Friday, July 29, 2016


A new reader comments:

"I've just found your blog and read through many of your posts and I'd like to say I've found them really helpful - Thank you.
My husband and I have recently started our assessment process through the LA (after much deliberation about whether we are doing the right thing and will it suit our young family - We have children aged 2 and 4)
We love children, have worked with children and feel like we are doing quite a good job bringing up our own (so far) and that an extra one could thrive within our family...
But I do feel that until we actually start fostering, 
we won't know if it's right for us as a family?! Also, if it will continue to be right for us as our children grow up and develop their own views on us fostering.
How different were your first few placements, to your expectations? Thanks :-)"

Such a good question:

How different were our first few placements to our expectations?

Before I try that one, a word about the contributor's specific situation: your LA should know more than enough to tailor your first placements to your family's profile. I would guess a weekend respite as a great way to kick off. You learn a lot in one weekend, for sure. And come the Sunday night you're a proper foster carer.

So; to that excellent question.

Looking back, I think we expected the unexpected. A bit like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get. But we didn't expect how unexpected the unexpected would be.

All human beings are very very different. Have you ever looked at those lookalikes, the people who  make a living looking like Michael Jackson or David Beckham? Only they don't. There are 7 billion people on earth and the fact is that everyone is utterly unique. Even identical twins; get to know them for ten minutes and you'll never mistake one for the other.

Every person's personality is equally unique. Hugely unique. Each of us has genes containing 150 Zettabytes of data which makes us the individuals we are.

A Zettabyte is 150 million,million,million,million,million. That's a lot of differentness.

But if you really want to know for sure how different we all are, wait until you start fostering. 

The mistake we probably made was to focus on the things our foster children would all have in common. We thought;

"They are all in foster care, they have that in common. They have all had a rough time, they should all be feeling the same uncertainty. Hopefully they will all soon feel the same security and safety in our care. And of course, they will all have one thing totally in common; they are staying with us, and our home and family will remain a consistent influence ".

Our first child was a weekend respite, a ten year old boy who had ran his regular foster carers ragged. He never stopped, never stood still, buzz buzz buzz. He'd play X Box for 7 minutes, then beg a glass of squash, then watch Spongebob for 5 minutes. He'd ask to play garden football provided he won something like 6-1 then he'd want to try climbing a tree, then have something to eat, then try to make Brio train track, then have to change his shorts as he'd had a little accident. That was a typical 45 minutes. It was an interesting 48 hours. He was a lovely lad though, and we happen to know he's grown up into a responsible adult and a good dad to his own child.

But blimey, I need a lie down just remembering our introduction to fostering.

Our second child came to us because his permanent placement had a temporary blip. He was a fifteen year-old son of a mother who had eleven children, all by different men. He was charming, thoughtful, witty, kind and generous. He mended our toilet for us. It had previously had a grizzle and took ages for the cistern to re-fill. I'll repeat; our second foster child mended our toilet. He took our tool kit upstairs and fixed the ball cock. He stayed up late on Saturday nights and kept my husband good company watching Match of the Day. He was with us about five weeks. He kept his room spotless, asked for the hoover to keep it nice  and did the washing up every evening.

It puts a spring in my step evert time I think of him.

And they both put a song in my heart. 

But talk about chalk and cheese. Nor were they unusual. I can honestly say that foster children each bring a hugely unique set of things to tackle, and for the first period they are with you you have to be reactive rather than proactive as you get to know them and their individual needs.

So; we learned fast not to have any expectations at all.

My husband says it's like when he used to play cricket and it was his turn to bat. He knew he wanted to hit the ball to the boundary, but had to wait and see what the bowler bowled at him before he could select the right shot.

And, in our fostering innings we have 28 placements on the board.

Thats 28 Not Out.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016


The Nurse came yesterday to give one of our foster children their annual medical. The local authority sends her.

A lovely woman, we clicked. She did the usual; ten minutes alone with the child to chat about if she was happy, what her eating habits are, sleep patterns and so on. 

Then she checked height and weight and the child was let go to play and the nurse and I sat down for a constructive natter about dentist visits and opticians.

She told me the child is coming on very well, and made me feel appreciated.

We gassed a bit about her family, and how her job works for her.

Then out of the blue she asked;

"What was it made you decide to do fostering?"

And for a full minute I trod water trying to remember how the idea came to us.

"Well," I waffled "I suppose we both like children and young people..." (True)

"And they seem to like us..." (As far as one can tell)

"Er...and we both have worked with young people in different ways.." (Volunteers at the local youth club, running a junior football team).

The nurse just listened and kept nodding.

"Gulp..I suppose it's something we thought we might stand a chance  of being good at...and..."

I didn't want to say the last reason out loud, it would be bound to sound pious.

But it's true, so what the heck. I said:

"We both want the world to be a slightly better place when we leave it than when we found it, if only for our children and their children and everybody's children."

The nurse seized the point and replied;

"Yes! Even by an amount so small you can't imagine it, but it's worth a try."

When she left it occurred to me that she had the same motives for being a nurse.

Then something else occurred to me. 

She was thinking about becoming a foster mum. 

She'd wanted to know how it fitted with my own children and told me she had children of her own. She wanted to know what were the highs and lows of fostering. She told me she saw something of herself in me, and that we shared a number of views and sympathies.

Dammit, I missed a moment, I should have encouraged her.

After she'd gone I found she'd left her tape measure behind.  Right in the middle of the kitchen table where we'd sat for an hour. It's bright orange, you couldn't miss it.

I remember a Blue Sky  training session on child psychology, the lecturer quoted Freud and said "There are no such things as accidents", meaning we do things we don't mean because of unconscious forces.

I have to phone the nurse in the morning to get an address to post her the tape measure.

And in the course of the phone call I'll give her Blue Sky's number. 

See you at the Blue Sky Christmas Dinner nursey!

Monday, July 25, 2016


When the schools break up, whether it's Christmas, Easter or Summer holidays, it means one thing to ordinary families, other things for fostering.

For all children, it's huge. We have to help them maximise the delight of freedom.

For the ordinary family there's a danger it seems like a problem. Unbelievably a stack of parents let it be known they're going to have to 'cope'. It may be that both parents (or the single if he/she is single) have to go to work. Thank goodness for holiday clubs. Or maybe one parent is a homemaker but not a Butlins Redcoat with a hoard of activities and equipment up their sleeve.

The cry; "I'm bored!" goes up within 72 hours of the break-up. But ordinary parents should do a bit of planning, and definitely not let their children get the impression that their parents would rather their children were in the care  of someone else! 

The same situation  besets us in fostering, only more so. The child is probably used to being a nuisance, so the first big job is to say out loud how much you're looking forward to having them home, and the fun you're going to have.

We don't have to have a packed diary for them, it can be a good idea to have nothing arranged for the first week; let them blow themselves out, slow their metabolism down, get comfortable with their own company. They are usually on a bit of a high, especially at the start of the summer holiday (they keep muttering "Six weeks! Six weeks!").

Foster children often struggle more than most to entertain themselves, but the big difference between ordinaries and looked-afters is the scale of the extra freedoms school holidays deliver. Foster children, despite often suffering neglect, also often have little experience of the true nature of freedom; being trusted.

I encourage some things I don't normally agree to. 

Sleepovers, or as I call them 'staywakeovers'. Sleepovers can stymie the child's sleep patterns for the next two days, but what the heck? They're mighty good fun and don't cost a cent. Obviously in fostering we take special care about the arrangements, but that doesn't intrude on the anarchy, because that's what sleepovers are; anarchy. Late nights, crisps in the bedroom, sleeping on the floor and above all, staying awake later than the grown-ups (or so they think).

Independence takes a leap forward in the Summer Holidays. They might cook the family meal by themselves, go to the corner shop unaccompanied for the first time, come back from the playground on their own, take their first bus, go to their first unsupervised Contact alone (ie see their sister for example, in McDonalds - with SW approval). 

One lad we had stay with us underlined the importance of school holidays. It was his last year at school, and when he broke up he was free from school for ever. Two of his mates went to Ibiza, another of his gang had got himself a lucrative job on a building site.  He lay in every morning until about midday, then got up and played computer games, making himself snacks until early evening when he went to the park to meet like-minded friends. The ones who, in his own words;

"Want to enjoy every minute of our last school summer holiday to the Max".

Tuesday, July 19, 2016


First off, I'm not an expert. But I think that swapping ideas about getting children to do things they don't want to do is a great idea.  I've picked up a few techniques I'd like to share, if you've got some others, please pitch in.


Keep your clocks seven minutes fast.
Use digital time, because today's children get "Seven forty-five" better than "Quarter to Eight", because that's how time is displayed in their world.
Use races; "Who's going to be first in the car this morning!" "See if you can go upstairs and find your pullover and get back down in ten seconds...One!...two........" (Obviously, make sure they just make it.)


Put the food in the middle of the table so they can pick the size portions they want.
Soup is a great way to hide green vegetables.
Pasta is health food disguised as junk. (ok pity about the sugar)
Give them an orange, tell them it's "theirs". They may not eat it but they might take it to their bedroom and try it, because it's become their possession rather than your imposition.


"Water has special powers". (Actually, it does). Make out it enhances one's powers of football, gaming, arguing the toss, eg "Fair enough, that's a good argument, you can stay up an extra half hour. (pause), Have you been drinking water?"
Don't call it water. Try "Sky juice".


Who has the whitest teeth? Child or adult? Be seen religiously cleaning your teeth to try (but fail) to win the daily competition.
Give them an electric toothbrush (you can get battery ones for £7.99). This worked for a non-fostering family we know, the parents both had lekky brushes, the children manual ones and they  wondered why their children resisted teeth cleaning...


Link it to pocket money. Some people think this sounds  a bit materialistic, but giving kids money for nothing is not good preparation for life, especially foster children who might be third generation unemployed.
Give them a bonus for a job especially well done.  Bonuses should be for everyone not just bankers.


When someone is getting heated, change the subject or cause a distraction. Asking a wound-up child whether they'd prefer an ice cream or a lolly is not "giving in" as one parent once tried to tell me, it's managing a situation - which is more important than "winning", which is what many misguided adults want.
Some children in care can turn strops on and off like a tap, their lives have been like one long episode of 'Stenders, everyone rucking away. I've even had success with such as looking out the window and going; "What's next doors cat doing on our wall...has she caught a bird?"


Saying "Would you like your bath now or later" or "I'll go and run your bath, come up when you're ready" allows them to feel some  control, a sense they have co-ownership of the thing you are basically demanding they do.


Poor behaviour is easy to spot. We can be on their case day and night if we wanted. Spotting good behaviour calls for more awareness, but it's only right to be quick to praise and reward.


I don't drag mine round the supermarket, or along the High Street - if I can help it. I don't drive them for an hour on a Sunday to sit in Auntie Flo's house eating scones off the trolley. 


Some things are worth ignoring, letting go. It's easier on them. And us.

Thursday, July 14, 2016


The school play, bit of a drag. Nativity, end-of-school show,concert, or straightforward school play.

They're always  about  30% too long, and your child never gets a big enough part, never mind the issues they throw up for foster parents.

If you're a child in care you want your real parents there in the audience so that the universe is in alignment. Unfortunately their real parents probably never attended the plays or weren't very supportive if they did.

So they're stuck with two adult strangers who have to make sure that nobody is allowed to take photographs.

The majority of children - well, okay, about 52% - have a nice twinset of parents waving and winking and the 48% look out across the darkened hall and see broken marriages, absent parents or substitute parents.

That's us foster carers;  the substitute parents.

There's nothing for it but to go along and keep smiling and clapping.

Often it's just yet another occasion for children in care to remember they aren't up to much.

We had one foster child, he was selected for the school choir. Brilliant. Then it turned out the teacher won a cup once for her school choir, about 1957 by the sounds of it. The teacher wanted those days back, so instead of the choir being a chance to sing your socks off and enjoy it was all about getting tuned up for competition. They were barked at, cajoled and coached for their lives. They entered three in the time my child was in the choir, and came last in each.


Flipping last. 

The child had an episode on getting home after the first of the competitions and it was triggered by the expectation, the stress, then the humiliation and the re-awakening of the verdict on him: useless. 

Child stopped singing, even in the shower.

As for the school play, foster children never get a good part. Oh, they get on stage sometimes as there's a PC  requirement in Primary schools for nobody to get left out. But every play has its stars and its token spear carriers. The last school play I went to, the Head stood up afterwards and asked for a special round of applause for the six stars. My child, stood at the back, who had about three lines, was overlooked. Again.

Anyway, I found out the very next day that the child who was the star of the play was being bullied by other pupils in the playground. My foster child was indignant about this and led a delegation of fellow pupils to the Head teacher no less, to alert the staff to what was going on.

This act of caring for another child, one who my foster child could just as easily have resented like the rest of the class, gave me huge hope for the child's future.

I was more proud of the child for sticking up for a victim than if the child had joined the Royal Shakespeare or got to Broadway.

Saturday, July 09, 2016


Most of the things we do, the big things and the little things, benefit from a few tricks and tips.

The drive to work, if it's the same route and routine every day, can be lifted by learning when the level crossing gates are up and timing yourself to breeze through.

Parenting is one of life's big things, and I don't like to call the little devices 'Tips" or "Tricks" when it comes to the most important job in the world, those words are somehow demeaning.  Let's call them 'Strategies" or "Techniques".

Here's one I'm having a good deal of success with;

One of our foster children has a mild case of ODD, that's Oppositional Defiance Disorder. In fact it's so mild it might be normal teenage behaviour, but experts have a name for almost everything and who are we foster parents to argue.

We think the lad's low on self-esteem and insecure and that makes him want to big himself up and take control of things, because he's never been treated as important and always felt under the control of people he couldn't trust, poor fella.

Recently he was upstairs in his room and it needed a quick hoover. There'd be plenty of debris needed collecting and binning too. When I got to his door I hesitated, trying to think of the best way of telling him I was coming in. Then a thought struck me from nowhere, namely;

"How would I manage this situation if the person inside the room which we call his bedroom, but isn't really his bedroom because his real bedroom is twenty miles away, how would I mange this situation if the person inside was an adult?"

So I played it like that. I knocked gently on the door and he barked;


"I was wondering when would be convenient for you to let me give your room a quick clean?"

Silence. Then;


"I said, when would be a good time for you to let me hoover in there?"

"Er," he said "Now's alright."

And I've kept it up ever since. Treating him with the same respect I would treat an equal. The rules are still there, but they're managed with an air of mutual regard. 

He's acting more like the man we  hope he grows into by being treated as if he already is the man we hope he grows into.


I've got a few more up my sleeve I'll get to another time. If you have any I'd love to hear.

BTW it works equally well the other way round, when I treat my other half like a favourite child he's putty, he'd tell you himself if he only knew...

Tuesday, July 05, 2016


You have to take your hat off to single parents.

We often wonder how we manage and there are two of us.

We went to a party thrown by a single mum we know and at the end of the evening we were the last to go. We helped her start to clear up and on the way home I said to Bill;

"Did you see the mountain of glasses and cups and plates and cutlery in the sink and on the draining board?"

If there's two of you one washes the other dries then you both put away. It makes any job easier if you turn round and the other person has done their half.

Then there's the talking. You pass the time when you're doing jobs together by sharing your thoughts, which helps speed the thing along.

It's the same in parenting, you can share all the  jobs such as driving children and sorting out school needs. You also share endless chats about the children, helping each other come up with ideas and plans.

Bringing up a child or children on your own, like I say, hats off to them.

Can a single foster? You'd think it would be nigh impossible...and yet...

Several years ago I attended my First Aid training and found myself sat next to a quiet woman who simply got on with the training and didn't gas and giggle like the rest of us. When it was time for coffee she and I chatted about our kids and their challenges.

I met her a second time about two years later at a Blue Sky Christmas Carers party. She kept herself to herself again but I bumped in to her while we were all milling around and said something like;

"Hello, have you still got the same two? We met at First Aid."

We chatted for a bit then another carer joined us and started offloading, by which I mean she wanted to offload a few problems. Normally I just pin them back and let the carer talk, it's all people need sometimes.

Not the lone lady. Each of the concerns the offloader came up with, the other woman had the answer. No, really, she had the answer; sound advice, insightful suggestions, you name it, she was absolutely spot on.

I've never met her again, but I asked my social worker about her;

"Oh you definitely mean Lauren. Yes she is fantastic. We don't draw up a league table of foster parents but she's be right up there if we did. All the more amazing considering she does it all on her own."

Me: "Single?"

"Single and single minded. She is totally devoted to fostering, more so than most. Her foster family is her primary family you see."

Of course, I'd never thought about it like that. But those wise words prepared me for the next single carer I met; she was the most organised foster parent you could imagine, and she needed to be because her foster brood was a teenager, a ten year old and  a poor dear boy with cerebral palsy who not only used a chair but sadly needed a great many things done for him. We had one of hers stay with us for a while to give her respite, but most of the time she handled it alone, except for her handyman who did whatever she asked him to do (driving, cooking, cleaning) and paid him by the hour out of her fostering allowance, how's that for organised. You didn't notice she was nearer seventy than sixty because it didn't matter; she was another brilliant single foster carer.

So, in answer to the question "Can singles foster?" the answer is yes, and foster damn well.