Sunday, January 28, 2018


I'm sat at the kitchen table, it's early Sunday morning, I'm the only one up. I wake earlier than I used to.

There are lots of ways of feeling old, some good, some not so good.

I'm feeling old in the good way that being in fostering gives you.  Actually, 'old' is the wrong word, a better phrase is 'grown up'. Being grown up is all about accepting responsibility, and when you foster you have the ultimate responsibility; you're looking after someone else's children. 

There's surely no bigger responsibility in everyday life.

We had one lad, 'Mack', stay with us for a 3 week respite for whom responsibility was everything. He was an older teenager who had friends a train ride away and liked to skip college and go hang with them in a park. His social worker hinted that they might be smoking something and we'd noticed a smoky smell on his Parker hanging in the hall.

He was charming, helpful and a delight around the house. So we had a challenge on our hands; whether to raise his absence from college (which was definite) or his smoking (which was less than definite).

What would you do?

Well, after lots of talking to each other we came to the decision that we would respect his quest to be regarded as a grown up and respect his right to make minor mistakes and learn from them (as long as no-one else suffered - which no-one did). After all, he'd only be with us a short time, not, long enough to do any major work.

We related all this to his social worker and our Blue Sky social worker and it was agreed that we confine our worry about missing classes to comments such as; 

"Your tutors'll forget what you look like..."

As for our worry about what he was smoking;

"Mack, do you happen to know if it's legal to use tobacco when you're 17? Just asking..."

One evening he got the very last train home, too late for the last bus so I had to pick him up from the station. We drove back along the High Street and there'd been trouble outside one of the pubs. Two police vans, lights flashing, an ambulance, groups of young men being spoken to by officers on either side of the road. We crawled past. I couldn't help notice how sober, articulate and responsible Mack was as he watched it all.

And dismissive of irresponsibility.

He muttered something like;

"No way you want to end up like that on a Saturday night..."

I don't know where Mack is now, but I'm confident he's alright. He was desperate to leave childhood behind him, as all children are, but for foster children it seems even more important; their childhoods aren't as good as they deserve.

Mack saw beyond drinkin' and smokin' as a badge of maturity.

Mind, on the subject of maturity I'm sitting here at the kitchen table with two feelings; the happy burden of adult responsibility and the heady delight of youthful irresponsibility...

...see, what I haven't mentioned yet is that I'm sat here at first light on Sunday morning finishing last night's curry. I came down for tea with skimmed milk and wholemeal toast and there was a load of it sitting cold in the oven. I remember we'd over-ordered. And d'you you know what makes it taste even better than being matured overnight?

I'll tell you; the zing I'm getting from indulging one's natural urge to be irresponsibly immature from time to time.

There are lots of ways of feeling young, and this is a good 'un!

PS I'm not having any of the rice. That would be irresponsible. 

PPS However. Poppadoms are a satisfyingly naughty breakfast. FACT.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018


A neighbour came round last night, a parcel addressed to me had been left with her as I was out when it came.

The parcel was intriguing, I couldn't work out what it was. I'd recently bought a few things on Amazon; a draining rack, some jeans and a pop poster for one of the children. The parcel was a box about the size of an old-fashioned suitcase. It contained masses of screwed up brown paper and...a poster, furled into a thin cylinder.

Packaging has gone mad.

I offered her a cup of tea and we chatted, then after about ten minutes she plucked up courage;

"Actually there is something I wanted to talk to you about..."

Fostering. She was thinking about become a foster parent!

Yippee! She'll be great, provided she is prepared to take the plunge.

Turned out it was her youngest son's idea, or at least he was the first to speak up and suggest it. She thinks her boy is a kind lad who doesn't have anyone to look after being the youngest.

I'm very practiced in people asking about fostering, I can usually tell if they are giving it some thought. I try to be absolutely neutral and objective.

Basically I tell them it's fantastically rewarding, but at the same time it's no picnic. I don't tell them they should foster, that's for them. Equally I don't tell anyone not to, even if there might be practical or personal reasons why they might not take to it. Those considerations are the business of the professionals who do the assessments.

But I always tell them how much the country needs foster carers and how wonderful that they are thinking about it. Then I ALWAYS tell them to find out more by contacting an agency or local authority.

Always, always. I always tell them to visit a website, send an email or best of all make a phone call.

The reason is a lot of people waste part of their lives thinking about doing things. Thinking about dieting, giving up smoking, doing an Open University degree, you name it...

They talk a good game, telling friends and family they have a plan, they're intending to do X Y and Z. Waste mental energy ruminating, never getting round to it.

What I tell them is that they should get the ball rolling. It's a careful process becoming accredited (takes 4-6 months at Blue Sky). It's also a fun process; rewarding and revealing. My point is you can pull out any time, no cost to you and no-one will judge. Plus it's up to them to decide if you've got what it takes, so there's no pressure on you.

The process helps get you in shape for the job too. It packages you properly, if you like.

Monday, January 15, 2018


Now that the dust has settled on the Christmas/New Year thing...

People make Resolutions, apparently 60% of them are abandoned come January 15th.

I do find, I really do, that in fostering every year, I look at the year to come and make up my mind to;

1. Get better organised for Christmas next year.
2. Arrange with Blue Sky to have a respite break (eg Lanzarote) sometime around Spring to re-charge the batteries.
3. Sort out a decent holiday in the sun for all the family somewhere warm and nice (ie Lanzarote) but not too expensive or far away.
4. Not allow Contact to bother me.*
5. Stay abreast of all the changes in social media and new technology.
6. Drop 10lbs so I my lectures about snacking and fast food are more authoritative.
7. Yoga.
8. Work closer with the schools.

* Contact; foster children are required to meet with significant family (maybe mum, maybe dad, maybe step-parents, brothers, sisters etc) usually once a week. It's a concept that means well but tests the child's emotions and many of us foster parents find that much of the time we have to apply the sticking plaster.

The best Contact I've ever experienced was a bit weird. The child, a teenage boy, had to meet once a week his... foster mum. Yep, his foster mum. She wasn't a Blue Sky carer; local authority.

What had happened was that the child, a teenager, was at home when the carer's sister and daughter visited. In the car on their way home the daughter told her mum that the lad had done something inappropriate when no-one else was around. The sister told the foster mum who decided to inform the authorities so that the allegation could be properly investigated. She was right to do that too. 

It meant the child was removed from her care and brought to me.

He was a truly great young man. I was certain from the off he'd be going back in no time.

But the lad had no family of his own; nobody related to him could be found, but he was entitled to Contact. So his foster mum turned up. The authorities said that under the circumstances it was okay for it to happen at our house.  Just another extraordinary episode in the extraordinary world of fostering.

Their Contact was a delight. The boy was so fond of his carer, she so devout towards him. Gladdened the heart. The whole thing was sorted out in a matter of weeks, the girl admitted she invented her story and I believe the boy is still with the woman, he'd be nearly eighteen now.

But back to my clear and undivided vision for 2018, I'd got to number 9.

9. Always remember that fostering is 10% proactive, 90% reactive. Meaning; our job is to react to things we couldn't predict or anticipate, and do our best to right things once we learn what needs to be righted. Day in, day out; that's the job.

Best job in the world too. In fact, that's my number 10;

10. Remember how much I love fostering.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018


Is it me or are today's youngsters incapable of clearing their own eating debris away?

When I was a child neither I nor any friends would have got up from an armchair in the living room and walked away from;
  • A crisp packet, crisp bits in the chair.
  • Empty mug, the bottom of which is going brown from the dregs.
  • A pile of orange peel, the largest piece forming the base and the smaller pieces balanced in ascending order.
  • Empty can of Diet Pepsi.
  • A dinner plate with cheese crumbs, uneaten crusts on a dollop of drying Branston.
You ferry the refuse into the kitchen and there on the table is phase two; a bread knife with crumbs in the teeth, breadcrumbs all over the table. A Flora-covered knife and a Branston-covered knife. A jar of Branston, lid off, a tub of Flora lid off (lid face down on the table) and a plastic pack of cheese ripped open with cheese bits around it, and a cheese covered knife.

And, just as your frustration reaches the point where you feel like shouting at the DJ on the radio to shaddup with his chirpy cheer, there, lurking in the dry sink is every washer-upper's most hated; 

The cheese grater, solid with cheese.

I managed an evening out with a bunch of good fostering female friends recently and  the subject came up. Turned out everyone had tales of brown apple cores under sofas, pies and pasties with one bite hardening under the bed, sweet wrappers between the sofa cushions.

The winning story was...are you ready for this?

An entire ham sandwich slid into the slot of the VHS.

It's not just food. Trainers get worn into the house from the front door to the sofa where they'll be removed, dropped and abandoned. Socks will also be left. Coats, pullovers, hats...same treatment. 

We foster parents have a big job with children who have these things wrong.

The poor mites usually haven't been parented in practicalities.

But it's mostly a food thing.

Why? Why with the leaving plates and cups and stuff?

It's new, and as far as I can tell the experts are oblivious. I Googled it. The results;

Nothing. So we're on our own. I'll have a go, I've only got one idea; maybe others can add thoughts.

My recollection is my generation didn't have a snack culture. The larder didn't have crisps or biscuits, fruit was rare, we didn't get offered tea of coffee until we got the key of the door, and I don't think I was allowed to make myself a sandwich until I moved into my own place. 
We didn't snack! There was a chocolate bar called Milky Way that was advertised as "The snack you can eat between meals without spoiling your appetite". That's how rare it was for people to eat anything other than main meals.
Now snacks are the order of the day. 
My generation were not only excused casual food, we got little or no training in how to prepare it and how to clear up afterwards. Yes we were expected to wash-up and dry, but that's different.

Maybe we as adults lack our own childhood experience of having to clear up behind us. Therefore have no reference of how to tell our new children to go about it.

And...Maybe the whole subject is another pointer towards the fact that our children eat too much. 

With that in mind I've just resolved never to mind clearing up someone else's fruit peel, but to get bolshie about the crisp packets.

You never get bored with trying to get it right in fostering...