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..."


  1. Waiting, its all part of foster care right? If we are not waiting to get approval then we are waiting for the kids to either come or go, or for court dates, family contact or just their next steps. I agree with placement information, sometimes you get lots of information, accurate, inaccurate, out of date... I think gut instinct is a good place to start. By the way, I commented a few posts back that we were struggling with our current placement, we have asked him to be moved, so our agency is looking for a high needs therapeutic placement. We havent given an end date, but have made it clear his issues are way beyond what we have the experience and energy to manage let alone anything more therapeutic ourselves.

  2. You're right about the waiting Lily, it's like fostering has two speeds; 1) waiting, which is slow, solitary and filled with your own thoughts. 2) The other speed, which is the opposite in every way!
    From what you have shared your decision is best for all parties. We must never forget a golden rule in fostering which is to prioritise looking after oneself and one's family, because if you're in bits your fostering will be less than it could be.
    Let me say something on behalf of myself, foster carers everywhere and the world in general; WELL DONE and THANK YOU for everything you have done for this poor child. Your love and kindness, your sacrifices and hardships; these qualities are not lost into the ether, nor the great scheme of things.
    You have made a difference, and it's clear will keep it up to the last day, the last moment of this placement.
    You are amazing, and look, if you're still up for it, will surely find yourself fostering even better than before.
    Maybe a short break to re-group...