Saturday, January 02, 2016


One of the carers who posts very welcome comments, Mooglet, has been wondering about how we deal with the problem of real parents who come up short with Christmas and birthday presents.

An interesting one, thanks Mooglet.

I think fostering feels this quandary most sharply at Christmas and birthdays, but it's probably an issue for the child all the year round. We try to give them the normal generosities parents offer children, not just appropriate gifts but appropriate loving care; and they put two and two together and realise their previous experiences weren't good.

I guess we foster parents have to look at each individual case to decide how to explain it and help them with their feelings.

Maybe the real parents don't know they are coming up short, maybe they didn't get much in the way of presents or love themselves.  Our social workers can help by giving us whatever background information they can.

Maybe the parents have financial dilemmas. I can't remember if I've ever looked after a child whose real parents had independent incomes, and, while the government give winter fuel payments and a cold weather payment, people on benefit don't generally get any extra for Christmas; it might not get spent properly anyway.

I remember a child who came to us once, just before Christmas, a teenager. She was going home for Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

We bought her Christmas presents and a stocking-full of nick-knacks, all carefully wrapped.  She said she wanted to open them in front of us on Christmas Eve just before we drove her home.

She said that the previous Christmas she'd been given a Lidl carrier bag with half a dozen unwrapped Lidl things in it; biscuits, a chocolate santa. A 99p deodorant spray. That sort of thing.

She wept with each unwrapping. Gosh, I'm filling up remembering. Her big present was a mobile phone; we'd discussed it with her social worker and it was what she craved. On top of that we did our best to buy her things that matched her aspirations, such as grown-up cosmetics, false eyelashes. We put some thought in.

By the way; her previous Christmas - the Lidl carrier bag - that was from her foster carer. Not a Blue Sky carer I have to say, but a foster carer nevertheless.

The girl said she didn't want to take the presents home and unwrap them on Christmas Day because it would embarrass her mum, so she had awareness.

The concern here is how we foster parents help our foster children deal with the differences between our parenting and the parenting they had before they came into care.

I've always tried to stick to the facts and avoid opinion and try not to seem to criticise the parents; that's the advice we get at Blue Sky. But however you present the facts the obvious implication is that their parents could have been more generous, more loving, more caring.

They can work out for themselves that I do what I think is right, and that I probably think that what their parents did was wrong.

A harsh truth indeed, for some. But it's their truth, I don't upfront it.

Anyway what are we foster parents going to do or say to soften the blow? I'm damned if I'll give up lavishing my own children and family with their usual happy junk in order to protect my foster children from knowing what they've been missing.

Thanks again for the subject Mooglet. Does that seem about the size of it to you too?



  1. A lovely post, I hope you had a great christmas.

    Indeed we do the same, doing and giving what we feel is right, not commenting on what birth family do or more likely don't do.

    What a shame for the girl with the carrier bag. That "carer" does not deserve the word. One of my friends adoptive children (now a young adult) was told by their first carer that "Santa can't find children in care". An excuse for not involving them in the gift exchanges. Shameful and heartbreaking.

    I also agree that the kids are aware of more than is spoken about out loud. The comparison is usually very obvious for them if not for us. Point proved when our teen managed to resist the urge to use, damage, eat or wear everything she was given on xmas day (she burns through gifts in hours usually, from make up to stickers to bathbombs). When I praised her restraint she replied that she knew it wouldn't be broken or have vanished by tomorrow so felt ok saving some things to try out/eat/wear later in the holiday.

    Love all the small steps... and a house not covered in stickers.

    Happy New Year SFC!

  2. Brilliant insight into why the teen used to rush through presents; and great also that she has the self-awareness to know it herself. She must also be aware of what a good place you have given her.

    "Santa can't find children in care", in all honesty, makes me very angry. I can hardly believe that anyone with such uncharitable ways could also have the crude intelligence to concoct such a chilling strategy!

    Happy New Year to you Mooglet!

  3. Hi sfc! I commented afew posts ago about how we'd just been approved, had had a couple for respite and were waiting for a placement... well that placement came in the form of 2 brothers, 2 days before Christmas!They're 10 and 4,so we had a mad dash round the shops on Christmas eve, and they also had presents that had come with them from mum and extended family. The oldest one on Christmas day said 'I think we're the luckiest boys' which broke my heart.
    It's been a real baptism of fire for us as new carers since all the social workers are on holiday, and this is the time of year when everything seems to be closed and the weather is so rubbish! They really struggle to get along together, probably partly due to the big age gap, but it means they can't really be left in a room alone together without a fight starting. It's amazing how emotionally draining it is!
    Makes it worthwhile when you have little successes though, and little hearts drawn in crayon on the bath.
    I'm hoping they'll feel more settled once they're back at school and can get into a proper routine, and they can be given some info on what's happening with them in the long term...
    Thanks for the blog, it's really insightful and some great tips!

  4. Hi Maria,

    How lovely that you’ve been matched so quickly!

    Our sibling pair also fought like cat and dog too, they were old enough for a "get along" reward chart though, and that did help- but the biggest improvement came when they got separate bedrooms. They would say truly horrid things to each other and be so mean I'd wonder if they had any love for each other at all. Does that sound familiar?

    Looking back I think it was partly the example they were used to (lots of raised voices and tension at home) and also they were subconsciously taking all their anger and frustration out on each other as they are secure with one another, but not with anyone else around them.

    I hope this won't spoil the overall lovely honeymoon period, I think back to ours as start singing "getting to know you" from Sound of Music! Take lots of pictures, you’ll want some memories and if the kids do move on or go back to parents they will value those.

    I totally get what you mean by draining. We’d never had kids so it was a complete life change for us. My advice would be to make sure you take some time for yourself, it can be totally absorbing so make room for something else – even a trip to a cinema so your brain can have some downtime! Do you have friends or family with kids the same age? I found our support network really valuable as a sounding board and source of advice. Get them into a clubs or activities if they aren’t in school, that helped a lot and gave us a few hours peace on a weekend while letting them socialise.

    We exhausted ourselves constantly trying to entertain the kids, took us a while to learn to tell them to entertain themselves, not just with TV but colouring books, playing in the garden (yes even in this weather, just wrap them up) lego etc. And set up your expected behaviours now, we picked up, cleaned up and waited hand and foot on the kids early on, now they have to chip in with the chores and tidy up after themselves but flipping to that was harder than if we’d done it up front!

    Good luck!

  5. Thank you soooooo much for the update Maria. And welcome to the world of full-on fostering; the most exhausting, scary, topsy-turvey, fantastical, rewarding, inspiring thing you'll probably ever do - it is for me anyway.
    Wow, 2 days before Christmas, you must have gone at it like Santa on blue sweets!
    They are the luckiest boys in the world.
    Keep us posted on how they pan out with their own relationship; it's going to be hard for you for a while I expect. I also expect you're right that the age difference counts against them being pals yet. Is there a reason for the age gap?
    It is incredibly emotionally draining, yes. I always tell people who ask how I am; I say "I'm pleasantly tired", which is the truth.

  6. Thanks for the replies!
    Yeah we are going to give them separate rooms as soon as we've cleared out the spare room which is currently used for storage! Think it will be good for them to have their own space, and little one always wakes big one up which doesn't make for a good start to the day!
    Think they have just grown up with shouting being the form of communication, their Sw came round tonight and I managed to get a chat with him which shed some light on some of the behaviours we are seeing! Little one is more like 2 emotionally, but he seems to be realising that we will do our best to help him- sometimes he tantrums when I've said yes and I think it's that he's assuming everything is a no! He has speech problems as well and we're getting his hearing checked so communication can be hard.
    I'm happy to wait on them and pick up on them for now, I don't think they've felt cared for and i think bringing food and drinks and clearing up can be such a loving act. When the oldest was talking to his social worker and filling out a leaflet the question 'how do you feel at (foster) home' he answered 'loved' which absolutely made my day.
    We've just had the most lovely evening with them playing together and helping each other so nicely, I think because we've been noting aloud that they shout a lot and saying to both of them (mainly aimed at eldest ) that they can come to us for help when the other is doing something they don't like, and heaping on the praise when they get along nicely!!!
    Evenings like this make it so worthwhile, though it may well be a one off for a while haha.
    We are so lucky that our parents are super supportive - my mums helped me for days out when my partners at work, and we've been for the day at my partners parents so we could crash out on the sofa while they kept the kids amused!! Makes such a difference having them.

  7. Dear Maria;
    Really wonderful to hear all the news, thank you for finding a moment when you have so much going on and are no doubt pleasantly tired.
    I'm 100% behind your strategies. There are those who are in the "Start as you mean to go on" camp, who go for the kitchen table meeting on the first evening where the rules are read out. It might be a winning game, but it's not for me. Like yourself I prefer to start with as much love and support as possible, to calm their senses and literally make them feel at home.
    The separate bedrooms plan is a good one; the challenge of two disrupted sibs who have six years age difference is a big one, but your plan of praising them when they co-operate is a great start.
    Interesting thoughts about your parents, you and your partner are very well placed to crack this nut; the only bit of advice I ever give young people about starting a family is to make sure that at least one pair of parents are no more than a ten minute drive. Never struck me that the same can be said for fostering.