Saturday, May 27, 2017


I've been asked this question on "Meet The Secret Foster Carer";

Hello there,
I've just come across your blog as I am doing ongoing research about it, as it has always been something I've wanted to do. I say 'ongoing' because I am about to have our second child, so it would be a plan about 2-3 years in the future. Could you tell me how your work fits around your foster care? I would need to work part-time in addition to fostering but it is flexible and could be made to fit, however everything I read about it says that the agency would rather you committed full-time to the care role. Do you have any thoughts or tips on how you make this work? Thanks!

Always a pleasure to talk to people who are thinking about coming into fostering.

First off, good luck with your second, I wish you and your new child all the best for your pregnancy and the birth. They say the second is more fun than the first because you've been there and done it before and that was true for us.

I don't know which fostering agency you've been talking to, but it's always worth asking around and getting a bunch of views and opinions.

The only opinion that really matters is your own; if you believe you can foster with a young family and while doing part-time work, you're more than halfway to doing it and doing a good job.

When you say "it's always been something I've wanted to do", that chimes with myself. I first heard about this fostering thing when I was a kid aged about 14 and thought to myself the same thing as you. People who foster do it for a whole range of reasons, but I've come to believe that the people who do it because they feel it calling are at an advantage because when your heart is in something you can't help but give it your best shot.

That said, look; it's going to be flat out for you. A young family is delightful and draining, I know you know that. Working part-time to make ends meet is something many households have to do and the arrival of the zero hour contract culture hasn't delivered workers enough freedom to pick and choose their days and hours, so you'll be lucky to find an employer who'll be flexible and fit your work times around the needs of a foster child.

This is where your fostering agency and their placement team come in.

I can't speak for other agencies or local authorities, I simply don't know enough about their practices to comment one way or another, but Blue Sky is truly excellent at treating each carer as an individual.

Our personal specific circumstances are paramount to them. They work hard to get to know us, to know our families and how we all fit into the world. Then and only then do they look for a match that suits us. They don't make judgements, don't dwell on negatives. They look at a prospective carer and ask themselves;

"How can we make fostering work for this family and a needy child?'

Every carer is unique, we all have our strengths and weak spots. Sometimes those things aren't what they seem to us.  When you apply to be approved to foster a social worker will visit you regularly over a period of time to find out about you. Don't worry, it's truly a pleasant exercise, remember; they are on your side, they want, they need foster carers.

At the end of the process they'll have a good picture of what would be best for you, and what sort of children your family are best suited by. 

And always remember, you have the final say. Nobody knows you and your home better than you, and you have absolute authority over everything.

That said, there's nothing wrong with taking the long view. You could get yourself approved and ease yourself into fostering by taking a few weekend respite children and see how it works for all concerned. Or be an emergency carer, where the children tend only to be with you for a very short time.

As your family grows up, and you all become more familiar with the do's and don'ts of fostering you can, if you choose, go full-time.

And stop being full-time if it doesn't work.

I found it useful to talk to someone when we were first giving it some thought.

You could phone Blue Sky on 0845 607 6697, it's usually a lovely lady called Di who answers. Have a chat.

Good luck.

I have a feeling you're going to be great, and be the reason a whole bunch of sad children end up leading happier lives.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017


When something terrible like the Manchester bombing happens, children wonder about it, and worry.

Nowadays they don't just watch TV reports, it's all over the internet and social media.

Some schools conduct special assemblies or lessons to help explain, if an explanation is possible, and to help quell fears.

All children, we must recognise, don't know what these events mean for them.

Who does?

I remember way back when a famous person was unwell, dying in fact.

The news programmes said that there'd be another bulletin in an hour, something like that.

A child we were looking after at the time became more and more upset, which at first we thought was down to the gravitas of the unfolding story.


The child became more and more affected by the ongoing reporting, and ended up in hysterics in his room. We attended. He sobbed;

"No wonder he's dying, every hour they put another bullet in him!"

I haven't made that up.

TV news is something we have to help our children with, especially our foster children.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017


We're having a nice breather in the house at the moment.

There's a spare room, which we're all agreed can be filled anytime; one of fostering's great joys is wondering who's coming next.

What happens is you get a phone call asking if you would "Take a child who..."

Then you get a profile of the child. They email it over.

It's a file of information about the child, the key stuff. Mind, as I've always said, not a complete picture, I mean, could anyone sum up anyone in a page and a half, or even a hundred?

It's usually a couple of pages. By that point, your personal social worker starts getting involved.

Certainly, waiting for your next placement in fostering is one of life's most exciting/trepidatious  experiences. I love it.

We're a family who tries to say yes. We have only had one no-no, and that went back to when Aids was huge and one of my own children had his/her fears about it overblown by all the media hype, and ended up with a bit of a phobia. I was sad to have to talk to Blue Sky about the problem and say we would have doubts about taking a child who might be HIV positive but they were fantastic. It never came up as an actual issue, but I'll never forget how understanding they were.

So as I was saying, you get an email with a profile of the child who needs care and frankly, when it's your first placement, you're somewhat in the dark about what the information means.

Luckily your personal social worker is right on hand to help interpret the case. 

When you foster you get;

a) A foster child, plus the foster child's social worker, whose role is to help and support the child. 


b) A separate social worker whose job is to help and support YOU.

Newcomers to fostering aren't really clear what this means.

Having your own foster carer means you have a person, a professional, whose job is to look after you and your family. Once you get your head around this level of support you feel a million dollars. 

Life is a scary, sometimes lonely, journey. Most of us try to forge relationships along the way. A partner, a bunch of friends, our families. Those people are there for us in their own sweet way, some of them are rocks. And we are there for them. It's a slightly haphazard network thing, but on the whole it works, most of the time. People do their best; untrained and often busy with their own lives.

We don't get assigned a professional carer, a full-time paid supporter available 24 hours a day 7 days a week whose job is to back us up. But in fostering that's exactly what you get.

And they don't do it just because it's their job and they're paid to be there for us; every single one I've ever had attached to us has been full of love and care, and have ended up friends. 

You're not really supposed to keep them as friends, but one of our ex-social workers is just that; a true friend - yet still a professional; she doesn't ask anything except general chit-chat about the fostering we're doing now she's no longer officially attached to us.

Your personal social worker is all the things you want them to be; excited as you are when a new child arrives, as concerned as you are about the things that have to be tackled with the child, and as delighted and exhilarated about the rewards you and the child experience.

From the heart; having someone on your side, a dedicated supporter who gets to know you, gets to know your real family and your fostering family, and is there for you all the time is probably one of fostering's most unsung wonders.

It becomes a type of love, and I love it and am eternally grateful for it.

Now, come on phone...RING!

Monday, May 15, 2017


GCSEs start today.

Exams are stressful every time, for students and teachers alike. And parents.

But they seem especially stressful for foster children and foster parents.

I'm not pulling rank here and saying our job is harder than the average parent.

Oh who am I kidding; that's exactly what I'm saying. GCSEs are harder for foster parents in almost every way except one.

The one way in which it's slightly easier for foster parents when their foster children are taking GCSEs is when the child in question isn't going to be part of your family forever, so a small voice reminds you that if they do badly and end up with poor prospects they'll be elsewhere when the stark reality of how little the world wants unqualified British labour kicks in.

But even that easing of our burden is counteracted by the fact that you worry even more about ensuring they do their best because if you're not there to help them pick up the pieces there might be nobody at all.

We get to look after other people's children for different periods of time. It might be a single night or a weekend. If it's short term you don't get a chance to focus on their exam prospects, even if they're sitting an exam the next day; the likelihood is they are up to their ears in family problems and will probably be re-scheduled to sit the exams again when things are more settled.

The big stressers, when it comes to helping foster children take their GCSEs, lie in the fact that you've got no first hand experience of their educational strengths and weaknesses down the years. So it's that much harder to get a bead on their academic potential.

And you know less than you'd like about the aspirations their real family had loaded onto them, or equally, how much they had consciously or unconsciously hampered the child's intellectual development.

How much damage had been done to the child's desire to take on the world.

We had one girl stay with us who was being readied for her GCSEs. She arrived during the school holidays so we had a couple of weeks to get to know her before school became an issue.

She was very, very bright. Bright in that sharp way that looked-after children often display. She'd have made a GREAT lawyer. She could argue her way through anything and anyone and come out the other side with bells on.

I expected, once she started back to school, to discover she was University material.

But no, you're probably ahead of me here, she was getting special help in almost every subject!

The school wanted her to sit every exam across the board even though she had years of catching up to do.

I got onto them and said that rather than her end up with low marks in twelve subjects, we should pick three or four, play to her strengths, and concentrate on getting good marks in them.

I wanted the school to excuse her from eight subjects, freeing up time for her to top up in the ones she was concentrating on.

Long story short; it didn't happen. The school said they couldn't cope and that if she was allowed to do it they'd be inundated.

The girl often told me she wanted to work with animals.

Animals rather than people, I remember thinking. People let you down in ways that animals don't, she'd already learned that.

I hope she managed it, I doubt it. You need qualifications for the job of your dreams, but foster children have often had to spend their short lives coping with so much turbulence and unsettling events that their schooling has gone by the wayside, and suddenly here they are being fed into a big hall with desks arranged just so, a silence descends and when they turn the paper over they get the first concrete shock to their system that they have struggled at home, struggled with family, struggled with school and now, as they look at the exam papers, realise that their future life itself is going to be a struggle.

Parents of their own children hopefully help all they can with revision and soothing words.

We foster carers have to do our darndest with the revision, but it's with all the other aspects of GCSEs we come into our own. 

The emotional aspects. 

You have to find a way to tell somebody else's child that on the one hand GCSEs matter, and that on the other hand they don't matter all that much. Not compared to their emotional wellbeing.

I never managed to get that message right with my own children, and try as I might I can't make it stick with other people's little ones.

Monday, May 08, 2017


Foster Care Fortnight is under way, it's an attempt to tempt more people into fostering.

Is that you? Or, if you are already a foster parent, do you know someone who's made of the right stuff but needs a gentle urging?

One big thing I didn't realise when I first enquired (1985!) is how varied and flexible fostering is.

What got me interested was that a fostering agency had taken over a shop in our high street and every time I went past I got more and more hooked.

You may not believe this, and I have to pinch myself - you couldn't do it nowadays - but they had photos of children who needed foster homes in the shop window!

They were all aged 10-12 and looked idyllic, and the blurb talked about the average stay being 3-6 months. So I picked up the notion that fostering is a fairly standard procedure.

But standard it most definitely is not; its diversity is its strength and also one of its great attractions for would-be carers.

So if you're one of the countless people who are pondering about taking what seems like a huge step, let me borrow from The Fostering Network who've listed how many different types of fostering there are, because there's almost certain to be one or more that fits you, your life and background, and your family set-up.

Emergency foster carers need to be prepared to take a child into their home at short notice, at any time of the day or night. Children will usually need to stay for only a few days, while longer-term plans are being considered.
This can mean anything from overnight stays to a period of several months. Short-term foster carers provide a temporary place to stay until the child can return home to their own family or a longer- term fostering or adoption arrangement can be made.
Long-term fostering allows children to stay in a family where they can feel secure, while maintaining contact with their birth family. There is a particular need for this type of foster care for teenagers and sibling groups.
This covers a variety of part-time care, including offering a break to the family of a child with disabilities or for a foster family. A child could come and stay for anything from a few hours each week to a couple of weekends each month.
There is a wide range of specialist schemes which focus on working with children with particular needs. These include parent and baby placements, therapeutic foster care and fostering young people on remand. Support care Offering support care to a child’s family is aimed at preventing young people from entering the care system on a full-time basis. Foster carers offer part-time care to children so they and their family can have a break, before difficulties escalate to a point where they can no longer manage. 

Actually, fostering is even more varied than those categories suggest.

It's not until the child arrives that you find yourself tailoring the placement to suit the child's individual needs. A large part of the reward is learning who they are and how you can help. Even if a child is only with you for 48 hours, they need supporting and helping.

And, just as the nature of fostering itself is many and varied, so are foster carers.

When I started it was mostly mums whose children had grown up. Nowadays, goodness, go to a Blue Sky gathering and it's chockablock with people from all sorts of backgrounds; singles, young couples, people who thought they were past their sell-by date, same-sex partnerships, different races, different nationalities.

But despite this wide catchment...


Can you help???