Monday, April 25, 2016


Most children have lots of ups and downs with friendships, adults less so.

Children change schools and classes, maybe move to new neighbourhoods, lots of transitions.

One of the things that happens to us when adulthood finally arrives is that we know who we like and who likes us. We know why, instinctively. As grown-ups we don't waste so much time experimenting with different sorts. We experience less rejection, less need to sidestep others; we know who loves us in the friends way, and who we love back.

But for children it's  really hard work. If they are lucky they attend the same primary school throughout and get comfortable among a set of about 30 contemporaries. They might be lucky and belong to a family who has permanent family friends and they strike friendships with mum or dad's friend's children. Then there's relatives; cousins and the like, and neighbouring children.

Ordinary kids get a lot of exposure to other children and lots of chances to make friends. And enemies, come to think of it, which is all part of it. They get to learn what works and what doesn't, which sort of person they click with and which sort to give a wide berth to.

Children who come into care have often had so much on their minds they've had to neglect learning how to be friends. It's always struck me how far short of the norm foster children fall with the friendship skills, but it's not surprising.

The chaos which is common in their home can give a hard edge to their personalities which ordinary children often find difficult to work with.

Looked-after children have often lived in homes where the relationships were abrasive rather than connective, hardly surprising they don't click with anybody outside their family.

Their family was unlikely to be extended: grandparents, uncles and aunts, visited rarely if ever, depriving the children of learning experiences.

They get filled with anger and a need to control, so if they do fall into a group of same-age youngsters at the skatepark or the playing field they go for confrontation and control and that doesn't win friends.

So what's the foster parent to do?

I don't think we can do much, sad to say. 

Social skills are almost musical. Most of us know how to create some kind of melody with the people we are attached to, it's definitely not a science, there's no formula for how to make friends. You cannot teach it.

And the longer they go being outsiders and loners, the harder it gets. They get noticed by other pupils in the playground mooching around on their own, and get singled out for comments and derision, which they don't need or deserve.

We do what we can, don't we?

We invite their classmates to tea after school. Maybe we set up cinema visits or tenpin bowling. 

I've found looked-after children having more success with internet friends than face-to-face people, which leads me to a nice quick story.

My looked-after-child B had never had a 'bestie'. Then, just before Christmas child B hit it off with a kid in Seattle. I don't know the American kid's full story but it seems likely that American kid has had to deal with some stuff too.

Looked-after child B has grown and grown in this relationship with American kid. I listen to their chat (we've got all the controls in place, our iPads are twinned with all the other PCs in the house, but best of all; looked-after WANTS us to know what's going on. Plus, we can SEE the American kid; kid is who kid claims to be and deffo not some smutty adult).

So. Here's the thing. After a long, long period of coaxing, encouraging, hoping and praying that looked-after- kid B will hook a friend, this happened:

We pulled away on the school run heading for home today at 3.20 and I got this;

"I don't know what to do. Karl has asked me to go to the skatepark,  but Libby has asked me to play with her at the playground."

Wanted advice about which friend OF TWO to play with.

I can't find words to express how much this meant for the child, and for me and the rest of our family.

This fostering thing, it can be a best friend you'll ever have once you learn how to love it, because it loves you straight back.


  1. That’s wonderful, clearly on the right track.

    It’s something that we take for granted usually, but supporting and building friendships is so important to foster children. One of those skills they can take with them into adult life. I have found with the older kids they are often better at socialising with adults, or very young children rather than their peer group.

    And of course its not just foster children who struggle with this, many children from difficult backgrounds, medical problems or additional needs can also have issues forming and navigating the politics of friendships. My hubby works with children in a bottom set (many are LAC, SEN, ADHD and other acronyms), one of his 11 year old charges was recently asked who he classed as his good friends - he listed a few classmates, and my husband. Sweet yet also very sad.

    1. Very sweet. And very sad too.

      I agree with your point about foster children finding older kids or younger, or adults, easier to build bonds with.

      I winder if it's in part a self esteem problem as well as lack of experience.

    2. Winder is so much more interesting than wonder...

  2. I have been and continue to be a foster carer for our local authority for 20 years to date, We are a married couple and we are both registered foster carers so we have the ongoing training that comes with it but in my mind the "looking after" is the best training you can ever have as they is always something to do that you never thought you will need to do, over the years we have lost count of the children who have had living with us as part of the family and regularly see the children who come back to visit for tea as this is an ongoing process for all of us i think.
    I am now 58 years old and due to recent changes made by the current government i now find myself seeing out my last month as a foster carer and the same goes for my wife, I will soon be on a government job course to find payed work as in my last job the company folded.
    All the training and experience we have brought to children over the many years will be lost but we have little choice in the matter as new government changes for married carers are stringent, I will soon be working in a charity shop and my wife will be learning how to stack straws (team building). Although we are not private company foster carers i know of many in my position who will be leaving the fostering services ran by local authority's ,Over the many years we have seen big changes with the 1989 CA etc but today we see the children who went back home who are now in the same position as there mum was in and so the children go into the carer system, this is what happens when you have been around for so long, we see constant change in staff, constant change in social workers, adoptions done faster and the main push is costs as many children are returning home when the situation has changed very little. decisions made that deify common sense with little or no come back for the ones making the decisions and the child paying the price. we see mums and dads demanding 7 days a week contact yet when at home they were left alone for days on end so we call the 1989 CA the 1989 parents act in some cases, parents demanding taxi fares as they refuse to use a bus pass to get to contact,Yes many things have changed yet the damage to the children has not and continues to be constant and we are now seeing in our area the highest demand for childrens services as the numbers of children removed has passed its last all time high and children removed from private carers to council carers with little thought of the child's well being as some one said it will be cheaper!.
    Some parents who refuse to sign the section 20 have the children removed anyway as they refuse to take the legal undertaking the section 20 implies and one of the recent reasons was the mum/dad could not feed the children adequately so used a food bank due to being sanctioned for 3 months (no JSA etc) yet no judge can make you starve like this yet DWP can ?, so doing this costs the taxpayers even more and we are now seeing family's moved out of private accommodation and moved into B+B costing a lot more money yet we see landlords cashing in on the misery and converting family homes into B+B in the hope of a social services contract ?. All this puts pressure on family's and many give up or have the children removed when some thought on this matter could stop the flow of children into the carer system, We now leave the problems you will all face yet many things have happened yet little has changed as financial pressure is overcoming the needs of the children we love and carer about

  3. I'm so sorry that you are in a bad place at the moment.
    I can only try to imagine how frustrating it must be to be denied the opportunity to foster, especially having had a long and distinguished success as a carer.
    Life is often unpleasant for children and parents; it can be hard for foster carers too, although I have to admit I haven't been able to fully get my head around your circumstances, forgive me.
    Perhaps the key to your difficulty is best kept private, but I want to say publicly thank you on behalf of all those you have helped, and wish you the very best outcome from your situation.

  4. Eve here - I was the new school at a school too many times to remember. It isn't much fun standing in the playground feeling like you are invisible. Sometimes the only person who would speak to me would be the dinner lady so friendships were just something normal kids had.