Sunday, February 26, 2017


In fostering we frequently encounter language barriers with our foster children, well, not barriers really, maybe just speed bumps.

Not because they don't speak English - although come to think of it I once accepted three Afghan brothers who'd hitch-hiked across Europe and made it to Dover in the back of a lorry, they didn't have a word of English.

But no, the problem comes with the new English spoken by da kids.

I first ran into this when the word 'Wicked' arrived. It was used by kids to mean something being good in a devilish way, in other words the exact opposite of its dictionary definition. Around the same time the kids started using 'Gay' differently from how I had learned to use it - as an acceptable term for homosexual. They would say something or somebody was "Well gay", and I had to respond with slight confusion, which was part of the game. Hearing them describe a flashy sports car as "Well gay" left me bemused. I still don't know for sure what their use of the term means, not with any precision.

The game being played is to stake out ownership of a portion of the English language which not only belongs to them but is denied their elders. When I ask for an explanation of their different usage of words they roll their eyes as if I'm a dinosaur who not only doesn't speak the modern way, but probably NEVER ENCOUNTERED THE CONCEPT THEY ARE USING THE WORD FOR.

Apparently in California there was a species of teenage girl whose language was totally impenetrable. They didn't merely hi-jack existing words, they made words up and changed sentence construction. Something wasn't 'Bad' it was "Grodie'. If it was very bad it was "Grodie to the max."

The discussion about the mysterious uses of the 'N' word is very important, because it has so many unpleasant connotations. So much unpleasantness that the word is under new ownership where it is a sign of mutual respect and brother/sisterhood for the very section of humanity it once was used to abuse.

The language barrier between us foster parents and our foster children isn't a big deal, but it's there.

I'm sort of fighting back actually.

I've started using words differently from their technical meaning. Preferably biggish words, words that get used formally. Extended vocabulary.

The one that's catching on around the house is "Intangible".

I had been reading the report which preceded our new placement, Glen. His ambitions, to be a rock star and a film star were described by a social worker as "Intangible". And seeing his hopes and dreams, which I want to respect, even maybe encourage, get a slight dissing ('Diss" is another bit of teenspeak), made me mutter the word under my breathe a few times and not long afterwards my Blue Sky social worker asked me how Glen was shaping and I just replied;


And she smiled, not knowing scientifically what I meant but getting my meaning; brilliant.

So now anything that is brilliant, mesmerising, delicious or otherwise welcome gets called "Intangible". By me. And it's catching on.

Try it yourself. Give it a bit of extra emphasis on the "IN".

Glen's depressed.

Depression, I have read, can benefit from the person focusing on the future and the positive things they intend to do, so that even if those things don't happen some solid good comes from them being thought about at the time of thinking.

So 'Intangible' is the right word, because Glen's positive daydreams are tangible while they're in his head, and therefore the opposite of the dictionary definition.


Tuesday, February 21, 2017


Beginning to see how very very hard it is for families who have someone who has mental health issues.

For one thing, everyone else gets neglected. Bill (my other half) and I talk about nothing else. We seem to think that somewhere, hidden away in all young Glen's pain, is a solution to his huge sadness. And if we can only find the problem he'll be on the way to peace.

Glen came to us a week ago, a teenage man with depression. Mild to middling probably, and very passive.

I've been reading everything I can on what can go wrong with a young person's state of mind.

Psychiatrists are just like any other bunch of professionals, they want to promote the idea that the latest thinking is the best and if you're not up with it you're yesterday's shrink.

So; once there was dementia praecox, then there was manic depression, now there's 'Bi-Polar disorder' and it looks like they're moving on again so that the trailblazers can lord it over the left-behinders whose thinking is old hat.

It's the same with Sigmund Freud (Above - although the sketch looks more like David Baddiel to me); I bought Freud's "Interpretation Of Dreams" and found it brilliant, only to discover that every other Californian 'practitioner' with a surefire quick-fix "How to Mend an Angry Child" ($9.99 hurry, only a few in stock) begins their book by saying "Of course, now that Freud has been disproved..."

Actually all Freud said is: "Many problems are bound up in people's childhood when their development through the stages was thrown off course. There's not a lot you can do, but getting them talking about themselves seems to help." This seems about the mark whatever the diagnosis, talking + medication.

I reckon half the pop-psychiatrists with their "5 Stages To a Happy Teenager" haven't read a word of Sigmund, I was quite taken with him. Plus I feel proud of myself for sticking at it.

Like I was saying, we talk about it disproportionately. But then; a) Glen is new and new placements always hog your attention don't they? b) he is vulnerable, needs help and support and it has to be right.

That last point is the hard one, getting everything 'right'. We seem to be treading on eggshells all the time worrying about whether to say something and if so what. What should the exact wording be?

For example, one piece of advice we've been given in no uncertain terms is that this is our house and our rules apply.

Glen is always getting up and walking off and leaving his empty teacup, orange peel and crisp packet dotted around where he sat. He seems to be settling in okay and getting tuned into us, so the time has come to risk saying; "Glen, in this house we clear up after ourselves."

But then we tie ourselves in knots saying to each other;

We tolerated this behaviour for the first week because we didn't want to tip him over, now it'll look as though he was getting special consideration because...he's vulnerable.

Then again, is he 'vulnerable'? or 'depressed'? or 'dealing with mental health issues'?

Is he 'upset'? or 'going through a bad time'?

We know we're in it for the long haul, young people his age in foster care are probably in care until they reach adulthood, and these days that can mean age 21. Maybe beyond.

I suppose if I was someone advising me I'd say; 'Take the long view. Instead of worrying about his mind in the present, start planning where it would be good for him to be in three months.'

Good trick imagining you're your own counsellor.

Which reminds me I need to find a way of finding out what his counsellor is doing with him, but I know in advance that's not allowed.

And I'm scrupulous not to ask Glen when I pick him up from the Centre, even though I'm aching to ask.

The other children, our own and our other 2 placements, are fine by the way, lest I forget.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017


We've been awaiting a new placement since Romeo went back to his disorganised mother.

We worried about him for some time, his mum is all over the place, but it's so what he wanted. He's a tough nut, he'll be ok.

The phone rang.

"Would you consider taking a child who...?"

The child isn't a child actually, he's older than that. Mind you, most foster children are somehow older than their years. However this young fellow shaves.

His story is this;

He's the offspring of what used to be called a mixed marriage. I believe the current preferred term is British African. A child could be British Indian or British Asian and so on, I imagine there are any number of variants. I remember my grand-dad used to be against what he called mixed marriages. He was a kind man, he said "It's not fair on the children". That was back in the sixties, and I knew what he meant. Things, you would think, have changed, but apparently not enough; the child isn't sure who he is. He found it hard to make friends round his way. He feels he doesn't belong.

I remember thirty years ago visiting a special unit for disturbed teenagers and was struck by the high percentage of youngsters who were as described above.

Our new boy, I'm going to call him Glen, is one such.

Glen has depression.

That simple fact was clear from the information we were emailed about him before I said yes.

We've worked with plenty of children who found the circumstances of going into care upsetting. Many others had complicated feelings which were more entrenched since they'd experienced difficulties in their real home over a period of time.

Glen is the first foster child we've had who deserved the diagnosis that he is more than sad and upset, he's depressed.

As a society we are afraid of mental illness as if it means danger, or maybe is contagious. A lot of people still think there's shame attached, not just to the person who has the illness, but to those around them who might have been part of the cause. Parents of children with mental illness suffer a lot of unnecessary guilt and suspicion, as if they don't have enough on their plate.

Are we worried that Glen might represent any kind of danger? No.

We went through his profile with a fine tooth comb with our social worker. Glen has no anger issues, quite the reverse; he has difficulty exerting himself in any way, perhaps because he has very low self esteem.

He does not appear to be a danger even to himself; there has been no self-harm. Definitely no talk of taking his own life.

He stays in his room as much as possible, so to begin with we're letting him eat up there. He ventures out when the family are all at school and at work, and so long as it's just me. I keep off his case, don't barrage him with questions and stuff. I try not to put my foot in it. He gets more comfortable each day.

My job is to keep him on his medication; mild, but always under review, and to get him to therapy twice a week; one is a one-on-one with his counsellor, the second session is group. We'll get him into education if and when it's right for him.

I've been Googling like crazy (sorry, I'll re-phrase that - see how easy it is to put your foot in it...)

Try again;

I've been Googling day and night; all the latest thinking about mental illness in young people. The apparent increase, especially in teenage men, is shocking. Whatever the reasons, even if one of those reasons is that we are only just learning to identify those who are affected, it's soon going to be as big an issue as the surge in dementias among our older citizens.

Centuries ago the human race was almost wiped out by diseases of the body. Nowadays we are so much better at tackling what used to be called plagues.

In a century's time we might be on top of the causes and proper treatments of the mental illnesses that are now starting to overwhelm our young.

The thing I'm starting to believe is that while most physical ailments fit into a neat category, with an equally neat prescribed treatment; the fact is that I think every mental illness is as unique as the person. And as if that's not complicating things enough; I believe the illness changes not just from day to day, but almost in the blink of an eye. I'm talking about more than mere mood swings here.

What to do then, for Glen and other looked after-children like him?

I don't know. Keep up the love. Be patient and understanding. Look after my own happiness (being at home all day with no-one to talk to but someone whose take on reality is askew can be a bit gruelling).

Look after my family's happiness.

Friday, February 10, 2017


There's plenty of things that fostered children do that can upset you if you lapse and make the same expectations you make of your own children.

We have to remember that we are professionals, dealing with someone else's child on a professional basis.

Take tidiness.

We think of tidiness as a simple function and expect certain standards from our loved ones, and they rise to our requests, up to a point.

But when it's a fostered child, their standards are different.

Foster children usually have so much on their mind, so much turmoil and inner tumult that they are often not in the now. They're not conscious of the present moment half the time unless you pull them into the moment by engaging them. We all have day dreams, we are all guilty of being off with the fairies sometimes, but with foster children it's not day-dreams, it's daytime-nightmares - which are both disturbing and distracting.

That's why the young ones absently slip an apple core under the sofa cushion, meaning to dispose of it properly but forgetting.

One young mother we had as a mother and baby placement, we found out months after she'd gone that every time she'd prepared to bathe the baby she'd remove the dirty nappy and put it at the back of the airing cupboard in the bathroom. I don't remember what one of us was doing to go looking behind the hot water tank one day, but we pulled out maybe ten or twenty neatly taped up nappies. The girl had no malice or even bad intent, she was consumed with the raucous detail of her life and probably forgot each and every time to fetch out the nappy when the baby was safely in her cot. Oh I'm not blind to the fact that the girl was what people term lazy, that was a part of it, but she was so knackered with being up all night feeding and cuddling the wee one, she was well forgivable on that score.

Another lad, a teenager, got up and left the toilet every time he used it for number two with mighty skid marks down the back. I reminded him about the use of the brush. I say I 'reminded' him, in truth I'm not sure he'd ever seen one before, but anyway, I asked him to clean the loo after use. But he did it again and again. I tried praising him for using it whenever I noticed he'd been in there, even if it was probably for a pee, just trying to drum it in. I tried scolding - for want of a better word - to no avail. He was a lovely lad, kind and gentle and, when his mind was in the present, capable of great acts of thoughtfulness. But when he locked himself in the loo he was transported back to when he used the bathroom in his old home. It was the one time in his old home he could lock the door and therefore lock out the world. For ten precious minutes he was free from the negative chaos that was in every other room in his house. The arguing, the fighting, the drugs, the booze, the shouting, the malice, the despair. Then he had to wash his hands and go back out there and his mind filled as he'd brace himself to face his life again. So of course he didn't think to check the state of the bowl.

Then there was the child with a short fuse. So used was she to being chastised and derided that if you said something like "Is that your crisp packet on the floor?" you'd be in for an episode of aggressive defensiveness as she re-lived old repercussions. Consequently I got into the practice of simply picking up the crisp packet and saying nothing.

It's absolutely vital to develop a set of tidiness standards for each foster child according to their needs.

And equally important to try to make sure your other children, if they are around, understand why your foster child is apparently being treated with special leniency when it comes to tidiness.

I don't give up on trying to improve standards though. One of the joys of fostering is watching children progress, but we have the bar set at one height for our own children and lower in certain aspects for the foster child. Nevertheless everyone can be expected to eventually clear their height and have the bar re-set a bit higher.

I've got my own bar currently set to try not to get irritated at stuff left lying around for me to tidy up or clean, not to take it as a snub, not to feel walked all over.

I have only cleared my new height a few times, but I'm getting there...

Tuesday, February 07, 2017


A foster parent called Jojo posted a comment on Come On Phone, Ring!

I'm guessing Jojo is a foster mum not a foster dad, forgive me if I'm wrong. I'm also guessing that 'Jojo' is a pseudonym so we are ok to talk.

Jojo touches on the pleasant anxiety of waiting for a call about your next placement.

But mostly Jojo is having a difficult time dealing with the departure of her last placement.

Her family looked after a 6 month-old boy for two years. They'd all developed mutual attachments to each other, Jojo mentions how close he'd become to their own child.

Then a few weeks ago the child was removed and placed with his extended family. Jojo has concerns about the child's new carers and is trying to get to see the boy, partly to help him along, partly to be sure things are going fine. The authorities are in her way.

I've talked before on the blog about my sense that sometimes when a placement ends and the child goes it's something of a bereavement. In Jojo's case it seems to me to be only just short of a full bereavement.

She knew him almost from birth. Two years is a long time.

I'm going to cut to the chase and suggest Jojo considers getting bereavement counselling.

The loss through death of a child is the worst thing that can happen to a parent, I think the whole of society recognises that. My mum and dad lost a two-year-old (I was seven at the time), and I watched what the loss did to them. This was back in the days when I don't think there were counsellors.

We are very close to a lovely couple who lost a child to death last summer and they are still reeling, probably will never recover much.

People who are not foster carers will struggle to know what it is like for us when a child we have grown attached to is removed. The longer they are with us the harder it is.

It's never as hard as losing your own child, we know that.

But it's a small-scale version of that, and in our case it's made worse by fearing that the child may not be as happy where they are going than they were when they were with you.

I expect and hope that Jojo's SWs are working with her to get over the departure of the child.

I hope they aren't overstating the suggestion that she'll have a new placement arriving soon which will help her get over her loss.

My dad told me many years after his daughter died that the only help he got was from the family doctor, who collared my dad after visiting my mum. Dad was underneath his old Morris distracting himself from his grief by tinkering with the car. The doctor told him "Best thing you can do is have another one, and quick".

It didn't help, my dad said.

What he needed, and never got, was a good ear.

Good luck Jojo. Thank you on behalf of the child for the great start you've given him in life, thank you for everything you've done and are going to do in fostering.

Thinking of you.