Tuesday, July 11, 2017



              Anyone who wants to know exactly what a day of fostering is like will simply have to give it a try, it's the only way to find out for real.

The fact is no two days are the same.

That said, the following is one single day in the life of one of our foster children, a dear six-year-old boy who is what we ended up describing as 'pre-triggered'.

'Triggering' is when a child is reminded of something that upset them in the past, and they re-experience the pain. When a child is Triggered they become just as upset as they were when the original thing happened to them.

For example; I know a carer that eventually traced a Trigger that sent their foster child into a panic. It happened in the kitchen when someone opened a ring-pull can. Turned out the child panicked because the click/hiss sound of a ring-pull was a reminder of when the adults in the house adults were drinking, which meant things would turn ugly. The reason that Triggers can be hard to identify is that the child often ruminates for a while, getting wound up inside without knowing why, then bursts, so you have to track back through all the things that might have set them off.

Our child, who I'll call Little Joe, was so wound up all the time that he was permanently in a state of having been Triggered, and anything could set him off instantly.

During a typical day he did any number of petty behaviours that broke our House Rules. House Rules are important; it's our house and foster parents can expect foster children to follow their rules. A house can't function without rules to protect everyone's mind and space. 

But Little Joe broke House Rules in so many ways, small infringements and larger misdemeanours that we were continually saying "No" or "Please don't do that" or "Please get down from there". And every time we did, every single thing we did set him off;  the words we used, our tone of voice, our body language, our facial expressions. Everything and anything. All day long.

It was gruelling for us and for him. We'd only had him for a few weeks, and it was clear that an action plan was needed. So, one Sunday morning we got up early, 5.30am, made ourselves a cup of tea and sat quietly talking about what to do. We came up with a project to help him that was extreme in the extreme. His problem was with being told that his behaviour was not right. He panicked because of the things that used to happen to him previously when he did things that were not right, and sometimes when he did things that were right but the adults in his house decided to punish him anyway, just to remind him who's boss. 

So we decided to allow him the freedom to do what he wanted. We would supervise and support him, but not try to change or improve anything he wanted to do (unless it threatened harm to himself or someone else).

It was the opposite of 'Zero Tolerance'. Project Little Joe was what you might call 'Infinite Tolerance'. 

We wanted to give him a day in which he didn't pick up any negatives and hopefully didn't have any panic attacks. 

So we decided we would agree to all his ideas (having control is very important to many children in care). We would allow him to eat and drink as and when he wished, play whatever he wanted to play with whichever one of us he wanted to play with. We would let him be mean-spirited and unfair with us (but keep him away from others in the house so he couldn't be mean to them). He could be selfish with the TV, he could faff around on my laptop ad nauseum, he could wear whatever he liked...make as much noise with the mouth organ...you get the picture. And one or both of us would be right there to help him.

And crucially, all day long, our demeanour would be tolerant, loving, kind, courteous, generous, encouraging...the whole bit. We would be gentle-voiced, calm, sweet-natured (no matter what) and attentive to his every need.

After agreeing our plan I decided to keep notes of "Infinite Tolerance - Project Joe - Day One", which is how come several years later (he is still with us) I can recall all the details. It's all in a hardback notebook I've saved (and kept secure).

So. It's 6.00am on a Sunday morning. We hear a slight noise on the stair. It had become Joe's tactic to slip out of bed early and try to spy on us hoping we didn't realise he was watching. We changed the subject and started to chat innocently about the weather.

Thus begins one of the longest day of my life.

...to be continued.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting - looking forward to hearing more about Little Joe!