Saturday, March 31, 2018


Even after many happy years in fostering, putting yourself forward to take a new child has its minor headaches.

By no stretch of the imagination are they the headaches of migraine proportions, just the small dull throb you get at the back of the eye-sockets first thing some mornings which either disappear or you stop noticing after your first cup of tea.

Sorry to be pedantic about headaches, Arctic circle-dwellers* are said to talk of 27 different types of snow, women like us know of 127 types of headache.

The first thing you have to get straight is the matter of what sort of child would fit for your family. A difficult one to assess, but re-assuring that it's always given consideration. We try to say yes to any child, We said yes to 3 Afghan brothers who had no English and needed a prayer room and a halal diet. We said yes to a boy who had (accidentally) allegedly been responsible for the death of another youth.

If you're a start-up in fostering don't get alarmed, placements like the above are extremes and far from the norm,. They were only offered to us because Blue Sky had, over a period of years, developed an understanding of our flexibility and our resilience.

Generally one's reservations don't become a factor, because Blue Sky and local authorities do their level best to find a foster home in which the child and the family will feel comfortable with each other.

This is no mean achievement.  Even if you hope for the Von Trapp children from Sound Of Music, never forget that the eldest daughter was seeing a Nazi...there are very few out-and-out angels out there.

Age is a big thing to consider. For example if I had a very young family of my own, or a young foster child who had settled in, I would give plenty of thought if asked to take a child several years older than them. It could be an arrangement that might work really well, but it could also confuse the younger ones as their place in the family dynamic might change and not suit them. Your social worker is going to be well ahead of you on this one, I know age differences  something they're hot on.

By the way, the process of referring a child to a new foster home isn't a matter for the Placement Team working solo; they liaise with your social worker so the process of working out a fit has begun even before your phone rings.

I guess the truth behind me finding the business of getting a good match a bit of a headache is that, like a lot of carers I know, my heart wants to say yes to all of them...

That said, the job is always to get the child ready to return to their real family, and the more smoothly the child fits into your home the easier for them to gather their wits.

I'm looking forward to telling my SW in three days that we're ready for a new placement. She may well email the Placement Team immediately, and that might result in an offer in  no time at all. A school holiday began a couple of days ago and that often means a flurry of need for foster homes.

When all is said and done; it's the most exhilarating feeling that's welling up in me, I recommend it to everyone and anyone who has the wherewithal to foster.

Here we go!

* I'm lost on what name to give the indigenous inhabitants of the northern ice wastes. I got an earful years ago from a man in a park when he overheard me use the word "Eskimo", mansplaining to me they are "Innuit". Then I recently heard someone on the radio saying that Innuit was wrong too. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2018


We've been prowling around the idea of taking one more child, it's always a big decision, in our case especially so because we've managed to arrive at a fairly happy balance in our home, and that doesn't happen every day in fostering...

Our happy(ish) home didn't happen overnight. We had a lot of things to work out. But our eldest Foster Child is now pretty much family. Youngest is settled, and set to go home when a few legal hurdles are cleared. Our own children are more than okay with fostering; they have something to moan about when the bathroom is occupied or they can't get a lift to town because someone else is getting a lift in the other direction, but on the whole; pretty contented.  In fact, I genuinely believe they are the better for it when all is added up.

So. There's a strong temptation to tootle along for a bit, all bright and breezy, no surprises. 

But life's like a game of twenty-one isn't it? Whether to stick or twist, whether to hold or bust.

I've always liked to move forward in life, not at breakneck speed, but bit by bit. That said, there are times to pitch tent and re-charge the batteries.

I must admit the temptation to stick was immense. And no-one would have blamed us. 

I suddenly saw myself getting a long lie-in on Sundays, watching my favourite TV programmes as they are transmitted instead of having to catch-up due to being needed everywhere else in the house all evening except in front of the telly.

I started daydreaming about the 'perfect' family set-up, hallucinating where us two parents are in a hot tub on a Sandals holiday knowing that all is serene and joyful back at the ranch.

But it's not going to happen, because we're committing to having another foster child. 

I'm going to tell our Blue Sky social worker when she next visits for supervision.

It feels fantastic already, and I'm really looking forward to the look on her face because the social workers get almost as excited as we foster parents. I can't wait for the phone to start ringing with the Placement Team asking us the wonder-words;

"Would you be willing to take a child who..." 

Can't wait for arrival day. Can't wait to start helping a young innocent start to fix themselves and their lives. Can't wait to start getting to know them, getting to understand them, helping them feel helped, supported...and loved.

So what happened that made up my mind?

Lots of things contributed to the decision. We'd talked about it amongst ourselves as a family, with our social worker and the Blue Sky team. I talked with my friends and my own family. Friends and family tend to put me and my welfare above everything else, so it's useful to get their views. They ended up agreeing that though they worry about me when I look tired, they know I love it.

I was hesitant though, tempted by the prospect of same-old same-old for a while.

But my heart kept reminding me that fostering is what I do best and it suits me down to the ground.

I'll tell you what gave me a big nudge...

On Saturday we downloaded Paddington 2. It turned out our eldest FC hadn't ever seen Paddington 1, so we downloaded that and had a marathon evening. We O/D'd on popcorn and the bear. 

And I cried my eyes out from start to finish.

Because, as foster parents spot straight away, Paddington isn't about a crime-solving bear. It's about fostering. 

Paddington Bear is the Universal Foster Child. The Browns are Mr and Mrs Typical Foster Parent.

So for me, every time Paddington did anything, it reminded me of one of our past foster children or another. For three hours it was one long celebration of what we foster parents do, and how our foster children are. No need for any spoiler alert, I'm not going into detail.

Except for one titbit of info; the celebrated Movie website Rotten Tomatoes gave Paddington 2 a mark of 100%, the first time ever they've given any movie the perfect score.

I think Paddington Bear, and all it stands for, touched the heart of everyone who saw it and wished they could be the Brown family.

And of course, they could become the Browns if they thought about it.

They can pick up the phone, ping off an email.

I can promise them the ride of their lives. I can't promise Hugh Grant...

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


A reader writes;

"Hi there,
I am currently in the process of applying to be a respite carer with my local authority. Am in 'stage 1' but things seem to be going well. I've been reading your blog a while and havent noticed any thoughts on LGBT foster care (unless I missed it), that is either with LGBT parents or LGBT children or both. I am a gay woman. I put that on my form, all good there. 
Of course I am hoping to get approved. I am keen to look after older (11+) children. If it ever came up in conversation with children is it wise to be honest about such things, ie if the child asked why I dont have a husband/boyfriend (I am single, btw). 
Linked to this, my understanding is that LGBT youth can make up a higher percentage of foster care children, particularly older ones, than in the general population. Do you think it is wise, or even positive, to place LGBT youth with a LGBT carer? Is it even something I could raise with my social worker as a possible positive?
Thank you."

Welcome to fostering Anon, albeit for you currently the pre-fostering early days.

The twin topics of fostering for an LGBT person, and being in fostering for an LGBT youth aren't ones I've written dedicated blogs about to date, so thank you for the nudge.

Forgive me a couple of random meanderings before I tackle your important questions;

First, I found myself wondering why LGBT has not really come onto my radar. At Blue Sky the fostering rosta is increasingly diverse, yet I only notice this when it's pointed out to me; my instinct is to see beyond the ethnicity of carers, or their age group, nationality physical abilities or sexuality. Unless people bring their own uniquenesses to my attention I make a point of not noticing.

I look for common-sense, compassion, good humour, empathy, durability and plain good-heartedness. Those qualities are present in all good fostering people, but in different combinations; some foster carers character profiles are headed by strength and reliability (I met an ex-soldier at one Blue Sky meeting who'd seen action in Afghanistan - he was a rock). Others bring more nuanced skills as their mainstays. I'm not saying tough carers can't do gentle, or that sensitive carers can't do firm, just that we are all made up differently. Each of us has a very different life story behind us, and every one of us has a life story rich in experiences that can help children in care.

It's our unique profiles that social workers look to understand, then use to the full by matching us with children who most need the particular strengths we have at the top of our list of qualities.

We had a child stay with us who had gender issues and the local authority were fantastic. They went to work to get things as right for the child as possible and I learned as I went; the child's school got an angry visit from me because some teachers persistently got the child's gender wrong; I told them my view, which is;

It's wrong to pigeon-hole a child as a boy or a girl unless you're 100% sure it's their choice. So only when you KNOW the child for sure can you risk saying "Now, then young lady", or even things like "I need a big strong boy to help me with something heavy". As a rule, if there's ANY doubt, ask the child's name, or avoid referring to gender at all. And avoid gender stereotypes.

I phoned my social worker when I got home worried I'd been a bit cross with them and she said that if being cross with people who get things like gender preference wrong is what gets the job done, then go ahead and get cross. Not long afterwards the school proudly announced plans to convert one of its washrooms to gender neutral.

But I guess what I'm saying here Anon is that I can only take an educated guess at many of the issues that are in your mind, because my personal experience is not great, although I do know for sure that there is a growing awareness of gender issues, and more and more children are challenged. I suspect you're right in thinking a high percentage come into care. I also suspect that there's some important work to be done in this field.

And that you are in a better position than many to get that work done.

To take your questions one by one;

You mention that you hope to look after children aged 11+, and so did we, funnily enough. I expect that at first your preference will be respected. But as you develop your fostering and build confidence through competence, they might ask you to widen your brief. I always say fostering is like Forest Gump's box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get. But it's always your choice, you can say yes or no to any placement offered.

As far as explaining your situation to a foster child, Anon I imagine you have found yourself discussing your life choices with a variety of folk already and have developed a great range of skills, especially in assessing what to say and how to say it according to who the other person is. Age-appropriateness will probably be a key thing to think about. I would imagine that you are well equipped to get it right with foster children, but it's something to discuss with your social worker to get some broad guidelines in place, and keep them informed as you go along. 

It's how things work in fostering for all of us; your social worker is your best friend and ally.

Correct me if I'm wrong Anon, but I have a good feeling that you harbour the hope that your personal circumstances might help you to be of the greatest help to young persons who are seeing the world as you saw it when you were their age. Question asked, question answered Anon; you have expertise that many of us foster carers lack. Again though, your social worker will guide you, they will help in the crucial matter of deciding if a young person is right to come to you. If you get the offer and the child arrives you begin the process of helping the child in any way they need, wherever you can provide help.

I would advise you to raise this aspect of the job with your social worker straight away, yes; to put your mind at rest. It might be that the local authority you are with has existing guidelines, or is building their experiences, or has had previous cases which they can use not only to form a policy relating to your fostering, but to help guide you in doing something not many foster carers are equipped for, and is as sensitive as it is important.

Good luck Anon.

Stay in touch.

Sunday, March 11, 2018


It's late evening on Mother's Day, or Mothering Sunday or whatever you want to call it. I'm off to bed soon, having an early night. Feeling a bit crock, been promised a mug of Horlicks as a treat.

Mother's Day is just another headache for the foster parent. 

I Googled 'Mother's Day' a few years back, apparently it was started about a hundred years ago by an American woman, but after a few years she herself condemned it for its commercialisation, and said it should be banned!

I'm not so bothered about the products; Hallmark and Moonpig, flower growers and chocolate manufacturers, I suppose they have to make a living. Pub lunches and restaurants; good luck to them.

What bugs a me is that for the weeks leading up to it you get nothing but reminders on TV commercials and in the supermarket. And on the internet. 
What REALLY bugs me is the number of Primary schools where they still make the children draw Mother's Day cards...AAARRRGGH! Their compliance is what gives the credibility to all the commercial stuff. If the schools stopped it would die out.

Nobody needs me to point out that every reminder is a stake through the heart of the foster child. 

Not just foster children actually, there are huge numbers of real families that are torn apart one way or another, it's such a cruel reminder for so many children that their family is on the rocks.

As far as fostering is concerned, where it's do-able and appropriate we foster parents arrange for Mother's Day gifts and cards to get given by their foster child to their real mother. Sometimes it's even possible for them to meet up, or maybe have a phone chat.

But by jimminy, it would be so much better for everybody if they knocked the whole thing on its head.

We had a child stay with us who, like all foster children to one extent or another, couldn't make up her mind about her real mother or her foster mother (see, that's the other bit that's difficult, VERY difficult).

The child's real mother had behaved dreadfully towards the poor little mite, but little mite still loved her. This is the thing; it seems no matter what the child's mistreatment they always want their real mum, and they believe that one day their real mum will begin to behave like a real mum.

Here's what had happened to little mite;

Her parents had been arrested and the mother was being held while inquiries were made about her true identity.  They kept her under lock and key in case she scarpered while they were investigating her. She'd pleaded not guilty to a bunch of charges and was remanded in custody. It seems that she was quite the successful fraudster.  Not just benefit fraud on an industrial scale but identity theft and even identity creation; she allegedly looked after the financial affairs of a number of people who didn't exist. She was also believed to be doing some mild blackmailing of a reclusive elderly neighbour, a woman who had lost her husband many years ago, and was vulnerable enough to be persuaded into believing that she was responsible for his death.

It often amazes me how adults who can be highly intelligent have no humanity skills; the mother forced her own daughter to help with her crimes, and then treated the child like a criminal for 'stealing'  food, 'pretending' to be frightened, and 'acting like she was upset to get attention'.

The little mite would get locked up and fed a prison diet. I don't want to think about the punishment beatings.

So, when it got to Mother's Day the little mite made a card and bought a box of Heroes for the woman which we agreed we would pass to her social worker to pass on to the centre where the woman was held. The social worker pointed out that the woman would welcome the child's loving gift because she could use it as proof she ought to be released 'for the child's sake'.

At some point in all this the little mite said to me; 'When my mummy comes out can she come and live here so she can see what being a proper mummy is'.

That's true, what I just wrote. Makes me sad and angry to remember it. 

Poor little mite. What an unnecessary dilemma for her!

Look at it like this; in order to make money for card shops and petrol stations with their buckets of forecourt flowers foster children have to make hard choices about who their mother is.

The child didn't make a Mother's Day card for me, I was relieved. It's awkward when it happens, unless they're older foster children and the gift is knowingly done.

I had a child at one school where they did Mother's Day, but not Father's day. The head told me, all solemn like, that this was because the school had so many children where the fathers were no longer on the scene. 

I'd gone to see him because the child had been made to draw a Mother's Day card and the child had drawn a monster. The child's teacher had said she thought it was because the child might have been a fan of Harry Potter!

Turned out the Head was separated himself, so maybe no wonder he had a downer on Father's Day.

Poor him, but what about poor children? What about poor us?

Mother's Day? 

It's a load of old Horlicks.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018


A reader, anonymous, writes;

"We currently have a 5yo with a history of neglect and anger issues. She constantly wants one to one play but we can't maintain it all day. The snow days have definitely burned us out trying to keep her happy. We have two much younger children also, so seeing to all their needs is a huge challenge. Obviously we have to set limits, but it's sad when you feel you can't spread yourself out enough. It's only been a couple of months but maybe we aren't the right fit for her."

There's not much to go on, 'anonymous', and that's fine, the child's privacy and yours is all-important. Yet anyone who's fostered for any length of time will instantly recognise and see the full picture of where these poor dear carers are right now, and it's agony for them.

From what little there is it's obvious they are doing a fantastic job; the child craves every second of their company - that's how good they are.

I'd say the hardest decision in fostering, by a country mile, is whether to end a placement. But it happens, there's no shame in it, nobody - social workers, local authorities, your family and friends, the wider public, nobody considers that any type of failure has taken place, sad though it is.

I hope, we all hope, that the anonymous foster parents are getting all the help and sound advice they need and deserve from their social workers and wider support networks (other carers, family, friends).

I can only promise them that the Secret Foster Carer, proud to be part of their support network, can offer them my everlasting respect for becoming foster carers, gratitude for the fabulous start they've already given this child as she begins the long, slow and painful journey towards some kind of peace, and prayers (I'm not religious, I haven't the time, but you know what I mean) that they themselves keep and protect their good hearts. Those things I can promise I can deliver.

I can't promise much else. I can try to offer my thoughts on this one, but they're mine and mine alone, and before I do I can tell you I'm a bit scared. I'm frightened that I might  write something which will contribute to a decision that will change other people's lives, and I worry that I may not have said right.

That's how agonising is the quandary of whether to end a placement; I'm beating myself up by proxy. 

Okay, I'm over it. Second cup of tea and a deep breathe;

Couple of examples before my bottom line;

I got to know a fellow foster mum standing at the school railings, she had 3 foster children and 2 daughters of her own. The foster children were brothers aged 10, 8 and 6; all of them deeply scarred. As time went by, the opposite happened to what many child development experts would say would happen. The two eldest boys got on the road back to okay-ness. The youngest declined, got more frantic, more demanding. Experts often say that the younger the child the better the chance of undoing harm, the reverse was happening. The mum and I used to go for coffee and talk about it, talk about nothing else but the big question; should she ask for the youngest brother to be fostered elsewhere? Long story short; she did. It took a while, but it happened. Then two other things happened, in this order 1) the mum felt awful. 2) everyone ended up happier. The mum got over her bad feelings as it became clear that she'd made a good decision. She had more time for her own children, made faster progress with the remaining brothers, and was kept informed that the youngest was doing better away from his brothers, who acted as unintentional triggers of bad memories for him. Being moved was the best thing for him.

A wonderful couple of foster parents I know took in a boy who they were advised was a handful; aged 10, badly neglected and abused. I know how challenging he was because the boy came to us for respite on several occasions, and each time I ended up utterly exhausted and not a little concerned for his full-time carers. They stuck it out as long as they could, nearly a year if I remember, but in the end everyone agreed that the child needed specialist care, so he went to a special unit. His fantastic foster parents stayed in touch, used to visit him in the unit, they had proved their worth and were immediately offered a less ultra child.The lad is fine now. How do I know? He works at the same place as my other half, so I know for sure; being moved was the best thing for him.

So, 'anonymous', these things I believe;

1. Ending a placement can be the best thing for all concerned, including the child. It's a decision we take for professional reasons, it's not a throwing-in of the towel.

2. Foster parents are understandably reluctant to raise the matter with social workers, don't be. SWs understand; they know that carers don't raise the matter lightly. They are unlikely to agree and put wheels in motion instantly, they need to be as certain in changing a placement as they have to be in asking for authority to remove a child from their real home. When you raise the topic of ending a placement the SWs get the fullest picture of how demanding is the child, more comprehensive than any amount of explaining.

3. One's social workers will, quite rightly, want to explore all other solutions first, respite being an obvious one, perhaps they'll offer expert advice on your specific child, come up with strategies for re-structuring the child's needs for one-to-one play, ideas about monitoring and protecting everyone's well-being, constructing behaviour targets and measuring and celebrating your successes.

3. It's your decision, in the end. That's a simple fact of the matter.

4. The foster parent and their family come first. If we fail to look after ourselves we can't do the job right.

5. Having a challenging 5yr old in a family with two younger children seems a big ask on the surface, but somebody somewhere felt different. You must be a pretty impressive pair of carers, in fact I'm certain you are, and I'm certain you're held in high esteem by the 'professionals'.

Please, if you get time, let us know how things progress.

Meantime; love and respect and very best wishes.

Friday, March 02, 2018


A reader, Ally, asks about the first few days of a placement; whether to stick to the family's usual activities or hunker down.

Good question Ally.

Your social worker will help you plan once you know who's coming. Every foster child is unique, they all have different needs, so it's an unknown. But you know who you are and you know your home; your place is a sanctuary that has been approved, so there can't be much wrong with your routines.
I guess there might be an unexpected wrinkle at home, say if someone is unwell and off work/school or if the boiler's playing up, but hey that's family life, and that's what the child probably needs most.

So for me, I think, most times it's best to carry on as normal, but with a new normal; an extra child. A frightened, lonely, upset child. A few little tweaks might help. You'll naturally be very aware of the new child, wanting to help her feel at home, so she'll be a new focal point, while at the same time the family are trying to avoid her feeling under the microscope.

Oh, and another thing to remember; make sure everyone else in the house feels as loved and important as before!

A new child will usually (but not always) put their best foot forward to begin with. Some fostering people call this the honeymoon period. It's slightly artificial but it gives the foster parent a window to get to know the best side of the child. As soon as the child discovers they can trust you, you'll be let in on their underlying feelings.

As to what tweaks to make to your usual activities; a lot depends on the shape of your new home (the home with the new child),  how many of you there are in the home and who the child is. You can't really plan for this until you start getting information about the child who is coming to you. 

One of our many good friends in fostering is a couple who have no children of their own in the house. He is divorced, two children by his ex-wife, he sees them every other weekend. His new partner was single until she met him. They decided against starting their own family and entered fostering.
Their first placement, a 12 year old lad, was sweetness itself for the first few days, then became himself and shifted the balance within their house. The foster parents are two gentle adults, the child was a bit more full-on. Their social worker explained that the child felt afraid of an uncontrollable world and sought to control some things to feel secure. The foster parents reclaimed authority, and the child - who is now grown-up and has a baby of his own - settled into being the child in the house and relaxed (gradually) once he gave up the responsibility of trying to organise everything around him.
This particular pair of (wonderful) foster parents currently have a long-term placement, only their second foster child. They always tell us how valuable was their first placement in teaching them about finding the child first, then finding the right approach.

Understanding your own household is job number one.

Understanding the new child is equally important, but more challenging.

A boy came to stay with us whose previous foster placement had broken down, it happens. He was fine, great even, for the first couple of weeks. Then; once he trusted us, he started trying to see how much he could push our boundaries. Nothing serious; coming home from school a bit later than we'd expected and diverting questions about why he was late home. Going to the toilet after midnight and flushing as a sign that he was still up and about after everyone else was asleep (trying to be).
His behaviour was mostly fine/normal - grumpy being driven to school, dismissive of his plate of tea, occasional use of fruity language.
One day his supervising social worker told me his problem was that he wasn't used to an un-chaotic house and he found it difficult to navigate around people who were (comparatively) organised and considerate. Obviously we stuck to our normal ways, but understood where he was coming from.

There is no way of telling who a new foster child is going to become after the honeymoon period is over.

Ally, (person who asked the question), what we do is to do our best for the child from day one without changing much in our house and home. Not until after the first few weeks, which is when we know what the child is dealing with; that's when we might try doing some things differently, depending on the child's needs. We never compromise our own children's needs, or the needs of any of the other foster children we might have.

We do compromise our own needs though, where necessary, sometimes a lot.

Giving up the right things for our foster children is what makes the job worthwhile.

And often - but not always - wonderfully successful for the children.