Wednesday, December 28, 2016


The most unfathomable question in fostering is; exactly what should your foster child mean to you.

With your own children it's a clear relationship, or at least it ought to be.

Parenting your own child is the most important thing in life. You love them utterly. You want them to be okay, whatever that means, and you know that you'll be tracking them, rooting for them, for the rest of your life.

Why? Because the fact that they are here on planet earth, breathing and living, laughing and crying, was our idea. We planted them here, so if we have any sense of responsibility we'll do everything we can to help them make something of their lives. Which doesn't mean bullying them into having the life we want them to have, but identifying what they want out of life and respecting their dreams enough to get behind them.

Our 'real' children mean everything to us, and dear God trying to make their journey pain-free might be impossible, but it's what we have to do.

I cringe when I meet parents who think their children owe them something for the 'sacrifices' they made for them.


That's our relationship with our own children.

How about the children belonging to other people who we are asked to care for?


Tricky for us, more than tricky for them.

And I'm thinking more and more that the key to knowing what they should mean to us is working out what they want us to mean to them.

Some want a full-on surrogate mother and father. I've not come across that a great deal to be honest.

Many want a strong figure resembling a noble and decent older sibling or grandparent.

Some don't want any familial aura; they want a chief cook and bottle washer who meets their basic needs.

The vast majority want the above three options each to be available depending on their mood and the moment.

So. What should our foster children mean to us?

Well, one minute they are our actual children, especially when the big bad world is snapping at their ankles. Next minute we are someone who can advise the boys on their best haircut now they've moved on from hoodies or josh with the girls about Man Utd's failings. Then in the twinkling of an eye we are their butler/chambermaid, doing their bidding and getting out of their way so they can find themselves as budding adults.

And if that's what they want us to be to them, then that's what each of them are to us depending on their mood and moment;

* occasionally we love them as if they are our own,

* sometimes as if they are our nephews or nieces,

* other times as cherished guests or customers.

In our house recently we've been working on this technique with one particularly mixed-up child who swings this way and that, sometimes several times in a day. We're always on the look-out for which role to play, and find that our feelings towards her match each role change.

But. Underneath all the switchback riding of our emotions is definitely a strong constant;

She means to us exactly what every foster child should.

A helluva lot.

Friday, December 23, 2016


When the schools are broken up fostering is a different kettle of fish.

For foster children everything's "broken". Their home, their school.

On a normal school week your brood are got up and out of the house Monday to Friday, with all the usual moans. No problem.

From around eight/eight thirty in the morning you've got the place to yourself and it's down to what are increasingly called 'Chores'.

The little ones show up again in your life about four, kick off their shoes in the hall, dump their backpack on the mat and vanish to the sanctuary of their own bedroom in order to experience what is now called 'Chilling'.

Saturday and Sunday are different. It all depends on what age foster child/children you have whether you're going to be entertainments manager or a spare part because they have got their social life sorted (for better or for worse).

But when it's holiday time...

All day every day. And the Christmas break is the most interesting because the weather and the early darkness mean they are...


You have your contingencies; X Box helps. If you have Sky there's always a Spongebob on somewhere in planet earth. I say let them get bored at first, then they're marginally more grateful for your (feeble) efforts to amuse them.

Come day three they are climbing the walls.

Time for baking. Why do we bother? We get all the ingredients together, do the bulk of it then ALL the clearing up...

Time for painting/drawing. See above.

I've tried traditional pastimes such as house-based treasure hunts, extreme hide and seek.

Board games. They point out that they are called bored games.

Tried my own pastimes; tobogganing down the stairs on an Amazon flat pack cardboard box which causes great excitement which lasts for eight to ten minutes.

Mannequin challenge (new - and recommended). We used to call it 'Statues' when I was knee high. The last one remaining static wins.

If you're lucky...very VERY lucky, you might get them...talking!

Let the temperature drop, the urgency wane, and sometimes, they chat. I'm not talking Alan Carr here, three minutes of interplay is all you get, but it's golden.

People who are new to fostering hope that their foster children will open up about their lives, but they view their past as a failure and are haunted by the thought that it was all their fault. But when they are around you all day every day for a few weeks on end, they sometimes open up a bit and it's priceless;

Child: "I know what my mum is doing now"

Foster Mum: "What's she doing then?"

C: "Shouting. Probably at my dad."

F: "Really?"

C: "Yeah."

F says nothing, nothing can be a very good thing to say.

C: "She shouts a lot."

F: "What about?'

C: "Everything".

F: "Oh dear. What do you do when she's shouting?"

C: "Well..." (thinks)... I used to go upstairs. But then I started to tell her to stop it. But I used to end up shouting too, so that didn't work."

F: "Did she shout at you?'

C: "God yeah...duh!"

F: "What for?"

C: "I dunno."

F: "What, you mean you got shouted at but you never found out why?'

C: "Yeah. Kind of."

F: "Like you'd done something wrong but you didn't know what it was."

C: "Yeah, maybe. Bye."

And gone. Which was how we learned, one Christmas Eve, why the child was permanently experimenting with disruptive behaviours in order to try to understand what would earn rebuke and reprimand and what was acceptable.

A lucky break, and all because there was an extended commercial break on the blessed Spongebob.

Sunday, December 11, 2016


The song says that Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year.

If you mutter; "Humbug' they shout; 'Scrooge!'

I don't care; much of it is humbug and for the foster carer it's the most challenging time of the year.

First up, did you know that more children are taken into care around Christmas than any other time of the year?

We're told that this is because Christmas throws more families onto the rocks than anything else.

It exaggerates poverty, encourages drinking, magnifies rifts.

It magnifies rifts like this;

A man, lets call him Ricky, has three children; Paris, Ripley and Wayne. He had Paris with a woman called Jade. He had Ripley with a woman called Zizzie. Jade hates Zizzie because she thinks Zizzie stole Ricky. Ricky had Wayne with Fern who is Zizzie's sister. Wayne was named Wayne out of 'respect' for the man who thinks he's Wayne's father (big Man U fan) but isn't.

Paris is currently being fostered much to Zizzie's delight because it means she's a better mum than Jade but jealous because Jade is partying while Zizzie hasn't got a life what with all the bl**ding kids.

Did I mention that all these sad people live on the same estate?

Ricky's mum wants to see both the two grandchildren she knows about to give them their Christmas presents, they're all she's got as her husband has bu**ered off with someone else. However it's a scheduling horror show because no-one can agree on who sees who, when and why over Christmas.

Foster parents recognise this sort of reality from the backgrounds of the children they care for, the rest of the public have no choice but watch Jeremy Kyle to find out about such lives.

Zizzie's current partner, a friend of Ricky, is having it off with someone else too and Zizzie's home is already one with blood on the walls. Having to keep the kids occupied in the run-up to Christmas is hard enough for her but she can blackmail them into good behaviour with threats that Santa won't come.

If only schools went back on Boxing Day.

It's the aftermath of Christmas Day when everything comes to crunch; bored kids, Zizzie suspecting that Jade (the one with the child in foster care) is having it easy because she can lie in until lunchtime then still go to the pub as her child benefit is still being paid her. Meanwhile Jade is envious of Zizzie who is playing happy families. In reality Zizzie's trying to keep up with Jade's lifestyle and is out every night. All night.

Jade will phone social services twice between Chistmas Day and New Years Day and pass on stories Ricky's told her about what a bad mother Zizzie is, which he did to get her confidence so he could get his leg over.

Ripley, along with Zizzie's other children (by different dads) will be taken away from Zizzie for their own safety and taken to emergency foster carers who will do their best to help an abused, frightened and lonely child.

The most wonderful time of the year.

Ripley's emergency foster family have two foster children already. One is a permanent placement who will never go home but is longing to, and knows that his mum and dad are having some kind of Christmas - separately, no-one knows where - which he's sad about missing even though every Christmas he can remember was a nightmare. Their other child will one day go home and is having her Christmas spoiled by her real parents who are trying too hard to over-compensate for their failings by trying to intervene over Christmas with excessive contacts, texting, Facetiming, overspending on presents and hassling to see their child on Christmas Day itself, but not really wanting to because no kids means they can drink to excess, although having kids never stopped them before.

Both children give their foster parents more challenges over Christmas than usual.

The foster parents get through Christmas using the old fostering trick of taking a glimpse of them when they are asleep. All children look like butter wouldn't melt when they are asleep.

Look, Christmas isn't all doom and gloom in fostering, far from it.

I can remember countless moments of pure deep joy. A couple of examples;

The child who laid eyes on the Christmas dinner table where there was no more room for dishes of food and said (I quote) "I didn't know you could have so much food".

The child who, on opening her big present said (I quote) "Is this what it's like to be happy?"

But is it the most wonderful time of the year?

Oh here I go dreaming as I always do, that this year will be the best Christmas ever.

Oh s*d it.


Saturday, December 03, 2016


There's a ghostly space left in a house when a foster child leaves.

There are positives, such as the 'Job Done' thing - fostering is all about helping a child go back home and repair a broken family. Then there's the relief of the reduced number of household tasks and responsibilities that go along with having a foster child in your house.

But the positives are eclipsed by the sense that in it's tiniest form there's been a minuscule death in the family.

Obviously in no way comparable to the real thing. Is there anything more awful for parents than the loss of a child?

But when a foster child leaves there's an empty bed, a spare place at the table.

There's a wheel missing off the family trolley.

We talk nostalgically about Romeo. Sitting at the table eating, if someone mentions football someone will say;

"Good job Romeo isn't here he'd be going on and on about Pogba..."


"Now that Romeo's gone does the kitchen still have to smell of macaroni cheese (his favourite) on Tuesdays?"

Other half and I still lie awake and discuss his prospects, just as we did when he was here;

"He's got a good brain, he could do okay at school it's just that the other stuff is filling his head. He needs some private lessons in..oh no, wait WE'RE NOT HIS MUM AND DAD ANY MORE."

We get a bit gloomy thinking about how it might not work for him back with his chaotic mother, but re-assure ourselves we did our best for him while he was with us.

There were no tears from him when we had a quick goodbye hug before he got into the social worker's car. It was the usual tentative fostering hug, I put my hands on his shoulders and sort of leaned into his space without touching. He just sort of raised his arms and let his finger-tips brush on my shoulders.

Foster children and hugging is something you get good advice about from Blue Sky. It's not a big deal but there are some useful tips I always stick to, mainly to let the children take the lead, if they want a hug fine, just make sure it's a quick social arms-round-the-shoulders hug and then move swiftly onto whatever next, best don't over-do.

It takes resolve not to give in to the urge to want to wrap your arms around them as a protection against the big bad world that has done what it's done to them, but that's you doing what you want to do, and everything in fostering has to be right for the foster child, not just you.

I had a little cry on my own after the car carrying him back to his mother disappeared round the corner at the end of our road.

We have only two rules in our house;

1. Keep waving until the car is out of sight.

2. Do everything I say.

See what I'm doing there?

Good tip that one. I could sell it on EBay.

I'm off the point now because I'm getting that welling up thing all the while I'm thinking about him.

Bloody fostering.

How I love it.