Monday, October 31, 2016



You get them in fostering, boring it isn't.

Our newest arrival..the one I've called 'Romeo' on the blog?

The one whose mum had to decide between him or her latest bloke since her latest bloke was considered a risk? The one whose mum went and chose the bloke? That child. That poor discarded little mite.

He's found his groove with us, got a bit of traction on life. He fits in, enjoys our routines, responds maturely to the normal disciplines of a normal house. By which I mean he moans about bedtime, moans about there always being something green on his plate, has been known to lob a remote control across the room if whatever he's trying to do on the X Box goes pear shaped. And sulks when he's banned from it for 48 hours for the lob.

We like him. He likes us. He's on the way up.

There's been talk of permanent placement, after all he has nobody; real father has vanished, no other relatives to speak of, mother shacked up with a drug-doing, possibly drug-dealing reprobate complete with Asbos, convictions, convictions pending including contravention of a Court Order and carrying something allegedly with intent, who is believed to have several other offspring from other 'relationships' dotted around several different social services.

The mother wants Romeo back.

The story we hear is that she's left the bloke, and says she's mended her ways.

These are the occasions when we have to remember that we foster carers are first and foremost, professionals.

Professional parents. And while the business of being a good parent is so demanding and complex it's way more of an art form than a science, there are times when we have to be cool and collected and push our feelings into the right place.

We have to remember that the job in hand is to get them ready to go home. Even when our heart aches, our fears are running riot in our head, our reservations are real and profound. We are part of a system which on the whole is fantastically thorough and deeply caring.

The decision-makers will decide and we have to support that decision and do our darnedest to make it work.

I might have misgivings about the woman's suitability to parent, not to mention her motives for wanting her son back (accommodation, benefits...), but if it happens, my job is to conceal those concerns from him, which at the moment is what we are doing - he has no idea what sort of discussions are taking place.

If and when he goes it will be heart-breaking for us, yes. But how do we want him to feel?

This is a big question. Do we want him to feel sad to leave? We instinctively want him to have appreciated his time here and therefore miss the things he's not likely to get when he goes back to a troubled mother. Or do we want him champing at the bit to get home (wherever home is)? Or a bit of both?

The fact is it's out of our hands. We could go extra-kind and generous to help him store up some emotional strength and well-being before he goes. Or we could begin to neutralise so that whatever attachment may have developed isn't overly weighted to the point of risking damage to his next step in life.

But I suspect it doesn't matter much how we approach the departure, so we'll carry on as before; providing material needs first and a consistent, caring, loving environment second.

Because one thing you notice quickly in fostering is that it doesn't matter how wayward a child's biological parents are, the child has a longing to be with them that is as powerful a force as anything in the Universe. 

Forget gravity and Newton's second law of motion.

The pull a child feels towards mum and dad is so seismic that if it could be harnessed it would solve the eternal mystery of perpetual motion, so it would.

So I fully expect Romeo to dance off with a song in his heart, full of hope.

That said, there'll always be a bed for him here.

That old Chinese saying for parents sometimes applies to fostering; 

"Let them go and every path they take will lead them back to you". 

Monday, October 24, 2016


We had an interesting one this weekend.

One of ours has started going into town and leaving his mobile phone switched off, which means we can't track him.

What did parents do before Apps like Find My Phone and Find Friends?

We used to sit at home twiddling our thumbs worrying our socks off about where they were and who they were with and what they were doing.

Then, suddenly, you get them a mobile phone - which they are desperate for - install a tracking app and blimey, you can tell which shop they are outside or which friends house they are at to within three feet. Brilliant!

But obviously, it's not what they want. Not what I'd have wanted as a child. Big Brother watching your every move.

The whole point about growing up is  getting away from the apron strings.  Learning to stand on your own two feet. 

There's even more to it than that; it's about freedom. The sheer exhilaration of being away from parental gaze, the rush of knowing that there's no-one zeroing in on you. In fact, it's a hell of a buzz to realise that the main person looking after you yourself.

So we, as parents and foster parents have to let this happen, stage by stage.

And it's agony.

Not because your little ones are flying the nest, or at least beginning the process that will result in their departure, but because we worry.

By God don't we worry when we don't know where they are, the first few times. 

Actually, not just the first few times, we worry about them all the time when they are out of sight, no matter how old they are.

Now, getting back to the one who's deliberately switching off his mobile so we can't see where he is.

We let him. 

It's one of those fine edged judgements which in fostering come at you thick and fast.

In his case, we decided he is broadly speaking responsible enough to behave wisely. So far so good. He doesn't want to be the only one of his friends who is being tracked. In fact, we tend not to call him or text him because, again, it's embarrassing if his phone goes off and it's the bloomin' parents checking up on him.

Here's the bonus; he knows that we are giving him this slack, and he's quietly grateful, respectful even that we are showing him this much respect.

So job done.

Mind, I'd still sooner know where he is. Save me standing at the living room window watching out for him coming home, and then, when he appears, ducking out of sight so he doesn't realise I've been worried sick.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016


That song that goes;

"Words, 'cos words are all I have.."

It's not true. 

I've come more and more in fostering to use silences.

Not say anything. It's not easy.

All day long you feel you have to say something, but if someone wrote the things down it'd sound like a litany of negativeness:

"Don't walk in here in your shoes."

"Take your bag upstairs don't just leave it there."

"Leave your phone in the hall like we agreed".

"Bring down your lunch box so I can do it for tomorrow".

"Why didn't you eat all the apple?"

And...the worst, stupidest question we can ask, but I used to, day after day:

                                   "Did you have a nice day at school?"

Oh sure we spout a lot of positives too, but a looked-after child can hear a negative in anything.

Some time way back, I learned to keep the trap shut unless called for. Not easy. The urge to speak to a fellow human being the moment they appear each morning or come in after a day at school is huge. It seems friendly - but look at what it turns into.

If children want to talk, they are best served by waiting until they say something. They're sleepy in the morning, knackered after a day of book learning. We can easily start to sound like naggy teachers.

We went on holiday with another family once, he was a primary school teacher. Every morning he would say things to his kids such as 'Have you combed your hair this morning?' Cripes, it was supposed to be a holiday, but he couldn't kick the habit of being on everyone's case.

Nowadays I don't say a perky "Did you sleep well?' or "What would you like for breakfast?"

I say a cursory "Mornin'" and plonk brekky in front of them.

But there are more important silences. 

Do you remember, if you've ever been lucky enough to fall in love, how you reached a level of intimacy where silence between you was a bond. Well I try to use the same gesture of the unspoken bond. The car is a good place for it. I drive them to and from school without my yak yak yak like I used to keep up.

I realised that sometimes I was talking to them because it was what I wanted. Maybe even what I needed. Sometimes you can be at home all day with nothing but the radio and when someone (anyone) materialises it's tempting to chat. But not necessarily what they want.

Now I bite my lip if they come in with scuffed or muddy school shoes, I clean 'em up without a word.

But if they remember to bring the empty crisp packet down I say;

"Ta for that." Nothing more, no big deal.

I try to talk when and where is right, not because I need to.

I don't go hunting for conversation. 

Or fishing for happiness or smiles, if they come they come.

There was that other song; "Silence is golden..."

Sunday, October 16, 2016


Our new placement isn’t really ‘new’ any wore. Blimey, where’s the year gone?

We find it’s really helpful to look back and try to identify the progress that’s been made. Progress almost always happens but if you’re not careful it’s easy to simply foster in the here and now.

Here and now is good of course; it means you’re in touch with the moment and children live in the moment. You have to try to be aware of what they’re thinking and feeling all day long so you’re ready with the right responses.

But, that said; it’s SO important to look back and remember where the child was when he/she arrived, and remember the tribulations which kicked in after a week or two, as they usually do.

Romeo (not his real name) arrived all sheepish and shy understandably. The first job was to get him comfortable with us, his space, the house in general.

As soon as that was done he showed us he felt at home by going into ODD mode. (ODD = Oppositional Defiance Disorder). Everything was not quite right. Nothing was good enough. Anything anybody said was stupid and infuriating. There’d be tears, he’d have to go to his room and calm down, which 9 times out of 10 he did.

Those days are (nearly) all gone.

It’s been a long year from that point of view. But thinking back, he’s gone up a notch almost day by day.  Various reasons. One is that his mother has cut him off. She’s chosen some druggie misfit over her son. At first he was so, so sad, and showed it with anger and outbursts.

On the plus side it means no more Contacts, which is great. The woman often didn’t show up. When she did she complied with the suggestion she bring some snack food for her son, so she’d nip into the cheap corner shop and buy the cheapest plastic wrapped sandwich and a stick of chewing gum. The thought of buttering some bread in her own kitchen, showing her love by making him something to eat, never occurred.

Back in the darker days of episodes the whole family pulled together. One of our longer-term children actually said to me “I remember when I was like that”. To which I replied something like “Let’s hope we can help him do as good a job on himself as you’ve done on yourself.”

Children in care are almost always permanently in need. Their lives are in turmoil, no matter how perfect the home we give them. So, if you’re a carer your yesterday, your today and your tomorrow will likely be bound up in the child’s turmoil, and that is hard for you.

But we have to stay strong and importantly remember how far they’ve come.

And, come to think of it, how far we’ve come too.

Monday, October 10, 2016


I can't remember exactly when our eating habits at home changed but it's got something to do with fostering.

Way back, like most young families, you could knock up a meal and everyone would eat it. Portions would vary according to age, and sometimes someone would have to have beans instead of tomatoes.

Tomatoes, if I remember correctly, were about the only really upsetting item for young ones.

I didn't bother with the other things children hate such as parsnips or liver, I'm no great fan myself.

Mushrooms are a grown-up taste too. That was about it, unless my memory is playing up.

No-one had heard of food allergies, no-one was on a complicated diet, no-one was vegetarian, at least not in our house.

When I started in fostering the menu went; 

Monday - cold boiled potatoes and bits of lamb left over from the Sunday roast, frozen peas and a pudding.
Tuesday - sausages, boiled potatoes and baked beans + pudding.
etc, through to 
Friday; Fishfingers and er...boiled potatoes and frozen sweetcorn + pudding.

I think I'm right in saying the first dent in the regime was pudding, which vanished from the menu mainly so that people could get down from the table all the quicker and get on with TV.

Then pasta appeared. And pizza. And curries. And with curries came rice. 

Followed by quickie things such as chicken dippers, hamburgers and oven chips.

So much variety! It wasn't long before variety led to...fads. Picky habits...

Which in no time meant, for the cook, that instead of boiling enough potatoes, two sausages each and a pan of peas, you end up, as I did last Friday;

Roast chicken wings in sweet chilli sauce with oven French fries fried rather than baked because fried oven chips taste and appear more like the McDonalds.

Baked cheese and tomato pizza (vegetarian) with cherry tomatoes and cucumber sticks.

A bowl of Alpro soya yoghurt (dairy free) with soft fruit and gluten-free granola (calorie controlled meal)

While me and the other half had takeaway fish and chips. Otherwise it could easily have been five different meals (we've only got four gas rings, one oven and a microwave).

It's changed, the whole thing of family mealtime, because even if I can time all the meals to be ready at the same moment, everyone is so doing their own thing food-wise it's almost putting a wedge between us all even if we're squashed round the same table.

Of course we do eat together a lot (Sunday roast is enjoyed by all, as long as there's a quorn alternative for one).

But it's changed, has family eating. For the better? Well, foster children have usually a history of problems with food. It might have been that they never saw a meal cooked in their house or maybe sometimes food wasn't available. I had one child who had food used as a punishment. 

We have to do our best for them, and that means sucking up changes. Mealtimes are a happier business with everyone's needs given a bit of thought and kindness.

Same with family screen time; not long ago we'd all watch Neighbours together, scoff the same meal together, then watch the Crystal Maze together.

Nowadays we eat differently, then go off to different corners of the house and do a bit of homework then dial up our best new friend in Ontario.

I texted one of mine not long ago to say tea was ready, come and get it. Easier than shouting up the stairs and anyway she would have had headphones on.

As long as they're (reasonably) happy, I'm happy. As long as they go on making small progressions I'm over the moon.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016


I've got one off school and at home all day at the moment, not very well.

I LOVE it when they are off sick for a couple of days.

Obviously I'm only talking about a cold or a sore throat or something, touch wood I've never had a foster child with anything more serious.

I love it because it's a fantastic opportunity to get to know them better, and vice versa. They can't rush out and play, can't spend the day in front of the PC or on their phone. I let them come downstairs and lie on the sofa under a duvet watching TV. There's some good stuff on; wildlife documentaries, they all love Ray Mears (the outdoor survivalist) and that dangerous animals chap Steve somebody.

The day starts great with me going straight into their good books when I say;

"I don't think you're well enough to go to school today..."

So I phone the school then get them settled downstairs where a) I can keep an eye and b) I can get some quality engagement going.

I do a regular Florence Nightingale; hand on forehead checking their temperature, asking if their tummy is alright, asking to see their tongue (God known what I'm looking for but it all adds to their sense of being cared for).

I re-assure them "It's nothing to worry about, just a bug. You'll be fine in a couple of days, in the meantime just concentrate on getting better."

Then I keep up a supply of nice healthy things to eat and drink. They seem more susceptible to things such as raw fruit and veg, plain toast and a glass of milk, when ill. 

I often linger after a delivery and watch a bit of what they're watching, doing a bit of bonding, just showing appreciation of the programme they're enjoying.. Then after a bit, when the telly gets a bit stale for them, they start a conversation.

I'm not flattering myself; I know they're talking to me because there's no-one else around and they can't message friends or disappear upstairs; they're not well enough. So you get some decent chats going, definitely better than the average.

Of course, there are all sorts of forces at work, one being the hope that a day off school might turn into two. But if I can get meaningful chats going it's an investment for the future, because foster children often don't really know how to have a joined up conversation and it's one of our jobs to show them how it works:

So. I say something and they say something about the something I've said and add something of interest or maybe finish with a question, to which I reply and then either ask a question or make an observation and ask if they agree and blah-de-blah-de-blah you're having a conversation.

So many children in care try to avoid the intimacy of an engaged conversation with their carers, we can easily get disappointed when we hear them burbling away with friends in the back of the car.

Looking after a looked-after child when they are unwell is sometimes the very closest we can get to being a real parent to them. They are vulnerable, we are strong - but gentle and kind. 

I feel it, and I think many of them do too.

It matters not that I've actually got the same illness as the child, and wouldn't mind being under a duvet on the sofa myself with someone bringing me a regular supply of hot sweet tea, Covali and chocolate digestives.

I know that Brideshead Revisited is on somewhere on ITVRemembers, but I'm happy to do the nursing and share Spongebob Squarepants, because what I'm getting is sweeter than any sugar and more substantial than any classic drama with Jeremy Irons.

It's an unwell child getting better in body.

And in spirit.