Friday, April 27, 2018


A reader asks; "How do you cope with a full-on wobbly?"

Good question.

The anonymous reader is asking about the moment when it all gets too much for a poor dear foster child and they need to let off a bit of steam. The episode (in my experience) lasts for a few minutes but it feels longer, and can last a bit longer sometimes. The first time it happens it catches  you unawares, and you need to talk to your social worker about it to be reminded that it wasn't your fault, you did everything you could. Together with your social worker you come up with a plan to cope even better if it ever happens again.

Blue Sky, and I feel sure all fostering agencies and local authorities are there for us, especially on the rare occasions things boil up.

All children, foster children or not, have their moments. Fact is, we all do. It's just that children in care generally have more to get het up about than most.

I've only had two foster children who reverted to what I'd call full-on wobblies. One needed to yell out loud, not at me but at the world, it lasted for two minutes then she'd stomp upstairs and slam her bedroom door. She did it only three times then stopped. The other child cried. Howled like a lonely puppy. And in between sobs lamented the saddest wail I've ever heard about life, the universe and everything. Twice she chucked things, but I noticed she was very careful to make sure they were soft, unbreakable things and that their flight through the air endangered nothing and nobody. The child needed, and deserved to let it out.
The strategy we worked out was for me to accompany the child in the lament. Share her sadness. I ended up tearful, with the child.

I've learned that foster children are frequently totally in control of themselves and their actions when they wobble, I talked to my social worker about it and she agreed. So I stopped worrying, or to be precise I worried less. That helped.

Nevertheless a wobbly in your home is a proper kerfuffle. It doesn't happen with every child, by any means. I'd guess 80% of ours have been pretty much good as gold, 15% had their moments, 5% had full-on wobbles - not often though; a few times. And the wobbles dried up and stopped after a while, with both kids.

I'm not going to pretend that with experience wobbles become easy to deal with; we foster parents are human, our home is somewhere we want to be a haven of calm and loving peace. Some foster children have been to hell and back, or to be more accurate have been to hell and are on their way back, and sometimes some of them need to release some grief and frustration.

I went to a brilliant training session at Blue Sky on 'De-escalation'. As usual I managed to digest two or three key things, take them away with me, and put them into practice.

'Coping' with a wobbly is largely about managing your own mind, your thoughts and feelings. We can't expect a child to cope with what's going on in their heads if we can't cope with our own heads.

First up I learned that a wobbly is a signal that the child has learned to trust you. This isn't a credential you can hone in on at the time, you're totally pre-occupied with what's going on, but afterwards you have a cup of tea and remind yourself that if a foster child lets it out it means you're doing everything right for that particular child. This is a true fact, it's not moonshine. A wobbly means they are bonding in their own way.

Second up, a wobbly is not a misbehaviour. It's no more a misbehaviour than having a sore throat and a runny nose. Having a sore throat and a runny nose is a symptom of a cold, and it's no fault of a child if they get a cold. Having a wobbly is a symptom too. You don't confront or berate a child for having a cold, or chastise them for it; colds happen. For some children in care, wobbles happen. There's no point telling the child to stop, or using logic or threatening them with sanctions such as loss of wi-fi or whatever.

Third, a good device to turn the tide is distraction. Offer the child a choice between two things they really like such as ice-cream or a bike ride or a MacDonalds or a late night. There are some neat devices involved in this technique; 1) It helps them take their thoughts to a nicer place, 2) It gives them a choice so they have to think and start working out the nice options, 3) It lets them have some control, and many if not most wobbles are down to the simple fact that the child is frightened because they feel they have no control of anything in life.

There are some other things come to mind that are merely my own experience, take them or leave them, I'm not a psychologist. First thing I've almost always noticed is that the child finds a wonderful peace after the wobble. They are calm, approachable, talkative and co-operative. They needed to blow a gasket and needed to be re-assured that you, their foster parent, was cool about the whole moment.  Which is why I never refer back to a wobble.

Second, the wobbles diminish in time and eventually stop, so they do.

Third, I've learned to try to find the trigger for the wobble. This isn't always easy. We had one child who wobbled one day when I forgot it was wheelie bin morning and got flustered because the lorry was outside. The child confused my fluster for anger, and had memories of terrible (no, really terrible) things when mum got angry, so I had no idea when I got back into the kitchen why the child was upset.

Finding the trigger for a bad emotion in a child is made even more difficult when the child is unaware of the trigger so the foster parent has to do a Sherlock Holmes to spot it. Even more difficult if the child ferments the emotion for twenty minutes before they get upset; how are you going to work backwards and identify the thing that set them off?

Sometimes the child gives you a helping hand. We had a child who got upset on the way home from school. Eventually, from nowhere, the child said;

"It's that tree we go past near the park."

We drove home a different route and no anger. I never asked or guessed what the tree meant, the main job was done; trigger avoided.

 Here's what I used to do with one poor child, I'd say;

"If you want you could nip up to your room and come down when you feel better."

That became a badge of independence for the child; it was their decision to go to their room, I didn't cajole or escort the child, moreover they were going to their room, a room that was their territory, full of their belongings, a place no-one could enter without knocking and asking. On top of all that the child was free to repair their heart and mind in their own way and in their own time, and at liberty to come down when they wanted to. And - crucially - when they came down I made no mention of the earlier event, I'd just say something like "Want a biscuit? Tea in about half an hour."

Wobbles are one of the harder aspects of fostering, no point pretending otherwise. Fostering isn't one long bed of roses, that's why they go to huge lengths to make sure that anyone who is approved to foster has certain key credentials. You need a good heart, compassion and a desire to help and make the world a better place.

You also need to have been round the block a few times yourself. I remember when I underwent approval to foster how the social workers honed in on the trials and tribulations of my life. They were finding out about my strengths and skills for working things out.

If you receive approval to foster you are someone who is considered by a bank of professionals to be capable of doing something that maybe they can't.

If you foster you're good at the good stuff, and good at the not-so-good stuff.

You're good.

Really, really good.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018


A reader named Ally asks;

"Do you have any experiences with foster kids diagnosed with PTSD that dont sleep well, and if they do sleep, are awake super early, 4-5am waking everyone in the house up to show she is awake and leaving EVERYONE exhausted".

Interesting question, due in no small measure to the fact that it got me wondering how many foster children have undiagnosed PTSD in some measure...

Probably so many it would bring down the system. So Ally's placement must be a particularly profound case.

I'm assuming here that PTSD refers to post traumatic stress disorder.* 

Poor child must have been through something seriously distressing. And is still going through something seriously distressing, namely re-living whatever the traumas were over and over.

I haven't had any experience with children who've been clinically diagnosed with PTSD, my first thought is that whichever professional made the diagnosis would be your first port of call with the sleep issue. A diagnosis of PTSD is obviously serious; you hear of firefighters and suchlike receiving counselling and medication to deal with experiences. PTSD in a child is a major thing. 

Sleeplessness for foster parents is no minor matter either.

First off I want to say to Ally that you must be held in huge esteem by your social workers if they chose you to help this child's repair and recovery. Think about it Ally, you must be one helluva foster parent, good on you.
That's no comfort to you though, especially at 4.00am, but the child wants and needs to be with you. You, your whole household, represents the love, warmth, friendship and security she craves, and she wants it all around her from the minute she wakes.

Getting children to go to sleep? Can be a devil of a job.

You can make a child up wake up, but you can't make them go to sleep. You can crowbar them into bed, but if they have distressed minds, why try? Most of the foster children I've had were dead set against bedtime, many because they dreaded the loneliness of a strange bedroom in a strange house. Many's the time I've allowed a child to stay 'up' with us on the sofa in their pyjamas and dressing gown under a blanket until they are proper drowsy. Depends what's on the TV as to whether it's on or off. If it's off I'm either in a book or on my ipad. Best of all is if I pretend I'm nodding off. Sometimes I don't have to pretend too hard. Had one child who used to synchronise their gentle breathing with mine and that was when I knew they were ready to go upstairs.

Long bike rides at the weekend helped; children don't run around in the fresh air like they used to.

Let's talk about the early waking and wanting everybody else to be awake.

Our very first foster child was a bad sleeper and an early waker-upper of myself. Partly my fault. On his first night I made a rookie mistake, I told him if he woke up in the night and felt scared he could tap on my bedroom door and I'd be there for him. So he did, at 2.30am. And a promise is a promise. It became routine, and once it got in the groove it proved really hard to undo. Turned out he had always been a poor sleeper all his life.

We did undo it in the end, it took about 3 months to start improving and another 3 before it was just a bad memory. I'm not saying Ally is in for a long haul; every foster child is unique; what happened with this child was that with time and effort he began to feel more and more secure and trusting, and as he did so he started sleeping better.

Time heals, but lacking a Tardis to fast forward we decided to try various things to speed the process up.

First off we put a clock in his room and agreed he could get up at a certain time and was rewarded every time he did. We started with 'soft targets' and gradually moved the time forward until it got to an acceptable 6.00am. We made a game of it; I bet him he couldn't stay quiet in bed until such and such a time and he kept beating me. He was the 'winner'. No matter that I had to buy a digital clock (easier to learn than one with hands). I had to teach him how to tell the time before this one began to kick in, and it was a struggle at first, but I'll never forget the first time it fully worked, we all felt good, especially the child.

We put food in his room. Many children coming into care have suffered neglect with food. Not just poor diet, but being denied food as punishment or because the adults simply can't be bothered, or forgot, or were too drunk or high to even make beans on toast. And the children are often barred from using the larder or the fridge on pain of punishment. That's if there's anything in them to be going on with...
Food is right up there on dear old Maslow's hierarchy of needs, third in fact, behind air and water. Not just the eating of it, but the comfort that it's available. So we put a bowl of apples and bananas in his room and said they were his and he could eat them whenever he wanted to. We started making a snackbox with his favourite nibbles and putting it in his bedroom every night and telling him it was his and he could snack away if he woke up. He didn't seem that fussed about the snackbox because it hardly ever got eaten, so we stopped it only for him to complain. Turned out he needed the security of available food more than he needed to eat it.

We got to the bottom of his jitters. We found out, thanks to a chance remark by a social worker, that before he came into care he used to be locked into his bedroom every night so his mother could go to the pub. We called the social worker who had overseen his coming into care. She'd been to the house, she described the scene. His bedroom door had no ordinary door-lock with a little key in it. It had a huge steel hasp screwed onto the outside of the door with a thick gunmetal staple on the door frame to take an industrial padlock. Horrific! To this child his bedroom was a dungeon. So the lesson learned is to find out everything you can about the child; ask social workers questions about everything they know about the child's experiences, ask them to dig out everything they can because it's possible that somewhere in all the awful history is a detail you can use. What did we do for this child? We took his bedroom door off. Yep. Drastic, I know, but it was just six screws. We talked to social workers first about it, it was agreed. I'll never be sure how much it helped - we had to be careful with privacy etc - but it definitely contributed.

We couldn't stop him waking up early, only peace of mind would do that. He had nightmares he didn't or couldn't recall and they were probably what woke him up. Once awake he didn't dare go back to sleep for fear of more bad dreams. We couldn't stop him waking up, couldn't stop the dreams, couldn't make him go back to sleep, but we could help him feel comfortable with just himself for company.

We put things to do in his bedroom. I lent him an ipad so he could play games with headphones on when he woke up (and I was able to monitor his usage by checking history when he was at school). It helped. He started to get used to being alone in the wee hours.

Lighting was important. We left the landing light on and a night light in his room. We kept checking to make sure the lighting didn't make any strange shapes out of shadows. We left the bathroom light on, in case he needed to go and didn't have to encounter any darkness anywhere. 

As he got to know our house better we tried something a bit daring and it worked, maybe the best thing we tried; we told him that we thought he was clever enough to creep all the way downstairs and play on the X Box with headphones on without waking anyone up. We made a game of it, a challenge. We sussed out which stairs creaked and how climb down without stepping on them. We had fun practising during the day; I'd sit at the kitchen table with my eyes closed and he'd have to start in his bedroom and get into the living room without me hearing a sound. The child was a mature ten years of age by the way (this tactic is not for younger ones, obviously). Being awake and having the run of downstairs made him feel grown-up. Was it a risk? We talked it through with social workers, the joke was that if he grew up to be the world's best cat burglar we'd go down as his accomplices. We gave it a go. He was fine. It worked until the time a spider galloped across the living room floor...

Not all the above are appropriate for all children of course. Always run ideas past your social worker. The key thing is to keep trying to find things that help. Try your own ideas out, anything that might improve things.

Naturally we didn't buy fizzy drinks or any food that might trigger 'blue sweet syndrome'.

We (my partner and I) took it in turns to be 'it', when he needed someone to be awake. As things improved we both got used to dozing in and out of sleep once he was on the move. When he was at school I had regular afternoon naps, but they never made up for a poor night's sleep.

Being awake with a demanding child when the rest of the world is fast asleep is one of the loneliest places. But...

We got there in the end, and now it's a distant memory, but many thanks to Ally for reminding me about what started out very demanding but ended up a very satisfying fostering experience.

Funny thing, one's memory with parenting. When my first baby was born I swore loudly and frequently (43 hours labour) that I would never put myself through it again. Apparently it was ten weeks after the birth that I announced I wanted another...

Fostering's a bit like that. I'd forgotten the hardships of having a sleepless foster child until Ally asked. When the lad left us I was straight on the phone to Blue Sky asking for another placement. 

Didn't take me ten minutes, never mind about ten weeks...

* ps I'm cautious with bunches of initial letters, they're everywhere. A friend visited recently, a petrol-head. He was getting into his car to go and said something spookily insightful so I said;

"Your ESP is working well."

And he replied; "Actually I've just had it tweaked."

I replied "Tweaked?"

Turns out ESP can refer to a car's Electronic Stability Programme. 
Unless, my friend went on, I was referring to his Electric Submersible Power motor which is a two-pole squirrel cage induction device...

Anyhoo from that conversation on I make sure everyone's agreed on what initials stand for.

Friday, April 13, 2018


We've had a couple of weeks of school holidays, a different type of fostering.

You could say there are two modes of fostering; when schools are up and running and when they're closed for holidays.

When schools break up your foster son or daughter is home all day, or at least in your arc, seven days a week, as distinct from when it's five days of school and two days of being around home.

Even if the child is anti-school, there's still a structure about Monday to Friday which vanishes when it's school holidays.

Our Blue Sky social worker always schedules a visit during the school holidays, just to check everything's cool. She's a great person.'s what happened (it was tiny but rather good)...

Our social worker showed up at 10.00am, on the dot as usual, smiling and full of the joys. They always arrive exuding positive vibes, sometimes we need it, sometimes we don't, it's always a boost.

Always a boost.

Where else can you work with someone who comes and spends a whole morning drinking tea and helping you by giving you guidance and advice but also telling you you're fantastic.

I worked in all sorts of jobs before fostering. Nobody ever, ever came to me with kindness and support and told me how good my efforts were. No manager, no boss, no shop steward, not even colleagues. The people I worked alongside were cynical about the exercise, and often miserable about management.

Okay sometimes foster carers enjoy a good whinge. Who doesn't?

But when your Blue Sky social worker turns up at your house, as they must and do relentlessly, it's all about making sure you know you're not doing this fostering thing alone.


What happened was this. And I'm sorry if it sounds like nothing, but at the time it was huge.

We have a child who is unconsciously anti-parent. This is not surprising, the vast majority of children who come into care have a problem with their parent figures. The dear child doesn't always interact with us as one would hope.


So. The social worker turned up at 10.00am and we drank tea at the kitchen table and laughed and stuff...but she needed to touch base with the child, to make sure the child was okay and not harbouring any secret worries.

The child, who was asleep when the SW arrived, was persuaded  to venture downstairs to say hello.

On arrival at the bottom of the stairs I said:

"Hello, you alright? What would you like for breakfast?'

Child replied, in a gloomy voice;

"I dunno do I?"

Now, the thing is, I've taught myself to get past minor infringements with this child, because the child is making good progress and I've learned that if you go zero tolerance on every little thing you can end up with a full scale wobbly, and that risks putting the child's progress back a month.

But social worker decided she couldn't stand idly by. Instead she put on a big grin and went;

"Well that's not very nice, when someone offers to make you breakfast. I think you can do better than that."

Child stopped in tracks, gave it a quick think, let out a self-conscious chuckle and went;

"Yeah, sorry...I've just woken up like..."

Social worker wasn't done, she said;

"So...what do you want for breakfast?"

"Er..we got any cereal?"

I replied;

"Yep. Co-co Pops or Weetabix. Or Porridge."

"Can I have Co-co Pops?"

Social worker went three out of three;

"Can I have Co-co Pops...WHAT?"

Child; "Can I have Co-co Pops please?"

Child took breakfast into the front room, social worker joined child for a private chat, I heard them having fun; laughing their socks off.

Child went upstairs, social worker came back into kitchen;

"Well you've got a very happy child there."

I replied; "Not every minute of every day I can tell you."

"Loves it here. Has loads of respect for you. Feels safe and cared for. Sense of belonging."

I said; "Really. Is this you reading between the lines?"

"Nope. Those were the exact words used. But if I wanted to read between the lines, I noticed the request for breakfast was 'Have WE got any cereal' not 'Have YOU got any cereal?'"

Social worker zoomed off, leaving happy child and happier foster mum. Child had a tad more respect for a while afterwards. Foster mum had a tad more respect for her own efforts. For a while.

Then we all went back to being where we were in the first place, which, as the social worker said, was a pretty good place.

Child working on survival and doing it their way.

Foster mum like the swan, paddling away like mad beneath the surface, but above the surface...

...hissing at everything that moves and flapping both wings in frenzy...

Only joking.  

My take on the serene swan thing...

Wednesday, April 11, 2018


A few words about how it is when you're up and waiting and hoping for your next placement. It's a wow. Heck of a buzz.

Even more of a wow when it's your first ever placement.

That's where we are now (the former), and it is what it is.

We've been there a lot of course, but it's still what it is.

First off, we have to try not to feel let down or disappointed when the phone doesn't ring at 9.00am on day one when we're available. 

We're so excited and enthusiastic we can get frustrated that they don't simply send a bus-load of kids over, hey we are up for it.

When you start up you don't go onto the system until you're ready, qualified and available.  Sometimes your social worker will have a respite case in mind for you to get you started, it's what happened to us. Our Blue Sky contacts had got to know us and also knew of a child in care whose foster parents were due a weekend break. They arranged for the child to accompany his foster mum to a support meeting they knew I'd attend. They left no stone unturned.
By the way, when I say they'd got to know us I remember taking a call from a Blue Sky senior person with regard to something or other and she finished the chat by saying "I've been reading your file every month as it grows, I feel as if I know you inside out even though we've never met."
I found that very re-assuring.

Then there's the business of getting matched. They aren't going to call unless there's a good chance of a fit. 

People come into fostering having heard that there's a massive need for carers. There is.  If you're thinking about it, I beg you to do it; make contact, begin the process of approval. 

But just because you walk out of the final meeting with your approval it doesn't mean there's a match for you out there straight away.

One of the things that happens generally is that the phone rings and a voice asks if you can take a child, and you get a few details. If you say yes you then get an email with a load of information about the child. In our case I'd phone my partner and we'd chat a bit. Then I'd go back and say we were up for the child.

Then it's the local authority's decision, they usually have several options in front of them.

Sometimes you get a phone call saying the child has gone somewhere else.

You get a whiff of rejection, but Blue Sky explain the thinking; I can remember things such as ;

"The authority went with a family whose home is near the child's school."

"They found a Muslim family for them." (We're not Muslim, but had been willing).


"The authority changed their mind and decided to keep the family together but monitor them closely."

Geography is the biggest reason, in my experience, that a child gets placed elsewhere. If a child needs schooling and Contact with their significant others, the foster parents don't really want a fifty mile round trip ten times a week.

So, that's where we are now.  Nearly. Our foster child is going home soon and we're ready to take another.

"We're available."

Can't wait!

Sunday, April 08, 2018


It's mixed feelings when a foster child who's been with you a while is gearing up to go.

Not 50/50 mixed feelings, more like 70/30.

The seventy is how pleased you are for them, the thirty is that you're sad to say goodbye.

The children are generally at peace with the world once they know that they are going home.

Yes, they have some conscious trepidations in case things go wrong again, but deep down most foster children are usually drawn home whatever happened and whatever might happen.

We did have one child who was adamant, absolutely definite, that they did not want to go 'home' or have anything more to do with 'home', ever. That wish was granted. But generally foster children view home through rose tinted glasses, mother nature or some other force gives them unfathomable hope and optimism. And a pair of rose-tinted spectacles.

One tricky thing is when you have a foster child going home and you have another foster child in your home who isn't.

As long as you're alert to the feelings of each, things stay just about on track and are smooth.  You can only imagine what goes through the head of the child who must remain in care. I try to give the child who's staying a sense that their presence in our family is special to us. Not hard, because the child is special to us.

At the same time we make sure the child who's going knows they will be missed, that we will always be there for them if they need us. They can't contact us  direct, but they will have contact with social services and we always say clearly; "If you need to come back here again for a while, as long as we have the space, you'll always be welcome."

But I'm not looking forward to the goodbyes. There's nothing like it in normal parenting. Someone once said to me that it must be like a mini-death, well it's nowhere remotely near such a catastrophe, but I got what they were driving at.

Actually the foster parents should be doing cartwheels because the job of fostering is getting the child back together with their real parents.

But I never feel like partying. 

Like every foster parent I've met, regardless of the ups and downs of the placement, once they're gone you find your bond with them strengthens. You long to share their triumphs, whether at school, in work, in life or in love.

You want to be standing between them and the cruel world every time it gangs up on them, rolling up your sleeves and saying; "You want this kid? You're going to have to come through me first!" (Metaphorically of course).

I remember a Blue Sky support meeting at which a foster carer, a mum in her fifties, not the most robust person in appearance, dabbing her eyes with a tissue when the conversation turned to everybody's niggles about fostering. It happens BTW, doesn't matter where you work, or who you work for, it can be delicious to have an office-related whinge.

We noticed she was filling up and asked if we could help.

"I'm alright...' she said, "Too alright actually. The doorbell went last Friday and when we answered it was a girl we'd had placed with us for over a year. She left us about three years ago, and we never heard anything about her. The girl stood on our step and said she just wanted to say thank you."

The foster mum asked her in and they had the inevitable cup of tea. The mum assumed the girl was local and had happened to find herself passing the end of the street. The girl replied that she lived  about ten miles away.

The girl had got on the train and walked up from the station.

To say thank you.

That's it from me on this one, filling up. Haven't got a tissue so dabbing with the hem of my T shirt. 

Talk soon...