Wednesday, January 13, 2016


Our most recent arrival, Romeo, has been with us about a month.

So honeymoon over.

The 'Honeymoon', if you're new to fostering, is the period of the first few weeks during which the child is comparatively co-operative, polite and even-tempered. The professionals use the term 'compliant'; it's more than that in my book.

Cynics use the phrase 'familiarity breeds contempt'. In my book, that one couldn't be further from the truth.

In fostering familiarity (and it's exactly that - think about if: family=familiarity) breeds the opposite of contempt. But love has a funny way of showing itself in foster children.

Once they are confident you can be trusted they push your boundaries. They need to know how far you'll stretch, and what happens when you snap.

It's the Big Cahuna of fostering.

How far do you stretch?

I took Romeo to his first Contact since he came into care. Normally they go weekly to meet a significant family member, starting week one, but Romeo only has his mum, and she's been in serious rehab after overdosing.

Don't get me started on Contact. It's a government-devised law, part of the Children's Act. It means well, but hell, everybody says they mean well and this device needs flexibility. It ain't got any, so foster parents the length and breadth of the land have their job wrinkled by this dictat that we take the children to meet the people who fell short with running a family once a week and we have to pick up the pieces afterwards.

Romeo had spruced himself up and was excited/anxious all the way there. The Contact was happening at a Contact Centre. A Contact supervisor would be present.

I got my first glimpse of his mum, not the frailty I'd imagined, quite a sturdy-looking person, some sort of blue in her hair, tattoo peeping over her collar. 

I sat and waited for an hour. The Contact had been scheduled to happen during school hours so I didn't have to worry about finding a sitter for my other charges.

Afterwards Romeo came out and walked towards me looking untouched by the experience. I got him into the back seat and strapped onto his booster.

I said;

"I've put your favourite on the seat". A banana.  He's discovered he likes bananas. They aren't his absolute favourite, that would be Orange Fanta, but you don't want to throw petrol on a fire.

Golden Rule of Contact for me? DO NOT ASK HOW IT WENT.  Contact is too painful, too punishing, too tender to have it's complex intimacies invaded by a stranger (which, for a few hours after Contact, is what the foster parent is reduced to being; a stranger).

In fact, Contact often reduces the foster parent, in the foster child's eyes, to being less than a stranger; you are part of the dark forces that are swirling around them; an embodiment of their troubles. Maybe they sometimes think you are to blame.

So we drive off in silence. I try my distractions;

"Spag Boll tonight" ( A big favourite)

Reply: "Don't care"

"It's only two o'clock. You ought to go back to school really, but I think we'll call it a day. So when we get home you can have the X Box to yourself"

"I hate the X Box!"

A banana is chucked, with controlled force, against the back of the front passenger seat. Harmless enough, but when you're driving you have to be on red alert. 

A bunch of rude words later the poor lad is squirming in his seat. Writhing, almost, the crossed seat belts suddenly seeming more like a straight jacket than a safety thing. Not hysterical, just wound right up. Then he retched.

"Gonna be sick!" I find a safe place and pull over. He's been sick once before, so I always take two plastic carrier bags (5p each), an old towel and a kitchen roll stashed in the door compartment.

His car sickness is caused by everything in his life, although as we all know, children who are prone to car sickness are especially troubled by being in the back seat.

My other children will be getting home in just over an hour, I can't stay in this lay-by much longer, I've just noticed it's actually a bus stop, and the bus will kick up a stink if I'm parked here when it turns up.

Foster children should always be transported in the rear of the foster parents car. It's more than a bit of advice, it's kind of a rule; Blue Sky are keen on it.

However; there are mitigating circumstances and safety is the key one. 

"I think" says I, "We'd better get you into the front seat".

It was as if I'd waved a magic wand. He was going in the front seat!

He. Romeo Tovares, age eight, of no permanent abode, without father or family unless you count a mother who may have behaved God knows how in front of him at Contact twenty minutes ago. 

He; someone who the universe had decided could not matter less...was going... to sit in the FRONT SEAT.


We drove home in silence, but a dignified one. I knew what he was thinking, beside's hoping that lots of adults would notice this eight year-old man sitting up front. He was thinking that if he behaved himself he might get to sit in the front seat more often.

And I was thinking; watch out for more bouts of car sickness in case they are a ruse to sit in the front seat. But, while some foster children can turn on real tears like they said Shirley Temple was able to, you can't fake being actually sick. 

But mostly I was relieved to get the journey home done safely, and calm some of Romeo's angst. Until next time...


  1. Oh dear. I can sympathise.

    I always thought I'd support contact, then I experienced the emotional fallout from it, it re-traumatises the kids every single time.

    I could go on and on – how even missed meetings or the lack of the promised call, gift etc hurt the child so much.

    There is also so much more than just the actual contact. Olds kids notice that parents didn’t spend any money on them, or give them any pocket money, but are flashing a new iphone/trainers/family/TV.

    Going to the cinema for the majority of every unsupervised contact is a triple whammy - no need to talk, the child is entertained with minimal effort, and full of sugar and e-numbers ready for their return to the carer! Whoop!

    Not taking kiddo to that family event, even when the social workers have told everyone its ok to move an unsupervised contact session so the kid can attend, they notice, they care, they think you didn’t want them there.

    And of course there is usually no chance of doing sensible things like discussing Xmas or birthday gifts with carers to avoid duplicates.

    Ok, enough or I'll be ranting for hours.

    Its something that social services should be reviewing on a case by case basis. One size does not fit all and it always needs to be what is REALLY best for the child and sometimes being allowed to settle and have time away is the best.

    (Also while its probably rare I do know two different kids who can vomit on demand, both needed to work themselves up a bit first but could use it whenever they needed special attention or to get out of something they didn't want to do)

    Hope things are calmer now. x

  2. Love those comments.
    re the vomit thing, maybe I'm doing denial on voluntary vomiting because I need a valid reason to drive him around in the front seat, but that's between foster carers.
    What can we do about Contact? I've never been much good at campaigning, but I suspect it's worth a shot. Nothing gets in the way of good fostering as much as bad Contacts, and most of them fall badly short.

  3. Oh, that was from the heart, and I feel for you, even though I haven't been there yet. It's a bit scary, although it sounds so real - well, it is real - and it doesn't surprise me. I shall ask my visiting social worker about contacts - she's already explained what it involves, and I have a young relative who's a single mum and has had to take her little girl to contact with her father, and describes it much the same way.

    As for me, on Monday three of my grandchildren are coming round with their lovely mum so that my social worker can see how I interact with them. Wonderful opportunity for the six-year-old mischief to embarrass me! Before that, on Saturday, my first Training session. I wonder what I will learn. Lots more I'd love to share, but it will have to wait. Thanks for opening your soul, anyway. Helen

    1. Have fun on Monday with your grandchildren Helen. I mean that literally; the situation could put you on edge a bit, worrying they'll get up to all sorts and you'll look slack, but with children I think it's the three 'F's - be fun, be firm and be fair.
      My trick with training is to spot the 3 things I'll take away to use, maybe big ones, maybe small things. I find trying to get my head around more than three things is a tall order. I used to jot loads of notes, but found I missed things when writing so I don't do that any more, I just enjoy and absorb.
      Let us know your progress, it's great getting to know you.

    2. Thank you - we come from the same place! I'll remember the 3 Fs, I mean of course I try to be those things but this time I'll think about it! I do the same thing already with any training courses I go on, and I'm glad to hear it affirmed. You don't need everything to make a course worthwhile, but if you come away even with ONE thing which is new, or needed refreshing in you, it has been worth going. It will be great to meet other foster carers properly, too. I'm still enjoying the thought of Romeo sitting in the front of your car and feeling like a very special man. If you can do that for a kid, I guess he'll never forget you. Have a good weekend! Helen

  4. Ah that subject is so close to my heart right now! We've had to deal with 3 missed contacts in a row, with mum not showing up and not letting anyone know she wasn't coming. On the last one the social worker even tried going to the house to collect her with no result.
    Poor boys are devastated and feeling completely abandoned, and 10 yr old gets very angry (obviously). It honestly feels cruel to take them there when you know they're going to be let down. Their social worker has been on holiday this week so I hope to speak to him asap to try to sort something out.
    Had a conversation with 10 yr old yesterday when he told me to smack his brother for being naughty, when I said we don't smack he asked if that's because we're kinder than his mum... life just isn't fair for some!

    Unbelievable. Those poor, poor mites, what must they feel?
    Thanks very much Her Majesty's Government, why don't you come down from your ivory towers and give it a go yourselves, you think it's such a good freaking idea.
    No chance.
    I don't want to put ideas into your head, but myself, looking back, I took too long in fostering to start making noises. Then a penny dropped; I'm standing up for these poor children, not myself. And if I don't who will?
    We had a child whose Contact started being a no-show. One time we'd been waiting 40 minutes when a message came; she couldn't make the Contact, she was having hair extensions. I put it to the child and the child said; "I don't want to risk giving her the chance to beat me up again". And Contact was suspended.
    Another time my car broke down on the way to Contact so we had to phone ahead and cancel. Next time the child ventured to say: "I hope the car breaks down again". This was as close a clue as I could get. The child didn't want to do it. Again, it got suspended.
    Good luck girl, remember; you're their champion.

    1. Thanks for that! Since their social worker isn't about I got in touch with the manager who said they would make sure their mum had confirmed on the day or it wouldn't happen... its a start at least, we'll just have to see if it works.
      It might not be as bad if they weren't completely desperate to see her, they really love her and were so let down.
      The eldest said to me tonight that he wished we weren't short term carers and that we would adopt them. I wish we had a bigger house!

    2. I've heard it's called 'claiming', when the child relaxes into a parent/child relationship with their foster parent. He's claiming you and from what I can glean, you are a claimer, which is fantastic, fostering at its best.

  6. It’s a good point SFC, it should always be in the interest of the child. It’s too easy for those on the outside to assume it’s the Carer who is against contact but often it’s the child. Easier for parents to assume its us than except their child does not want to see them, and authority figures can think we are too lazy to take the kids, or can't be doing with the drama the contact creates.

    The truth is that kids often don't really want to be all unsettled and upset by seeing their parents.
    I can't imagine what it feels like for them - I suppose the closest I can think of is when you run into an ex-partner. That makes my stomach feel a bit sick - the flood of emotions that hits the moment you see them; the familiar voice, smell, mannerism, all the little things you forget on a day to day basis. And that’s before they have even said anything of meaning.

    We document everything the kids say about contact, right now all the social workers support letterbox over face to face, but if the parents go to court I want to have the evidence of what the kids said and wanted - even if sometimes it’s not consistent.

    Also I've mentioned it before but I'll share again in case its helpful for anyone, we found doing "The Three Things" a big help on the run up to contact and afterward, especially at 10pm when they have crept downstairs for a cuddle.
    1) Share something you are happy about.
    2) Something you are worried about or feeling sad about.
    3) Something you are looking forward to.
    Carer goes first to get it going and assure the child its normal to have fears.

    Let hope that something is done about this in future. If anyone has suggestions about what the carer community can do I’m happy to help.

    1. Your "Three Things" is brilliant Mooglet, we foster parents mustn't be afraid to show our own vulnerabilities, it must help the child enormously, not only to open up and talk, but to help their internal workings.
      I do feel like doing something about easing the inflexibility of Contact. One thing I think would work is using all the technology that's available, Facetime, Skype, texting. Children are comfortable with screens and many find it an easier way to communicate than face-to-face, especially when things are strained.

  7. Ella here - Eve and I count as grown-ups but we still find contact with BPs hard. I can hardly think of my BF without thinking of being stripped and beaten. I don't know how little ones cope.

  8. Ella; you make us foster parents think harder than anyone I know. Good on you! I have nothing to add to what you've posted, and it needs everyone who reads it to stop and think about your insights. Thank you.

  9. Ella, I read your blog too, thank you for sharing.
    I don't want to drag up any painful memories for you, and I know each child is different, but I wonder if you have any advice about how us Foster Carers can help our kids. Any suggestions for making contact meetings easier,
    or how help them when contact is stopped or reduced, or when parents don't show etc.