Thursday, May 24, 2018


A reader asks about PANEL.

The reader is getting ready to be approved to foster. She/he has undergone the induction process, which is what happens when a person asks to come into fostering. That process goes something like this;

You put your name forward either with a fostering agency or your local authority and you receive a quick visit from someone, a flying call to check you and your home out.

They aren't looking for a palace, or an angel with wings. They are looking for a home that is reasonably tended and has a spare bedroom. They want a regular person, by which I mean someone who is capable of carrying out life's basics of keeping a home and family afloat with enough left over to devote to someone extra. Your age doesn't matter (you have to be an adult, obviously), neither does gender, or physical abilities as long as you can cope with day to day activities. Religion and sexual preferences don't matter either. 

Obviously if an applicant's lifestyle is way out there it could be an issue. Nobody's completely normal, but we all know roughly what normal is, and if someone is too far removed from normal it could be a problem for a child coming to live there.

The initial visit doesn't last long; one chap once told me he could tell in 5 minutes. He told me about an applicant he had to let down gently because sadly the applicant needed a carer himself, never mind about his fifteen snakes.

That done the process begins for real. You start getting visits from the social worker who is assigned to you. I'd gone with Blue Sky, I liked their friendly family-style approach. They chose one of their social workers to process my application. She started visiting me. We sat at the kitchen table drinking tea and talking. Talking about me. My life so far. My trials and tribulations. She didn't take notes (that would have been a bit intimidating), just jotted down a few things and wrote up the visit later. They are building your file.

They do all the work.

We talked about my own childhood, then my various jobs. We talked about my relationships; past romances, friends and work colleagues. It wasn't intrusive, I enjoyed opening up. In fact I reckon it's the sort of thing you get if you're one of those film stars who spends a lifetime on the psychiatrists couch.

We talked a lot about my marriage and children, after all they are part and parcel of any foster home. The social worker arranged ways to meet them too, just friendly chats.

She was passing my file up to her line manager to make sure there was a seconder overseeing my application.

The process took a few months, Blue Sky have got it down to a fine art. It sounds thorough because it is thorough. It has to be thorough for obvious reasons. When you become a foster parent you are appointed to undertake one of the most serious and responsible roles going. Plenty of countries don't have the safeguards we do in the UK, and they pay the penalty. So do any number of innocent children.

The process of being approved might include pre-training visits to your agency or local authority offices for group sessions, so you meet people in the same boat. It might even include your social worker paying a visit to your own parents. I remember nominating my 'support network' (my best and most trusted friends), and one of them was pleasantly surprised to get a visit.

The whole shebang is heading towards getting final approval, which happens at Panel.

I've personally got a bee in my bonnet about the very word because it comes out sounding a bit Big Brotherish, a tad daunting.

Whereas in fact it's a red-letter day. You go in as Jo Bloggs, just another cog in the wheel and you come out a five star, ocean going somebody. A fully qualified Foster Carer.

So, Panel IS a big deal, but mainly for that reason. It's your graduation. It's where you get your gong.

I'll give you a rough A-Z of how Panel works, or at least how it was for us. I dare say panels vary slightly from place to place, but I'm pretty sure the basics are universal.

'Panel' is what it says it is; a panel of people with various types of expertise in fostering. They are independent of whoever has processed your application, they have no vested interests in you or your mentors and that's important because that way your approval comes from an impartial body. In my case, as I remember, the panel was nine or ten folk all of whom looked like cheery types underneath, but put people in formal clothes and shiny shoes and sit them in a horseshoe facing you, even the Seven Sisters of Mercy would look like a jury.

But make no mistake; underneath their serious faces, they like and respect you and desperately want you to be as good as your file says you are. Despite all the trappings of their essential impartiality, they are on your side.

So. What happens first is that a few weeks before your Panel day you put the date in your diary. And start to get a bit anxious. What will they ask? Suppose I get flustered? What should I wear?

Looking back I realise I should have been relieved more than anything because, put simply, you wouldn't have got this far if the people vetting you had any significant doubts about your potential to foster.

I'm not saying here that Panel is a mere rubber-stamping of your final accreditation, it's more than that. I don't know of the numbers of people who are informed by Panel that they need to do a bit more work on a few things and come back in a few months. To be absolutely honest, I've never heard of that happening, but I imagine it does from time to time.

Look, the nation's child care services are cash-strapped enough without taking a punt with hundreds, maybe thousands of pounds of their time and money. Your fostering agency or local authority have already invested in you and have confidence in your application. If they put you up for panel approval the panel know that a whole lot of professionals believe you cut the mustard, and even if you don't do your best in front of them, they know that to be a good foster carer you need other skills besides talking a good talk in front of an audience.

That doesn't stop you getting anxious.  My other half got himself a bit worked up as well, because as the nominated 'secondary carer' (I'm our primary carer), he was invited too.

So, come the day we dressed smart-casual with the emphasis on smart, were met by Blue Sky people in reception (our support) and waited outside the door. Someone came out smiling and got hugs and back-slaps from their team. The Blue Sky lot went "Good luck" and we walked in. Nine or ten pairs of eyes on us. Yike.

The chair, a formal-looking woman, welcomed us by name (just to make sure everyone was referring to the right set of files) and invited us to sit down. 

I expected us to get an introduction to all the panel but that didn't happen, instead the chair got down to it;

"Well, Mr and Mrs Cool (not my real name, wish it was) may I on behalf of the panel thank you for seeking to foster, and may I also say that having read your application and file notes it's clear that you come before us as strong candidates. However, as I'm sure you understand, it is important that we ask some questions of you so that we can be confident in our decision and as certain as we can reasonably be that the outcome will be the right one." 

Then we had to field a few straightforward questions, easy ones (mind, being human we both felt we could have answered better). Questions such as;

"Why do you wish to foster?"

"What do your family think about you becoming foster parents?"

"Do you have any strong preferences to look after any particular sort of children?"

Easy. Then they asked one or two trickier ones. One of the panel said;

"I notice that one of your sons has a criminal record. Should we be concerned about that?"

I told them the truth, obviously. He had gone to a party at a school friends house and several of them had brought alcohol. The mother of the boy whose birthday it was didn't know much, for example when it was time up she made them all stand in the street for their lifts. However mine and one of his mates lived walking-distance away so were making their own way home. Their route took them past their school. One of them - we never found out which - threw a rock through a window. My son guilted out and phoned the police himself. The pair got the works; handcuffs, back of a police car, interview and cell. The incident was to be removed from his CRB (now DBS) file shortly.

Panel nodded with half-smiles as in "Kids! Whatchagonna do?"

This was just what we'd expected. They asked about the easier and the harder things, but we knew they weren't impediments or we wouldn't be there. If we'd said anything radically different from what was in our files that might have set off alarm bells. 

What was in our files was the truth about us, so we naturally answered honestly and openly.

Another pointed question from one of them was;

"I see that you recently bought a car using a loan, does this indicate any financial hardship we should know about?"

My other half fielded that one, he said;

"Well we're not millionaires, but it makes sense when they're offering interest-free credit. I don't know anyone who buys a car outright any more."

On the way home we laughed about that one because it was pretty obvious from the silence that none of the panel were millionaires either and all of them had probably borrowed to buy their wheels.

The twenty minutes or so was filled with other questions we knew all the right answers to because they were answers we had already given and were in our file.

One slightly crotchety question came from a man I suspect was deeply Christian about the fact that we weren't deeply Christian, but that's not a crime any more so we stuck to our guns again.

Then came smiles all round as we heard the chair say;

"Well Mr and Mrs Cool I believe that I can say on behalf of the panel - and with great delight - that you are now, officially, approved to foster. Congratulations."

Then she said;

"Is there anything you'd like to ask?"

And this is the bit I remember best. I turned to the panel member who had introduced himself as a foster carer and said;

"Do you have any good advice?"

He thought for a moment and replied (and I can still see his face saying this);

"You're going to need a lot of love."

Monday, May 21, 2018


It's Fostering Fortnight, a good time to stress the positives in fostering.

Fostering needs more fosterers. If you're someone who's thinking about it, go to the next step and make contact. Please.

Fostering isn't all plain sailing, but being on board is the best way I know to sail the seas to some amazing places...

Melanie stayed with us for eight months, Melanie and Trellawny, her baby.

Mel was a nice person, very compliant, very obedient. Persuadable. Trellawny was her second child. Both fathers weren't on the scene.

Melanie was not nearly seventeen years old.

She'd been given the option of abortion with both pregnancies but wanted the babies. Her reasoning, the social workers figured, was that she hoped the babies would bring some stability into her life, and I guess going from sofa surfing into being fostered is comparatively very stable, so her strategy worked. For a while.

'Sofa Surfing' - if you don't know (and I had to have it explained to me) is sleeping on other people's sofas until they get fed up with you and you surf to someone else's sofa. There was other troubling jargon; Melianie's extent of cooking was "Ding meals"  and Thursday, when she got her benefit, was "Pay day".

Melanie had been sofa surfing since her single mother had thrown her out onto the streets for not bringing in any social security money any more. I met the mother once, went to her social housing detached home with Melanie to collect some belongings. "Mum" was a pocket battleship of a woman with a voice like a chainsaw. She looked after herself in every way.  Her black leather micro-skirt matched the upholstery throughout,  all the artwork was on black velvet, she smoked Bensons to keep her weight down and she de-fumigated by zooming around in her yellow open top sports car. Her looks and image were important to her, because they meant men. Men who, according to Melanie, must have money. Melanie said her mother would milk the men of their money then boot them out. 

The mother had shown Melanie that children are nothing more than cash machines, that relationships are about material gain. There's no such thing as love.

The branch of fostering where you look after a mini-family is called Parent and Child. 

Parent and Child fostering can be a bit hard on the heart because part of the job is that you are asked your view as to whether the child should be allowed to stay with the parent. 

Your view is important. They take your view very much into account.

Parent and Child fostering is not for everyone what with having to go back into the world of nappies and night-time feeds. Making the judgement of Solomon proportions  is harrowing too.

In Melanie's case it was with a heavy heart that I took the view that it would be best for baby Trellawny if she was adopted. 
Melanie just didn't chime with her baby. It wasn't her fault. I remember suggesting to Melanie she sing nursery rhymes to Trellawny, but she didn't know any, nobody had sung any to her when she was little. That summed up a lot of things for me.

I can't put into words how difficult was the day when Melanie had to say goodbye to Trellawny who was so tiny she didn't know what was going on - one hopes. There were tears all round. Although; something in me told me Melanie was distraught for herself more than for Trellawny. Melanie's mother had shaped her that way. 

The decision to remove Trellawny was about breaking a cycle. If Melanie brought up Trellawny as she herself had been parented the pattern would probably be repeated.

Melanie recovered quickly and was allowed to stay with us a little longer while they sorted a room for her in a hostel. I had many chats with her about going forward in life. She seemed to be getting her head around the shortfalls in her upbringing and its effect on her.  She told me she was going to avoid the same mistakes again.

But did she?

Melanie moved out. I expected to hear nothing more except maybe gossip on some grapevine or another, maybe that she had got herself pregnant again.

Then, after nearly a year, thanks to Facebook, this happened. Melanie contacted me. We chatted and she asked me if I would do something for her. She wanted to learn to drive but the lessons were expensive and she needed to practice. Would I do what mums do for daughters and go out on the road with her?

Flippin' heck I thought. This is above and beyond the call. Long story short I ran it past my social worker who said it was up to the two of us as adults what we did in our spare time. So I agreed. Melanie passed her test second time. She and I had spent quite a few hours together.

My social worker says that, whether she knew it or not, maybe Melanie wanted to replace her mother as her role model with a better one.

And soon she'll be put to a bigger test. Because, yes, Melanie is pregnant again. 

Perhaps this time she'll have enough empathy and the baby will stay with her. I'll not be asked to foster her again and I hope that whatever happens it's for the best for both of them.

But if she keeps the baby, my social worker will keep reminding me that maybe it's because of the fostering she received and that I should feel proud of our fostering. 

Fostering keeps sneaking up and patting you on the back.

Sunday, May 20, 2018


I often think fostering is like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.

Or what it’s going to give back.

Several weeks before we gained accreditation as foster carers I was invited to the Blue Sky offices for a routine meeting to talk about our upcoming appearance in front of the panel of experts that has final say on whether you’re approved to foster or not.

Actually, Blue Sky had an added agenda. They were being smart.
One of their carers was in the building, with her placement. A scamp of a lad called Duran.

We all met up in the coffee area, and I noticed Duran hiding under a coffee table, trying not to be seen. He saw me spot him, our eyes met briefly, and I winked. His secret was safe with me. He grinned a mischievous grin.

I chatted to the foster carer, a brilliant person. She’d never had children of her own and had been worried that she might miss things. But no; she’d worked in an office where strange behaviours and souls in need of enlightenment are just as good a preparation to foster as having your own brood!

We all got up to go together, and headed for the lift down. When the lift door opened people piled in, but I stood back.

“Aren’t you coming in?” asked my social worker.

“No,” I replied, “I’m going to take the stairs and race you down. Anyone coming?”

Duran leapt out of the lift; “Yeah!”

We won, Duran and me.

A few weeks later we went before the dreaded panel (actually it was a great experience) and walked out qualified foster carers. And were met by my social worker who said: 

“You remember you said you’d be willing to take a child from the get-go?”

I confirmed.

“Well we have someone for you this weekend. A 48-hour respite.”

I said:

“Tell me about the child.”

“You’ve already met him. It’s Duran Everham.”

Turns out that Duran was considered a handful, so much so they’d put me together with him to see if there was chemistry. 

Long story short, Duran came. And he was a handful. A ball of boisterousness, more energy than I’ve ever seen in any human, awake at 4.00am and needing to do stuff. Petrified of his own company. Attention span zero. Need for permanent attention, occupation, stimulation. Pushed me to the max, then a bit more.

He'd been passed from pillar to post as a child before he came into care, none of his 'real' family could cope. He'd learned that he wasn't wanted. He'd tired out several foster carers before the lovely couple who had him at the time he stayed with me, and I could totally understand why they needed respite.

Weekend over my social worker told me it doesn’t get any more taxing than Duran Everham. She said he was beginning to chill out at his regular foster home but it was feared he’d regress in a respite home. However they’d seen enough to trust me with his respite care.

Obviously, Duran didn’t put me off fostering, not for a nanosecond but blimey it was quite a debut.

Next to our home came a timid mite. Then a lovely teenager. Followed by a sweet but sad girl who couldn’t face bedtime, we’d been told why.

Then came a call from Blue Sky;

“Would you be willing to do a weekend respite for… Duran Everham.”

We agreed without hesitation, but girded our loins. Durham was motored over to us on the Friday afternoon. When I opened the door he was standing there with an unprecedented look of peace on his face.

He was a handful again, but nowhere like the first time.

After he went home we gave and were given feedback with his full-time carer. I mentioned his improved behaviour and the look on his face when he arrived.

“Yes,” the carer said, “Because you actually wanted him back. You wanted him. You were pleased to see him. It’s still rare for him to feel wanted and it meant the world to him.”

I happen to know what’s happened to Duran because he turned up for a job at the place where my husband works. I went to a works function a while ago and Duran was there with his other half. They were expecting their second.  We didn’t chat hardly at all,  but he kept shooing me a look.

The same look he’d had on his face when I’d opened the door for his second visit. The look that you get when you see someone who wants your company.

Fostering is MORE than a box of chocolates, its a three course blow out. 

Pride for starters.

A main of Pride, a side of Pride...

...and Pride for afters.

Saturday, May 19, 2018


Sometimes fostering is rewarding in the most unexpected ways.

We had a fifteen-year-old boy, Keaton, stay with us, not for very long, three weeks as I remember.

Long enough to get to know him well, and he was worth getting to know.

For despite a lousy start in life he was a top lad.

His mother had been all over the place with menfolk, and Keaton was one of eight. All eight with different dads. I know, if you aren't in fostering some of these stories are hard to credit, but true.

Keaton told us he'd got into his stride in life when he was fostered, he was taken into care several years before he came to us. He'd been with the same foster carer all that time, but needed to come to us for a complicated reason;

His foster mum, Margaret, was a magnificent carer in her seventies, she'd been a full-time foster parent for donkeys years, generally had two in her home, and on top of that took in a disabled boy for weekend respite. She was organised. Margaret could mind mice at a crossroads.

I met her when she dropped Keaton off at our house. Part of the reason she drove him herself was because she wanted to check out our home, make sure we were good enough for her foster boy.

What had happened was this; her other foster child had got into a spot of hot water with the police and it had been decided to remove him from Margaret's care while they investigated. They needed him to be a solo placement for the duration. Margaret was worried for the lad, because he was more wayward than Keaton and she feared he'd go off the tracks completely if he was moved.

So; Keaton volunteered to leave instead.

Yep. How fantastic is that? What a boy!

To say that Keaton was no trouble at all is the understatement of the year.

He was politeness itself, considerate and helpful to the point where we felt as though we had a butler in the house. He learned how to work our kitchen and made cups of tea for anyone and everyone from the off.

He went running in the evening with my husband, they became mates and would sit watching Match of the Day until half past eleven every Saturday night.

He cooked us an evening meal one night, a Polish recipe which he knew how to cook because one of the foster children who'd been with him and Margaret had a Polish dad and Keaton taught himself Polish cooking to help the child feel at home.

One night shortly before Keaton went back to Margaret my husband came home from work and said "Where's Kete?" They'd become buddies with pet names for each other, Keaton called my husband "Bilbo".

I replied; "Sit down and I'll tell you. You not going to believe this."

He sat.

"You know we've been saying that Keaton is too good to be true?" I said, "Well it just gets better. How many times have I asked you to have a look at the toilet?"

Our upstairs loo had been filling in a funny way; sometimes it was ages before you could flush again, and a couple of times the bowl had re-filled a bit too full for my liking; it was a wet floor waiting to happen, but not a job either of us fancied, party because we'd probably make a mess of it and have to call a plumber who'd be sniffy about our bodged job.

Husband stared at me and got it in one.

Keaton had asked where we kept our tools. He picked out various spanners, vice-grips and pliers and a tin of some sort of perma-putty and went at it. He'd been upstairs for an hour, I'd taken him a cup of tea and watched him, sleeves rolled up, muttering things like;

"Well it's not the flow.."

"Do not like the look of the ball-cock.."

We were sat there, the two of us foster parents on some sort of cloud when he called down;

"I think I've sorted it."

He had. A temporary job, he explained, the arm of the ball cock was the guilty party, we would have to replace it eventually but there was no rush.

It was emotional when he left, as usual. But in his case there was none of the fear for the child's future which can be commonplace.

Keaton is doing fine, wherever he is. He told us he hoped to do something with his hands, he wasn't much good at paperwork.

He also told us that whatever he did, he hoped to foster.

We told Margaret she should be so proud of him. She brushed it off saying she was no good at accepting praise.

We felt pride too, not for anything we'd done for Keaton.

Proud to have colleagues in fostering the likes of Margaret.

And Keaton.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018


I have a friend who is sort of Buddhist, nice.

She makes a point of looking back on any job done and appreciating what has been achieved. I keep forgetting to do it, but when I do it's great, for example;

Last Sunday morning, waiting for 10am to come round so I could do the supermarket run, I cleaned the kitchen, top to toe. Punished it. And afterwards took 5 minutes to look and feel pleased with my effort. It made all the difference.

My friend says that the right sort of pride is a good companion.

It's terribly important that foster parents remember what they do, and feel good about all the good things...

Feel proud. Not in a smug way, but where appropriate we should dwell on the positives. Replay the good bits in our minds. Polish happy memories for our old age.

We're usually so busy we scarcely notice the highs. It can be that our social workers come into their own by using supervision to remind us about the progress a child is making, or the time we spotted them with a look of peace, or hearing carefree laughter coming from somewhere in the house.

I had a social worker way back who used to remind me of some wondrous words a foster daughter once said to me. The SW would throw the child's words into the conversation at the right moment whenever I was relating the difficulties and challenges of fostering.

What happened was this;

I had a foster daughter, Natasha, who'd had the hardest time at home. Her father, who was completely without hearing had been sentenced to 10 years in prison for what he'd done to his eldest daughter. Natasha was a few years younger.

She was very overweight. Her social worker told me privately that she had tried to make herself as unattractive as possible in order to avoid the attentions of her father. She was taken into care because the mother, who was also profoundly hard of hearing, couldn't perform any of the essential household functions such as cook or clean. 

Natasha hated school. She was bullied about her size, and had bullied others back. She was regularly sin-binned (the school had a small stand-alone building for pupils who disrupt lessons, they called it ’the inclusion zone’). 

At the beginning of her stay getting her to school at all was a challenge. Sometimes - and in fostering you have to think outside the box - she'd agree to go only in return for a McDonalds on the way.  Her diet was dreadful, and I had a programme in place to get her onto better eating, but fast food was her thing. One morning we arrived at McDonalds only for her to announce that she didn't want a McDonalds breakfast it wasn't enough. She wanted the full big Mac.

I pointed out they didn't serve the full menu until 10.30am. She began to weep quietly in growing desperation, as if the entire world was lining up to take potshots at her. In no time she was in no state for school. I wasn't going to sit in a McDonalds car park for two hours with a distressed child so I called the school and spoke to the Senco (special education needs co-ordinator).

Natasha, I was gently advised, was to be sin-binned that day and on the verge of being excluded; so we agreed everyone would be better served if she spent the day at home.

When we got home Natasha forgot about McDonalds. She changed into her onesie (a comfort thing because it symbolised not having to go out into the big bad world) and turned on Jeremy Kyle.

Ans I was stuck with a shopping problem; I'd planned a Tesco run on my way back from school. No way was I going to leave her alone in the house, and no way would she accompany me to the shops. Nothing in the fridge or larder was to her tastes; I feared trouble ahead.

I'm not going to claim that my way out of the problem was a stroke of genius on my part; it was a case of needs must. Pretty much the only food in the house was the family's supply of sensible stuff; Quorn, oatmeal and the like.  I decided to give her quantity and quality. (or at least the illusion of quality). I laid the kitchen table as if the Queen was coming; plates and side-plates, knives and forks, water tumblers, condiments, napkins. And began to rustle up a banquet.

Everything I could find I cooked and put out. A  whole lettuce and some mousetrap cheese became a salad niciose. Half a loaf of stale white plus garlic became roast garlic bread. Pasta with Dolmio Parmesan and yoghurt was Pasta Carbonara. I buttered some Ryvitas and spread them with Branston.

You get the picture. I went the extra mile with everything, and called out;

"Tash! Brunch is up!" 

She hauled herself off the sofa, took one look at the groaning table and lit up. It wasn't her kind of food, but it was more than plenty, made with love and served with style. She went;

"Bloody hell. Feast or what!?"

But wait, those aren't the words my social worker liked to remind me about, Natasha whispered those a bit later.

She sat down and began assembling her plates with great care, arranging her piles of food carefully, then tucked in. The napkin was sidelined. I did the same. Just her and me at the table.

I can't remember how it started, or who started it. I know why it started; because she felt cared for. As we ate Natasha began telling me her life story. 

I said nothing, just listened.

And listened and listened and listened. Every so often I said things like "Poor you" or "That must have been terrible".

"You're so brave" "And no-one knew" "Who wouldn't feel sad?"

Then her tears came and the napkin finally came into play. 

Poor Natasha sobbed silently as she finished the story of her dire life thus far by revealing her hopes to one day work with animals, who are better than people.

By this time we were finished eating and she sensed that at any moment I would start to clear up.

So she spoke, out of the blue. In a clear voice, quiet but strong, she uttered an almighty truth;

"No-one has ever listened before."

The expression on her face was one of relief. Maybe gratitude and respect too.

My face, at the time, was all sympathy. It still is whenever I remember her.

But I also feel a rush of pride that I got the chance to get something so important so right. That I made a little lost girl feel part of the human race, helped her on her way to believing that not everyone is only interested in themselves.

Fostering can do this.

You don't get to feel proud in many callings, but in fostering, provided you take time to notice, a gentle and decent pride takes you by the arm.

A good companion alright.

Monday, May 14, 2018


Waiting for a new foster child I am. Don't know who it will be, obviously.

Waiting for the phone to go off and I hear the words; "Hello it's the Blue Sky Placement Team. Would you be willing to take a child who..."

Probably the most effervescent time in fostering is when you've informed your agency or local authority (depending on who you've partnered) that you have space for a new foster child.

The occasion always takes me back to when I received one of the most bizarre placement offerings in the history of fostering, but I'll tell you about that in a moment.

As far as I know there are only two ways to foster in the UK; either you go with one of the many foster agencies around the country or you get yourself approved by and attached to your local authority.

You work alongside your local authority come what may because it's they who have taken the child into care and have ultimate responsibility for the child while you're fostering them, so you see a lot of your local authority social worker as well as your agency social worker. You don't get lonely in fostering.

What are the differences between fostering via an agency alongside your local authority and fostering entirely via your local authority?

I suspect not a great deal. Fostering is fostering, and the biggest differences by far from one situation to another are those presented by the individual children when they arrive at your home.

I've had two periods in fostering, the first time was way back. I had assumed the organisation I signed up with must have been a private agency because they had premises in a high street shop. You could go in and browse folders of information about children needing homes. However it turned out it was a local authority initiative, they were desperate to recruit new carers and the rules were different then.

After a break from fostering I returned and had to start again. I Googled 'Fostering' and up came Blue Sky's website. I phoned them and had a lovely chat with the woman who picked up the phone and one thing led to another.

Why do I prefer agencies to local authority? I'm not sure I do in any great sense, it's more the way things turned out for me, but I'm very happy where I am. I feel supported on two fronts; Blue Sky look after me and my family, but also care about the children, whereas the local authority prioritise the child as well as caring about us carers. They both understand that the better cared for I am the better the quality of fostering.

I suppose if I search my own mind, what happens when I hear the words 'Local Authority' is I picture a sprawling entity; everything from wheelie bins and potholes to rate collection and dual carriageways.
The fact is that all local authority officers and social workers connected to their child care services are humanity itself. Nevertheless it can take a while on the phone to find out who you need to talk to and then to get them on the line. Fostering agencies are dedicated to one service - fostering. And you get to know everybody quickly.

Back to what I was saying; the most exciting times in fostering are when you're waiting for the phone to ring (or in my case play the theme from Avengers, thanks to eldest foster child for that).

You're excited. You feel like you did when you were eight years old on Christmas Eve.

It's almost the same sense of tremulous anticipation you have when you're eight months pregnant. You can't wait for the arrival so you can get your teeth into one of the biggest things we're put on earth for; to nurture. However  foster children rarely arrive as newer-than-new arm-sized bundles of swaddling. More likely they arrive downcast and frightened, dressed in hand-me-downs, carrying a bag of knick-knacks and a heart full of troubles.

However, try this for size;  I once was asked if I'd take a newborn foster child. 

I was asked in advance of the birth. Not so much a newborn as an unborn. It's not unique, but the story behind this placement certainly was.

What had happened was that a prisoner in a womans jail had got herself pregnant. She'd kept the pregnancy secret from the wardens and was due any time. Apparently her man had made her do it because he was one of those men who believed he had to have a son because a man is only a man if he has a son. The woman had been deluded into thinking that if she had a baby the courts would release her for the baby's sake.

The baby was going to be fostered from birth. I got the phone call and said 'yes', but the baby went elsewhere.

I was left wondering (and still do to this day) how they managed to get the mother pregnant, because she had been inside for nearly two years and there'd been no conjugal visits.

Answers on a postcard please, as they used to say on the radio.

So here I sit. Or stand. Or potter about doing all the things I always do about the house; jobs jobs jobs.

Only, at the moment, whatever I'm doing; preparing meals, clearing up, hoovering etc etc, I do it with a delicious little feeling in the back of my heart; that at any time the phone could go off and it's the magic words;

"Hello, it's the Blue Sky Placement Team, would you be willing to take a child who..."

Tuesday, May 08, 2018


We're offered lots of training at Blue Sky.

Okay, so it's a bit like going back to school. You sit facing someone at the front telling you stuff, sometimes with a big board behind them. Then you break for coffee and have a catch up with all your fellow foster parents' gossip.

Then lunch courtesy Blue Sky.

It's usually 10.00-1.00. You pick up some tips, gas away with friends and enjoy free catering. Beats rushing around Lidl any day of the week.

Down the years I've learned plenty from experts, but I have a feeling I've learned as much - maybe more - from myself and from fellow foster parents. The practical stuff.

My self-taught techniques stick with me and I use them all the time because I discovered them myself and they work for me. And since it's an extension of me I'm naturally a big fan.

It seems to be the same for most if not all foster parents.

For example, yesterday I reminded myself of one of my favourite devices for getting a foster child talking freely.

Foster children usually aren't great talkers. Yes they might gab on about kids stuff once they get to know you. They'll lecture you on how little you know about phones and music. But ask how they are feeling, what's on their mind, how are things at school...those sort of big questions and they clam right up.

Totally understandable. People like to own things, and these poor mites who've been pulled out of their homes and put in someone else's house with little more than they are standing up in; they own almost zilch.

The one thing they own is their experience of being themselves and I sometimes wonder if they feel it would be like giving up their last possession if they blabbed. Plus, foster children usually think they were at fault personally for their family being broken up so they'd better take no chances with maybe betraying more of their failings.

I had a child stay with us who kept scrubbing his hands raw at the sink, turned out he'd convinced himself he was in care because he hadn't kept himself clean.

What happened yesterday was this;

Eldest foster child's best mate was coming over to us for a sleepover as we have a spare bedroom at the moment (Blue Sky are aware we'll take another child asap).

The friend lives half-an-hour's drive away and I offered to go pick him up. Foster child agreed to come. He's allowed in the front seat of our car (foster children are best in the back, but he gets car sick).

So we set off. Him and me. Both going in the same direction, seeing the same things through the windscreen, experiencing the same roads, same lorry in front, same traffic lights, same music on the radio.

Plus he couldn't see my face.

Nor could he get up and go.

The conversation started; first a few grunts, then words, then sentences, and finally a full-blown monologue. What started as a single drop of rain became a flood.

He steered the outpouring himself; I learned about his friends at school, the teachers, and which subjects he likes. I learned about his frustrations about girls. His job prospects. How he hopes things turn out for his real family.

I found out that he likes me.

I'd asked him who he trusted most to talk to if he needed to talk. He replied "You. Obviously."

As soon as his mate climbed into the car they started speaking in tongues, 'teen-speak'.

I didn't mind, I was cartwheeling inside. I'd gleaned more ammunition to help me help him than I'd normally get in a month of Sundays. And why?

Because foster children open up when it's just you and them in the car, provided it's a decent length journey.

Why? I mentioned it to my social worker who said it sounds like "a classic Nuero Linguistic Programming technique" where you centre with someone and mirror their behaviour to develop trust.

That got us talking about psychology and she said that  NLP defines people as one of three kinds; Audio types (who say things like "That sounds good to me") Visual types (who say "I see" and This looks good") and the third type who are emotional (who say "That feels like a good idea" and "I have a feeling that...")

What are you? I'm not saying what I am.

I have a feeling you might be a ...