Tuesday, February 23, 2016


I'm not a 100% expert on 'Life Story Work'. That's not to say I don't care for it, far from it, but I'm glad it's one that tends to get left to experts; psychologists and their ilk.

The thing for us foster parents is that our foster children ask us sudden, unexpected and hugely significant questions about their past that need some kind of answer. There's no trained expert in the kitchen except ourselves. We have to give it a go.  

I think a child, especially a young child, who spends enough time in care learns about their past in a series of snapshots. They wonder about all sorts of things, then when they trust us to give kind, thoughtful and truthful answers to their big questions, they ask.

They ask;

"Why doesn't anybody know who my daddy is?"

Or they ask why their daddy is in prison. I actually was asked that question and the little fellow was too young to hear the full story, I was peeling potatoes when he just came out with it.

"Why did my mummy burn all my toys?"

Worst of all for me, this one, from a few years back;

"When it's okay for me to go back with mummy could she come and live here with us so she can find out what a mummy should be like?"

The Life Story teams (as I understand it) have sessions with the child and a session with carers, and put together a joined-up version of the child's life that is age and development appropriate. They give carers a copy of the 'script' so we have answers for questions when they come up.

It also helps carers understand why the child is as the child is.

I was once advised by a child psychologist to always tell a looked-after child the absolute truth but I remember on the way home from that session wondering if he'd told the child there was no Father Christmas from the off?

And how do you answer truthfully a child's questions about God and whether He deigned horrible things to happen to the child? 

Add "Archbishop of Canterbury"* to all the other fostering jobs we do.

I don't think many of us end up with a very accurate picture of our lives, especially those crucial early years up to about 7.

I'm always amazed how many people , when I ask "What was your birth like?' reply "I don't know, I've never asked".

Or even "Why did your parents choose your name". People don't know anything about themselves, why they act as they do, think what they think.

I've transferred quite a few practices that we are trained to learn and apply with looked-after children to myself and my family. Life story work is one.

Just another little benefit from being in this fostering lark.

* Other religions are available.

Saturday, February 20, 2016


There's isn't one single word that's the most important word in fostering. But TRUST is right up there with the best of them.

Last night was a Friday night and our eldest looked-after had asked permission to stay up late on the PC as his best internet friend, who lives in Kansas wanted to play online a bit later than 4pm Wizard Of Oz time. He asked for midnight.

A discussion. No way us two old fogies could manage to guarantee staying awake that long after a long week.

It was agreed that if we were zonked out he'd still shut up the PC and come to bed at midnight.

He said;

"How will you know I went to bed at 12.00?"

I replied; "We trust you".

Then I watched his little face. He pushed out his bottom lip and thrust out his jaw. Nodded at me unblinking, turned and left the room about two feet taller.

He was in bed at 12.05am. I wasn't hard asleep, just in that nether nap where you're not entirely awake but aware. I heard him on the stairs, heard him in the bathroom.

Job done.

But dear God the preparation that went into that show of TRUST:

I've met his Kansas friend, inasmuch as I've seen him talking on Skype so I know he's who he say's he is.

I've listened to their many chats - his door has to stay open when he's on the net.

The PC has all the parental controls going, but best of all we've twinned a tablet to his PC so we know everything he does. He doesn't know this, at least we haven't told him totally, but he thinks the internet is somehow all joined up in our house, not for security - it's a social thing.

Not only those precautions: I double checked every door, front, back and side were locked. I double checked the gas was off. The boiler goes off at ten, I left it like that, I didn't want the house so cosy he'd nod off in his chair and wake confused in the wee hours.

Plus, as I mentioned, I stayed awake myself, drifting in and out until he went to bed.

When he went to bed I resisted the urge to call: "Well done!".

Instead, next morning I casually said: "What time did you call it a night last night?'

He replied casually "Oh about twelve, something like that".

You don't need me to say that he trusts us more now that he knows we trust him.

Would I leave a twenty lying on the hall table for when the pizza arrives?

Yes, actually. Same thing, trust.

Have I lost a twenty like that? Yes, but only once, not to him,  and that was how I learned you can pay by card over the phone.

But I still leave a twenty out, because every time he sees it he  knows he's trusted.


PS, I've just realised while writing this why they call the wee small hours the wee small hours.

Monday, February 15, 2016


We talk about our fostering too much, the other half and me.

I suspect most foster parents find themselves pre-occupied, maybe even a bit obsessed by their fostering.

To be absolutely honest I have no idea if this is a good thing or a bad thing.

On the good side, it means we're focussed on a difficult and demanding job. It means we are striving for the best outcome for the child, giving it our all, concentrating.

On the bad side,  I worry that the things that used to be biggest in our marriage, namely our marriage and our own kids, wider family and friends, have slipped down the list of priorities.

Foster children can be very demanding. Fostering re-defines your family. If you can make a go of fostering it re-defines you all for the better.

A friend of mine is about to move home, her house is being bought by a couple whose daughter is a foster carer, so I got the latest story.

They'd been looking after a young mother with a very young child, it had gone well, the girl was found a flat and moved out.  The first day she was in her flat she was discovered by her social worker at the flat with a man who had convictions, I'm not going into details, you can probably guess, shouldn't have been allowed around children. The child was instantly removed and adopted.

Sharing this sort of information about one's fostering is something I think we should be careful about. You see, I think the young woman in question is the same one who stayed with us a few years ago having had the second of her now three babies taken away. Her most recent foster carer isn't Blue Sky, we're trained in confidentiality, though to be fair, no names or locations came out.

The thing is that my friend was on about how her friend the foster carer has only one topic of conversation. Fostering is a riveting topic. My friend moans about her friend going on about the fostering, but tells me everything she can about the fostering. For the simple reason it's so interesting.

My friend's new friend is currently fostering a boy who only has negative ways of behaving. For example, if you ask him if he'd like a bag of crisps he replies "Obviously, for Christ's sake". My friend says she doesn't know how we foster carers deal with such stuff. I explained that children aren't the finished product, and helping them get on track is the best part of fostering.

Children in care can be hard work,but they can also deliver the kind of joy and rewards that ordinary children don't. They can brighten up every day with their minor triumphs. It happens I have one at the moment who is just on top of gratitude, and it makes me want to do even more for the child just to hear the generous "Please" and "Thank you". 

I'm (slightly) fixated with the job, everyone's fixated with it. Quite right. It's one helluva a job, but my point here is we have to hold onto whatever we had in the first place. If we had a good marriage or partnership, we have to nurture that. Our own children are most precious. Our wider family and friends mustn't think we've gone walkabout.

For the record, the adult girl who's had three babies taken away is pregnant again. But she's not coming here, I've no room at the moment.

Listen to me; fostering, fostering, fostering.

I know it's what the blog is all about.

But I'm going to make sure that, while it's a big part of me, it's not what I'm entirely all about.

Thursday, February 11, 2016


The little fellow has been here now long enough for us to feel he's family, what ten weeks or so.

Our first ever placement was a weekend respite lad, his regular foster parents had a wedding to go to, it was an overnighter and they wanted to give the happy couple their full on.

The boy was a bit angry about being farmed off, so we had some soothing to do, we learned a bucketload from Friday to Sunday, but not how to re-configure our family to accommodate a foster child. That takes time.

About three months I find.

It takes that long generally, ten to twelve weeks, before you know them, and more important, they know you.

It's one of the joys of fostering, when a child who needs stuff they don't know they need knows not only the rhythm of their new house, but the basic ins and outs of their new home.

They learn our humanities.

Not just basics such as our regular bedtimes, breakfast routines, how we allocate the domestic chores, how the house functions. They have started to pick up our dividing lines on what's right and wrong.

They've seen our standards of kindness, respect for others, mutual support, politeness.

They've seen our self-respect, tidiness, order.

And they've seen our normalcy; they've seen me hacked off when the dishwasher run fails and everything comes out caked in baked food because the own-brand  capsules I bought don't break out of their plastic sacs. Or when I can't find my phone when it's three minutes past leaving time for the morning school run because someone has walked off with it to try and play some app game on it and left it somewhere I can't hear it ring when I call it from the landline.

I'm not going to say that this moment of belonging means the end of their troubles and woes. That's something they may never get on top of for the rest of their lives. But when they become 'family' there's a small peace comes over them, and me. 

When I know them as children, as damaged people, there's less guessing has to be done. The release of knowing a new child is profound. You know their little quirks and preferences, likes and dislikes. you know how to bring them round a little when they're upset; "There's a Fab in the freezer and it's saying "I wish someone wanted to eat me".

So; Romeo (not his real name) is joining in. He knows a few of everybody's personal traits, how to wind up 'dad' about football. How to wangle a pre-teatime Fab out of me. He knows where the biscuits are and how many he's allowed without asking and when. 

He bathed himself.

Sounds like nothing put like that, but until now I've been running his bath for him, making sure he's in his pyjamas and DG, tapping on the bathroom door and saying 'make sure you soap up' and 'don't get suds in your eyes' etc.

But two nights ago I just said;

"Oh y'know, you're grown-up enough to bath yourself. Come down when you're done".

It was a TOTAL JOY to see him walk out the living room a foot taller, a man. Someone trusted to run the taps, check the water was not too hot or cold. Wash his hair. Get out and pull the plug. 

Of course the bathroom looked like a bomb had hit it. He used every towel off the rack, and the floor was awash. 

But I resisted the urge to tap on the door.

His bath, his bathroom, his experience, his growing-up in his foster home.

I tell you, every single day there are fostering joys, so small if you're not careful you miss them, for us and for them.

New arrival is on course. Long, long way to go. If only one could bathe away the emotional grub and grime so neatly...

Saturday, February 06, 2016


If there's one little thing that stands our about children in care it's their need for sympathy.

Every two minutes sometimes.

You hear them in the hall, going to put their shoes on. There's a bump and you hear "Ow!'. Then, if you're not quick enough with the 'Are you okay' you get it again, louder:

'Ow! Ow! Ow!'

It's one of the easiest, most satisfying, most productive things in fostering. Giving sympathy for the slight (or sometimes totally imaginary) 'injury'.

Even if you're up to your elbows in potato peelings, you dry your hands and rush over with a look of massive concern and say;

'Are you alright? What happened?'

You get a detailed description of how an ankle turned over, a knee got skinned, an elbow got knocked, a shoulder is going to have a bruise in the morning.

Every single time you do the whole doctor act. It's rewarding for both parties;

'Let's have a look. Oh dear that must really hurt. Let's get the First Aid kit. Now let me see...Arnica is good for a bruise. Maybe some Savlon if you've broken the skin...'

The best, the very best thing, always, I find is a plaster. Carefully place a plaster on the 'wound', it covers up the fact there's nothing much there and means people will go 'What happened to you?' and they can re-tell the story. A plaster is like a medal.

A medal.

They all deserve a medal these children.

Three or four times a year old Queenie doles out her honours to the OBE-ers who wish they were MBE-ers who dream of being knighted. A handful of celebs for services to charity, post office mistresses, retiring civil servants. 

The huge list is very diverse, as Lenny Henry and Ainsley Harriot will tell you.

But no children. 

Help for Heroes quite rightly raises money and awareness for those who are damaged defending us. Their recognition is assured, at least among their countrymen and women.

I suppose there are enough children's charities doing a good job.

But when it comes to the idea that a great many children deserve to have their heroism applauded out loud, celebrated in a big way, with an MBE or TV programmes dedicated to 'How this child is coping with terrible emotional injuries', forget it.

I've pondered a lot about why fostered children are ignored. Their suffering, their wounds are as debilitating as anybody else's.

Is it because the cause of their suffering is right on everybody's doorstep rather than five thousand miles away, or else caused by a random disease we don't know enough about. We know what causes suffering in children who have to be taken into care; it's parents who shouldn't have had children in the first place.

Is it because the world in general prefers to say 'Well they're alright now, they're in care, they'll sort themselves out'.

I sometimes wonder if many adults are secretly jealous of children who they think "don't know they're born, have it easy compared to my generation,  are wrapped in cotton wool". Are there adults who think; 'I'm not wasting any sympathy on children, they're going to live longer than me so what are they moaning about?'

Children don't have a loud enough voice for their suffering, and when they grow up will probably do denial themselves about their early years.

In the meantime the begging for simple kindnesses and sympathy, sympathy, sympathy go on and on and on.


'Are you alright?'

The 'Ow!' does not mean a bump on the knee. The 'Ow!' means 'My mum is unloving, cruel and selfish, my dad is dodgy sometimes dangerous, my brothers and sisters are chaotic, bullying and angry. I'm terrified, I'm angry myself but try not to let it out, I don't know what is happening to me, I'm so sad and confused'.

The 'Are you alright?' from us means 'I'm coming, I'll listen while you explain your 'pain'. I'll tell you how much you must hurt, I'll meet every need you have to be fussed over, to be cared for. To be loved'.

I'll put a plaster on your knee to show how much I care, and how brave you are.

Because brave they are, very brave.

And unsung.

We foster parents  sympathise.

Monday, February 01, 2016


Romeo had been with us, what, eight weeks nearly.

I'm getting my head around his schooling, which in fostering there's a lot of onus on us as foster parents to help and support. This doesn't mean you have to know how to do multiple fractions or conjugate irregular verbs, it's more about encouraging book learning in them.

Not easy. I've yet to meet a foster chid who had maximised their potential academically, they always seem to need help. I've heard stories of bright children in care, and somehow they are all bright, in a sharp way, but it doesn't translate into their reading writing and arithmetic.

The first job is to get them there every morning. Romeo never wants to go. Which of us ever really did? You make a nice warm loving home for a damaged child then tell them they've got to go sit on a hard chair and work hard only to be reminded they're unsatisfactory. Then they're turfed out into the playground where they never seem to have much fun.

Still we're stuck with the system and we've a job to do. I lay his school clothes out on his chair the night before, give him a treat if he dresses himself, cleans his teeth and does his shoes (note to self, get him a new pair of shoes WITH VELCRO). He knows that his breakfast, a slice of toast is wrapped in tinfoil keeping warm on his booster seat in the car, a small inducement, every little helps.

He gets there every morning in the end, does it better with each passing week, but there's still a ways to go.

He's due a PEP. This is when the professionals get together with the foster parent and the child's school to work out what extra they need. There's extra money for a school to spend on a looked-after child, they can get private tutorials, guitar lessons, art materials. I always ask what can be done to help their self-esteem as it seems to me to be the biggest thing holding back their desire to do well in life; they don't think they're worth it. Schools aren't much good at self-esteem frankly. One school, I asked them if they could pin one of my foster boy's paintings up in the hall, they had a little gallery and his work wasn't bad. I saw it up and went to look. It had a sign under it saying:
"Inspired by a lesson held by Mr Smith". I kid you not at all.
Mr Smith is a volunteer "art teacher" who comes in and obviously has more self esteem needs than a child in care. 

I've managed to persuade the school to hold off giving him homework. It was beating him up and doing harm. I wonder if it ever does any good? But we've started reading. He knows his bedtime, he knows he can get an extra half hour if he lets me read to him. Thank goodness there are writers like Anthony Horowitz, I actually enjoy the story as much as Romeo does.

If, one day, he reads for pleasure himself, it'll be good job done by me and Ant.

Meantime, everything else is okay. The little fella is joining in with family stuff. Last Sunday we all sat around and watched a film with the rain beating down outside. The film was about half an hour in, everyone had popcorn and there was a coal fire. Romeo suddenly got up and ran out. We let him go. Seen this before; he was happy and that made him feel guilty.  He crept back later.

I'm going to try to chat with his mother at this week's contact.