Friday, November 27, 2015



He's arrived, our latest placement.

I don't like calling him a 'placement'; he's a little boy.

It never ceases to amaze me the difference between what you expect from the information you're given in advance and the child who turns up.

I'm not saying the information is skewed or anything, it's hard to sum up a human being in a few pages of notes. Especially a troubled person.

He arrived at 4.00 o'clock, after school.  He'd spent the night at a police station then was picked up by a social worker and taken to school, then picked up again and brought to our house.

You might think it's odd that with so much turmoil in his life it was felt that he couldn't miss a day's learning; but the social worker's point was that it's important for his routine to be maintained. Fair enough I suppose, but I'd have preferred him to have arrived straight after my morning school run so I could introduce him to a quiet house, then have him meet his new family one by one as they returned from school and work.

The house was heaving when the social worker's car pulled up. Our Blue Sky social worker was sitting at the kitchen table on her second cup of tea. Blue Sky always send your social worker to help out on arrival day (unless you get a call at midnight, which can happen).

The TV was on, the downstairs PC was pumping out some kind of lego-like war game, I'd briefed everyone to keep a low profile until the new arrival had been settled into his room. I'd got the dinner organised and in saucepans on the cooker so I only had to flick a switch. I watched through the window as the social worker got out of her car and fished a rucksack off the back seat and a big holdall from the boot.

Then she opened the passenger door and the child slid off his booster seat and onto the pavement, his gaze fixed on the ground. The social worker said something and he closed the car door, very gently. The door barely clicked, the social worker had to put down one of the bags and slam it shut. She locked the car, pocketed her keys and they walked slowly up the path.

I wanted to run to the door before they knocked and welcome them but that would make it look like I'd been watching them.

I did it anyway.

I smiled and haunched down so I was at the same eye level as the boy.

"Hello." I said "You must be Romeo" (not his real name, trust me his real name is even more extravagant).

I wanted to put my arms around him, but you don't.  I said;

"Come in," then I said to the social worker "The bags can stay in the hall for now". She set them down and said in a clear voice; 

"Romeo you said you needed the bathroom, shall we ask the nice lady where it is?"

"I'm sorry," I said, and quickly introduced myself adding "Our Blue Sky social worker is in the kitchen".

"Hello!" came a voice from the kitchen. She'd stayed out of sight so as not to crowd the boy.

I went along the hall and showed Romeo the downstairs cloakroom, how the light worked and how it flushed, using the gentlest voice I could. He closed the door, and I hurried back into the kitchen, we had 45 seconds where we could say anything he didn't need to hear.

His social worker said;

"He's very quiet, understandably frightened. He's very worried about his mum."

"What can I tell him if he asks me?" I asked. I knew the woman had been taken to hospital having been found in a drugs and drink stupor bordering on a coma.

"You can tell him she's in good hands. If there's any change I'll let you know."

I suddenly had a horrendous thought. If his mother died who would have to break the awful news?


Surely not, surely the social worker would come round and do that, after all the local authority has the final parental control over a child in care, and with that would come that kind of unthinkable responsibility.  We moved on, I asked;

"Is there anything else I need to know besides what's in the notes?"

She hesitated. There were probably a thousand things, but we could hear someone trying to flush the toilet.

"Not really" she said as I went off to the cloakroom door and said;

"Romeo, don't worry about flushing it, come out and I'll do it for you."

He emerged and I took him to join the others in the kitchen. I made tea for the adults, he had apple juice. We briskly did the paperwork, the social workers left having set appointments for their next visits.

I fetched the gift I'd wrapped for him to make him feel welcome; a small foam football. 

He said;

"How did you know I like football?"

It was in his notes. Should I tell him that? Will it make him feel like his private life has been under the microscope? I said:

"A little bird told me you were a good player."

I showed him how the upstairs bathroom worked, and how the lock worked. It's not a strong lock, which is a good idea in case anyone decides to lock themselves in. Never happened yet.

I showed him his room and left him to unpack. The holdall belonged to his social worker who was going to pick it up on her next visit.

I told him to come down when he was ready so I could introduce him to the rest of the house.

Before I did I asked him "Have you any questions you'd like to ask?"

He thought, then said;

"Who's the man in the picture in the toilet?"

"Oh," I replied "That's a boxer called Muhamed Ali. My husband likes boxing."

Silence. Then he said;

"My dad does cage fighting"

Silence. I said;

"Do you like pasta?"

He does. I asked if he'd like a biscuit to hold him until teatime. He would. I told him to take three, and come on through and meet my eldest. 

New foster child meets seasoned foster child...fingers crossed.

To be continued.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


We've had an interesting time last couple of weeks, like you do in fostering when you've got a spare bed.

The phone rings from time to time and it's the $64,000 dollar question;

"Would you be willing to take a child who...?"

Our policy is to say yes always, unless there's a really pressing reason not to, as happened once, which I may have touched on before; the child in question was on a charge of murder.

Now, if you're new to fostering, don't freak out. It was a once-in-a-millenium placement. I've never been asked such a big ask before or since, nor heard of any such extreme placement coming up again. 

We turned it down on the basis we had another foster child who we felt would have been thrown off balance by the whole thing, mainly because we were told the press might get hold of our address and there could be reporters outside our house.

Thankfully the child was placed with a family which suited him better geographically; he needed to be the right distance from his family.

He wasn't a murderer, we were told all the circumstances; he'd got hotheaded in a confrontation with an older boy and overdid the survival instinct, God it could have been any teenager, frightening thought.

So;  a child of ours went home and a bed is going begging. The child, as far as we know is going along okay. One of fostering's frustrations is that when a child leaves that's it. Job done.  Human curiosity alone makes you want all the details of the rest of their lives, but a line is drawn underneath.

Saying that, a fostering friend goes all soppy when she recounts the knock on her door late one evening. Standing there was a young person who she took a moment to recognise;

"It's me, Chloe." Came the voice "I just wanted to come and say thank you for everything you did for me".

So they had a cup of tea and a catch-up; it had been four years. Brilliant.

We've had a couple of calls with proposals which were difficult fits for us;

One was for a young person, Sherri, who was having problems fending for herself on the outside world having been chucked out by her family. She wasn't up to life in any kind of hostel or supported accommodation. The term 'learning difficulties' came up in her profile.

When a local authority acts to bring a child into their care they sometimes have scant information about the child, especially if the case has only recently come on their radar. 

'Learning difficulties' is such a broad church isn't it? Blue Sky came up with a good bit of wisdom which I've put in my back pocket; when they say 'learning difficulties' it's different from that other broad church; 'mental health issues'.

We said yes. 

In case you don't know, when a child comes into care the word goes out to every possible foster home; local authority and agency. It means that several potential homes are asked the question, then the social workers sit down and work out the best one for the child.

They found a home for Sherri where the foster parent had recently had a successful placement with a child who had mosaic Downs Syndrome (partial but not full-blown), so it was felt that experience was key.

The phone rang again last week;  I was driving to school for the afternoon run and pulled over. It was an emergency. A child who had made accusations against his stepfather and needed somewhere  immediately because he couldn't go home.  I left a message for my other half to call me before saying yes. One of the big things in fostering is keeping yourself and your family safe. Before Bill got back to me the phone rang again to apologise that the placement had been withdrawn, the child had apparently made it all up to get back at the stepfather. 

Up and down you go. People talk about 'the roller coaster', they don't know nothing unless they've fostered.

So, yesterday the phone rang late. 

"Would you be willing to take a child who..."

We said yes. He's coming. I'm up early, pretending I'm being practical about getting things straight, actually I'm buzzing like hell. I told them to bring the child over straight away, they said they couldn't as there was no-one to take him (foster parents don't pick the children up, they have to be brought to you).

I asked where the child was staying the night.

In a police cell. Not because there had been any wrongdoing, but because there was nowhere else. It's not uncommon.

Can you imagine?

I've fished out one of our hot water bottles (foster children LOVE hot water bottles). He's getting the grown-up one. The Thomas the Tank one probably would be wrong after a night in a cell. 

I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


This week of focus on bullying has really got me thinking.

Am I ever guilty?

And if I am, is it justified by the ends?

I'm sitting at the kitchen table, big mug of tea, the sun's not up, everyone is asleep. Good time to think.


Suppose a foster child crosses a line;  calls me an unacceptable word.

I know his past, I know why he gets angry. I know the harm that's been done to him. 

Nobody previously fought on behalf of him and his heart; he never experienced justice coming to his defence. He is victim of a thousand wrongs, mostly inflicted by the adult heads of the house or older brothers and sisters.

I've been to enough training to know he's not calling me a bad name. 

"A stupid b***h"

He's transferred his anger from his parents to me. He's calling his mother a name. He did it because it somehow made him feel better.

Sitting here in my kitchen I'm full of resolve that next time something like that happens I'll use Plan A; count to ten and say, in a calm and neutral voice;

"I know you don't mean that, please try not to let your anger out in that way"

or change the subject and say;

"Would you like a lolly before tea?'


But it seems wrong, it feels wrong. It feels like I'm chickening out of doing my job, like I'm not showing myself proper respect, not maintaining my essential authority which as head of the house is pretty essential.

So. What am I doing if Plan B comes out;

"That's it mister! You're grounded! No pocket money on Saturday and the wi-fi is off every night for a week!"

 Is that bullying? Well...think about it...

  • I'm doing it because I can (Tick). 
  • My peer group (rest of the family) say he had it coming (Tick).
  • I don't think it's bullying (Tick).
  • He feels bullied (Tick).
  • There's some emotional hurt in me which is coming out in what I'm doing (Tick)
  • My justification is that he's got to fall in line. (Tick) This last one is the complicated one. I tell myself it's all about him behaving as I want, which is what bullies want. Maybe I'm aiming for a noble outcome, but am I going about it hypocritically? Are my sanctions really justifiable inducements to improve behaviour? Or is there an element of retribution?

The answer is easy. Dress my reaction up any way you want, I'm guilty of inflicting inconvenience, theft, even a form of imprisonment. No room for appeal, my word is God. 

I'm doing it partly because it somehow makes me feel a bit better.

There is an element of bullying about Plan B.

If a child of mine used bad words against me I'd be similarly incensed. But a foster child is a different proposition. If I go into heavy mode, I'm transforming myself into another of the big people who used to impose unfairness on him, in their case for no good reason. If nothing else I'm storing up trouble for myself.


We have to suck it up, along with all the other little things we normally call "bad behaviour" and keep an eye out for slow but sure improvement. It always happens in the end, in my experience.

I've found that thinking about fostering during Anti-Bullying Week has been useful, and I'm better for it.

Mind you, next time I'm up to my ears in a pan of boiled dry spaghetti, the school's just rung to say someone didn't show up today, the dog's been ill on the doormat because I didn't let it out when it wanted, my innards are flushed and someone's just called me a bad word; I may have to count to more than ten.

How many is a 'google' again? 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015


It's 'Anti-Bullying Week' 16th - 20th November.

Usually these 'raising awareness' exercises pass me by I'm afraid; if you're a foster parent your awareness of the specific needs of your looked-after children is so acute you've less time for national campaigns than ordinary folk.

But bullying is different. It's huge, it's everywhere.

It's a global epidemic. It's bubonic. 

It's ruining zillions of lives, it can be fatal. How many more poor bullied teenagers will take their own lives because of it?

It damages the victim at the very heart of their soul. It's perhaps it's the greatest fear in childhood.

We, in fostering, have to pick up the pieces more often than the average parent, it seems to me.

Children in care are sitting targets. 

Our placements, the young people we try to help, are vulnerable on so many counts;

  • Foster children are often small, unathletic, not good at sports. They often have to wear spectacles.

  • They frequently find it difficult to make a best friend, join a social circle or a group.

  • And, crucially, they are different. Through no fault of their own, they are 'in care'. Among other children it singles them out. 

Bullies attack the weak, the loners, those who are different.

Dear God if you remember your Darwin it's Survival of the Fittest in action in the playground.

What are the Professionals doing?

The organisation behind the campaign is the Anti-Bullying Alliance and they've put together tips and hints for bullied children, their teachers, and their parents 'and carers'.

It's worth a look at their site; I doubt there's anything the seasoned foster parent doesn't know but it's good to have one's thinking sharpened from time to time.

Schools will do it as a topic, some will do it well, others will slot it in between the Tudors and fractions and move on.

Our schools are at a loss; they know it goes on, they know who the culprits are and who the victims are (sometimes it's one and the same), at least we have to hope so. But what can they do?

Maybe our community cops will step in at the bus stops, the train stations, the high streets, back allies and playing fields after school with everyone in their standout uniforms that mark them out as fair game. The pupil/community cop ratio is worse than 1000/1.

Then there's the internet stuff. Horrendous; you think maybe the victim could avoid it by switching off their gizmos and watching a Simpsons, but that would only isolate them further, make them feel defeated, lead to more trouble when 'friends' suss they are lying low.

The professionals will do their best. The charities, teachers, police, youth club staff. Daytime TV will have a stab at it. Internet firms will point to their' policies' and 'safeguarding' measures. 

But it will go on. 

In the end who makes the big difference?

The real work is done by you. Parents in the home, and it ain't easy. It roughs up your soul to learn a poor child who's already had more misery at home than anyone should have to cope with is getting roughed up physically or verbally. 

The victims come back to our homes in bits and we have to do the hands-on support and encouragement through the strangled tears.

And we do. 

That's all we can do, but we do it, and it achieves more than anything anybody else does or can do, make no bones.

If you're a foster parent reading this, it's a safe bet you've had to cope with horrendous bullying against your looked-after children. While your social worker will be able to give good advice and support, you're the point of contact for the child, it's always down to you.

If you're anything like me, our help and kindness never seems enough, the bullying never seems to go away.

But you keep going for the child.

What's the opposite of bullying?

It's what you do.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015


How can foster children overcome the shocks they've been subjected to?

If you see your parents at each others throats and get a dread of raised voices how can you watch Eastenders without your gut wrenching?

                                                                          Jenny Drew Something *
If you experienced terrifying loneliness how can you make solid relationships without testing their limits and losing those people who get fed up with your tests?

I bet even you (assuming you didn't go through the trauma of being put in Care) have memories you'd give your left arm not to have? Memories which change your mood without you even knowing?

If you were beaten, derided, starved.


Is there anything we can do to help?


The reason I'm wondering is because one of the shocks that happened to me as a child came back to me in the kitchen today.

I was stirring a tea bag and humming a tune. The tune was "Men of Harlech". Maybe Zulu had been on ITV4 at some point. Maybe the act of stirring made me think of a stirring song. Then I hushed, in case anyone might hear.

I can't sing, you see.

I was told so at school. By an old witch called Mrs Garrard, who took us for singing. Every Thursday after lunch in the hall. I loved it; we'd sing stirring songs like "Hearts Of Oak" and "D'ye Ken John Peel". Great fun.

One afternoon she tapped me on the shoulder, hard and said; "Non-singer! On the floor!"

"Non-singers" had to sit silently on the wooden floor.

My point is that this crippled me for singing for life. I mime in church. As for Karaoke, forget it.

Nothing I can do to overcome it, it's deep inside me.

Luckily it doesn't matter a fig. Learning you're a "Non-Singer" is nothing compared to learning you're a "Non-Person".


In other words, where is the brain's Delete Button.

Would that be great? If you could highlight an experience, click "Trash" and it's gone. I think they made a film about it with Jim Carrey*

I expect there are some rats in a lab somewhere who are having it done to them right now.

And yet. I'm remembering a training session where the human was described as;

"The damage that's done to us, nothing more or less"

It's how come we are individuals, and there' little dearer to us than our own self, warts and all.


As foster parents we have two options for helping with their traumas; talk about them or not talk about them.

We're ever-alert in case they want to open up.  I find they never gush and they don't understand the importance of certain experiences against less important ones.

We never go in head first do we? They take the lead; it's their life and their experiences are their only private property. But if and when they do start a conversation the best we can do is listen neutrally and reassure them that they did nothing wrong, and they are entitled to see their past the way it works best for them. If they have any facts wrong we can put them right, but I reckon that's about as much adjustment as we should make.

The rest of the time we offer the support and celebration of their lives you'd give any child, without them noticing you're feeding their self-belief. Get their perceptions of their traumas to work for them, somehow.

I hope they're not hurting those lab rats, but at the same time I wish they'd hurry up with the "Trash" button.

image kindly provided by Jenny Drew Something:

*Interesting fact about "The Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind": In order to get the right performances from Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey the director took each of them aside.
He told Winslet "This isn't a drama! It's a comedy!"
He told Carrey "This isn't a comedy! It's a drama!" 
Perceptions eh?