Wednesday, December 28, 2016


The most unfathomable question in fostering is; exactly what should your foster child mean to you.

With your own children it's a clear relationship, or at least it ought to be.

Parenting your own child is the most important thing in life. You love them utterly. You want them to be okay, whatever that means, and you know that you'll be tracking them, rooting for them, for the rest of your life.

Why? Because the fact that they are here on planet earth, breathing and living, laughing and crying, was our idea. We planted them here, so if we have any sense of responsibility we'll do everything we can to help them make something of their lives. Which doesn't mean bullying them into having the life we want them to have, but identifying what they want out of life and respecting their dreams enough to get behind them.

Our 'real' children mean everything to us, and dear God trying to make their journey pain-free might be impossible, but it's what we have to do.

I cringe when I meet parents who think their children owe them something for the 'sacrifices' they made for them.


That's our relationship with our own children.

How about the children belonging to other people who we are asked to care for?


Tricky for us, more than tricky for them.

And I'm thinking more and more that the key to knowing what they should mean to us is working out what they want us to mean to them.

Some want a full-on surrogate mother and father. I've not come across that a great deal to be honest.

Many want a strong figure resembling a noble and decent older sibling or grandparent.

Some don't want any familial aura; they want a chief cook and bottle washer who meets their basic needs.

The vast majority want the above three options each to be available depending on their mood and the moment.

So. What should our foster children mean to us?

Well, one minute they are our actual children, especially when the big bad world is snapping at their ankles. Next minute we are someone who can advise the boys on their best haircut now they've moved on from hoodies or josh with the girls about Man Utd's failings. Then in the twinkling of an eye we are their butler/chambermaid, doing their bidding and getting out of their way so they can find themselves as budding adults.

And if that's what they want us to be to them, then that's what each of them are to us depending on their mood and moment;

* occasionally we love them as if they are our own,

* sometimes as if they are our nephews or nieces,

* other times as cherished guests or customers.

In our house recently we've been working on this technique with one particularly mixed-up child who swings this way and that, sometimes several times in a day. We're always on the look-out for which role to play, and find that our feelings towards her match each role change.

But. Underneath all the switchback riding of our emotions is definitely a strong constant;

She means to us exactly what every foster child should.

A helluva lot.

Friday, December 23, 2016


When the schools are broken up fostering is a different kettle of fish.

For foster children everything's "broken". Their home, their school.

On a normal school week your brood are got up and out of the house Monday to Friday, with all the usual moans. No problem.

From around eight/eight thirty in the morning you've got the place to yourself and it's down to what are increasingly called 'Chores'.

The little ones show up again in your life about four, kick off their shoes in the hall, dump their backpack on the mat and vanish to the sanctuary of their own bedroom in order to experience what is now called 'Chilling'.

Saturday and Sunday are different. It all depends on what age foster child/children you have whether you're going to be entertainments manager or a spare part because they have got their social life sorted (for better or for worse).

But when it's holiday time...

All day every day. And the Christmas break is the most interesting because the weather and the early darkness mean they are...


You have your contingencies; X Box helps. If you have Sky there's always a Spongebob on somewhere in planet earth. I say let them get bored at first, then they're marginally more grateful for your (feeble) efforts to amuse them.

Come day three they are climbing the walls.

Time for baking. Why do we bother? We get all the ingredients together, do the bulk of it then ALL the clearing up...

Time for painting/drawing. See above.

I've tried traditional pastimes such as house-based treasure hunts, extreme hide and seek.

Board games. They point out that they are called bored games.

Tried my own pastimes; tobogganing down the stairs on an Amazon flat pack cardboard box which causes great excitement which lasts for eight to ten minutes.

Mannequin challenge (new - and recommended). We used to call it 'Statues' when I was knee high. The last one remaining static wins.

If you're lucky...very VERY lucky, you might get them...talking!

Let the temperature drop, the urgency wane, and sometimes, they chat. I'm not talking Alan Carr here, three minutes of interplay is all you get, but it's golden.

People who are new to fostering hope that their foster children will open up about their lives, but they view their past as a failure and are haunted by the thought that it was all their fault. But when they are around you all day every day for a few weeks on end, they sometimes open up a bit and it's priceless;

Child: "I know what my mum is doing now"

Foster Mum: "What's she doing then?"

C: "Shouting. Probably at my dad."

F: "Really?"

C: "Yeah."

F says nothing, nothing can be a very good thing to say.

C: "She shouts a lot."

F: "What about?'

C: "Everything".

F: "Oh dear. What do you do when she's shouting?"

C: "Well..." (thinks)... I used to go upstairs. But then I started to tell her to stop it. But I used to end up shouting too, so that didn't work."

F: "Did she shout at you?'

C: "God yeah...duh!"

F: "What for?"

C: "I dunno."

F: "What, you mean you got shouted at but you never found out why?'

C: "Yeah. Kind of."

F: "Like you'd done something wrong but you didn't know what it was."

C: "Yeah, maybe. Bye."

And gone. Which was how we learned, one Christmas Eve, why the child was permanently experimenting with disruptive behaviours in order to try to understand what would earn rebuke and reprimand and what was acceptable.

A lucky break, and all because there was an extended commercial break on the blessed Spongebob.

Sunday, December 11, 2016


The song says that Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year.

If you mutter; "Humbug' they shout; 'Scrooge!'

I don't care; much of it is humbug and for the foster carer it's the most challenging time of the year.

First up, did you know that more children are taken into care around Christmas than any other time of the year?

We're told that this is because Christmas throws more families onto the rocks than anything else.

It exaggerates poverty, encourages drinking, magnifies rifts.

It magnifies rifts like this;

A man, lets call him Ricky, has three children; Paris, Ripley and Wayne. He had Paris with a woman called Jade. He had Ripley with a woman called Zizzie. Jade hates Zizzie because she thinks Zizzie stole Ricky. Ricky had Wayne with Fern who is Zizzie's sister. Wayne was named Wayne out of 'respect' for the man who thinks he's Wayne's father (big Man U fan) but isn't.

Paris is currently being fostered much to Zizzie's delight because it means she's a better mum than Jade but jealous because Jade is partying while Zizzie hasn't got a life what with all the bl**ding kids.

Did I mention that all these sad people live on the same estate?

Ricky's mum wants to see both the two grandchildren she knows about to give them their Christmas presents, they're all she's got as her husband has bu**ered off with someone else. However it's a scheduling horror show because no-one can agree on who sees who, when and why over Christmas.

Foster parents recognise this sort of reality from the backgrounds of the children they care for, the rest of the public have no choice but watch Jeremy Kyle to find out about such lives.

Zizzie's current partner, a friend of Ricky, is having it off with someone else too and Zizzie's home is already one with blood on the walls. Having to keep the kids occupied in the run-up to Christmas is hard enough for her but she can blackmail them into good behaviour with threats that Santa won't come.

If only schools went back on Boxing Day.

It's the aftermath of Christmas Day when everything comes to crunch; bored kids, Zizzie suspecting that Jade (the one with the child in foster care) is having it easy because she can lie in until lunchtime then still go to the pub as her child benefit is still being paid her. Meanwhile Jade is envious of Zizzie who is playing happy families. In reality Zizzie's trying to keep up with Jade's lifestyle and is out every night. All night.

Jade will phone social services twice between Chistmas Day and New Years Day and pass on stories Ricky's told her about what a bad mother Zizzie is, which he did to get her confidence so he could get his leg over.

Ripley, along with Zizzie's other children (by different dads) will be taken away from Zizzie for their own safety and taken to emergency foster carers who will do their best to help an abused, frightened and lonely child.

The most wonderful time of the year.

Ripley's emergency foster family have two foster children already. One is a permanent placement who will never go home but is longing to, and knows that his mum and dad are having some kind of Christmas - separately, no-one knows where - which he's sad about missing even though every Christmas he can remember was a nightmare. Their other child will one day go home and is having her Christmas spoiled by her real parents who are trying too hard to over-compensate for their failings by trying to intervene over Christmas with excessive contacts, texting, Facetiming, overspending on presents and hassling to see their child on Christmas Day itself, but not really wanting to because no kids means they can drink to excess, although having kids never stopped them before.

Both children give their foster parents more challenges over Christmas than usual.

The foster parents get through Christmas using the old fostering trick of taking a glimpse of them when they are asleep. All children look like butter wouldn't melt when they are asleep.

Look, Christmas isn't all doom and gloom in fostering, far from it.

I can remember countless moments of pure deep joy. A couple of examples;

The child who laid eyes on the Christmas dinner table where there was no more room for dishes of food and said (I quote) "I didn't know you could have so much food".

The child who, on opening her big present said (I quote) "Is this what it's like to be happy?"

But is it the most wonderful time of the year?

Oh here I go dreaming as I always do, that this year will be the best Christmas ever.

Oh s*d it.


Saturday, December 03, 2016


There's a ghostly space left in a house when a foster child leaves.

There are positives, such as the 'Job Done' thing - fostering is all about helping a child go back home and repair a broken family. Then there's the relief of the reduced number of household tasks and responsibilities that go along with having a foster child in your house.

But the positives are eclipsed by the sense that in it's tiniest form there's been a minuscule death in the family.

Obviously in no way comparable to the real thing. Is there anything more awful for parents than the loss of a child?

But when a foster child leaves there's an empty bed, a spare place at the table.

There's a wheel missing off the family trolley.

We talk nostalgically about Romeo. Sitting at the table eating, if someone mentions football someone will say;

"Good job Romeo isn't here he'd be going on and on about Pogba..."


"Now that Romeo's gone does the kitchen still have to smell of macaroni cheese (his favourite) on Tuesdays?"

Other half and I still lie awake and discuss his prospects, just as we did when he was here;

"He's got a good brain, he could do okay at school it's just that the other stuff is filling his head. He needs some private lessons in..oh no, wait WE'RE NOT HIS MUM AND DAD ANY MORE."

We get a bit gloomy thinking about how it might not work for him back with his chaotic mother, but re-assure ourselves we did our best for him while he was with us.

There were no tears from him when we had a quick goodbye hug before he got into the social worker's car. It was the usual tentative fostering hug, I put my hands on his shoulders and sort of leaned into his space without touching. He just sort of raised his arms and let his finger-tips brush on my shoulders.

Foster children and hugging is something you get good advice about from Blue Sky. It's not a big deal but there are some useful tips I always stick to, mainly to let the children take the lead, if they want a hug fine, just make sure it's a quick social arms-round-the-shoulders hug and then move swiftly onto whatever next, best don't over-do.

It takes resolve not to give in to the urge to want to wrap your arms around them as a protection against the big bad world that has done what it's done to them, but that's you doing what you want to do, and everything in fostering has to be right for the foster child, not just you.

I had a little cry on my own after the car carrying him back to his mother disappeared round the corner at the end of our road.

We have only two rules in our house;

1. Keep waving until the car is out of sight.

2. Do everything I say.

See what I'm doing there?

Good tip that one. I could sell it on EBay.

I'm off the point now because I'm getting that welling up thing all the while I'm thinking about him.

Bloody fostering.

How I love it.

Sunday, November 27, 2016


It's taken a while to realise why our house likes watching "Four In A Bed".

Four In a Bed is a British TV series about a very British thing called Bed N' Breakfast.

At least I thought it was very British until I heard about an internet success called something like "Air B and B" (hope I spelled it right), which gives people the chance to pitch up anywhere in the world and get a bed for the night in someone's home.

With Bed and Breakfast the customer arrives at a strange house and gets shown a room in a strange house where they will sleep until it's time to cautiously creep down for breakfast and meet the family.

So it's obvious now why a foster-home like ours enjoys the programme isn't it?

We sit there and giggle because the main thing that makes the programme fun is that each of the guests run a rival B and B and are itching to find fault with their competitor's rooms and breakfasts.

Everyone in fostering should watch some Four In A Bed in the company of foster children; their comments are so amazing and valuable.

One programme; some guests went on and on about the fact they disagreed with a toilet brush in the bathroom. They said it was a disgusting thing and found its presence down behind the toilet bowl unnerving. The counter argument was ...if the pan is a bit grubby after you've

It kicked off a great discussion in our house about toilet brushes, then the conversation moved on to whether you should flush the loo after doing a mere wee to what you should say if someone turns the bathroom door handle and it's locked...this came out best;

"Won't be long.."

I think foster children love Four In A Bed because it's all about people turning up in someone else's house and having to deal with not knowing how the bathroom works, what the plan is for eating, and having to sleep in a new bed with new noises through the night.

The foster child has the additional nightmare of not knowing who to call out for in the night if their nightmares overwhelm them.

On Four In A Bed you watch intelligent adults lying in bed worrying about what they are allowed to do in someone else's house. They discuss their confusion about what they've been told is going to happen in the morning.

I now watch out for twits on the programme. Sometimes the adult contestants are anxious, fault-finding, thin-skinned and bitchy. Often nasty to each other, partly because the experience of being in someone else's house is unnerving. Spoiled adult twits who own a home big enough to rent out rooms. So different from our foster children torn from their parents after a life of turmoil and suddenly driven off in a social worker's car and stuck somewhere they have had no choice in choosing.

Yet when the Four In A Bed contestants arrive at the place where they're going to spend just ONE NIGHT you can smell their anxiety. It's hilarious. Of course part of their anxiety is that their competitor's Bed and Breakfast might be better than theirs, and they are self-aware of that and acknowledge it by fault-finding as hard as they can.

But when you look at them, uncomfortable in a room because they don't know where the light switch is, are petrified of a rogue hair in the sink, worried about where to store their realise that these half-wits don't know they've been born lucky.

They should close their eyes and imagine they are entering a strange house aged six or seven. Strange adults, new bedroom, new bathroom, new eating.

What questions spiral around in their minds?

"What if there are ghosts here?"

"Does the dad smash the mum about?"

"Is my mummy alright?"

Oh, goodness, and worse; things I'm not for forming into sentences here...

Anyway, like I say, our (mostly) happy fostering house enjoys Four In A Bed. Don't get us started on Come Dine With Me...

Saturday, November 26, 2016


I've got two theories of my own, I've never seen them written down in a magazine or a book, I've never even heard anybody mention them, I don't know why - they seem obvious to me. More to the point they are (I think) important, and definitely useful, if they are correct.

One of the theories is about fostering, the other isn't, but they are linked.

I'll start with the other, it's about the menstrual cycle.

The male doesn't have a cycle, or if they do it's almost invisible compared to a woman's. Men believe their bodies - and their emotions - stay in a level and constant state.

It's become common belief that at one point during the menstrual cycle women's emotions are jiggered about. Not long ago it was subject of all sorts of 'jokes' which don't bear repeating, jokes about moodiness, unreliability and the rest. I'm not going to pretend these things never happen, I'm grateful that attitudes are improving a bit, and instead of disapproval women sometimes get a bit of sympathy. Not enough, but it's a start.

But nature is all about cycles and compensations, and here's my theory which like I said is my own - maybe it's out there somewhere but I've not come across it and I think it deserves airing.

Yes, many women experience a point during the cycle when they are not at their best.


Women also experience a high point at the opposite end of the cycle.

Women enjoy a week where they are ultra calm, deeply thoughtful, amazingly quick witted, stupendously outgoing, loving, name it.

Women, in the high part of the cycle are Superwomen.

Surprise surprise; no jokes about that. No mention even. No mutterings from other halves over a pint about how glorious her indoors is at the moment.

No-one ever notices when other family members are flying.

That's one theory, the other is fostering related, it's this:

Children in care have to deal with horrendous emotions, really awful feelings. Fear, anger, longing, frustration, confusion and many more.

How they manage to regulate themselves to get through the day is beyond me, but bless them they do.

Most of the time.

But occasionally, and there's no denying it happens, they go off pop.

I've never been happy with any of the terms available for when a child finds it all too much for them.

An episode

A tantrum

A wobbly

They are rare, but worth thinking about. We foster parents have to be there for them with whatever safe care practices are right for the child.

But afterwards, I find, something magical happens.

And if you're not vigilant, you miss it.

They have peace.

The letting off steam might last 5 minutes, there might be stamping of feet and words.

But afterwards, for hours, sometimes even days, they are purged. They exude calm contentment - it's a joy to see.

The trick is to look out for it because good behaviour doesn't ping on the radar.

They'll talk to you more evenly and more openly than the norm. They'll sit quietly, eat their food carefully - they almost have that smile in the mind's eye they tell us you get after meditating.

The phenomenon helps me through the letting off of steam, because I know it's a) necessary and b) going to lead to an extended holiday of happy, measured behaviour.

Nature tries to give us highs after the lows, it's a shame we are always on the lookout for the lows and not the lovely highs.

Sunday, November 20, 2016


We're in that limbo state where one of our foster children is going home and nobody is quite sure how to play things.

Romeo, who's been with us nearly a year - blimey, time flies - is returning to his birth mother and things are speeding up because Christmas is always an issue, not just because families need to plan, but because social services and fostering agencies are pretty much on hold for a fortnight so they need to nail things down in advance.

So he now knows. And he's chuffed. Chuffed because, much as he's come to like us, the foster family is no contest for the birth family, and quite right too.

If I'm brutally honest it always hurts a tiny bit that they prefer someone who has abused them such that they are removed into care over a family that has gone round the houses to provide them with everything, make them feel welcome, fit in, and benefit from a peace and harmony which actually from time to time they were the main threat to. But I don't show it in any way or let it get between me and the fostering. It's a human piece of me, this slight sadness, but I try to sideline it because fostering is a profession and the human in me has to come second.

The job is to get them ready to go home, and every child who goes home is a job well done. I had one child, a teenager, I was the only voice who said the time had come for her to go home. I'd met her family, they were up to having her back, and I knew her better than anyone at the time (she'd been with us 6 months, I'd seen her grow up). I got my way, she went home, and the last I heard she was happy as a pig in you-know-what.

The tricky thing is our other looked-after children, who aren't going home.

How must this look to them? How must they feel?

We can't act too pleased for Romeo, that might cause hurt to the others, yet we can't pretend that Romeo going home isn't a result for him.

My headache is how to foster them all through this period; Romeo and the ones who are staying.

Look at it from the stayers point of view; they've been in care longer than Romeo. They know their parents are no worse at parenting than Romeo's. How do they know this? Foster children compare backgrounds with each other. In my experience it's a wholly good thing, not that you could stop it happening. They're curious about each other, and find comfort in talking about what's happened to them with someone who has experienced similar things.

Romeo is going home, they aren't. I had to take as much care explaining this to them as I took explaining things to Romeo. His social worker broke him the news, a proper way of doing it as a) they're trained up to the hilt b) they are the ones ultimately responsible for a child in care c) they like giving children good news - most of their job entails being bearer of sad tidings.

The question that comes up most often in fostering, or at least causes most consternation is;

"When am I going home?"

You sometimes get it the same afternoon they arrive at your home. The social worker sits them down in your house and explains a bunch of stuff and asks if they have any questions, and up comes;

"When am I going home?"

From time to time during general chats, say at the table eating tea, you find yourself talking about their circumstances - their Contact arrangements, their school problems, whatever - and you find yourself asking; "Is there anything else you want to know?"

"When am I going home?"

You want to know how I answer this question? So do I. I struggle, but I try.

"Everyone is working on getting you home as soon as it's right for you"

"There are discussions happening all the time, we're hopeful but don't have a date yet".

"I haven't heard anything new since we last asked, I'll speak to your social worker tomorrow."

You have to tell the truth, stick to facts, but always as kindly as you can.

One thing we can do, and I've decided to do it, is say we don't want to be up for another placement for a bit. Don't want the children who remain to think the arrival of a new child (whether birth or a foster child) is evidence they aren't enough.

When Romeo goes, I'll almost certainly never see him or hear anything about him again.


But until my last day on earth I'll wonder about him, hope he's okay, hope his time with us helped.

But his bed will probably be filled again soon, and the best job in the world goes onwards and upwards.

Sunday, November 13, 2016


The kitchen belongs to me.

Not very politically correct I know, and I would love to afford a housekeeper but that ain't going to happen anytime soon so in the meantime the kitchen is mine.

I got precious yesterday when I discovered  someone had thrown away a J cloth and started a new one before decided it had reached its sell-by date.

I mention this because I was reminded by the J cloth that in a family not everything belongs to any one person; a home is part personal space and part hippy-commune.

We've all got our own clothes, bathroom kit, personal effects.  

Other stuff is everybody's: the sofa is first-come-first-served, the stairs are owned by whoever is on them at the time. No special plates in our house.

Territory is divided up; everyone has their own space, the rest belongs to one and all. Some territory is multi-purpose; for example the bathroom belongs to everybody, but when someone is in there it's personal space.

I mention this because it's a matter that also applies to something much more difficult to divvy up than stuff and space.

I'm talking about family decisions.

Big things like who gets to decide holiday choices (same resort as last year or an adventure?) Or Christmas things (real tree or artificial?).

Little things like what to have for tea tomorrow.

In all ordinary (for want of a better phrase) families, the decision-making process is a semi-democracy. When the children are young they have no real vote but as they grow up consultation starts which grows and their vote ends up counting as much as the parents, sometimes more. 

Right, so you can see where I'm going with this one; because fostering is different. 

Suppose you have an ten-year-old of your own and a twelve-year-old foster child who's been with you a year. Do they have equal say in deciding whether we're going bowling or to the cinema?

Right here and now I'll tell you straight I don't have a formula or an answer, there isn't one. You make it up of the hoof in fostering, just like ordinary families do.

The difference is that while organising family decisions for an ordinary family is a game of chess, organising family decisions in fostering is three-dimensional chess.

So good luck. You need wisdom, psychology, diplomacy, justice, knowledge, cunning, tact...the list is endless. You need strength, singleminded-ness, the courage to stick to decisions and the PR spin to see them out even when they turn out wrong. 

Mostly you need good instincts because you don't often have much time.

And luck, never underestimate your need for luck.

If there is a formula, it's pretty obvious; to put your own views first (you DO know best), followed by your own children's views and needs, followed  by your foster children's input depending on their age, ability, how long they've been with you and how long they are likely to be with you.

I sometimes think that the best person for bringing together a divided UK and a divided USA, reconcile a ravaged Middle East and a warring North and South Korea would be a typical foster parent, but you know what?

We've got something just as important to do.


Been thinking about an aspect of fostering which is huge but while we get excellent training on lots of skills is something that's best sorted between ourselves, namely getting our fostering children to eat well.

A small example is that I've discovered that red peppers (which have plenty of good vitamins) go down well in lots of guises for the simple reason of their colour, which matches pizzas and pasta. 

Thursday, November 10, 2016


Fostering takes it out of you, no bones about it.

Yesterday I was making one of mine their school lunchbox.

The Holy Grail of the lunchbox is one which comes home empty.

Never happens, not with this particular child. Took me ages to work out why; it's because he was starved at home, used to raid the kitchen bin and hide scraps in his bedroom,  so for security needs to keep some food available for emergencies.

So here I am making a sandwich, that's all - I could knock up a sarnie in my sleep, blindfolded. In ten seconds.

Not for my foster son's sandwich, oh no.

First up is the bread, it must be white. But I cheat slightly in the name of healthy eating and use the off-white 50/50. 

I spread the Flora with ridiculous care. Not too much to make it sloppy and top heavy with dairy - I scrape the margarine evenly into the perforations in each slice and use any excess on the knife to spread it right up to the crust edge. 

Then a slice of ham. It's cheap supermarket packet ham, but it mustn't have any honeyroast edge to it, that's disliked.

Then a sprinkling of cheese. Grated cheese, not sliced or cut. I buy packs of ready-grated (mild)  cheddar rather than grate it myself, their machines do it so neatly and it saves washing up the cheese grater which is always a pfaff.

I press down the other slice on top, now comes the tricky bit.

Trimming off the crust.

Bread has an annoying contour of curves, so there's an annoying amount of waste. Annoying because I usually snack the trimmings which doesn't do the waistline any good but it's easier than carrying the bits over to the pedal bin and anyway I don't like wasting food.

That done I have to manipulate the two halves into a sandwich bag which calls for care or else the assembly falls apart.

Next; make another one. Because foster child said he liked the sandwich yesterday (he's been mainly on shop-bought sausage rolls all year but I forgot to buy some and it was too late to get to the shop so I made him a sarnie instead which he said he liked but it wasn't filling enough so he asked for double). 

Repeat the procedure all over again.

Sandwich took ten times longer than normal. 

Does all that attention to detail matter? 

Yes, yes and yes again.

If you know why, either you're a foster parent yourself or you would make a great foster parent.

When I take this child to Contact with his mother she complies with the requirement to bring her child something to eat. She buys the cheapest plastic-wrapped sandwich from the corner shop near the Contact centre and gives it to him in the carrier bag. 

No love in that, in fact it's an insult to him in my eyes. I want to tell her but it's not what you do at Contact, your job is to promote the parent to the child, or at least protect the relationship from deterioration.

Whether he knows or knows not the pains I go to to make his lunchtime food by hand - and with love - I know not, but giving love in as many ways as possible is what it's all about.

I think of him around midday and wonder what he thinks when he opens his lunchbox. And when he gets home one of my treats is to open it and see how each day's menu went down.

The Holy Grail, an empty box, will one day be mine.

Words can't express how much it will mean, not merely his appreciation of the food, but the arrival of a sense of security in the child that he will always be properly fed, in my house at least. And that someone cares.

But like I say, fostering is taxing because you're trying that hard all the time to help in every tiny way.

And like they say, nothing worth having is easily come by.

Sunday, November 06, 2016


We haven't got a conservatory, but I have a liking for rain on the roof when it's dark outside. So some wet evenings I take a glass of wine and sit in the car on the drive with the radio on.

I'm "chilling".

We used to simply "put our feet up". Then we "took time out".

Now we "chillax".

So here I am, rain pattering on the car's tin roof, laptop propped on knees, glass of Sainsbury's red precarious in the little cup holder, Classic FM on.

BTW It's legal because a) the car isn't on the road it's on our driveway b) the engine is off; the keys aren't even in the ignition.

I always make the mistake of sitting in the driver's seat for this treat even though there'd be more room if I sat in the passenger seat.

A psychiatrist would say I do this because I like being in the driver's seat. We all like to be in the driver's seat don't we, in life?

The trouble is we're not.

Like the Beatle said; Life is what happens to you while you're making other plans.

This couldn't be more true of anybody than foster children.

How can we help them make plans for the future when we have no idea what the future holds?

In or out of Europe? How big a dodge-pot in the White House?  What next from terrorists? These big things affect their future and they're all up in the air.

Then there are uncertainties closer to home and part of our comparatively smaller lives; what sort of employment will be available? Will health care cost? Will schools be any good - will schools exist as we know them? Will there be social security? How will they afford a flat never mind a house? What will happen to them if they start a family?

There have been huge changes in everything in our own short lifetimes, and the pace of change is accelerating.

When did cars stop having "Running In Please Pass" signs on the back window? It was an excellent way of showing off that you'd bought a new car instead if a used one.

When did gravy stop being gravy and start being jus?

My grandad told me that the phrase "Hip Hip Hooray!" used to be "Hip Hip Hip Hooray!" when it was used by the upper classes and the change to 2 Hips instead of 3 was used as a social distinction.

That was when we only had 2 classes; Lower and Upper. Then we had 3; Upper, Middle and Working. Now we have any amount of classes and groups of people, including the awfully entitled Underclass. I read that farmers are now regarded as a separate class.

My own take on the Brexit vote is that the country is evenly divided into 2 halves; 51% of the population are broadly dissatisfied with their lives and 49% are broadly satisfied.

Looked-after children are a class apart in so many ways.

What more unexpected bad news must these poor little mites fear the world is waiting to inflict on them as they try to make a life for themselves?

And the worst of it for us is...we carers can't advise them much, because we haven't the foggiest.

The deal used to go like this; work hard at school and get some good grades and you'll get a good job and be a lot  happier than if you flunk out...

Does that deal stand any more? Did it ever?

I sometimes use Waitrose for a quick shop as it's on my way. The customers in there ought to be reasonably happy; they are mostly middle-aged-to-elderly and well-heeled. They have done alright, went to a good school most of them, got their exams, got a good job.

But they are mostly a damn site more miserable than the average joe. So even when the deal was on offer, it bit them on the bum, because they aren't happy the way things worked out for them.

Down at the other end of town is the park bench where  a group of people, mostly men but a couple of women too, meet in the morning and sit and chat. Some drink lager openly, I expect some of the others are doing other stuff. They aren't happier than the Waitrose customers. They're not unhappier either.

Mind, the morning drinkers laugh a lot more, though that's probably just the booze.

Children who go through care don't often end up with good qualifications.

They often end up with below average social skills, and a low work ethic - especially if they have to work for someone else because they frequently have issues with authority.

In my experience a great many cared-for children end up in driving jobs or shop work, and those are the very jobs which are threatened most by new technology. Driverless cars and trucks are on the way. The internet is killing the High Street.

The future isn't lurking out of sight a hundred years up the road; it's not even a generation away.

It's 2017. Which will be very different from 2016.

I suppose you could tell yourself it's not the foster parent's role to fire them up with hopes and dreams, and to be fair the last time I looked at Maslo's hierarchy of needs I didn't see any mention of strategies for finding fulfilment in an unknown future.

But he does talk about a higher need to be a member of a close bunch of humans who all need each other, so that when you need help they give it, and when they need help you give it, and actually that last bit is the most profound need. To help others.

So back I go into the house having reminded myself that however uncertain the future of employment, state aid and housing the big thing we can teach/advise our foster children is this; find or build yourself some kind of a loving family and/or a tight groups of loyal decent friends.

Which I suppose is how we try to organise our foster family.

Monday, October 31, 2016



You get them in fostering, boring it isn't.

Our newest arrival..the one I've called 'Romeo' on the blog?

The one whose mum had to decide between him or her latest bloke since her latest bloke was considered a risk? The one whose mum went and chose the bloke? That child. That poor discarded little mite.

He's found his groove with us, got a bit of traction on life. He fits in, enjoys our routines, responds maturely to the normal disciplines of a normal house. By which I mean he moans about bedtime, moans about there always being something green on his plate, has been known to lob a remote control across the room if whatever he's trying to do on the X Box goes pear shaped. And sulks when he's banned from it for 48 hours for the lob.

We like him. He likes us. He's on the way up.

There's been talk of permanent placement, after all he has nobody; real father has vanished, no other relatives to speak of, mother shacked up with a drug-doing, possibly drug-dealing reprobate complete with Asbos, convictions, convictions pending including contravention of a Court Order and carrying something allegedly with intent, who is believed to have several other offspring from other 'relationships' dotted around several different social services.

The mother wants Romeo back.

The story we hear is that she's left the bloke, and says she's mended her ways.

These are the occasions when we have to remember that we foster carers are first and foremost, professionals.

Professional parents. And while the business of being a good parent is so demanding and complex it's way more of an art form than a science, there are times when we have to be cool and collected and push our feelings into the right place.

We have to remember that the job in hand is to get them ready to go home. Even when our heart aches, our fears are running riot in our head, our reservations are real and profound. We are part of a system which on the whole is fantastically thorough and deeply caring.

The decision-makers will decide and we have to support that decision and do our darnedest to make it work.

I might have misgivings about the woman's suitability to parent, not to mention her motives for wanting her son back (accommodation, benefits...), but if it happens, my job is to conceal those concerns from him, which at the moment is what we are doing - he has no idea what sort of discussions are taking place.

If and when he goes it will be heart-breaking for us, yes. But how do we want him to feel?

This is a big question. Do we want him to feel sad to leave? We instinctively want him to have appreciated his time here and therefore miss the things he's not likely to get when he goes back to a troubled mother. Or do we want him champing at the bit to get home (wherever home is)? Or a bit of both?

The fact is it's out of our hands. We could go extra-kind and generous to help him store up some emotional strength and well-being before he goes. Or we could begin to neutralise so that whatever attachment may have developed isn't overly weighted to the point of risking damage to his next step in life.

But I suspect it doesn't matter much how we approach the departure, so we'll carry on as before; providing material needs first and a consistent, caring, loving environment second.

Because one thing you notice quickly in fostering is that it doesn't matter how wayward a child's biological parents are, the child has a longing to be with them that is as powerful a force as anything in the Universe. 

Forget gravity and Newton's second law of motion.

The pull a child feels towards mum and dad is so seismic that if it could be harnessed it would solve the eternal mystery of perpetual motion, so it would.

So I fully expect Romeo to dance off with a song in his heart, full of hope.

That said, there'll always be a bed for him here.

That old Chinese saying for parents sometimes applies to fostering; 

"Let them go and every path they take will lead them back to you". 

Monday, October 24, 2016


We had an interesting one this weekend.

One of ours has started going into town and leaving his mobile phone switched off, which means we can't track him.

What did parents do before Apps like Find My Phone and Find Friends?

We used to sit at home twiddling our thumbs worrying our socks off about where they were and who they were with and what they were doing.

Then, suddenly, you get them a mobile phone - which they are desperate for - install a tracking app and blimey, you can tell which shop they are outside or which friends house they are at to within three feet. Brilliant!

But obviously, it's not what they want. Not what I'd have wanted as a child. Big Brother watching your every move.

The whole point about growing up is  getting away from the apron strings.  Learning to stand on your own two feet. 

There's even more to it than that; it's about freedom. The sheer exhilaration of being away from parental gaze, the rush of knowing that there's no-one zeroing in on you. In fact, it's a hell of a buzz to realise that the main person looking after you yourself.

So we, as parents and foster parents have to let this happen, stage by stage.

And it's agony.

Not because your little ones are flying the nest, or at least beginning the process that will result in their departure, but because we worry.

By God don't we worry when we don't know where they are, the first few times. 

Actually, not just the first few times, we worry about them all the time when they are out of sight, no matter how old they are.

Now, getting back to the one who's deliberately switching off his mobile so we can't see where he is.

We let him. 

It's one of those fine edged judgements which in fostering come at you thick and fast.

In his case, we decided he is broadly speaking responsible enough to behave wisely. So far so good. He doesn't want to be the only one of his friends who is being tracked. In fact, we tend not to call him or text him because, again, it's embarrassing if his phone goes off and it's the bloomin' parents checking up on him.

Here's the bonus; he knows that we are giving him this slack, and he's quietly grateful, respectful even that we are showing him this much respect.

So job done.

Mind, I'd still sooner know where he is. Save me standing at the living room window watching out for him coming home, and then, when he appears, ducking out of sight so he doesn't realise I've been worried sick.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016


That song that goes;

"Words, 'cos words are all I have.."

It's not true. 

I've come more and more in fostering to use silences.

Not say anything. It's not easy.

All day long you feel you have to say something, but if someone wrote the things down it'd sound like a litany of negativeness:

"Don't walk in here in your shoes."

"Take your bag upstairs don't just leave it there."

"Leave your phone in the hall like we agreed".

"Bring down your lunch box so I can do it for tomorrow".

"Why didn't you eat all the apple?"

And...the worst, stupidest question we can ask, but I used to, day after day:

                                   "Did you have a nice day at school?"

Oh sure we spout a lot of positives too, but a looked-after child can hear a negative in anything.

Some time way back, I learned to keep the trap shut unless called for. Not easy. The urge to speak to a fellow human being the moment they appear each morning or come in after a day at school is huge. It seems friendly - but look at what it turns into.

If children want to talk, they are best served by waiting until they say something. They're sleepy in the morning, knackered after a day of book learning. We can easily start to sound like naggy teachers.

We went on holiday with another family once, he was a primary school teacher. Every morning he would say things to his kids such as 'Have you combed your hair this morning?' Cripes, it was supposed to be a holiday, but he couldn't kick the habit of being on everyone's case.

Nowadays I don't say a perky "Did you sleep well?' or "What would you like for breakfast?"

I say a cursory "Mornin'" and plonk brekky in front of them.

But there are more important silences. 

Do you remember, if you've ever been lucky enough to fall in love, how you reached a level of intimacy where silence between you was a bond. Well I try to use the same gesture of the unspoken bond. The car is a good place for it. I drive them to and from school without my yak yak yak like I used to keep up.

I realised that sometimes I was talking to them because it was what I wanted. Maybe even what I needed. Sometimes you can be at home all day with nothing but the radio and when someone (anyone) materialises it's tempting to chat. But not necessarily what they want.

Now I bite my lip if they come in with scuffed or muddy school shoes, I clean 'em up without a word.

But if they remember to bring the empty crisp packet down I say;

"Ta for that." Nothing more, no big deal.

I try to talk when and where is right, not because I need to.

I don't go hunting for conversation. 

Or fishing for happiness or smiles, if they come they come.

There was that other song; "Silence is golden..."

Sunday, October 16, 2016


Our new placement isn’t really ‘new’ any wore. Blimey, where’s the year gone?

We find it’s really helpful to look back and try to identify the progress that’s been made. Progress almost always happens but if you’re not careful it’s easy to simply foster in the here and now.

Here and now is good of course; it means you’re in touch with the moment and children live in the moment. You have to try to be aware of what they’re thinking and feeling all day long so you’re ready with the right responses.

But, that said; it’s SO important to look back and remember where the child was when he/she arrived, and remember the tribulations which kicked in after a week or two, as they usually do.

Romeo (not his real name) arrived all sheepish and shy understandably. The first job was to get him comfortable with us, his space, the house in general.

As soon as that was done he showed us he felt at home by going into ODD mode. (ODD = Oppositional Defiance Disorder). Everything was not quite right. Nothing was good enough. Anything anybody said was stupid and infuriating. There’d be tears, he’d have to go to his room and calm down, which 9 times out of 10 he did.

Those days are (nearly) all gone.

It’s been a long year from that point of view. But thinking back, he’s gone up a notch almost day by day.  Various reasons. One is that his mother has cut him off. She’s chosen some druggie misfit over her son. At first he was so, so sad, and showed it with anger and outbursts.

On the plus side it means no more Contacts, which is great. The woman often didn’t show up. When she did she complied with the suggestion she bring some snack food for her son, so she’d nip into the cheap corner shop and buy the cheapest plastic wrapped sandwich and a stick of chewing gum. The thought of buttering some bread in her own kitchen, showing her love by making him something to eat, never occurred.

Back in the darker days of episodes the whole family pulled together. One of our longer-term children actually said to me “I remember when I was like that”. To which I replied something like “Let’s hope we can help him do as good a job on himself as you’ve done on yourself.”

Children in care are almost always permanently in need. Their lives are in turmoil, no matter how perfect the home we give them. So, if you’re a carer your yesterday, your today and your tomorrow will likely be bound up in the child’s turmoil, and that is hard for you.

But we have to stay strong and importantly remember how far they’ve come.

And, come to think of it, how far we’ve come too.

Monday, October 10, 2016


I can't remember exactly when our eating habits at home changed but it's got something to do with fostering.

Way back, like most young families, you could knock up a meal and everyone would eat it. Portions would vary according to age, and sometimes someone would have to have beans instead of tomatoes.

Tomatoes, if I remember correctly, were about the only really upsetting item for young ones.

I didn't bother with the other things children hate such as parsnips or liver, I'm no great fan myself.

Mushrooms are a grown-up taste too. That was about it, unless my memory is playing up.

No-one had heard of food allergies, no-one was on a complicated diet, no-one was vegetarian, at least not in our house.

When I started in fostering the menu went; 

Monday - cold boiled potatoes and bits of lamb left over from the Sunday roast, frozen peas and a pudding.
Tuesday - sausages, boiled potatoes and baked beans + pudding.
etc, through to 
Friday; Fishfingers and er...boiled potatoes and frozen sweetcorn + pudding.

I think I'm right in saying the first dent in the regime was pudding, which vanished from the menu mainly so that people could get down from the table all the quicker and get on with TV.

Then pasta appeared. And pizza. And curries. And with curries came rice. 

Followed by quickie things such as chicken dippers, hamburgers and oven chips.

So much variety! It wasn't long before variety led to...fads. Picky habits...

Which in no time meant, for the cook, that instead of boiling enough potatoes, two sausages each and a pan of peas, you end up, as I did last Friday;

Roast chicken wings in sweet chilli sauce with oven French fries fried rather than baked because fried oven chips taste and appear more like the McDonalds.

Baked cheese and tomato pizza (vegetarian) with cherry tomatoes and cucumber sticks.

A bowl of Alpro soya yoghurt (dairy free) with soft fruit and gluten-free granola (calorie controlled meal)

While me and the other half had takeaway fish and chips. Otherwise it could easily have been five different meals (we've only got four gas rings, one oven and a microwave).

It's changed, the whole thing of family mealtime, because even if I can time all the meals to be ready at the same moment, everyone is so doing their own thing food-wise it's almost putting a wedge between us all even if we're squashed round the same table.

Of course we do eat together a lot (Sunday roast is enjoyed by all, as long as there's a quorn alternative for one).

But it's changed, has family eating. For the better? Well, foster children have usually a history of problems with food. It might have been that they never saw a meal cooked in their house or maybe sometimes food wasn't available. I had one child who had food used as a punishment. 

We have to do our best for them, and that means sucking up changes. Mealtimes are a happier business with everyone's needs given a bit of thought and kindness.

Same with family screen time; not long ago we'd all watch Neighbours together, scoff the same meal together, then watch the Crystal Maze together.

Nowadays we eat differently, then go off to different corners of the house and do a bit of homework then dial up our best new friend in Ontario.

I texted one of mine not long ago to say tea was ready, come and get it. Easier than shouting up the stairs and anyway she would have had headphones on.

As long as they're (reasonably) happy, I'm happy. As long as they go on making small progressions I'm over the moon.