Wednesday, September 28, 2016


You may have caught on the news that a group of foster carers (and former foster carers) have formed a trade union attached to the Independent Workers of Great Britain.

The carers say they are concerned about their lack of employment rights - such as sick pay - and not having representation when disputes arise.

Anything that's good for children in care is good for fostering, and if having a trade union is good for foster carers and it results in a better deal for children then bring it on, but fostering is special.

Everyone thinks their case is special and that they are hard done by - it's a universal - but I've had dozens of different jobs and am absolutely certain that the only truly unique job is the one I'm proud to have right now; fostering.

I heard one of the carers on Jeremy Vine along with a rep from the union they are attached to, the IWGB. The carer sounded great; she had been fostering a long time and had looked after over a hundred kids. She talked about how hard the job is and the many rewards. I noticed she asked to be referred to as 'not her real name', then she appeared to use a different pseudonym on the BBC website and yet a third false name in a newspaper interview. She is presumably worried about her job security if her fostering provider found out she was helping set up a union, which must be harrowing for the poor woman and gives insight into the practices of some fostering providers.

So who is the trade union the foster carers are signed up with? According to their own website;

"..the founders of the IWGB were initially involved with the T&G and then the UNITE Justice for Cleaners Campaigns. As a result of lack of democracy they left UNITE to join the "Cleaners Branch" of the Industrial Workers of the World. However as a result of political differences as well as a lack of control over their own resources the organisers left to found the IWGB".

My understanding is that besides the new foster carers branch the IWGB have 3 other branches representing cleaners, security guards and couriers. These are three groups of workers who are indeed likely to be vulnerable to job insecurity, abject pay and unacceptable work conditions.

But are foster carers in the same boat? We are carefully screened before approval then given massive support, supervision and training which surely elevates our job to that of a profession. We aren't 'paid', but given an 'allowance'. The foster carer who spoke to Jeremy Vine repeatedly said that fostering is 24/7 which, if paid merely the minimum wage would result in a weekly income of £1,200* If normal rules applied we wouldn't be allowed to work the timesheets we do. I've been up through the night a good few times, but the average normal day (especially during school holidays) is 15 hours, seven days a week which is 105 hours, compared to the maximum allowed = 48 hrs**

* before tax.

** unless the employee 'opts out'.

Surely the only employment contract that might cover fostering would be one of those zero hour ones, who wants that?

The biggest bugbear for me would be any interference with the essential parent/child nature of fostering. Yes, fostering is a profession in my view, but above and beyond that it is something almost mysterious, intangible. It is an expression of one of nature's sweetest and most valuable urges; the urge to help children stand and walk on their own two feet. Every animal, especially the mother, is marbled through with this drive. It's powerful and yet beautiful.

For me, trade unions are essential. They do much more than take their members out on strikes, they actually have a proud history of doing things such as forcing employers to put safety guards on factory lathes so that no more women were dragged to death or disfigurement by their hair.

So good luck to the fostering branch of the IWGB, and good luck to all your branches. Your fostering campaign can begin by trying to get our voice heard with the new government review of fostering which has just been announced.

But I would say this to foster carers who are unhappy and feel vulnerable; don't spend too much time worrying or hoping someone else will front up your problems; it's a free market, shop around.

Look out an agency which offers a better deal, they are out there.

Thursday, September 15, 2016


Time for a quick update on our recent arrival. I say 'recent' but time flies, he's part of the family now, but in his own way.

That's the big difference between foster children and one's own children; foster children have begun to be who they are going to be before they get to you. Your own children grow into themselves with you alongside, so whether everything's alright or not, your own children don't have to learn to fit into a new family, they've always been a part of it.

Difficult challenge for all concerned, for the child and the family; helping them to find their place.

Age is the first big consideration because maturity and physical size determine a child's place in any pecking order, and though we try to minimise the pecking order in our house, it's a logical thing that a 5 year-old feels not quite equal to a 10 year-old.

So Romeo (not his real name) has slotted into his age-related place in the family beautifully well. He tests his arguing skills mainly against my other half Bill (also not his real name) using the second language most British men speak fluently namely sport. To be precise football. Romeo's team is one of the top Premier League side's and Bill's...well...isn't. This is perfect because Romeo can bash Bill by boasting about his team's superstars and the fact they're on telly every week while Bill's team gets ten seconds at the end of the regional sports roundup.

There's a powerful attachment going on between males when they discover that each other likes the same sport, it's quite endearing to watch, and in Romeo's case it's a yardstick of how well integrated he is becoming in our family.

Which is just as well because his situation is starting to look permanent. His mother has found a new man and the new man is calling for her to make a 'him or me' decision, and Romeo is going to lose.

I know, it's shocking and heartbreaking for the kid, that his mother is going to choose some guy she only hooked up with a few months ago over her son. The man is by all accounts no shining knight - how could he be if he's dug his heels in and said he wants the woman but not the woman's child?

Romeo has wind of all this, so is totally excused his low points.

And he has low points. Fostering is not a bed of roses, I'm always honest about that.  I get frustrated when I hear parents talking about their children "always trying it on". You hear them saying "I tell him to do one thing and he does the other".  It frustrates me because this so-called bad behaviour is almost always an expression of a need to constantly explore the love the adult has for the child. They're testing us, testing our application, testing that they are important enough for us to tell them off, testing how much we love them.

So yes, Romeo tests us from time to time. At his previous home the only way he could get any attention was by transgressing, so he learned to get a form of affection by making a racket in another room or drawing on a wall or smashing a toy. And getting yelled at.

So one thing I try to do ( I have to concentrate) is this; when he's been up in his room quietly playing by himself for half-an-hour I go up with a lolly and tell him what a good boy he is.

An even harder thing to do is to pay no attention if he starts smashing a toy. But I try.

And he's testing us less and less. 

BTY; who came up with the phrase "A bed of roses"? It surely means the opposite of what it's supposed to mean. Would anyone get a decent kip in a rose bush? I don't think so.

Saturday, September 10, 2016


In fostering a large part of the fun is watching progress.

There's always plenty to drive you up the wall; clothes strewn over bedroom floors, toothbrushes obviously not used for three days despite assurances, vegetable wars, nightly re-negotiations about bedtimes.

If you're not careful you might miss the positive developments your child makes. The reason you might miss them is because they aren't flagged up by causing you inconvenience. Quite the opposite; they make your life easier, so they're not so easy to notice.

What happened was this;

I'm about recovered from a small operation, but they won't let me drive yet.

One of our looked-afters started a new school and normally I'd pick him up in the car. But I can't. So he has to walk home.

Now, when I was his age we all walked home, parents didn't do school runs. The culture is totally different now and I'd expected a ruck - he's doing a much longer day and now had a 30 minute walk up a hill at the end of it. He gets a ride in the morning from his foster dad, but his day is now ten and a half hours. Long day.

We explained why he'd need a walk and he was completely cool.

Now, it would be easy to miss something here. One could easily say that the child is simply doing what has to be done, so no big deal.

But it is a big deal. The child is pitching in to our family's needs. Not really done that before. It's huge. No moaning, no arguing, no feeling sorry for himself. No trying to negotiate a toy or a phone upgrade.

We could easily have ignored his contribution. We could have said to ourselves that he had no choice, that it would be the same for any other kid, that lots of people do 10 hour days.

He's traipsed home every afternoon and flaked out on the sofa without a single whinge or attempt to wangle anything to make up for his discomfort.

He's been so fantastic we'r trying to think of a way to reward him.

Why look at it like that? Because you are mad if you deprive yourself of the celebration of a great moment. You just have to keep your eyes peeled.

Why not go looking for the joys of fostering in the same way that it's easy to notice the struggles?

It makes sense, and makes everybody happy!

Monday, September 05, 2016


A reader says;

I'd love to hear a post from you about taking foster kids that are older than your biological kids, as it seems from your blog you have done that in the past. Did that work for your family? What are the things you did to help your bios adjust? (I've got 6 and 3 year old daughters. 6 year old is a total alpha dog type. The foster child would either need to be at least a year younger or 5 years older and preferably opposite gender. And I'm not very confident that even 5 years older would work. 3 year old is very flexible, so I don't worry much about ages versus her.)

You've gone straight to one of the big questions in fostering, namely how the placement fits your own family.

Sounds like you're more than halfway to the answers in that you have a very clear picture of your own family and their strengths. And a clear picture of what would work best for your family, which is brilliant. 

I think the first thing to make sure you do is drum it into your own children that you are not taking in other children because you are in any way unhappy with them. Might sound ridiculous that they might think that, but they might, deep down somewhere. You need to tell them that you're going to go into fostering - with their support - because they are so wonderful they can help you do an amazing job. Give them a sense of ownership of the whole project, and make sure they feel the same rewards you do. Praise them endlessly for their kindness and tolerance.

On to your first specific question about having foster children who are older than your own biological children. In my experience it's all down to the individual children involved, and that's something you try to hammer out with social workers before any foster child arrives, and believe me they take it very seriously. If an older foster child fits they'll bring dividends to your children as well as themselves. If an older foster child doesn't fit and the placement upsets the carer's own children, it's not going to work and everyone wants to avoid that.

You say your 6yr old is "alpha dog type", which is very colourful but not quite enough to be specific. So; as you appear to have confidence in your 3 yr old, let's focus on your older child.

I wonder if you have a moment to elaborate on your eldest daughter? (Being careful to respect her anonymity of course).


Sunday, September 04, 2016


I sometimes wonder how I'll look back on fostering once I decide to hang up my boots.

Of course, technically I could do that tomorrow; one phone call and you're out if that's what you want. Might take a few days to find new homes for your foster children, but any of us could go back to where we were before we started fostering in the blink of an eye. In fostering, you're not getting into something you can't get out of.

Not going to happen in our case, although I've met foster carers who've left and I have nothing but respect for the good they did while they were fostering.

However, love it as I do, the day will dawn when I have to wave goodbye, hopefully it's a decade or two away.

But how will I look back?

I'm going to be as fiercely honest as I can here, especially as people read this blog wondering if fostering is for them.

It's the best thing I've ever done in my life, by a country mile.

But it's not all plain sailing. I'll remember the enormous challenge of trying to work out each new kid as they arrive. I'll remember frequent difficulties in the first few weeks, not always but sometimes. They are so frightened they get pent up; nothing worse than you see on Eastenders, but raised voices sometimes, yes. But I'll also remember that in every case the child grew better and calmer as the days went by. I'll remember a £20 note that was put out for a pizza delivery, silly me, it went missing, but I'll also remember that I mentioned it the following Friday night and deliberately left another £20 on the telephone table and it was there when the delivery arrived.

I'll remember sharing a lot of pain that comes from finding out and trying to imagine the experiences that some children have been through, and that's what kept me going through the squabbles and that missing £20.

Then there are the highs.

I'll remember the teenager who couldn't face school. She was massively overweight, for reasons which were absolutely correct, I can't tell you what those reasons were except to say that if I'd been her I would have ballooned to sixteen stone too. She had no friends, only enemies and was hauled in one day to be bawled out for bullying. I went in with her and gave as good as we got.

She never went back to school. Of course there were arguments with the authorities about this, about how could she get a job if she never got any certificates and I came back with the point that if she gets to find some peace and be happy that's the job in hand. I took her side and at the end of the day we won.

A few days later she said I was the first person who'd ever listened to her.

I'll remember that every single kid that came through our front door left us the better for being here. Not just my guess; our social workers, the nurses, the review officers, you name it. They all said the same thing; "Well done and thank you".

I've worked in lots of jobs. No-one has ever come back to me from above with anything like that until I fostered.

I'll look back on it with only one regret; I didn't do it sooner.

But there's a long way to go. One of my best friends in fostering is nearer seventy than sixty and I hope to match her stamina.

I guess the fact is I'm looking forward to future rewards more than looking back on past rewards.

Like I said, I just wish I'd started sooner, made that phone call, in my case I Googled "Fostering" and Blue Sky came up first so I rang the number and...

Happy days.