Sunday, September 06, 2015


Fostering is all about preparing for the child to go home.

That's not the job in a nutshell, but it's the primary goal.

'The Child Is Paramount' - I remember a Blue Sky training session where they talked about how all the rules and laws relating to fostering make the child the priority in everything.

One of the things that struck me most in fostering right from the get-go is how much they all want to go home.

It feels like a kick in the teeth at first. A child arrives in your home, you've read their notes. They've had a horrendous time in an appalling home with every kind of abuse you can imagine (and in one case a pattern of abuse which we could not have imagined).

You show them every respect and kindness; treat them with care, feed them perfectly, wash their clothes, change the bed once a week, show them tenderness when they buckle, show them resolve when they try it on.

You are a professional parent. Your care is what they desperately need.

And yet.

They are desperate to pack their bag and go back to a life that'll probably be just a few shades better than before, if that.

It's in my mind because we've got one going home shortly. For social services it doesn't mean the job's done; they aim to keep a watching brief on the family to ensure certain behaviours by the parents have been eliminated or at least reduced.

Substance abuse being the big one with this couple. A social worker told me they called one day, before the court order to remove the children, and found both of them passed out on the living room floor, him with a half-eaten chicken drumstick in one hand, her with what looked like tourniquet marks where she'd been trying to bring up a vein, with the children playing around their comatose parents.

You find that parents often agree to clean up their act because they want the children back, although in my darker moments I wonder whether the reason some of them want them back is the money that comes in, plus they don't want other people judging them as bad parents.

So you work towards them going home; take them to Contact for better or worse - usually for  worse but hey ho. You speak respectfully about their parents, talking of them as equals in this difficut thing called life. You put up with the parents often trying to criticise or undermine your fostering;

I remember one mum who, when we arrived for Contact had nothing to show her son; no hug, no kisses, no sweet kind talk. Instead she'd have a swipe at me, almost every time;

'Where's his coat? You can't have him going around in this wevver wivvout a coat!'

'Go back to your car woman, you've come further than you should; the rules are when you arrive he's my responsibilty, you ought to know that'

And my favourite:

'Has he had a haircut?'

The haircut thing was a win/win for her, because if he hadn't had a haircut I was derelict, if the had had a haircut it was without her permission and anyway it was not how his hair should be cut.

So, the child who is going home is excited, no two ways about it. I'm geared for no tears or great goodbyes even when the social worker arrives for the trip home, the child's head will be full of excitement, possibly painting a glowing picture of  parents who've turned over a new leaf and all the love they've ever craved being installed instead of whatever went on before.

Or maybe they paint a dismal picture of more of whatever went on before; chaos, but at least a chaos they are familiar with. 

If I was brutally honest I'd say fostering makes only a small difference, or to put it another way; not as big a difference as I'd like; I don't think even the most brilliant fostering can change a great deal, except perhaps in the case of very little children who are wet clay compared to the older ones who've begun to become the people they will always be.

We shouldn't beat ourselves up if we don't work miracles.

But you try. And the final bit of trying, no matter what use it is, is to make sure they know you've enjoyed having them, and that you'll miss them. If all your work adds up to nothing more than a 1% improvement in the child's chances, then it's mega-worth it.

I know fostering makes that small difference, because one time the arriving child was one who had been with us before. A return spell of fostering. The family still wasn't working out. The social worker had told me he was looking forward to seeing us again, but I wasn't prepared for the look of pleasure on his face when I opened the door; he was expecting the gush of welcome which of course I gave him, and he glowed.

He didn't glow a lot, you couldn't read the instructions by it; and it didn't last long, but it made me think of fostering as that phrase people use when they visit you quite a lot;

'This is my second home' they say.

That's the best we can wish for in them, that we are their second home, and that's not bad all in all.


  1. There’s something about the power of a child’s love. It is blind, faithful, unyielding, and best of all: unconditional. Any parent who looks into his/her child’s eyes can see it. It is overwhelming and absolutely humbling to know that despite parent's faults and missteps, child still loves them, and still needs them.

  2. I agree Sobek; the child's loyalty to their parents, no matter what, is quite halting. If there wasn't the worry about some parents behaviour it would be the best and most powerful force there is.
    Us people in fostering have to work with it the way a fisherman works with a storm.

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  4. It can also be so heart-breaking, to see a child who is repeatedly let down or treated badly give their parents the benefit of the doubt and make excuses for them over and over again. Hiding their hurt, disappointment and sometimes embarrassment. I wish we could turn it off, or at least dial it down sometimes just to give the child a respite from that.

  5. You're so right about the benefit of the doubt, not just that but actually worshipping those parents. I guess if that's their need and you're right again we can't turn the tap off, we just have to respect it and work with it. Whenever I see young people with those self-tattoos of "Mum" on one knuckle and "Dad" on the other, I find I can get the picture of the family pretty quick.

  6. This is very poignant for us at the moment. Little One is working through a few things to do with her birth family, and yesterday while having an good healthy sob about it she tearfully asked "Why do we have to love people just because we're related to them?"
    She didn't only mean the expectation that we will love our birth family, but why we continue to love people who don't deserve it because they are our family.
    Such a big question from a little person.

  7. Wow, you have a bright person in your Little One. That kind of self-awareness and wisdom is huge. Does it help that your child can identify these issues? With the right guidance, and you're clearly doing a fantastic job, it seems likely that the child will come out the other end with a great chance of being okay (whatever that is!)
    Thanks for the share.

    1. Thank you, as you'd exptect a smart one is blessing but also a challenge. It means she understands why she is looked after and gets that our home is the best place for her, but it also means she remembers and questions everything, her favourite word is "why". However she is smart enough to want councelling too, and the school have that sorted so we hope it'll help. If her current care plan stays in place so she can have stability and long term support then she has the chance of being one of the kids that break the trend, that goes to Uni, has a great career and lead a really full life. Fingers crossed. x

  8. You may have found, as I have, that some children who have had it bad from a very early age are enhanced; they had to strategise early, and it's left them very sharp.
    I'm pretty certain the challenges are enormous, and you're erring on the positive side with what you share; I find it helps to focus on the plusses.
    I've also found that those children who are sharp end up asking why it took so long to rescue them, I wonder if that question has come up for you yet?

  9. Oh blimey I hadn't even thought of that one, I'm sure it'll come. We did have some great ones about if God is real, and if so why he didn't fix things! Yes, she is very sharp, she can think up a way round everything. THis week a teacher had the class line up by birthday without speaking to each other as an icebreaker. She wrote her birthday on her hand and showed it to the other kids, afterall the teacher had just said no talking, didn't say no writing!

    I totally agree on the positivity, we do a great deal of happy talk - what was the best thing about today, whats been your favourite thing on the buffet, what nice things did you say to yourself today etc. And when we have to do a negative we do it as a sandwich - 1) something you are happy about, 2) something you are worried about or is making you sad, 3) something you a looking forward to. This ensure you get to deal with the sadness and concerns but end with a happy thought. Particually useful when a little one can't settle at night becuase they have something on their mind. They usually make us go first though, and love it when our happy/looking forward to thing is something to do with them. x

  10. We had a six year old who was definitely going to turn into either a reprobate or a lawyer. Out-argued us over almost everything. Best twist was whether bedtime was time to go up or time to turn out lights. We hadn't got an answer.
    Those positive talking points are mustard; there's a message in there for everybody not just people who foster.