Thursday, June 28, 2018


Big day in our house. A new family photo is going up on the wall. More about that in a moment.

Still waiting to fill our spare bed.

Totally get that we're a tricky home to place a new child as we're many and getting a match is harder than most other ones.

Try not to let it overshadow the main focus; looking after the family I've got around me.

Also; very important - try not to attach more thought and energy to our fostered children than our own children.

This needs awareness because with your own children you're not filing reports and constantly thinking about your parenting from an objective point of view, it just kind of happens.

I sometimes think it would be a good thing if I had to write up reports on my own children's welfare and progress, just like you do with your foster children. And get visits from someone who cares about them almost as much as I do and who double checks them and supports your efforts.

To be fair, our Blue Sky social workers constantly ask after the whole family; but nevertheless the onus is mainly on the fostering.

I don't bang on about my own children on the Secret Foster Carer blog partly because the blog is about fostering, but also because they deserve every privacy. I believe they don't know I'm the Secret Foster Carer but if they ever find out and read these pages, even if it's ten years from now I'm going to say this out loud to them;

I love you dearly and have a mountain of respect that you don't just let me do fostering - which I know can be tricky for you at times - but actually seem happy for me that I love it. THANK YOU.

Anyway, yes; I bought a frame yesterday for a photograph I'm hanging on the landing wall. 

Putting up pictures used to be an expensive business until recently; you had to take the negative to a photographers and ask for a blown up copy and they'd try to sell you one of their frames.

Which reminds me; I'm a bit of a sceptic about school photographs. At the school of one of our former foster children we signed the form (after checking with social workers) for the child to have his photo taken, and a week later got a fat envelope with a small sample of the child's half-smiling face and bags of bumph about how to order different sized copies. There was also a price list for framing which was necessary because...all of the different  sizes you could order did not comply with the sizes of the frames you could buy in the high street (which were cheaper than the ones the photographer was 'offering'). It was a borderline con. 

We gave the child a framed school picture of himself to give to his mother at his next contact. A few months later we were asked to take the child to the mother's flat for a contact as the child was due to be going home to her shortly, if everything went well. I was disappointed for the child that his photograph wasn't hanging on her wall, maybe she was miffed that the picture came to her via his foster mother, I get that.

It got me thinking about the whole business of family photographs.

Must be hard for a looked-after child who comes into a foster family that there are pictures of the family in groups and singles, either smiling down from the walls or propped up on dressers . But no pictures of her or him.

So. I have a thing now which is that if a child has been with us for a sufficient amount of time; and even if the plan remains that one day the child will go home, I frame a picture of them and hang it alongside the others.

Hanging photographs used to cost the earth, but nowadays with a laptop a printer and a box of photo-quality paper you can get your own A4 image for ten pence. 

It's just another fostering trick I vainly like to think is my own, but I'd be surprised if other foster parents don't do the same. 

I know it's a big deal because whenever a new social worker comes to our house and notices the pictures of the foster children they get a bit gushy, which is cool by me.

You have to balance out family photographs that are on show. The number of singles of your own children have to be pretty much identical, and in our house they outnumber all others. Photos of you and your partner come second in number. Pets get a look-in, about the same as extended family. Deceased have special status.

Only now, in our house, we have particular protocols for pictures of our foster children. 

First, we make sure they are happy to have their picture hanging. They usually voice objections that they look bad in pictures but I offset that by using a photo which is more about an occasion, such as their birthday for example. Or sometimes (I did this with one child who is long-gone but the photo stays up) I use a group shot of the whole family on a day out.

Yes, I do take pictures down after they leave. And re-use the frames. But I give that thought too. One child was with us a long time, I kept all the pictures up of the other foster children he'd shared our house with so that he'd believe we'd keep his picture up for good too.

Sometimes I think I over-think things in fostering...

But y'know what? 

If anything deserves over-thinking it's fostering.

Monday, June 25, 2018


Something happened yesterday in our house which got me thinking.

The thinking led to me changing my thinking about something. 

The reason that the thing that happened got me thinking is that Blue Sky get enquiries on the blog from people who are considering or even actually getting themselves into fostering, and are worried that they have never had children of their own.

I used to think that it has to be an advantage in fostering to have raised a child or two of your own.

Of course it's by no means a disadvantage to have been a 'real' parent. But I've decided to believe that the advantages are a bit exaggerated.

After all, think about it; how much accreditation does anyone have to get before they can have a child of their own? Blimey, practically less than zero (as in you're supposed in law to be at least 16, but yeah right, that one and only 'qualification' is often out the window).

In fostering you are checked out from top to toe first. Quite right too.

And again; how much training, support and supervision do 'real' parents get? The answer is next-to-nothing. Nothing formal. To the best of my knowledge even if parents make such a mess of their parenting and social services intervene the struggling parents don't get the levels of regular written-up backing and guidance that foster parents enjoy.

Most parents get by on what they've picked up from their own experiences plus a few titbits from their sewing circle/in-laws. I'll never forget a train driver I fell into conversation with about getting children to go to sleep, he said "...Little drop of Drambuie in their last bottle. Works a treat." Do NOT try that at home. We had a foster child stay with us who had her own baby, she told us her mum had warned her not to eat ice-cream during the pregnancy as the baby would born blue.

There are good books on parenting aplenty, but do we know many parents with a stack of them on standby? Not me I don't. There's loads of videos about child development on YouTube but most parents are happier catching up Eastenders or doing Facebook.

I guess the hard truth is that 99% of us 'real' parents do it on a fry-up of common sense, things our older family members pass down to us, what we remember from being parented ourselves, and whatever we have the energy and dedication to experiment with after a long day.

That's not being unkind. Somehow most children manage to emerge from what you could term amateur parenting with most of their marbles intact.

It would be nanny-state incarnate if we had to sit exams before being allowed to have children, then attend night-school in how to tell the difference between a hungry cry and a full-nappy cry.

'Nanny' state.

See what I did there...

This is how come many potential foster carers show up hoping that the experience of raising one or more reasonably well-adjusted children of their own will cover the lion's share of what you need to know to foster.

And in terms of self-confidence and hard knowledge it takes all the beating. But...

...times change. I'll never forget in a Mother and Baby training session I learned that you no longer warm up bottles in the microwave. It became a no-no in between me having mine and then starting fostering. Turns out some microwaves can deliver a hidden hotspot. So much for my hard-earned 'experience'. I pointed out that if you shake the bottle after warming any hot-spots get evened out, but to no avail. We were told in no uncertain terms to heat it gently in a pan of warm water. I came back that if you've got a ravenous crying baby you can get a fridge-cold bottle up to glugging warmth in a tenth of the time in the MW than sitting in a gradually heating pan, but it was no dice. I added that any operation you can do with one hand while comforting a distressed baby in the other is a boon. Still no wiggle room, it was out with the old and in with the new. Fair do's. There are plenty of my tricks of the trade that still cut the mustard.

But like I said, something happened in our house and I got to wondering about all the things that happen in fostering that are new to adults whether they've had children of their own or not.

What happened was this; one of our foster children grew up about 5 years in 24 hours.

When I say 'grew up' I mean had an accelerated batch of developments which normally get spread separately over a wodge of time but with this child happened all together and in the blink of an eye.

It never happened to my own children, and I've not heard anyone talk about it happening to their 'own' children.

But when I spotted it (which wasn't hard), I realised that it's happened before...with children in care.

It was fantastic. The child suddenly, without warning, went from being a child with all sorts of burdens and insecurities which weighed down on happiness, self-esteem, peace, ambition... all those things and more. Child went to being a youth. A youth with both feet on the ground, confident body language, able to engage an adult in eye-to-eye conversation in an adult way. Share a joke, stand easily in front of the hall mirror adjusting hair before putting on a baseball cap happy with what they looked like in the mirror, all the while chatting over their shoulder at the adult in the kitchen who was suddenly and with no warning being spoken to as an equal. A respected equal, whose thoughts and views were listened and responded to.

Lord love a duck I'm getting the vapours just remembering it.

But I now remember it happening previously, but only with looked-after children.  Not all, by any means, only those that were ready to process and consign the past and face up to the prospect of a future.

Hormones might be in there too. Maybe a shot of self-esteem from a flattering remark from a teacher or a school friend. Probably a coming-together of those things and others.

Foster children have had such a bumpy ride, I guess that as foster parents, if we keep our eyes open, it's perfectly likely that they can shed their old skin quick as snakes, burst out of the cocoon as butterflies.

Ordinary children seem to pace the growing-up process. It happens so stealthily it's only when you look back at videos it hits you how much they've come on.

My point is that there's so much to be had from fostering, and so much to discover yourself, that nothing really prepares you for it, you just have to enjoy the ride.

A twig on the back of a stream I've heard it called...

Thursday, June 21, 2018


Fostering is a funny old game, to paraphrase my dad's hero the footballer Jimmy Greaves (poor man, these days).

It can give you funny moments, and I mean funny peculiar as well as funny ha-ha.

Our current situation (as much as it's right for me to reveal) is that we have a young teenage family of our own and two foster children but are up for a third. You might think we live in a mansion; we definitely don't. Our house has an attic-bedroom conversion going way back and an extension off the kitchen which was designed to be a granny flat, then became a study but which now takes a bed, so yes, thanks to the over-build of the former occupiers, we have 6 bedrooms counting the box room on the first floor, which was a laundry/ironing room before becoming a foster bedroom.

In case you ever wonder, last time I asked, the maximum foster children in any one home is 5. Any more than that and I was told you have to be Ofsted-inspected, and there's enough stress in fostering without that.

Back to funny-peculiar.

Our most recent placement went home a few weeks ago and we put ourselves forward for another. We knew it might take time because although there's a crying need for foster carers (there are tens of thousands of children in the UK who need to be looked-after), our situation is a bit harder to match than many, what with so many individuals to consider.

Even if the dynamic of a foster home is streamlined, placement offers don't come tumbling in; balanced against the need for more carers is an even greater need that the placement works across a hundred complex criteria. The watchword is patience.

We've had two near-misses (see "The Ones Who Don't Come"). Then the phone rang very late a couple of nights ago and I listened to an unusual pitch.

I can't relate all the details but you'll see the funny peculiar straight away.

The child who needed a bed had no known name, they were calling him "Ben". He didn't know anything about himself such as his parents names or address. Ben didn't know where he lived or any phone numbers that might trace him. He didn't even know his own age.

They said down the phone that he was somewhere between 2 and 3 years old.

The story appeared to be that he'd been found wandering the streets at half past nine at night. The police had been called and they'd knocked on a few doors nearby where he'd been found, but got nowhere.

And no-one had called them to report a missing child.

By midnight they had to give up on the idea of finding the child's parents and returning him, so were faced with a tricky one.  Much as the officers would have volunteered to take him home and care for him themselves, that couldn't happen for procedural reasons, as in they weren't qualified to do so. They'd taken him straight to hospital where he was pronounced A1. Then what for the night? A police cell?. The best bet was a foster home. They dialled the local authority 24 hour service. Long story short I got the call and said yes. The paperwork could wait 'til morning, the child is always paramount.

I got up, put on the dressing gown and set to work checking the box bedroom, not quite knowing how to set things up. An infant foster child is a fragile person, I had to steel myself that I may not get any sleep. I hadn't even thought to ask if the poor babe was in clothes or pyjamas. If he was hungry something porridgy would be a safe bet.

I made a cup of tea and checked my look in the hall mirror; I wanted the officers to see a fellow professional rather than a bleary-eyed housefrau.

Twenty minutes later the phone went again.

The child wasn't coming, a solution had been found. I was thanked and wished goodnight.

And that's all you get. Everyone's privacy is respected, and that's correct. But as is so often the case, you're left wondering what the heck that was all about?

Were the chid's parents derelict? Drunk or high? Out on the town? Perhaps they'd booked themselves a court appearance for negligence or worse.

Or. Maybe the child simply woke up and pottered off exploring. Or even sleep-walked. It happens. It's possible the child was part of an exemplary family but he let himself out and wandered off. The parents might have taken themselves off to bed without a last check on the child and their only mistake was not locking the house up like Fort Knox.

We can only hope that everything worked out for the child.

As I said, a funny peculiar one.

The second funny peculiar was that I had five minutes of feeling thwarted. No; if I get my self-awareness up to overdrive...I felt  rejected! I think maybe a lot of us foster parents feel the same way when we have a bed for a child and it seems to stay empty. I felt a mixed-up bunch of negative things. Maybe it was a wee small hours of the morning thing - it had gone by morning. I felt a bit hard done by/not appreciated/let down.

Blue Sky called prompt next morning, they know where to stick the sticking plaster.

I've been fostering long enough to know that when you've been fostering long enough your emotions can become a bit raw. Luckily one's social worker helps out whenever you're feeling thin-skinned.

Not really necessary this time; the morning brought the distraction of busy breakfasts followed by shopping then hoover and laundry.

I think that the second funny peculiar was actually a misplaced sense of rejection. Why would I feel hard done by? I've had plenty of placements and have two thriving ones right now.

Reminds me how much harder it is for foster parents waiting for their very first placement, or waiting with an empty house for the next child. Hang in there folks.

Love to those guys, love to all foster carers.

And to everyone thinking about signing up...C'mon!

Sunday, June 10, 2018


We've had two near-misses as we await our next placement.

When you're up for a new placement you're on 24/7 alert because if the phone rings and it's Blue Sky it could be the start of an adventure that will change lives.

The first call came as I was driving back from a morning school run. After I drop the last child I go on and get the shopping out of the way. It's a Godsend that supermarkets open early these days and you can get shopping out of the way and get home for a cuppa and the last of Lorraine. At least, that's how I try to do it.

But when the phone goes when you're driving and it's almost certainly Blue Sky, you park up and return the call.

The child was a teenage boy who was to be moved from his current foster home. He had told his social worker that the family and he had come to the end of the road. The family agreed. The lad had endured a chaotic upbringing which left him liable to robust opinions and it turned out the foster family had their fair share of opinions too.

It's the type of loggerheads you get in any family with teenagers. In an ordinary home when the young person says they want to leave it's the streets or someone else's sofa for them. Very much a last resort. The prospects for children in care are, in this one small respect, a great deal better. However, it makes the exit more likely.

I said I'd talk to other half and called him at work. We were hesitant because the boy is about the same age as our eldest child who also has views which are available at the drop of a hat. We had an idea;

I called eldest's school and they agreed to fetch eldest to the phone so we could consult.

Brilliant. Even if the placement doesn't happen we've given our own young another recognition of maturity and responsibility. If you keep your eyes open fostering goes on giving.

Eldest agreed. We threw our hat into the ring but the child went elsewhere, a matter of simple geography were told.

It's always a bit disorientating when a child you've agreed to be considered for goes elsewhere. You feel somewhat piqued, and not only that you've got to go back to seeing your family dynamic as it was before the phone call, having had to imagine how it would be with the new placement.

The second phone call, a couple of days ago, was a bit more complicated. It was the case of a girl aged 7 who had been diagnosed with Aspergers. Her social workers hoped to keep her at the same school, which usually suggests the child is relatively local. We said our usual provisional 'Yes' and the child's backstory pinged into my Inbox.

I settled down and had a careful read.

You get the child's real name and everything else that is known.

I once met a foster carer who was sceptical that information is sometimes softened in order to  make the child seem a better proposition. I was tempted to say that maybe the boot is on the other foot sometimes. When children come into care they are usually given a nice file containing information and photographs of the family they are going to join. I sometimes wonder if some children end up sceptical about the "Hold it!" smiles on the family faces and sunny homes of us foster carers. I know the photos of us in our file show a distinctly less careworn and testy couple than we are most early mornings now we've fostered for a good many years! 

The fact is no person can be truly represented in a file.

Social services profile children coming into care with simple factual accuracy, sticking to the known and proven. Judgement calls about personality and temperament are not right or even possible. Prospective carers are given the events of a child's life. If a parent has been violent and/or absent or abusive that insinuation is backed up by facts. Chaotic lifestyles are represented by events, for example; "The child says that breakfast is anything left over from the adult's takeaway from the previous night, which they either scavenge from the bin or find left at the bottom of cartons in the living room." Hospital and GP visits are recorded and if available added to the file. Exclusions and/or poor results at school are measurements. Any police or social services alerts the same.

You get some information about life in the home, for example which parent might have confirmed drug or alcohol issues, any convictions, which parent may have been diagnosed with medical or mental health conditions such as learning difficulties, depression or diabetes. If anyone in the family might have what social workers suspect to be personality disorders they will only record facts which might indicate those possible disorders because it's not for them to diagnose.

Nor would it be right for them to offer judgement of the personalities of the poor children coming into care. It's up to us to work out what sort of baggage the child is carrying based on the events of their lives so far.

So there I sit reading about a 7 year-old girl whose school referred her to their educational psychologist who reported that the child might be dealing with a mosaic form of Asperger Syndrome - which I understand to mean a less-than-full-blown version of the condition.

I start to digest the family history. They use social housing, living on an estate which has history. They are third generation unemployed, with cousins and uncles dotted around nearby. They have four children (of which the child is the eldest, the others are infants). They have four dogs and myriad cats one of which needed a £400 operation for which the money was found. Meanwhile their pickup's MOT ran out and the tax and insurance went unpaid. However it was still driven around until the police caught up.

The school reports that the child has poor attendance, low literacy and numeracy skills, and little social interaction.

There were other bits and pieces, but the essentials were in the above.

After a time in fostering you develop what (you hope) are good insights into the various troubles of children coming into care. 

This child lives in social housing and is somewhere near where we live. I know both the estates where she might live, one of which has a fearsome if slightly exaggerated reputation. The other one isn't exactly Mayfair. My point is that some homes are in places where a child can get refuge from domestic chaos by going out, playing with friends either in the park, or the high street, or at friends houses.  But both these estates are scary for someone who is 7. So she probably has never had respite from justifiable fear.

If the family are third generation unemployed it might mean the house is full and busy all day long, teeming with adults at a loose end who might not always be in the best of spirits or have the best of plans and schemes. Have the family members all given up on work or has work given up on them? Or both? The girl, if she perceives anything, knows she's being shaped for the same life. Not going to give her much hope.

She is the eldest. In my experience it's common (but not universal) that she will have been delegated various household duties - and not the pleasant ones. I've known eldests as young as this one on whom the chaotic home depended for shopping cooking and cleaning. This girl's non-attendance at school may be down to having more important things to do such as look after the younger ones. Four dogs is a standout factor, hope none of them are fighters. On the plus side we had a child stay with us once who it turned out had got the most love in life from the family labrador.

Where did they get £400 for a vet bill? The pickup could be a clue. It might turn out that the men of the house do jobbing work for cash on top of their benefit payments.

I research Asperger Syndrome. The information available is another example of how psychology is great at diagnosing but sometimes comes up a bit short on solutions. In the case of Aspergers the condition can be identified from certain traits (non-interaction, repetitive behaviours), but the downside is; not only are causes largely "a matter for conjecture" treatments and support procedures "remain at an early stage". Ways of dealing with the child and keeping the child happy "vary from individual to individual".

Okay, so. Bottom line is the child will be a handful, at least to start. Nowhere does the child's report actually state that, but at the same time it's there in black and white.

Short story long; we said yes but the child did not come to us.

I've talked about this before, you never forget any of the children you care for in fostering, no surprise there. But you also never forget the ones you learn about, your heart goes out to, but who never come.

I hope little 7 year old will be alright. I have a rose-tinted picture in my mind of her taking control of the whole family, becoming the senior mother-figure and knocking some sense and morals into the lot of them at every breakfast before kicking them out to work and going off to school and getting straight A's and ending up at Oxford.

You never know.

So now I'm back to jumping out of my skin every time my phone goes hoping it's;

"This is the Blue Sky Placement Team, would you be willing to take a child who..."

Wednesday, June 06, 2018


A reader writes;

"Hi again, this is anon who asked about lgbt caring a few months back. Just an update. I have my panel date. It's August, yippee. I know there is a chance I may not get approved but I'm quietly confident. Such that I've used all my work holidays to take Christmas into early Jan off so that's I'm free for any emergencies that may arise as I hear it's a busy time for care. I've not had Christmas off in eight years as it's a standard work time at my employer, so it's exciting but also a nervous time.if i get approved August time plan would be to do mostly respite at weekends and school holidays and make myself free for emergency placements over Christmas. Also the city where I lives has a large Polish population so I've asked a friend to help me learn 'Polish for kids' as it's another plus point. Annnnnnd a neighbour donated some toys for the spare room. So many in fact I gave some to the local refugee centre. All coming along nicely. So hopefully Aug time I'll be waiting for a placement. We shall see!"

Thanks for that, Anon.

So...exciting days! 

Anon is leaving little to chance, and that bodes great things for the children that are destined for some quality loving care. 

LGBT caring is going to become a big thing. All the signs are that the present-day youngest generation in the UK are going to do things their way, and that means that the old binary system of gender identification is toast.

Amen to that.

When I was in the youngest generation I well remember what seemed a strange rumour doing the rounds in our playground. According to the rumour there could be such a thing as a man who fancied other men. Whichever gossip-monger was passing on this titbit made sure that everyone knew that they, the custodians of this state secret, thought it salacious/hilarious/preposterous. It was a requirement that each of us on hearing the tale reacted aghast. It was a given that such a thing, in the unlikely event it actually exists, must necessarily be disapproved of.

Looking back I wonder if there were schoolmates of mine who cried themselves to sleep some nights after confirmation that the way God or nature had made them was going to mean a life sentence of secrecy, solitude and fear.

I was unmoved about it from my own perspective because I remember with absolute clarity that the rumour was very specific that this weird thing was confined to men. 

Dear me, looking back, the ignorance of ourselves was lamentable. The pain that must have gone around immeasurable. But not our fault; the 'civilised' world we lived in then covered up the whole issue of sex of any kind. 

The big and only thing many children often need to stay roughly on track is the truth, gently told, offered to them in a way that fits their age and ability to hear and process. 

That said, it helps if the people doing the explaining know what they're talking about.

The combined skills, knowledge and talents of a professional social worker and a caring foster parent who has special knowledge and understanding of LGBT will be too much for blind ignorance and prejudice. Kindness, truth and understanding always wins.

I get saddened when I have to spend time in the company of people (usually my generation or older) who want to beat that drum about how the world is going to hell in a handcart, and they often attribute this state of affairs to all this progressive permissiveness.

These poor worry-bunnies should please not drone their gloom about the future in the company of children.

The facts are that things get better all the time. Fact. Good always seems to win in the end. Only by a small amount sometimes, but it does.

When I did history at school the politics and policies of parliaments didn't interest me, but ordinary folk did. I discovered this was called social history. The causes of the First World War were all Greek to me, but I was fascinated to learn that the lids of the coffins of the men who fell were nailed down, but the coffin lids of officers got screws because officers mattered more. 

Back in the good old days children only mattered at all when they were old enough to work.

Social history proves we're making great progress, the future looks great compared to the past.

The average age at which people start to think we should return to past values appears to be about 50, yet in the 'good old days' - say a hundred years ago - the average life expectancy in Britain was 51 so they're welcome to blaze a trail back to the past, only they better be quick because they won't haven't long left if they get there.

They need the facts. For example as recently as 1920 1 in 8 children died in childhood. Diseases like mumps, measles, poxes and polios were common. If illness didn't get the young there were always the poorhouses, the workhouses, the chimneys to sweep from the inside.

If those horrors weren't enough there was always the law which made no distinction between child and adult and our prisons were full of 'criminals' aged under twelve. Speaking of aged twelve; they could be hanged. And, unbelievably, often were...and we're not talking that long ago.

There are many things wrong in the world, and plenty still to be fixed in Britain.

But the big new things that threaten our children now are more of the mind than the body. The next battle to win will be over mental health, everyone knows that. Depression is the new Black Death. 

One of the pressures that has faced many young people over the last hundred years is confusion about their love lives, and who they are compared to who they think everyone thinks they should be. Everything we can do to clear up their misunderstandings and lessen the dangers to their peace of mind must be done, and people like Anon are more than their soul-mates in this, they are their champions.

And worth remembering that Anon and other like-minded folk will by no means be limiting their fostering to young people with LGBT issues.

I'd reply to Anon like this;

"Dear Anon;

You will possibly sometimes face sceptics about your life choices in fostering; no more or less than you have faced so far in life already. Here's wishing you the heart and strength to win again, because now you've rolled up your sleeves for others.

There's a roll-call of foster children who are heroes of mine, many foster parents too. But you are right at the front of the line."

Monday, June 04, 2018


I've mentioned this fostering episode briefly before, but it plays in my mind often and it occurred to me again when a carer commented that they were having to consider ending a placement.

One day at a fostering training session I found myself next to a foster mum I'd not met before and we clicked. When it comes to making new friends fostering takes some beating. Meeting people is not why anyone does it, but go ahead and do it and you'll get what I mean.

This foster mum had recently ended a placement, at her request.

We talked so much during coffee we nearly decided to skip the second half of training, we were both learning so much from each other about the nitty gritty of fostering.

The child that moved on had been their first ever placement.  He needed specialist care. Special units exist, they're expensive but do the job. We should feel proud to live in a country where no child will ever be given up on.

She and her partner were relieved to get each other back - a challenging placement can mean a couple have less time for each other - but fearful that their decision spelled doom for their new career in fostering.

Not true. Their second placement arrived a few weeks later. Before I tell you what happened a few words about these two fantastic foster parents.

The foster mum is Sue, her partner is Barry. They'd been together three years. Barry was separated and had a couple of children who stayed with their mum. Sue has never had an enduring relationship, and had no kids.

They went through the process of getting approval to foster full of expectation that they would be told that a couple who had never held down a partnership and one of whom had never raised a child would be hard-pushed to provide the kind of home a foster child would need.

They passed.

And came across so good, so strong, so capable that when a big case came up Sue and Barry got it.

The child was very demanding. They stuck with him for five months before telling their social workers the child needed more than the love and parental guidance which is the staple of fostering. He needed professional help. Which he got.

Then came their second placement, a 10 year old girl called Alice. 

Alice had been sorely neglected; foraged for food, slept rough. Her parents were either entirely absent  or drugged up to the nines.  Social services had been monitoring the situation for some time and decided to remove Alice into care. 

Before Alice arrived at Sue and Barry's the social worker emailed a dossier on the little girl so they could get their heads around her in advance. But nothing could have prepared them for the very first night...

Alice arrived and, as is almost always the case, was very shy and compliant. A sweet-looking child in a floral frock, and with a winsome smile. She seemed a butter-wouldn't-melt-in-the-mouth placement.

Sue made supper, they ate at a table in their living room. Barry helped Sue clear the table and as Sue ran a sink to wash up Barry, standing next to her, pricked up his ears. He could have sworn he heard the front door latch gently click. He hurriedly put down his armful of plates and darted back to the living room.

No Alice. Rather than start a panic he went briskly but stealthily to the front door. It was open. His heart sank. He stepped out, ran to the gate, and looked up and down the road. And there was the floral frock disappearing around the corner.

If ever you are lucky enough to get to know this fabulous couple, beg Barry to tell the story, it makes your heart sing.

Barry had a problem, perhaps the biggest dilemma he'd ever faced. He could run back into the house and tell Sue what was going on, pick up his mobile and hope that he could run fast enough to catch Alice.


He could run straight after her, leaving Sue at the sink to discover the house had become empty with no knowing why. Plus he'd have no phone, no way of alerting anyone to what was happening.

Their fostering career flashed into his mind. How would it look if they ended a placement then promptly lost their second one?

Before he could process all the thoughts he found himself running towards the corner Alice had disappeared around. The way Barry tells it, his gut told him that in fostering the child comes first. No child in his care would be wandering the city streets alone. 

He was in luck. He turned the corner and saw Alice ahead, weaving through pedestrians in the gloom of evening. She didn't know Barry was tailing her.

His head filled up with thoughts. He could probably outrun her if she saw him and fled, but what could he do? What would passers-by make of a man grabbing a 10 year old girl? In any case, even if it were for her own good, in fostering you only resort to restraint as a last resort; if harm to someone is threatened (I've only had to use our training in this procedure twice in my several decades of fostering, so that gives an idea of how unnecessary restraint is).

But blimey, thinks Barry to himself, she's a runaway... she's in danger of endangering herself.

He hadn't time to worry about poor Sue, who would be climbing the walls anytime now.

This is what he decided: he'd continue to watch out for her, unbeknownst to her. Be her guardian angel, unseen, on her shoulder.

Top man.

So on he walked, a discreet distance behind her, along busy streets full of people going home mixed with people coming out to play. The city they live in is a buzzy place. 

Alice seemed to know her way around. Barry remembered that she'd been sleeping rough. Then he saw her stop and talk to a man squatting in a shop doorway. The man had a dog for company and the three seemed to know each other. Barry paused and pretended he was looking in a shop window.

Alice was off again, Barry followed.

A police car cruised past and the foster dad contemplated stopping them and asking for their help. Didn't. How would that pan out with his foster child? She was doing what she does and he'd called the police? No.

The night wore on. Alice strolled on, Barry always there in case she needed him.

The streets quietened around 9.00pm. They'd been roaming for TWO HOURS.

Alice paused and gazed in a shop window. Barry stopped, tried to look casual and turned to look in a different shop window. 

Minutes ticked by. Eventually Alice said, in a clear but slightly triumphant voice;

"I know it's you."

Barry said neutrally; "Alright?" followed by "You ready to come home yet?"


You bet not. Alice had control, something that many foster children seek out. She had something else too, a fine human being looking out for her. Not someone off his head shouting and creating at her like she was the one in the wrong. She had someone who respected her decision to go walkabout, and even supported it, never mind poor old Sue at home.

Barry played the proverbial blinder. Not a foot wrong. Finally, at ten to midnight, with the streets now empty and soulless, she said; "Let's go...home."

Barry swears she said "Home", and that's a big deal.

They walked back side by side, not talking. There were no sterling words of warning from the grown-up. Just a growing trust.

Sue will tell you that she was right off her rocker when they came back, but put on her best act of cool calm and collected. 

Alice went to bed. Barry and Sue talked until near sun-up. Barry had a van to drive.

Short story long; that happened about six years ago. 

Alice is still with Sue and Barry. She never went walkabout again. They also have another foster child in their incredible family. Barry is closer to his own children than ever before. He and Sue could hardly be more in love. They love Alice too, and she them.

ps. I suppose my reason for relating the tale might be that if Sue and Barry had kept their first placement, where would Alice be now? 

pps. Aw... then again, who needs a reason to tell a beautiful fostering story about two beautiful foster parents?