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.


  1. Thank you for such an insightful and heartfelt response, I wasn't expecting it. I am happy to report that even since my intitial comment (at the point of exhaustion) the foster child has had her best week so far. I like to think it was all the quality time that burned us out so much was finally helping her settle. Family life with preschoolers is so full of ups and downs even without fostering on top of it. For now we're all a bit happier and continuing to take things one day at a time.

    1. That's great to hear, well done. Congratulations.
      I find fostering is not so much two steps forward one step back, it's micro progress almost every day, provided you have the energy left to spot it.
      I bet you're feeling burned out!
      I also bet the quality time was QUALITY.
      Not many people get a chance to save a life, when it happens the TV news is all over them. But we do it all day every day.
      Lots of love

  2. Thanks, another great and informative post. As much as ending a placement is hard, what about when you are asked to take a placement and for whatever reasons the child is labelled 'difficult to place' what helps you make your mind up if you will accept or not?

  3. Good question Ally, hi, I hope you are well and happy.
    Thinking about it carefully, probably what helps most to make up my mind is understanding my own circumstances, my own family and their particular needs, which are paramount.
    But you never know.
    I've always given the benefit of the doubt and said yes, except one time I said no when the child had an infectious medical condition that one of my own children found particularly worrying.

    1. I’m curious to know what the infectious medical condition was? I am surprised the SWs would consider fostering a child with an infectious condition to a home with other children?
      Thank you for these great posts x

  4. I didn't explain myself very well... we were never offered any such placement, but it was many years ago and we'd been asked if there were any considerations that we couldn't live with.
    There is a member of our extended family who used to be somewhat hypochondriacal (if that's the word) about HIV, so we decided to identify it as something we would be cautious about taking on board (although our immediate family are well informed and I personally would have no problem). Our SW acknowledged our need (at that time) and stressed that any and all of a child's medical circumstances that are known would be made known to potential carers, and the right to prefer not to take a child for such a reason will always be respected.

    1. Thank you for explaining, that makes much more sense now.