Monday, May 23, 2016


We've had a golden fortnight or so with one of our looked-afters.

The more I foster the more I come to think that their progress, their repair - call it what you will - is ultimately down to them.

Yes, we foster carers facilitate, meet their needs, offer advice (sparingly) and act as ...role models.

Much over-used term role model, but I can't think of an alternative. 

We keep our tempers, are polite and considerate, behave towards everybody with kindness and if the need to be firm presents itself we do it with care, make sure it's fair and reasonable.

The hope is that our example rubs off. It takes time, concentration and stamina.

As for advice, I don't think anybody really likes taking someone else's advice. Definitely not as much as they like giving advice. As we get older giving advice becomes a tic. Anyone older than anyone else feels empowered to offload what they consider to be the benefit of their opinion.

Foster children have been through things that foster parents and social workers haven't. We wouldn't tell a soldier who'd been traumatised on the battle field what to do to mend their shattered selves, we wouldn't presume. Same thing.

What we do is improve the ground where the little flower is growing. Okay it's suffered some killer frosts but it's hanging in there, it needs nourishments; confidence, a moral compass, self-worth. We foster carers have to show them respect, treat them maturely, give them signals that they are moving in the right direction to become adults of merit.

Of course, when they scuff their knee and get scared of a drop of their own blood we swaddle them in the real or metaphorical cuddles of good nursing they also crave.

But mostly, provided we give them the space and security, as long as they actually want to, they do it themselves. 

One of our looked-afters has had trouble making friends ever since she came. Foster children often struggle with pals. If you've lived your life in a disjointed family, the symmetry of a healthy group dynamic is Greek to you.

This kid was very, very sad about having no friends. But utterly, utterly determined to keep trying. It was sometimes painful to watch the rejections, but over the last two weeks it's been simply overwhelming to witness a giant leap. From nowhere too, or at least if it's come from somewhere we can't spot it.

It's as though a penny has dropped about the give and take of play. She's been building a network. It culminated in her having her gang round on Sunday. I say her gang, she organised the whole day, yakking on her phone all Saturday.

We all remember the joy of having a gang right? A team. A bunch of like-minded people all the same age with enough in common for you almost to want to wear a uniform. 

They played all day, first in the house, then up the park, then back at the house.

The best of many best things was that she managed the business of dealing with her powerful wanting to be the leader, which I think she'd worked out was one of the reasons people didn't want to play with her before.
She used to have a full set of what I call 'leadership qualities', but they were a bit raw and unsophisticated. Now she knows to go along with other playmates ideas, that people don't want to play with a player whose play is geared to making them and nobody else feel good, they want to play with people who want to make all the playmates enjoy and that means co-operation and sensitivity to others' needs and moods.

They played the best long game of Hide and Seek I've ever seen.

My looked-after and her best pal found such a good spot no-one could find them, they hunted high and low.

You know that thing where children playing hide and seek sometimes make a deliberate noise so you know where they are? They do it with their parents, I don't recall seeing it between contemporaries.

This happened. One of the searchers had a mobile.

It rang.

My looked-after used her phone from their hiding place to encourage the seekers to keep seeking, that they were getting close. She plainly did this the moment she twigged that beating them into submission wouldn't do her any favours, and when they eventually found her the seekers were allowed to own the triumph because the clues they'd been given were helpful but they still had work to do. Clever.

Huge laughter.

Deep joy all round!


  1. Amazing story! We had similar experiences, the elder or only child who is used to being the boss and primary caregiver for parents/younger siblings always seems to struggle with friendships if they aren't allowed to take the same role in the gang. I've never noticed it with the younger kids though.

    Sounds like yours is well on the way, genius with the mobile, I suspect the child is rather politically savvy.

    When DramaQueen (so called for her emotional outbursts, over reactions and addiction to the victim/hero/persecutor drama-triangle) would rant about her friends I’d always be asking what she thought THE friend was thinking or feeling, why she or they had reacted like that, what she might do differently to get a better outcome, and my favourite “well what did you learn from that?” Often I’d get an angry “I don’t know”, but then she’d have a think about it and next time she’d try a different tactic. It’s a work in progress but two years on she has a group of reliable friends and we don’t have a drama per day anymore so that’s progress.

    I love the flower analogy – giving advice to a child is like telling a flower how to grow. Its actions rather than words that make the biggest difference - we give them a big enough pot or a sunny spot, add some fertiliser, water regularly and do our best to protect them from the bugs and slugs – and sometimes it we have to do the unpleasant bits like pile on the manure but its worth it for the results (dragging them to the dentist to get that filling), yet sometimes how and if they thrive will be up to them. And sometimes you think its all over only for them to surprise you and come into bloom a few years later.

  2. Hi both. I wanted to comment, and have tried three times, but every time I press "preview" the content of the comments box simply disappears. I won't press preview this time, but just publish. I hope that you don't end up with four versions! I was saying that I think that as well as "facilitate" and "role-model" a good word is "observe" - by observing we can see what the child's characteristics are, what s/he's nearest to being good at, and then we can put him/her in a situation which gives them a chance to shine, or model things that they're very close to being and just need that nudge. What do you think? Helen