Thursday, March 30, 2017


People who are wondering about entering fostering tend not to ask the questions they really want to know. They usually vague questions such as;

"What's it like?'

If I was starting out again I'd ask the following, more specific questions. 
And I'll try to answer them honestly, from my own personal experience.

Q: "On the whole is fostering worth doing?"

A: "All life's big things; love, marriage (or partnership of whatever flavour), children, family, and work, are what you make them. Fostering has its challenges, I'll be quite honest about that, but on the whole it's fantastic (otherwise I wouldn't still be doing it). In fact, for me, it's the best thing I've ever done.

Q: "Is it hard to get into?"

A: "Takes time. After you've phoned or emailed your local authority or a fostering agency, and said; "I'm interested in becoming a foster parent" someone will visit you and have a chat. They're making an early quick-fire assessment. Some people aren't right for it; maybe their home isn't right, might be their situation, (eg free-roaming pet snakes, the only spare bedroom being the utility room next to the washing machine....)
I don't know what percentage fall at the first hurdle, but no-one's time is wasted. There follows a period of six to twelve months where you get regular visits at home from a specialist social worker whose job is to go through all your circumstances. I've been through this twice, found it fun and helped me focus. They dig into your whole life. They're not looking for perfect angels, those people don't exist. They are interested in how you've dealt with the different difficulties we all face in life.

Q: "Is there an exam?"

A: "No. At the end of your assessment you go and see a panel of people, sounds scary, but they are friendly and supportive. You must be good to have got thus far."

Q: "Do you have any say in which children are placed with you?"

A: "Definitely. Even before you're approved the social workers will be working with you on what sort of profile your ideal placements will be. Some people are better suited to teenagers. Some will prefer younger kids. A lot depends on the shape of your family, especially if you have children of your own. Some carers are initially cautious about children who've had their troubles. Some are worried about being thrown in at the deep end, so they opt for weekend respite (you get a child to foster from Friday afternoon to the next Sunday evening)."

Q:"Are you on your own?"

A: "No! Each foster carer has their own designated social worker whose job is to help, advise and support the foster carer. Mine visit at least once per month, for a whole morning. They are always there at the end of the phone. Plus I can attend support groups with other carers to chew things over. Your foster child has their own designated social worker who also visits regularly, and works with your own social worker to keep things on track. Frankly, in all my years and so many different jobs, I've never felt better supported.

Q: "What happens if things aren't working out?"

A: "Good question. You know, I sometimes wonder if they ever seem to be working as I'd like! But if a carer is having frustrations that's when you pick up the phone for support.  And of it gets too much for you, you can always end the placement. 

Q: "If I end a placement will that be the end of my fostering career?"

A: " No, (unless that's what you want). The UK needs all the foster carers we can get. Your qualifications and credentials are valuable, it's up to the system to play to your strengths. I found that things got easier the more fostering I did, I got familiar with the stresses and strains and learned better to identify the joys."

Q: "What's the hardest thing about fostering?"

A: "For me, and this is only my personal view, the biggest bugbear is Contact. This is where foster children have to be taken to see their real parents (or 'significant others') frequently as often as once a week. It can be very upsetting and often disrupts your efforts to get the child on an even keel. They don't get much from it, nothing they couldn't get from a phone call or even a text message session. In my experience the children just want to know their parents are alive and okay. The idea that it paves the way for the children to return to their real home is basically misguided, especially at first.
The other thing you have to live with is that foster children don't fall on their knees in gratitude when they walk through the door that their foster carers are offering them a much better home life. They don't see it that way because they're frightened, mixed-up or angry. Or all three. But as time goes by they warm and mellow, always. Then the real fostering begins, up until then it's about basic needs, but once they get it, you can do a bit of healing.

Q: "How does the Allowance work?"

A: "Fostering is a profession. We are all professionals. Our remittance is termed an 'allowance' rather than a salary or a wage because i) we are only in receipt when we have a child or children in place ii) If it were called a wage then the fact that we are basically on call 24/7 would mean we'd fall below the National Minimum  hourly wage. The basic payment varies according to your local authority or your agency.  Last year I received £31,000 in allowances (there are 35,000 hours in a year so if I was paid hourly it would be less than £1 an hour). I paid a tiny amount of income tax. I get credits for my NI contributions. Fostering allowances are taxed very sensibly by the Inland Revenue because the foster carer's overheads are hard to calculate so they're very sympathetic. And it's all above board, don't worry about that, it's official; we are special cases.

Q: "Is there anything else I should know?"

A: "Sweet Jericho, yes! Lorry loads. But the bulk of it is stuff you have to find it out for yourself as you go along, and so you do. Each child is so utterly unique you have to make tailored arrangements to help their specific needs, and that means making your fostering up as you go along. There's paperwork; not much. Blue Sky ask you to fill in a report every so often on the child. There's training, and social events. But mostly you're just finding out how to be a good mum or dad to a particular poor lonely child who's done nothing wrong to end up sad, worried and frightened. 

Any other questions, you can post a comment or send me a private email via Blue Sky.

Friday, March 24, 2017


Something we're not very good at in this world is giving ourselves a boost.

There are so many terrible things happening around us it almost seems selfish to make ourselves feel good.

But I worked with a kind man way back, I always remember once somebody saying to him;

"Have you had a good day?"

and he replied;

"Of course. No point having a bad day."

So here I sit at the kitchen table, I've got no more worries than anyone else, probably no fewer either and if I wanted to I could drum up no end of problems I have to tackle and end up working my way down to feeling thoroughly glum.

Instead I'm going to cheer myself right up.

This blog is about fostering, so;

Here are my some of my top hundred golden moments in fostering.

Watching a 15 year old boy who'd never known his dad, following my other half around the house and imitating all his little blokey mannerisms. It was devotional.

The way a girl who was desperate for a hamburger after having a panic attack at midnight and we found a place still open and drove there and got her one, the way she said, from the back of the car; "Fank you", and really really meant it. (And it worked, the fast food medicine).

Seeing the blissful look on a girl's face when we took her back to her real mum. The place was in absolute chaos, no offence it was a tip. But it was her tip, her mum was there, sitting on the sofa putting Swarfega on the boil of a one-eyed cat. The look on her face was because she was HOME. Never seen anyone so overcome with peace.

Every time you get one home. It hurts; you'll never see them again. But it's the job. A great job.

The young mum and her baby, the mum was frightened of everybody especially any mother-figure, I met her real mum once, I could tell straight away why. After a few weeks she started venturing out of her room and sitting next to me at the kitchen table in the mornings; we'd chat over tea and biscuits. One day, after her social worker had visited her, the social worker said to me "She told me she didn't know before that there are kind people in the world, and now she wants to be one." I actually cried. Good tears.

The morning I took a troubled lad aged 10 up to the meadows near our house. There's a spot where you can't see a single sign of civilisation. He spread his arms wide and started spinning round and round with a silly grin shouting "I'm Freeeeeee!!! Freeeeeeeeeeeee!!!"

One Christmas morning a child who had never had a Christmas (so we were told :"Too expensive") looked up from unwrapping everything that had been on Santa's list and said, in all seriousness: "I'm dreaming, right? PLEASE don't wake me up."

A difficult child who had been with us for respite and needed another weekend with us to give his carers a well-deserved break. The look on his face when I opened the front door, he was deeply relieved. He'd been taken somewhere he knew, so no surprises or unfamiliarity. There was something else. He saw that we wanted him back, we welcomed him (knowing he would be a handful). He was tasting acceptance, maybe something even sweeter.

The boy who asked if he could try to fix our broken downstairs toilet. He had an hour in there with the toolbox, can't remember if he made it better or worse, but I did the whole workman thing, gave him a radio (tuned to Radio Two, like all workmen), even made him a cup of builders' tea.

Every time; the first time they ever choose to use the word 'mum'.

Sitting up all night one night, squatting on the floor with my back against the wall, next to the half-open bedroom door of a little fellow who'd only just arrived and was getting night terrors. Every ten or twenty minutes he'd say quietly; "You still there?" and I'd just go; "Still here darling." I checked myself in the mirror later that day, expecting to look a wreck, but actually not bad. Maybe fostering keeps you young, maybe it doesn't. Makes you feel fine.

Could go on.

I don't normally go back and read my posts much, but I reckon I'll return to this one from time to time, not to puff myself up but because fostering can knock you around a bit too, and it's important to remember the glorious moments.

Thursday, March 16, 2017


You learn something new every day in fostering.

That's if you have enough of your wits about you, what with putting into practice all the little things you've already taught yourself. Not to mention if you've got enough energy left to keep your eyes and ears peeled and your brain in gear.

The small matter of the peanut butter knife it was, yesterday, that pulled me up sharp and got me thinking.

The peanut butter knife issue.

See, at the moment in our house everyone is able to make themselves a slice of toast whenever they want as long as it's not just before mealtime. Children, especially foster children, love the sense of grown-up-ness from being able to make themselves a cooked snack.

They learn where the small plates are stored, how to raid the bread bin, how to put the slice of bread into the toaster and how to slide down the lever that lowers the bread and gets the toaster grills warming up.

You teach them about the dangers of electricity and heat, not to poke around in a recently hot toaster, not to mess with plugs.

They learn where the marmite and peanut butter is kept (we aren't a jam household and I've always had my doubts about Nutella).

They learn time management; if you get the bread toasting first of all you get 2 minutes to get out a plate, the Flora, the spread, and the knife for the spreading.

These are all bog standard toast-making things.

But what hit me hard yesterday is that there's a bunch of little things which we all do in our house when it comes to toast that are specific to us, they've evolved in our house, and which are so second-nature to us we don't think to point them out. Then when we do point them out, we suddenly seem petty and a tad OCD.

For example; the Flora isn't always in the fridge. Sometimes it gets put in the larder. There's no rhyme or reason to this, except possibly when a person puts the Flora away after making peanut butter toast it's easier to put the Flora back in the larder along with the jar of peanut butter.

The point about the Flora is that it's a family quirk; if it's not in the fridge it's in the larder. But if you're new to our home, it could cause a problem.

Then there's the almost-empty jar problem. When the marmite or peanut butter jar is almost empty we try to remember to leave it out on the kitchen work surface so whoever is going shopping next knows we are out of whatever it is. The empty jar shouldn't go back in the larder because the next person wanting some will have the annoying job of scraping around the contours of the glass.

Ideally, whoever uses up the last of a jar washes it out and inverts it on the draining board so it's ready for the recycling wheelie. Bill and I both try to do this and hope our example rubs off.

Then there's the crumbs. When you make toast there are crumbs. Ideally they should be swept off the work surface into the palm of your hand and chucked in the bin, not wiped into the J cloth. And definitely not left for someone else to discover.

Then there's the peanut butter/marmite knife. Try as you might you can't get the knife completely clean by wiping it on the toast, so it's got a smear. It needs to be run under a tap, dried and put back in the drawer, or maybe put in the cutlery compartment in the dishwasher. It doesn't need to be licked clean. Nor does it need to be left out on the work surface. But, by the time a young mind has got itself a slice of toast all done and dusted it's easy to walk off and leave the crumbs and the smeary knife.

Then there's the plate, which after the toast has been eaten needs to be brought out into the kitchen and dealt with. Not dumped in the sink.

That's merely the making of a slice of toast. A simple enough business. But then again it's anything but simple.

I bet every household has their own variation on the toast thing, and indeed all life's other family activities such as bathroom/toilet practices, use of other people's stuff, whether it's ok to take batteries out of the backup remote to put in the X Box controller...

etc etc etc etc etc etc.......

Difficult enough for a child who has lived all her life in the same household. Nightmare for the new arrival, and funnily enough, a problem for them that gets more difficult before it gets easier.

What do we carers do about this one?

I guess we manage our expectations, stay patient and understanding. While at the same time remembering that it's ok to have our own house rules and practices, and try to teach them as time goes by. And stay flexible and open to new ideas;

After all, it was a foster child who pointed out to me that there's no point cutting a piece of toast in two;

"It just makes more crumbs"

Saturday, March 11, 2017



I have to keep this one short, because it's just an inkling.

Our new placement, Glenn, has been with us a couple of weeks and is settling in.

And then again he isn't.

And the ways in which he isn't settling in leads me to an unsettling thought.

In fostering, usually, the child finds it difficult to fit into the foster family and that's no surprise, what with what they've been through.

One of their fears is that the break-up of their real family was their fault. It's heartbreaking when you find out, for example, that a six-year-old child whose family fell to pieces thinks that it was his fault because he didn't keep himself clean enough.

The above case actually happened with us; the poor boy blurted out that he'd tried everything he could to make the family work; washed his hands 'til they were red before every meal, cleaned his teeth for five minutes after every meal, washed his face and combed his hair with water, you name it. But still the arguments, the drinking, the different people in his mother's bed.

All his fault for not keeping himself tidy enough.

Back to Glenn. He has depression, but it's low-level and manageable, if it wasn't he'd be in specialist care. He is an older foster child, more fully-formed than the average, stronger, less likely to be accepting of new ways of thinking and being.

We (other half and me) are learning his ways and sit up in bed most nights discussing what to do to help.

We know we have to be on our toes with Glenn because we are learning the little things that unsettle him.

We are wondering how much he requires unsettledness.

It's difficult asking him abut himself. Fostered children often clam up when you ask anything about their past or the way they feel. They can make you feel like you're the Spanish Inquisition.

The thing that's in our mind is that maybe, just maybe, in Glenn's case, he did contribute somehow to the deterioration of things in his real home.

Having your own children is not plain sailing by any stretch of the imagination, especially nowadays in that we don't have extended families round the corner, mums have to go out to work, childminding can be expensive, and childhood seems to end around the time children reach double figures, or sooner.

I imagine the burden of bringing up children is sometimes a nail in the coffin of some people's attempts at happy families. After all it's the hardest job and the one with most responsibility that any of us ever do, and yet it's the one thing nobody gets trained or taught how to do.

The job at hand for us right now is to be alert to Glenn trying to unconsciously re-create the home life he was used to, one of trouble and strife.

So we've got two things in our mind now that Glenn is here;

One; did he play a part in the breakdown of his real family?

Two; is he unconsciously trying to lead us towards similar chaos?

And Three, three things, (God I'm starting the Spanish Inquisition sketch from Monty Python), the Third thing is; Do we let him be or try to turn him round?

No one expects the Spanish Inquisition.

Saturday, March 04, 2017


Fostering is great, but anything that offers opportunity comes with challenges.

For me, and most other carers I speak to, the biggest bane is the thing called Contact. Which can take many forms.

Contact (If you're a reader who doesn't foster) is an arrangement whereby the real parents (or 'significant others') of children in care are given contact with the children. It's the law, a law passed by politicians who meant well, but frankly didn't know what they were doing, not with this one. Contact does way more damage than good, in almost all cases.

The reason I'm writing about it (again) is that I met a carer who is with his local authority and we talked and compared thoughts.

He and his wife look after a family of three sisters; the eldest has just moved into secure accommodation, the middle one being prepared for the same thing, the youngest only just old enough for secondary school.

They bump along fine. The children all have their emotional problems from their experiences before they were removed, but their foster parents - who have two children of their own - have been working hard and are making progress with them.

The hardest part of their job, and he was quick to get there, is Contact. And not only the robotically designated Contacts (once a week, for an hour, generally), which is disruptive enough, but the apparently accidental contacts.

It's happened to me with previous children. You decide to do a supermarket run and the children have to tag along. Boring enough for them, but then you push the trolley round the corner of the pasta shelves and BOOM, there she is.


As I remember in this case, she would be standing there with just a basket because she's just only shopping for herself these days, and she sees what she thinks is a stranger playing happy families with her children and, so she thinks, getting paid a fortune to do it, and she gets the knife out.

She didn't know it, the particular mum I have in mind, because she didn't have any mindfulness, it never occurred to her to examine her own thinking.

If anyone had quizzed her afterwards as to why she left us all feeling bad, she would have replied that she was only being a good mother and trying to do the best for her children.

But the chance meetings, in the street or the supermarket, between foster children and their real relatives is always an emotional disaster. Even if it's no more than a wave across a busy road.

When you think about it, a wave across a busy road can be even worse because the only thing most foster children want to do is get back to the parents they are in denial over.

So by the time we get home after the encounter there are a lot of pieces to pick up and mend.

For me, establishing where the real family live and what their haunts are is really useful.

You can get information either from the social workers, or (carefully) from the children yourself. For example, most people use the same supermarket, so if you find out that the children know their way around the local Aldi, don't take them to Aldi. Go to Sainsburys or Lidl. If their family has a dog you can ask where it gets walked and avoid.

Where it gets really tricky is when real parents want to 'check up' on their children.

This is discouraged by the authorities, often its an offence for parents to even park their car outside school and watch you collect them. And thankfully it's very rare. But it's something we professional foster carer make ourselves aware of. I rely heavily on our social workers to alert us if any such possibility exists, and the proper procedures.

It's only happened to me once, it wasn't any problem, the mum just wanted to watch. She sat discreetly in her car with a baseball cap on and sunglasses. And y'know what, my heart went out to her.

It's what I'd want to do.

But wouldn't, because for me, and all foster parents, the children come first.