gathering at our house at the weekend. We did the refreshments run in the morning; big salad, ham, bread rolls. Sparkling water, cordials, a few lagers, red and white -we use the boxes when it's a 'do' - and four bottles of non-alcoholic beer.

There are always some awkward things about family gatherings. Four bottles of non-alcoholic beer is somehow awkward. Looking after foster children at a family gathering; awkward.

Family get-togethers seem to happen mostly around Christmas and during the summer, and they make for interesting ocassions for people involved in fostering.

When I say 'people involved in fostering', I can only speak first-hand of how it is for the foster parent, because thankfully I didn't have to be cared for as a child.

But foster children are involved in fostering.

I'm grateful for some very thoughtful contributions to this blog from some people who have been in care themselves. Their comments remind me to think harder about how things are for the foster child.

I'm not saying I don't think about them enough, I guess my point is you can't think about things from their point of view too much. You can't overdo putting yourself in their shoes. The more you think about how it is for them, the better you can care.

Can be painful though.

So take the family get-together as a 'frinstance.

Take yourself back to when you were ten or twelve and remember.

Be honest, bit of a nightmare no?

Doesn't make much difference whether the gathering is home or away; our last one was at our house so I'm remembering family gatherings at our house when I was little.

What was my main thinking in the build-up to the gathering? 

Mixture of excitement and foreboding.

Excitment because it was a day out of the ordinary, and eating and drinking was big. Party food. Fizzy drinks for us kids, so that was all good.

Foreboding because adults were coming en masse, and almost all of them would be looking to do a quick 'howdydoodie' with them kids, ain't they scamps. For some reason I found it toe-curling.

Yet these were adults I knew; uncles and cousins. The fact I knew them didn't make it much easier.

Most adults don't speak childese. They tower above children and either demand a hug or a sloppy kiss or boom something banal about your haircut or your T shirt, roar with laughter either at your response or their own awkwardness, before moving off in search of a full-blown person to talk to.

Several times I'd get asked how I'm doing at school. What I wanted to do when I grew up.

Us children would usually try to go off by ourselves or at least keep a low enough profile not to attract any comments or attention.

Then some auntie would try to coax you to tell her your story about why you gave up pony lessons and you'd hide and everyone would go; "Aaaahhh, she's shy". Which was meant to be kind but made you feel pathetic.

On the whole, when I was small, I was proper relieved when they were over, even if the end of the day meant getting roped into going round and collecting up plates and glasses.

I found it hard.

Imagine how much harder for a foster child even if the gathering is at your place, a place they've started to feel comfortable with.

It's an invasion. An invading army of adults and other children who all know each other. If a child ever felt like an outsider in their own foster home, for the foster child the family gathering can be the pits.

Foster children feel different every second they are in care and there's not much the foster parents can do when throwing a gathering to prevent that sense of being different from being magnified.

All those people who go back to the day they were born.

Then there's you. Who's been attached to this family for a few weeks or months. Even if it's years, you can still feel a bit of a cuckoo in the nest.

The worst bit; the worst bit is when they start talking about you. Because they inevtiably do. They don't mean any harm, they are just curious, but they want to know how the foster child is settling in, what's he like. What's his background.

They do. They do. They do.

The voices get a bit hushed in one corner of the room or around the barbie. 

They want some details. About you. People you've never met, probably will never know properly, are talking about you and your problems and your mum and dad's failures.


Jees, I just had two minutes just then, trying to get the feeling of what it must be like for the foster child on the way to an away family gathering at; someone else's house.

Ouch with knobs on.

Ours went alright at the weekend, it wasn't a huge gathering.

I had had a quiet word with family to let the foster children come to them rather than the other way round. The youngsters played computer games in the back room for the first hour, then ventured out when they heard the sounds of an impromptu game of football going on. It ended up  Family Athletic v Fostering United.

My mum was there, she's not too well at the moment.

After everyone left one of our foster children gave me a hug. Never done that before, ever. An absolute beauty, a crusher. Another one of those fostering moments you know you'll take to the grave.

"I don't know why I did that" came out before the child turned and fled.

Maybe it had been the sight of me supporting my mum to the loo twice, seeing how a parent and child can be. I don't know.

So these family ocassions, parties, dreaded barbecues, anniversary and birthday events, aren't unproductive for foster children, but they're still damned hard.

And when everyone's gone, you're always left with the washing up. 

And those four awkward bottles of non-alcoholic beer.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015


It's 5.15am.

I woke up at 1.45am this morning and couldn't go back.

A new record. I've been hovering around the 5.00am mark for a year or two, the previous record for wide awake (as in no point trying to go back) stood at 3.15am. Sometimes I do go back and it's great to look at the clock and see 7.15am.

I'm not that bothered; it's surely a one-off. I was in bed at 9.30pm, cream crackered, fell asleep on the sofa. So I had 4 hours, 5 counting the hour on the sofa. If Maggie could run the country on 5 hours I can foster on 5. 

My significant other took over the bedtime routines.

I crept stealthily downstairs at about 2.30am although I've just found out I woke him. But he went back.

Inevitably I made a cup of tea. Sat in the kitchen.

Pfaffed on the internet.

I'd got a bit dozy because yesterday was my birthday and we sat around the kitchen table and opened my presents in the evening when everyone came home; there was a bottle of Prosecco then a chickeny thing with cole slaw (who isn't watching the pounds).

I got two nice bracelets, one with a matching necklace. My eldest son's girlfriend bought me the new Harper Lee book. Some foamy bath stuff, a face scrub. Significant other bought me a voucher for eyelash extensions because I asked for them. A pair of pocket secateurs. 

And about 9 or 10 cards in all. I opened them all at the table and sped through them. I always put cards on the mantlepiece for a few days after anyone's birthday.

There was a joke card from the dog which was addressed to "The Woman I sleep with whenever I want" (he sometimes hops on our bed, usually my end).

After the meal I was excused washing up and took the cards through to put on the mantlepiece.

I looked at each one again as I put them up, and noticed something I'd not noticed round the table.

Long-term foster child had written in big capitals "HAVE A NICE TIME" and "HAPPY BIRTHDAY" and a smiley face. What I'd not noticed - because it was written in the tiniest letters alone at the top left of the inside of the card where the eye never goes - was a single word:


Not 'To Mum", just 'mum'. 

In terms of important breakthroughs this made the moon landing and Edmund Hillary climbing that rock seem as insignificant as they were by comparison.


See, me and my Blue Sky social worker, we know how huge it is for this child to get where they've got to be able to do that.

Higher then Everest, further than the moon.

Significant other is up and boiling the kettle and we're about to go through all the details of this new development; it's what you do in fostering isn't it?

Significant other tells me the child asked him for advice; should it be "to mum' or something else and he'd replied "It's up to you, whatever you want to write, whatever you're comfortable with".

So it just gets better.

And the early wake-up doesn't matter; I can have a nap this afternoon.

You wish Doris. This afternoon it's your turn in goal.