Monday, March 28, 2016


Easter doesn't get any easier does it?

The other two long school breaks  kind of look after themselves; 

Christmas is about Christmas so you tailor that around your family's needs including any foster children you have; you decide whether to do the church thing or ignore the religious side, how to do gifts, who to invite round...all that.

Summer is summer. The weather plays a big part, but if the worst happens at least the rain is warmer. People and organisations put on events, sports things, book appreciation afternoons.

But Easter??? 

Two and a bit weeks. Cold, wet and so windy all the daffodils are flat on the roadside. The housework somehow trebles with everyone knocking around spilling things.

The cry "I'm bored" goes up on the evening of the day they break up, and for good reason: Easter is nothing. No gifts, no decorations, cards or tree. No sunny carefree days with the promise of the beach. Just two weeks cooped up with nothing organised and nothing to play with but a chocolate egg, or, if they are unlucky, several chocolate eggs.

I remember my childhood Easters with mixed feelings when I was little.

It frightened me.

I couldn't really understand why everyone seemed to be celebrating by having a Bank Holiday, that a man who we were told was at the very least nice and kind, was nailed to a piece of wood. I vividly remember trying to pin down the time of day when the nailing happened because it seemed respectful to be respectful around then. I remember working out that it was probably around 5.00pm what with all the other beatings and sufferings which came first. Of course back then I didn't know the middle east is four hours ahead of us.

What I'm saying is that theres something in the message of Easter, but we don't explain it very well to children, and I'm not about to try telling foster children about the woes of a man who would be 2016 years old, had he lived.  At least the Lord was convinced he knew where his Father was, right up to the moment he took his last excruciating breath.

The Easter message is something like; remain hopeful and keep striving for a better world. There's no point talking to foster children about religious heaven and meeting all their dead family members, do I need to expand?

Do you know what one very small foster child once said to me, and I shall not be able to write this without crying:

"Will you come and find me in Heaven. I won't know anybody."

We watched the telly a lot. Those poor programme schedulers, all they've got to play with is Ben Hur and Narnia. Then on comes the news and it's real horror happening now, most of it somehow linked to religion. Followed by government plans to change all schools  into academies, then an item about the recent Sats for Yr 6s, which they now concede were too hard. This statement came after the kids felt mauled and useless. The statement was followed by the announcement that in order to correct this error, Yr 6 will take Sats again in their first year at secondary, so something else to get worried about right there kids.

We watched Ben Hur twice for the chariot race, but only because a discussion broke out about whether there was an actual fatality which the wife of the stuntman who allegedly died allowed them to keep in saying it was what he would have wanted.

And everywhere we went on Sunday the people on the tills in shops, which were open, kept saying "Happy Easter". 

If anyone can tell me what that means, I'll come round and clean your house for free.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016


Praise the Lord for takeaways.

Looked-after children love them to bits.

All children do, of course, but they have an extra magic for children who come into care.

Maybe the arrival of takeaway food in their real home meant a reduction of tension, a sense of togetherness and the fact that a key need, namely food, was available in abundance.

This is what happened this week;

Our new placement, I'm calling him 'Romeo' here, which is more sensible than his real name, had to have a blood test, I'm not going to bore you with the reasons why.

I had to take him to the hospital for it, rather than the usual doctors nurse, again there were reasons.

I phoned the school and said he'd be in a bit late, and took him to the blood department for 9.00am.

There were about twenty other people sitting waiting, so we sat, him about four chairs away from me, I'm used to the 'I don't want to walk with you" and the "I don't want to sit next to you" thing, and I don't mind anymore.

It's only when we're out. When we're in the house he's often following me around.

It must have been incredibly scaring for him, especially because he'd had no breakfast. Nothing to eat since the night before,  I'll not go into why.

I'd told school he would probably be coming in about 10.30am, and sure enough we were done just after 10.00am. 

So I asked him what he fancied for breakfast as it was important he ate. I said we could go home for a  slice of toast or cereal,  it was too late for me to do him a full English (his fave). So he looked straight ahead and said;


I'd asked him what he wanted and he told me, so that was that, he'd had a difficult morning.

As we drove onto the forecourt I asked what he wanted and he replied by asking me the time.  When I told him he said we'd have to wait for 15 minutes before the meal he wanted was available. 

Now, I'm going to hold my hands up here and admit I know very little about the whole takeaway scene, but I knew the school were expecting him by 10.30am, the breakfast menu looked like it met every need, and whilst he'd had a difficult morning there had to be something there he could have.


Argument.  No problem, looked-after children sometimes need to let off steam and as long as you keep your mojo it's ok to have a bit of verbal fencing.

I lost. I still don't know why, but for Romeo there was a world of difference between a Mac breakfast and a full Mac.

He won the discussion,  he got his full Mac, he ate it all, parked outside the school.

He won an argument with me, he got a big Mac and fries and ate them while the rest of his class were at their desks. 

If he was able to see himself as a hero, a winner, all to the good.

He got a takeaway, I took a few things away too...

Friday, March 18, 2016


One of the things that makes foster parenting different from normal parenting is the extra effort and expertise that goes into the child's education.

You wouldn't need an Oxford degree to work out that children coming into care are generally behind in their education, but until you see it close up it's difficult to explain how how far behind they can be.

It's not just literacy and numeracy, it's attitude and belief.

Children from normal backgrounds often baulk at going to school, sitting up straight, pushing a pen around an exercise book, doing homework. But they know there's some kind of deal going on; work hard at school and you'll have a better life later.

Foster children have often torn up their contract with the world. They give up, don't want to know.

It's not their fault. Their chaotic home life was probably spent among adults who weren't academically educated, never read a book, knocked school and schooling as a concept, showed little or no interest in the child's education.

When they come into care they have a huge transformation to try to keep up with; their foster carers promote school, praise good work, read to them, watch documentaries as well as Eastenders.

The local authority puts aside money to go to the school to be spent on the child, it's called Pupil Premium, I rate it highly if used well, and we've had a blinding success with one of ours recently.

They can have one-on-one tutorials in their weak subjects, or play therapy, or art materials.

One of our looked-afters was struggling to make friends in the playground. It was heartbreaking to watch her trying to get involved with groups and gangs and being rejected. I talked to the local authority about how it's a shame that playtime doesn't offer support to children like her.

They didn't miss a beat. They hired specialist staff to run a lunchtime club in a cabin. It's taken off so well they have to turn pupils away. They can only take so many and have had to come up with a token system, so popular is the club. 

So many children fear playtimes.

My looked-after, who doesn't know it's really all for her, has been made Deputy Playleader to explain away the fact that she's allowed to attend every session.

This is what can be done for them, and the sort of things we should be doing.

All on top of the Personal Education Plan that tracks their progress and draws up new targets and strategies every term.

Y'know, it's what education should be like for everyone, but while it's special provisions for foster children, I'll grab them with both hands.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016


One of the things that's most interesting about fostering, and at the same time most rewarding, is building the right relationship - that is,  the one to help each looked-after child.

Most relationships that  young people have with adults are well defined, historic. You have parent-child, teacher-pupil, nurse-patient. The exact relationship varies, of course, but everyone is pretty much agreed on the basics.

Grandparent-grandchild, older brother-younger-brother, sister-sister. I could go on.

The fact is that in fostering you start fishing for the right relationship with your foster child the minute they arrive. 

People who've never fostered usually assume you go for one of the parent-child relationships, and for sure that's the foundation of it, usually.

But because the children usually have real parents elsewhere, for whom they have feelings (one way or another), we can't simply take the reins and parent them the way we parented our own children.

In a nutshell; we foster parents have to work out what each child wants and needs their foster parent to be.

And, just as important, what they don't want us to be.

By way of example...

As foster parents there is something we must avoid, in my view, at all times.

Being COOL.

Most children are embarrassed by some aspects of their parents. It might be something that can't be helped; the fact that there's no dad on the scene, or mum drives a knackered car or has a piercing laugh, or dad has an uncool tattoo, or even worse, wears a tie on the school run.

We are unwittingly uncool.

But those things are innocent, it's when we try to show we were young once, or that we watch MTV or that we know how to use a smartphone that we are crossing a clear line.

We must be very careful trying to be their elder sister/brother. 

For one thing we are trying to muscle into one of their most treasured private possessions; their youth culture. We want to keep certain corners of our home private, they want ownership of kidz stuff.

Like when a song comes on the radio and they know the words; I never sing along.

I still act naively I don't know what twerking is, except I'm supposed to disapprove.

I wear slippers in the house where before fostering I wore comfy trainers. I've let the highlights grow out. I dress like I remember my old mum bless her used to dress to pick me up from school, even though I can do better.

I know there are foster parents who can get down, and that's great, but for most of us I think we are somewhere between parents and grandparents. Even a bit uncle/auntie. Sometimes a completely neutral semi-official trained and dependable robot/butler.

Anything but a foster parent trying to be a contemporary or a mate.

A bruvva o a sista, man. A gangsta o a diesel mo. 

I'll shut up.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016


Woke up at four this morning, I thought I heard someone on the landing going to the loo. I've been a light sleeper since other people's children started living and therefore sleeping in our house.  You're always on alert.

It had been a raucous bedtime last night. Bedtimes are spread over two hours, so there's always someone begging another half hour.

 Have you ever heard that riddle "If a tree falls in the forest and theres no-one to hear it, does it make a noise?'

People are often curious about the money side of fostering. They never come out and actually ask;

"What does the job pay?" But it's what they want to ask.

I say "We aren't 'paid' . If it was pay, considering we are on the clock 24 hours a day, it would be about half the hourly minimum wage. As for the justifiable complaints of employees on Zero Contracts,  it's been like that in fostering for ever; no child, no allowance.

An allowance, that's what it is. And before you put it into your personal savings there are the expenses of fostering; you could run up quite a list, mainly the child's food bills (especially snacks and treats, the takeaways). Clothing, toys (mainly add-ons to computer games at the moment, in my house anyway). A scooter is £100 (a stunt one is anyway). You could get pedantic and add the cost of bathwater and the radiator in their room, the petrol for picking them up from school etc.

Of course you are left with an income, but it's not pay, although having said that I paid a bit of tax last year. Nor is fostering a job.  It's more than a job. It's somewhere between a vocation and a calling.

So I'm lying there listening, hoping if it is someone in the loo they don't need to flush because that might wake everybody up. Also I'm trying not to get myself wide awake because if that happens I'll have to go downstairs and make myself a cup of tea rather than lie there listening to the other half blissfully dozing.

There is someone up and about, I heard the bathroom bolt get drawn back and the light get switched off. Which child is it? If it's one of mine that's one thing, you know automatically whether to get up or not. If it's a looked-after thats something different especially if it's the youngest, he definitely deserves me going out and checking he's ok. It's lonely enough being in care, nowhere is lonelier than 4.00am with everyone else apparently asleep. Footsteps on the landing. By concentrating hard I could hear their weight and which bedroom door they were heading to.  It was my eldest. No need to go.

I went anyway. 

And then I'm awake, so it's a cup of tea at the kitchen table, with honey now were are off sugar, what with all the noise about the sugar tax.

And in case you're wondering, apparently there is an answer to the riddle about the tree falling in the forest;

If there's no-one to hear it, there is no noise, because there's no such thing as noise. All 'noise' is, is a signal in the brain that your eardrum has registered a change in air pressure close by.

No such thing as noise eh? There's some scientists who've never fostered.