Saturday, February 24, 2018


A reader asks what to do about mobile phones and internet in the house.

It was only a couple of years back when things were simple; one big rule. No laptops upstairs.

Now that mobile phones are the thing it's got a bit more complicated.  As foster parents we work either for our local authority or our fostering agency. The first thing you do is find out if they have a clear set of rules, and if so find out what their latest policy is, because policies towards foster children and IT move with the times.

Next thing is to find out if the child has any background of positive or negative usage.

Third thing; try to get to know and understand each individual child; their personal strengths and vulnerabilities. Then with all the above information build some guidelines.

If you have wi-fi in the house it's a fantastic control mechanism, especially if the mobile phones are connected.  We used to 'ground' children who crossed lines, it was a fairly effective constraint. But not as effective as switching off the router. 
It's up to each household to find what works best for everyone. Lots of carers I know have a basket by the front door and mobile phones go in the basket wherever anyone comes in. 

There's plenty else to occupy the foster parent's skills on this one!

I'm going to start with the worries, then move onto the Godsends - of which there are plenty; technology is on the whole a fantastic aid to fostering.


1. Children being groomed.

It happens, we see it on the news. Before audio and video links children were more vulnerable than they are now because when it was all forums an adult could easily type that they were 14 years old and there was no way of verifying. In our house, if a child is talking to an internet friend they can see and hear them, so the first line of defence is the child's own intelligence. On top of that the shrewd foster parent can drift around bringing snacks and 'tidying up' and listen in - even sneak a look. All sounds a bit clandestine, but most foster parents I know turn into pretty competent undercover detectives.

2. Children viewing stuff they shouldn't.

This is where parental controls on the devices come in. We've had them on our TV for ten years, they work. We also require our foster children to have parental controls on any devices; it's especially useful with You Tube, who regulate themselves to our satisfaction. Many new foster parents start out in fostering daunted by new technology, but quickly become pretty competent technicians. If you need help with configuring stuff you should ask your social worker, attend training on the subject, or (easiest way) ask any friendly teenager you know...
There are some dodgy computer games out there, but I have a suspicion that the manufacturers have woken up to the fact that there's less profit in a game that parents will eventually ban the child from using, so they construct games that have an element of badness about them but not too bad.

3.Ownership and Expense.

Around the ages of late primary/early secondary every child in the UK starts pestering for their first phone. Children coming into care used to have a familiar (teddy bear etc), now they cling to their phone for comfort, which, in a new house must be wonderful for them. Everything around them is strange, but they have their contacts, their favourite sites and games.
All sorts of issues here though, a fractious one arises when the phone was purchased by the real parent who might demand access to their child via the phone, might even keep topping it up for them. This is one for your social worker, because contact between children in care and their significant others is always tailored to the benefit of the individual child. However it's down to the foster parent to police whatever rules there are. However, as a foster parent I'm happy to be able to say; "Hey, I don't make the rules."
If a foster child reaches mobile phone age whilst in your care there's a bunch of issues. They'll want a prestige phone, and you have to decide contract or pay as you go.  All I can advise is that pay as you go gives you a slightly bigger chance to control usage.
Internet games manufacturers are devious/shrewd. They hook a child's enjoyment for peanuts, then suddenly throw in a purchase they have to make to go to the next level.


A Behaviour Helper

We have ultimate authority over of all the devices in our house, and a theoretical control of their device when they are out and about. We can use access to phones and the net as sanctions in the event of any dispute about behaviour, obedience, curfew observance, language, homework, school attendance. I find that you only have to remove access once, maybe twice, so it's known you mean business, and you have  a powerful helper.

Tracking and Communicating.

If your foster child has a phone you can download an app that tells you to within three feet where the child is. This is an unbelievable plus for all parents especially foster parents. Okay the child is usually resistant, but it's for their own safety and convenience ("I'll come and pick you up from town when you get outside MacDonalds").
Change of plans? Send them a text. Easy. Brilliant.


You can play with the child, admire their gaming achievements, watch their wars and building projects. You can twin your laptop/ipad/phone with the child's, enabling you to monitor things like how many hours they're on, what time they switch off at night, even where they roam. Tricky for the average foster parent to set up, I know. You Tube has loads of tutorials on it, your social worker might be a whizz, or again, ask any friendly teenager.
The day will come when your own device is beating you. What a great moment when you ask your foster child to help. For them it might be the first moment they can assert their impending adulthood, use their carefully accumulated knowledge of the modern world, and help someone.


Don't listen to the doom-mongers; there's stacks of truly fantastic educational stuff, all dressed up as fun. The internet is the greatest window on the world man has ever known; don't close the curtains until it's time for bed!

Blue Sky ran a fantastic training session on staying safe online, one top tip is to go to this website

Common Sense Media

Monday, February 19, 2018


We understand adults who can't put themselves in someone else's shoes and consequently lack compassion.

For example, many able-bodied people don't try to understand disability. Minorities suffer when people who don't belong to their minority can't imagine what it's like being them.

You end up with discrimination.

Racial and sexual discrimination, where people are physically as well as emotionally damaged are two of the most serious examples where people don't or can't try to understand what it's like to be someone else.

Ageism is often seen as among the less serious discriminations in that the discomfort, though considerable, is almost always mostly emotional. That said it can cost people their jobs, sometimes their marriages. It frequently costs them their self-esteem and dignity.

It's not until people grow old that they understand. We understand that.

Here's what cannot be understood:


I used to be a child. You used to be a child. Every single human who has ever lived has only two excuses for having no understanding of children;

One: they themselves are currently children and their intellectual and emotional intelligence is only partially formed.

Two: They are no longer of this earth.

The inability to understand a person who you used to be is surely one of the biggest mysteries of human existence.

An adult who can't understand what it's like to be a child probably can't understand what it is to be an adult too.

It's an ageism that leads to people treating children wrongly. The wrongs go on until the child is damaged. If the damage is found by social services and they judge it best for the child, the child is taken into care.

Enter the foster parent.

We should all spend time in our own memory banks remembering how it was for us at the same age as the children in our home.

For example;

Every time one of your children does something on their own for the first time it's scary. No less scary if the child is your foster child.

First trip to the corner shop alone, first crossing of a main road by themselves, the list is literally endless.

Sadly, my own mum got it wrong with me on a couple of notable occasions and they stay high in my mind when I try to get it right for my children and foster children;

My first time buying something in a shop:

Standing outside a high street bakers shop Mum gave me threepence and told me to go in and ask for an iced bun, please. The shop was empty, there was no queue. The time was about four in the afternoon, so as was the case with bakers back then the shelves were almost bare and the two women behind the high counter were nattering with each other. I stood behind the counter with my threepence for half a minute when I heard my mum marching in behind me going loudly;
"Oh come out! Come out! They're obviously not paying any attention!"

Mum had been frightened that the experience would harm me somehow. As it was, being a child I was used to going unnoticed. Sometimes being invisible was even a Godsend.
I remember one of the women, who struck me at the time as being very nice calling; "Oooo sorry!" as I was hauled out by mum. The woman was apologising to me.

Still makes me nervous though, remembering.

My first time making a phone call;

The day after one of my birthdays mum decided  to get me to make my first phone call; to Auntie Katie to thank her. Mum pumped me up with preparation, things to say. Then, tension rising (I can still feel it), she dialled for me and gave me the receiver. Someone picked up the phone at the other end. I said, as rehearsed "Can I speak to Auntie Katie please?" The voice replied "Who?" I felt flustered. Mum couldn't hear but she could tell it was starting to go wrong. "Auntie.. Katie..?" I haltingly said; "Er, there's no Auntie Katie here. What number did you want?" I froze. I didn't know the number so didn't know what to say. I stood there silently, my mind galloping around but lost. Eventually mum said out loud "Oh God, it's the wrong number!" She grabbed the receiver off me and said something like "Wrong number. Sorry. Goodybe."

We didn't try again, she gave up.

Still makes me nervous remembering.

So. At the weekend eldest foster child wanted to go to the cinema for a late afternoon showing, with a friend. I agreed, but this was a first. I drove child down to town and, remembering my own experiences, I casually but clearly indicated where I would be waiting at 7.15pm to collect.

And I was there. A bit early. But at 7.16pm I could feel the tension in my neck.

7.19pm; No child. Hey, it's less than 5 minutes late, these things happen. I'll give it to 7.25pm then ring the mobile.

7.26pm. It's now officially more than 10 minutes late.

The mobile appears to be off. I try the 'Find a Friend' app that I have connected to the other mobile. It's off.

7.29pm I'm entitled to be worried, it would be a worry if I wasn't worried.

7.31pm I phone home. Ask if anyone's turned up. Mind, from the multi-screen to our house, Usain Bolt couldn't do it in 16 minutes. Answer 'No'.

7.34pm Figure appears, walking towards car. Sauntering actually. Stops and gets something out of pocket. Phone. Theatrically pushes buttons on phone, then looks up, sees me, gives weak wave and gets in.

Remembering everything from my own past I said, as nonchalantly  as I could;

"Good movie?"

"Er..yeah. Alright."

"Hey listen," I said as we drove off, "I'm not cross or anything, but you were a bit late. I got worried."

"Wot? It was only like 5 minutes?"

"I know," I said, with a couldn't-care-less voice, "But I was worried anyway. Couldn't get you on your phone."

"Battery's dead innit."

"Yeah," I said, cool as a cucumber;  "Mine's a bit low. No big deal."

Silence. Me;

"My fault. I'm a bit of a worry-bucket."

We drove home in silence and tea went upstairs on a tray.

My true feelings; frustration and fear and disappointment and resentment... I gradually digested, but not before I'd delivered an inappropriate rant to nobody about some TV show that happened to be on. ("Transferred anger" they call it)

About two hours later my phone went ping. Message from the movie-goer, it read;

"Hello! Sorry I was late. Didn't mean to make you worried."

My pretending I wasn't cross, but mentioning in passing I was worried (which is like saying I care, which is like saying I love..), worked.


Thanks to remembering what it was like for me when I was a child.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018


Forgiveness is one of the cornerstones of a functioning family.

My family are so forgiving of me they keep the things they forgive me for to themselves.

Either that or I'm perfect...

I forgive my other half almost every day for standing his used mug in the sink for me to either wash up or put in the dishwasher. I'm past commenting on it, I just forgive.  

Forgiveness is unconditional love.

Family forgiveness and family unconditional love are inextricably entwined, and because unconditional love is a given with your own flesh and blood, forgiveness of your own family members is a done deal. Well, it should be...

Forgiveness plays a big part in fostering, but it needs one's best attention, because;

Unconditional love is not a basic instinct that we have for young people who until recently were total strangers, ie our foster children.

So we foster carers have to go to work consciously to give them the forgiveness they need.

Children coming into foster care have suffered emotional injuries the like of which our own children (hopefully) have been spared. We carers have to be constantly on our guard to avoid expecting the same behaviours from foster children we expect from our own children who have been spared what they have not.

I've just been to see a counsellor, Blue Sky arrange this if you want, and pay for it too, at least they did in my case.

I wanted to known more about  how to help young people who have distress. She advised;

People can't regulate their emotions when they are in distress. So there's no point in trying logic or any sort of confrontation to get them out of distress.

Distress is caused when a person's core beliefs are challenged. For example we know now that if you are caring for a person with dementia and they announce their (long deceased) auntie is coming to visit, the best response is to put the kettle on and put out some cake. What doesn't work is to say 'No! Auntie Bess died ten years ago!' It'll only upset them more.

A foster child's core belief might be that life's unfair, that they will always be defeated, that they have been unfairly treated, and if they are denied a chocolate biscuit because tea is going to be served in half an hour they have all their unfairnesses brought back.  In which case we must 'validate' that emotion (but not any behaviour that is unacceptable).  'Validate'? Whassat? It means they are right to feel what they feel, although it's tricky getting that across.

And we forgive any behaviour which resulted, but do not approve it.

We forgive them, and make sure they know they are forgiven, but without making a big deal of it.


Oh dear...I have explained the above really badly. The counsellor explained it to me  a lot better. I made notes but now can hardly read my own scrawl. 

Driving home from the session I tried to keep one thing that I'd learned alive and clear in my mind, and although the rest is hazy and muddled, I remember thinking this;

I must always forgive a child in care in proportion to the damage that they have suffered.

I try to carry a picture in my mind of a moment from each foster child's life when their unhappiness was at its worst. In some cases it's a chilling picture.

I had one child stay with us whose mother had fitted a lock onto the outside of his bedroom door so she could go to the pub and not worry he  might be wandering around. The child told me he used to stand at the window and cry as loudly as he could in the hope that someone, anyone, would come and rescue him. He once said to me; 'Why didn't you come and help...?'

When he used to get upset, after the dust settled and he was calm again, I would remember my picture of him crying his lungs out for someone, anyone, to help. And whatever the fallout from his upset, I forgave him.  How could you not?

In moments when foster children are carrying on, or challenging me, or otherwise being a pain, I try to go to their picture. And instantly forgive. Genuinely forgive.

Understanding distress and remembering forgiveness took up the first half-hour of the session. 

Another time I'll confuse you further by trying to explain what I learned about how to praise children by finding out what is REALLY important to them. That took up the second half of the hour.

Sunday, February 11, 2018


A reader asks;

"Can you do a post on what to do to prepare for foster kids? We have an emergency clothing supply, some nappies of various sizes, toys and toiletries. Do we wait until the child arrives before buying things, that way they have some choice and input? What about soft toys and cuddly rugs or comfort blankets? Thank you ❤️ We are doing short term and long term foster care - ages 3-10 yrs."


How exciting for you. We all remember those tremendous days and nights when every phone call might be the one with our first placement!

Ages 3-10 are important, can be rewarding and demanding in equal measure, on behalf of everyone, thank you for all you are set to do. You are wonderful!

Sounds like you're well prepared already. It's great to have back-up gear in reserve; but it's worth stressing that in my experience you usually get several hours notice that a child might be heading your way, after all it's your final decision yes or no, and unless it's a middle-of-the-night emergency (very rare), you'll get some background on the child before they arrive and in time for a quick dash to the supermarket if there's anything in particular they like/need.

Tesco superstores are fantastic for foster carers, they're open crazy hours and you can get everything and anything, just about. 

The information you get usually lists the child's food preferences and other key needs. If not you can ask their social worker, they will have some idea. I always find the local authority social workers care beyond words for the child they are bringing into fostering.

The first meal under your roof is a very important occasion. If you can, serve something they are known to like, and if possible put the food in the middle of the table and encourage them to help themselves so they can control the portion size and skip anything they hate.

They usually arrive with some stuff, often in bin liners, which is awful for them. Blue Sky try to make sure this doesn't happen, but chaotic families are often low on luggage...
A few clothes and some toys, hopefully a favourite cuddly toy. Find out, make sure the child has their favourite thingy for bed.

You might not need to merely provide them a toothbrush, you might need to show them how to use it...

Here's one tip of my own I recommend;

We found out a child was coming to us whose story was as bad as we'd ever come across. She liked pasta so I was alright there. We ALWAYS have a spare bag of pasta and a couple of jars of sauce at the back of the larder. She loved dogs, though had never had one. The social worker had spotted her love of a TV cartoon about a dog. Here I got simply lucky; it was a dog that one of my own kids had liked enough to get a cuddly version for Christmas, but it hadn't clicked and joined the horde of other semi-loved soft toys on top of the wardrobe.

I decided I'd square it with my own child later and went and snaffled the toy dog. I parcelled it up in wrapping paper I managed to find and had it sat on the kitchen table on arrival.

I can't express in words how utterly fantastic is the moment a foster child arrives in your home. The anticipation. The phone call goes;
"We'll be with you about four o'clock..." 

And you simply watch the clock as the moments tick by. Your Blue Sky social worker turns up ahead (they like to be there). The car pulls up. The social worker opens the car door and a frazzled youngster gets out, eyes darting at your house. Who lives here? What are they like? Is my life going from bad to worse?

I always drop to the ground to say my first hello to a new foster child eye-to-eye. I wear stockinged feet, because I'm at home, and ask the child to take off their footwear, because it makes a statement; this is now their home too.
And it's a HOME not a house.

I handed the child her present, which I said was to welcome her. She opened it. Her social worker told me later she didn't think the child had ever had a present before. The child looked up at me and asked 'How did you know I like Schznozzle?' 

Oooo! Good question. Don't want to make her feel climbed all over, but want her to know she's among people who will make every effort to be good to her. I went with;
"A little bird told me."

Long story short; I now always wrap something up to give every new child on arrival. Might be nothing more than a box of Heroes. The point is it's THEIRS. To play with/eat/use as THEY want to. A possession. 

They are in a strange house where everyone else seems to own everything, they have no traction, even the stuff they come with is probably hand-me-downs or charity shop seconds. 

That box of Heroes is THEIRS and no-one else's. Not only that, the woman who goes slippered in the house and who bent down to say hello...she WRAPPED IT UP for me.

And you're off on the right foot. 

Don't get thinking there ain't plenty of wrong feet a'coming though. This is fostering after all.

It wouldn't be the joy it is without the hassle. 

So well done yourselves for giving it your best.

A box of Heroes, that's what you are!

Friday, February 02, 2018


A reader asks if all foster carers are expected to provide respite care especially if they themselves might want respite from a placement.

The short and simple answer is no, never. Not at Blue Sky anyway, not in my experience. Nothing like that at all goes on.

"Respite" care - if you're new to fostering - is where a child will stay with a different foster carer for a short period of time, usually to give the regular carer a break. We had a child stay for an extended weekend because his foster parents were going to a family wedding 200 miles away, staying in a hotel, and wanted to give their relatives their best attention which wouldn't have been possible if the child had gone along. Just as importantly; the child would have felt completely out of it and could have got upset. 

There are loads of reasons why fostering needs carers who are happy to do respite care; maybe the child's foster family booked a family holiday before the child arrived and it's too late to get another seat on the same plane, or maybe the child has a disability and needs a high level of care in which case the carer needs a weekend off from time to time to tend to everything else. 

Some carers love giving respite care and become specialists at it. It's probably not for everyone, which is fine. We've had some great times with it.

We had a child stay with us because his foster family were going off on a winter break and he told his social worker the idea of "knocking around some naff hotel playing ping-pong and bingo" would drive him nuts. Fair enough.

Plus; and I'll not dress this up; some foster children are a handful, especially once they become comfortable in their foster home and trust their carers. People who haven't fostered find it hard to understand that a child waits until they know that their foster parents are decent, fair, kind and loving before they let out the anguish, fear and confusion they have bottled up inside.

That's when your average foster carer (if there is such a thing - in my book every foster carer is spectacular!) investigates whether a break would do everyone some good. It's not a surrender. Sitting down with your Blue Sky social worker and discussing the pros and cons of your foster child spending some time elsewhere is the professional thing to do.

There a big upside to respiting that is worth pointing out. Foster children and their carers usually enjoy what's often called a 'honeymoon' period at the start of the placement. The child is unsure of their new environment and hence are shy, obedient, polite and well behaved. The honeymoon can last a few days or a few weeks, depends on the child. So the benefits are; i) often the foster carers providing respite play host to a child who is a joy to have around ii) the child has to 'self-regulate' during respite in the new home ( a second honeymoon!) and might learn a more even disposition iii) the regular carers might find that the child has grown and matured during respite as a result of having to self-regulate for a period iv) the child might have ended up longing to be back in their regular foster home (not because they don't like the respite family but because they miss the familiarity of their own space, the household routines etc) and are delighted to go 'home'.

As for the question posed by the reader; 'Are carers required to do respite care?' The answer is, as far as Blue Sky goes; absolutely not. I can't speak for other agencies or local authorities, but I know that Blue Sky would never, ever, not for one moment, hold any carer to any kind of ransom deal where foster children are involved for a whole bunch of reasons chief of which is this:

The child is paramount. I know for a rock solid fact that Blue Sky places the welfare of the child above every other consideration and it would never enter the mind of any of their people to even consider compromising the care offered by any carer by making stipulations regarding which child they should take and under what circumstances. 

Children who come into care are usually acutely aware of everything and if a family were asked to take a child against the family's will the child would spot it a mile off and there'd be all sorts of issues.

I would hope with all my heart there are no organisations or authorities out there, anywhere in the world, who would engage in that sort of negotiation.

Having said that, I can understand the concerns of people thinking of becoming a foster carer, and am grateful to the reader for the question, and an opportunity to allay that worry.

BTW; I attended a brilliant training session last week on Life Story work. 'Life Story' is about helping a child make some kind of sense of what has  happened to them. 

During coffee we all agreed it helped us all make sense of our own lives!