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.


  1. Hi, Spot on as usual.
    Bright One was tough and tear-free for months.... then we saw an almost overnight change. Every bump caused tears and she'd climb into my lap like a toddler wanting comfort. Took us a while to realise she was trusting us enough to show when she was hurt and vulnerable. We keep in a big stock of that pain gel (the muscle stuff) for all those random hurts that you can’t see, and those throat sweets as we seem to have sore throats a great deal too and pastille makes it all better! Last few months she's gone back to being a bit more strudy, and we think thats a good thing - she knows she'll get attention when she needs it and doesn't need to constantly be assured we care.

    There was also the time she asked me if I'd shout if she was sick. And would I clean it up? Once assured it was fine, and yes we'd clean up - she immediately threw up all over herself and her bed. Next time I'll know to say yes only once we've got to a bathroom!

  2. It's a surprise the first time it starts happening, you think for a minute every inch of your home is a Health and Safety hazard.
    Then the penny drops.
    Makes you wonder what kind of responses they got at their real home.
    the parents of looked-after children I've met often seem in need of the same TLC, probably didn't get much when they were kids.
    Let's hope we're helping to break a cycle.
    One other thing I expect you do too; make a point of asking next morning;
    "How's your ankle/knee/elbow/wrist"

  3. Well, that's interesting. I shall be good at this because I do it all the time for my grandchildren. Not that they're in any way deprived or ignored at home, but being at Nana's is a bit special. She is guaranteed to have time for you, even if mummy is sometimes busy, or expects you to have grown up a bit. She's totally geared to making you happy. I guess as foster carers we do it for a different reason, but it's the same time. Especially good if it's a Hello Kitty or Peppa Pig plaster, I have to say, and it will probably need replacing after an hour or two as it will somehow come off. But it's all part of the reassurance of knowing that to someone other than mummy you are very, very special, and they hurt when you hurt. It's good stuff. Helen

  4. Y'now something Helen, this is the absolute truth. Not long after I started fostering I said to my social worker; "I think the ideal relationship between a foster child and a foster parent is that of the relationship between a child and their grandparents. True.
    I think you may know what I meant. I still think it's true.

    1. Oh yes, I absolutely know what you mean, and that's why I'm going down this route. It's reassuring to know that some of my skills are transferable! Helen