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.


  1. We've been lucky so far, all the children who've stayed with us have been from out of our area, or at least far enough that we aren’t going to run into a relative on the street. BUT - we've just had our first referral for a local child, waiting to see if we'll get the interview, so this is a well-timed post. We're already conscious there are few places we’ll need to avoid because of where the child lived.

    I can't think how I'd react in the child’s place. I remember the sick stomach churn and adrenaline rush of bumping into an Ex, so I imagine it’s like that times a million. I also imagine bumping into an adult who wasn’t just neglectful but an actual abuser would be overwhelmingly terrible. I’d have a meltdown in that child’s place.

    I am glad our kids were all away from the daily risk of bumping into Mom, Aunty or Grandpa etc. I’m glad their SW looked out of area for them. It also makes minimising contact a sensible option.

    I do that heritage, identity, maintaining relationship at school etc are important, but feeling safe and getting settled in – that’s MORE important in my opinion.

  2. Spot on Mooglet.

    Accidental contact is gut-churning, even the scheduled stuff throws them.

    My view, and I see you agree, is that there should be a period after a child is taken into care and then given contact with significant others ONCE THEY ARE UP TO IT. Obviously that's a tricky call, but it's what we carers, in concert with the professionals, can do. Each case is different, and should be treated as such.