Tuesday, April 18, 2017


Sometimes you can tell right from the off if a day isn't going to go well.

Children in foster care occasionally get out of bed on the wrong side and there's not much can be done.

I learned the hard way to have my antenna twitching from my first  cheery 'Good Morning!'. If there's no reply you know what you've got. Or maybe you get a grunt back, and have to assess what the grunt means, and what's the level of grump.

When it happens you have to concentrate to get things right and avoid a build up.

When I started fostering, having brought up my own children who by comparison (or so I remembered) were models of consistency, I was a bit affronted when a foster child ignored me or  made dismissive noises that translated as "I don't know/care" if you asked what they'd like for breakfast.

I'd make the big mistake; I'd try to fix things for her. I'd make her favourite breakfast, compliment her hair and choice of T shirt, dangle a treat;

"Would you like to go to the cinema on Saturday, or bowling?"

And somehow my efforts seemed to make things worse.

I learned the best thing to do every morning is to be neutral. No overblown good cheer, no singing along to the radio, in fact no radio. Just a calm, measured household. No fuss when they show their face, sometimes they seem to wish they were invisible. Or maybe not exist at all.

I stopped digging to try to find out what the matter was. The reason I gave up was because they themselves didn't know.

It happened this Easter;

Good Friday morning. A bit of a lie-in for all, but he clearly didn't want to get going. At half past ten he appeared, scurrying to the bathroom then back to his bedroom.

I made a bowl of cereal and took it up.


"Coco Pops"

"Don't want it."

What I've found is that it's all down the next things you say or do.

I DON'T say anything like; "There's no need to be like that" Nor do I say "Well what would you like instead."

I MIGHT say "I'll leave it here in case you change your mind".

I DON"T say "What's wrong?"

I WON"T do anything that might be construed judgemental such as pick up socks and pants off the floor or even open the curtains.

I MIGHT say something like; "It's going to be a quiet house today, but if you want a lift to town or a friend's just ask." And I definitely wouldn't mention friends unless I was sure there hadn't been an argument.

I find that if you avoid trying to take control, and definitely avoid getting into a discussion/disagreement/argument, just become a piece of furniture, that's your best bet.

It's frustrating because you want to get to the bottom of the low spirit, maybe even solve a problem.

But you can't; it runs too deep. They have to be permitted to feel glum from time to time, surely to goodness.

The Good Friday grump turned out to be a Short Good Friday grump (apologies to Bob Hoskins).

I tried to suss what had brought it on; maybe bad family memories of Easter, no Easter eggs or egg-hunting games, maybe a child shocked at the story of a man being nailed to a cross, maybe he got busted on a computer game, or someone hacked him off online.

I'll never know. All I know is that by biding my time and picking the right moment to use my secret weapon, distraction, we started to climb upwards. I said;

"Do you remember your April Fools Day joke on dad? When he was in the bath and you knocked on the door and told him there was someone on the phone for him?"

His mind filled with a happy moment, and we were up and running.


  1. Oh the joy of an unknown trigger. You’re obviously very perceptive – was that a trait you’ve always had or is it something you’ve learned?

    We found that in year two we started to notice some regular triggers. Oddly not mother’s day, but the run up to their own birthday is always a very challenging time. The first two Easters they both gorged on chocolate, hiding away half-finished eggs, as you would if you were used to your parents polishing off anything laying around. This year we had no drama over this, eggs shared and left out on the table. I hope that’s because they trust us now, and know treats are pretty consistent – there is no shortage of chocolate and sweets in our house.

    We (us, kids and SWs) recently made some firm decisions around contact, dropping it down to letterbox only, and only items that can be poste, and then only given to the kids at set times of the year. We might build up a little stack of letters and gifts cards, but we only have emotional fallout a few times a year. Hopefully this means that social worker visits, birthdays etc won’t come with uncertainty and the emotional rollercoaster that goes with not being sure if there is a card or gift - and conotations of a rubbish or missing gift/card. Birth family were not that happy with it, but heyho, this about the kids emotional wellbeing not the parents.

  2. Hi Mooglet, hope you're well. In reply to your question about perception, I think I've always been interested in people and when you have that combined with a strong desire/need to avoid sadness or anger in your own home it raises your game. It can get to the stage where I feel I know the whereabouts of all my brood but not only that, I feel I know what they are doing, thinking and feeling. Not always, mind you.
    Your observations about year two is pretty shrewd in itself. I find that anniversaries are a good marker to measure progress, plus foster children seem to like routine, so Christmas, Easter, summer holidays plus people's birthdays can transform from being negative triggers to being positive ones.
    You've played a blinder with Contact; to be honest I didn't know such flexibility could be achieved. You've got top notch negotiating skills that's clear, and what you've constructed should be the template for all placements.
    I keep wondering if we Carers shouldn't get on to government about improving Contact arrangements.

    1. Yes, we’re delighted with the contact plans, I won’t go into detail for confidentially reasons, but it came about for a whole bunch of reasons. We’d documented EVERYTHING related to contact, from the impact of a late birthday card to the guilt trips hidden in the letters. The kids are older, smart cookies and very open with us, we’d been able to discuss their feelings around contact and they wanted the chance to live in the present, and not be constantly reminded of the past.

      We currently have an empty bed, and our agency had suggested a very challenging child they felt we could help with emotions and behaviours. Child had been in care for a while, and won’t be reunified with birth family. A long term placement is just want we want, we had to say no because of the contact arrangements. It was very long sessions several days week at a contact centre, and a phone call every single day! I could see the reason for this if the child was likely to be going home soon, but when that isn’t going to happen such extensive and prolonged contact just seems cruel. How can the child move forward, embrace their new life and settle with a new family if there are daily reminders of their old life and the grieving of the parents. I hope the child found a placement, but I suspect behaviour is unlikely to improve until that level of contact is reduced.

      You’re right, something should be done – I hope someone will do a study on it to give some real evidence on the damage extended contact can do - but with government funding cuts I just can’t see it happening soon.