Tuesday, July 24, 2018


We have a new arrival in our house, Ryder. She's settling in really well, a lovely young person. I'll tell you something that'll warm the cockles in a sec.

I often have to pull myself up and remind myself how hellishly stressful it must be for foster children, especially the first week.

Someone once researched  life's most stressful experiences, things like getting divorced or a death in the family. If I remember rightly the most stressful thing of all is moving home. Hard to believe, but then anxiety isn't going to be anything but unpredictable.

Someone else researched things that scare us. Public speaking ranked scarier than dying. So there are people who, if they went to a funeral would prefer to be in the coffin than delivering the eulogy!

Everyone who'd ever done it knows that moving house leaves you seriously frazzled so we tend to stay put. And most people dread speechifying to strangers so much they manage to avoid it most of their life

So that gives us a bit of insight into the shock of being taken into care and placed with a foster family, because it's those two things wrapped up in one. On day one in fostering the child is not only put in a new house, they are often alone and surrounded by strangers. Plus they don't have any control, and double plus...they are children.

Small - tiny sometimes - defenceless and innocent.

Re-housed (against their will - it doesn't seem to matter how grim their lives at home, it's home to them and we're all suckers for the comfort of the devil we know even if it's bad for us).  On their first day, and for the first few weeks, they have no option but to talk to the foster family. In time we will become (hopefully) a warm and familiar unit for them. But on day one, there's no getting away from it, the fostering family are strangers. Members of the public, and there you are at tea-time, speaking publicly. Answering questions, telling people who want to know - need to know - about yourself and your likes and dislikes. 

They move home and on the same day have to speak publicly to strangers...they have every right to be all over the place!

And yet.

Ryder was a bit of a pickle on days two and three of her arrival (the weekend).  She had two episodes, one on the Saturday when she just boiled over with it all (see above) and another smaller one on the Sunday to do with being asked to have a bath. In the end she didn't, and it's on my list to see if I can find out (without worrying or upsetting her) why bathtime is frightening.

Ryder went to school throughout her first week, then the school broke up for summer on the Thursday.  

Ryder had told me that she'd like to play tennis through the summer. Don't ask me why, I guessed she may have watched a bit of Wimbledon and something clicked.

So I booked a court for 3.00pm on the same afternoon her school broke up. They came out at 2.00pm and we went straight to the park. The shop sold me a junior racket and a tube of balls and, armed with an old racket from the garage we went out on court. I'd suggested we start on the junior courts but she'd have none of that.

I hadn't played for years, but used to play a lot when I was young, mainly during the summer holidays, so being out on a court t took me back.

Poor Ryder, it turned out she assumed that without a single practice shot she'd be able to hit like Serena Williams, creaming the ball to all corners, pounding first serves past a hapless me.

I think she thought a tennis racket was some kind of magic wand a la Harry Potter.

She imploded in frustration. Running back and forth sobbing and smashing balls everywhere but across the net. I was worried that passing strangers would think I was one of those tyrannical tennis parents you hear about. Ryder stuck it out for twenty rotten minutes in the hope it would turn out that tennis would be her saviour, something that would lift her out of her life and into a safe happy place of fun and achievement.

I patted her tears, she turned down a lolly on the way home, and disappeared up to her room when we got back.

I made a cup of tea before my next job which was to pick up with the rest of the brood who were due home from their various clubs (one of which appears to be an informal association whose main activity seems to be hanging around outside the One Stop, don't worry I'm watching that one).

Then Ryder appeared. She'd forgotten about one bit of her tennis experience and wanted to draw a line under the whole episode by chucking it into the mix.

She came towards me, I was sat at the table, and offered her hand for me to shake!

Then.. and this is the really fantastic bit...

She put her other arm over my shoulder and pulled herself towards me in that little embrace that women players do over the net when the game is over.

A hug. Not by any means a bear hug, but a hug all the same.

A rare reward in fostering, and a big moment.

Thursday, July 12, 2018


Dana comments on a recent post in which I mentioned that mild self-harming is becoming some sort of misdirected fashion fad among young people. Dana says; 

"I don't think self harm scars could ever put anyone in the realm of 'cool'. As someone who has several hundred that I have to live with (and cover up for work etc) they're certainly not. They represent a period of intense trauma and the coping mechanism for. Whilst there may be a small minority of children who mistakenly think it's fashionable there is usually an underlying cause and finding that out - and helping is important. 
Also I think some don't appreciate the lifelong negative affects of living with serious scarring. The looks from others the questions, the concerns over judgement.
On the flips idea, having recovered from this 'habit' of over half my life, which was initiated and sustained by a series of negative events I'm confident I can help children with the issue, whether they are trying yo be cool or not. Suspect not mind;I rather suspect they're hurting. 
I'm open about this with my SW too btw. I can't exactly hide it now. Tshirt weather (that is something to watch out for - is your LAC wearing long-sleeved despite the heat). We've changed it into a positive- how I can help others."

First off Dana, can I say how much we respect and value the insight and personal experience you bring, which will stand you in great stead in fostering, and which can be a huge benefit to so many damaged children and young people.

Dana, I think maybe if I was someone whose experiences had caused me the trauma that leads to what is called 'self-harm' I'd be upset about the youths who right now scratch themselves and wear it as a badge of some kind of stand against the world or statement of rebellion.
It's going on, in school huddles and at shopping malls at weekends. They roll up their sleeves so their peers can see they 'belong' to the aggrieved. Seems to be mainly 13-15 year olds, round our way anyway.

Dana makes the point better than I can which is; this sort of 'self-harming' bears little comparison to the very real and very significant problem that Dana and many others experience.

I dare say (have no evidence) that kids who haven't got marks are dissed as wusses and goodie-two-shoes. 

As a foster parent I often try to put myself in the shoes of the child who has come into my home. The experience is always harrowing. Rarely more so that when the child/young person has taken to drawing their own blood. What do we do?

Dana is coming up for panel to become a foster parent who will bring special background to the job. Perhaps if she gets a moment she might write up her advice to foster parents who discover marks on their child's forearms.

Our Blue Sky trainings most recent advice to us foster parents was that there's little point sweeping a child's bedroom for sharp things. I remember one child who stayed with us removed the tiny disc that cut paper on this device I had for cutting paper to size. I hardly used the thing, but I demonstrated it once to her to help her with a school project. She secretly removed the disc and used it on herself in her bedroom. We only discovered this when we called an amnesty on sharp things. She'd also found an old Stanley knife blade somehow somewhere; all her sharp things were hidden behind a drawer in her bedside cabinet. 
What, we're going to do a fingertip search of their room every morning? Keep your eyes peeled yes, but don't overdo the vigilance.

Our training teaches us to be trusting and understanding.

We're taught that some poor people have a NEED to do this.

It was harrowing to visualise, but we were advised that if a foster child appeared with bleeding arms, to say something supportive such as; "Can I get some paper towels for you?"

We're advised to be alert to the moods of a young person rather than the likelihood that they've been sneaking stuff from the knife drawer or the toolbox. 

The training officer who delivered the session on self harming was brilliant, I especially remember the section about WHY people do it; to transfer their emotional pain to a limb, and turn it into a pain they have some control over.

But, to the best of my knowledge, she was not a person who had first-hand experience, as in actually experiencing the need to do it to herself.

So over to you Dana.

Tell us about it, if it's not too painful or difficult. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2018


Ryder slept through on her first night (a Thursday) with us okay, or at least didn't wake us up.

But first early morning with a new child, you're alert.

On a school morning I need everyone to be getting going by 7.00am, the family knows how it happens, but when you have a new addition you are on your toes to mother the new child without being overbearing.

How to wake her up and make sure she's on track?

Take her up a bowl of cereal and a glass of apple juice and gently say; "Good Morning Ryder..."?

or treat her like family from the off as in calling out from the bottom stair;

"Oi! Everyone! Breakfast up! Let's go!"?

Last night she held her own at what could have been a daunting family meal. She spooned her food onto the plate (I always let them choose what to eat by putting everything out in separate serving bowls so they can control their plate, not only the content but the quantity).  Then she ate and joined in the chat, answering questions. Simple questions such as favourite foods and TV/PC games preferences.

Everyone is polite enough not to go near the $64,000 dollar questions such as "What the heck has happened in your life so far?"

Ryder gets meals at school, so that's one less packed lunch to make. She arrived on a Thursday, so has one day of school and then we're into that awkward first weekend.


On Friday afternoon I made Ryder my first pick-up on the school run home having fixed a 3.00pm meeting with her school Senco (Special Education Needs Coordinator) and her Headteacher. They report that Ryder is behind in most subjects; expected. They aren't specific about whether she has any friendship groups, and this worries me a bit. Children with deep-seated problems at home are frequently so troubled they struggle to get and keep mates. Being a loner they can be targeted in the playground by other children. 

I make the point to the teachers that playgrounds need the same levels of supervision and vigilance they give classrooms. I've been making the point for 30 years. 

When she got home with everyone else my job was to keep an eye on her but leave her free to feel her way around the house and the other children.  I manage to get her to sit at the kitchen table and have a chat with me. I finish with: "Any questions?" Interesting that she doesn't ask the usual: "When am I going home." She simply shakes her head.

It's Friday, 4.45pm, Ryder has been here 24 hours and has behaved impeccably.


Her trust in us develops so quickly that she has her inaugural wobble the following day, Saturday lunchtime. It was all very reminiscent of a first-time wobbly I had with a new foster child a while back. What happened on that occasion was this;  we'd agreed to get a goldfish for the child to keep in the bedroom. 
Child and I drove to the big pet shop on the retail park. Bought a glass tank the size of a toaster, some rainbow coloured gravel, a plastic plant, a rubber shipwreck and a goldfish.

I always remember we had to fill in a questionnaire at the shop to demonstrate that we were capable of rearing a goldfish. Amazing really, our society pays more attention to the welfare of a goldfish and her minders than it does children...

We arrived home and were about to start assembling the tank when the child began finding things wrong. The frustrations developed and grew to the point where everything stank and I was an idiot. My husband was in earshot but we've found that a crowd doesn't help with defusing an episode so he kept clear. I helped the child up to the bedroom and said he should stay there until he felt better and that pretty much solved it.

It wasn't his last wobbly by any means, but they lessened and lessened to the point of zero in time and that progress kept us on track.

His initial problem had been with what the professionals call some sort of "guilt".  He was being treated with kindness and generosity, and may have even suffered from the realisation that his previous experiences ought to have involved the empathy which we try to bring to our fostering.  The professionals use the term "guilt", but I see it as something that needs its own term. I think the poor kids have a watershed moment just after they come into care when, subjected to love, they discover that their early years were not the same as everyone else's, most other children didn't have the bad stuff they did, and they have been unfairly treated. 

And then they boil over. Wouldn't you?

I'll hold back the details of Ryder's Saturday morning episode for now, except to say it was also connected to what is called "guilt". My Blue Sky social worker is due to visit and I'm 100% sure she'll confirm that. The big question is, as always, how to let the wobbly exhaust itself, because unless the foster parents treat the child in the way they were previously treated , they will get these feelings.

Ryder attended some kind of dance class at some kind of centre across town on Sunday morning. She's been doing it for a while, paid for by social services.  We've been asked to keep that up. Continuity again. The travel arrangement used to be that the mother of another girl who goes to the dance class would collect Ryder and drop her off, but it's agreed that I'll take her.

And I'll stay and watch.

I always do, when I can. They like it. Even if I'm not their real mum I'm a supporter. They feel a bit more secure. Mind, you have to keep a low profile. They are ultra-aware you're there. They generally don't want you to talk to other parents (and reveal the fostering), and need you to be cool.

I don't know about anyone else, but my boat to the Land of Cool sailed a long time ago. 

I have no tatts, no piercings, no purple streaks. 

Not even the latest badge of 'cool'; mild self-harm stripes on the forarm. I'll come back to that.

So Ryder had another meltdown in the car home from dance. This is one reason why we have foster children sit in the back. She gave the back of the front passenger seat a couple of mild kicks, didn't mean them. The rest was just a bit of shouting and tears.

It was a smaller wobbly than Saturday's. 

Fingers crossed we're on our way with her.

Thursday, July 05, 2018


It's early evening.

It's a tense time waiting for a foster child to arrive. She's now in her bedroom sorting her stuff. 

4.00pm Earlier today

During the school run home I told my real and foster children that a new arrival would be joining the family later this afternoon.
They were only slightly curious, maybe a tad worried - in secret - about what it would do to their status, rights and privileges, but acted nonchalant (or, as they like to put it 'cool').


My Blue Sky social worker shows up, all smiles and enthusiasm.

I don't know how these people do what they do. Social workers get the worst press ever, the newspapers are always at their throats for intervening or not intervening. On top of that they are permanently up to their necks in human suffering, afloat on a sea of paperwork, often at odds with other offices and officers all in aid of the child.
Not to mention having to deal with foster carers, and when I say 'deal' I mean everything from drying our eyes to giving us mental hugs to chivvying us to attend training and supervision (oh yeah, did I never mention that foster carers can be as lazy as the next sack of potatoes).
There are times when I exasperate even myself, but my social worker is always there to be the rock.
Ask them how they do it and they level with you;
"At least we get to go home, kick off our shoes and turn our mind to other stuff. You guys are on call 24/7."
That mutual respect is what makes the relationship tick.

She sits in her usual seat at the kitchen table. I brew tea. Both of us constantly looking towards the front gate (we've a through-kitchen/lounge so you can see front and back gardens).

They are due.
I can feel the tension in myself. It's a mix of first-day-at-school nerves, driving test collywobbles, Christmas Eve happy jitters; a longing to get the show on the road. In my time I've welcomed a bus-load of other people's children into my home, but the excitement never gets any less.
I know I worry too much about the initial greeting. It's because of that darn phrase "You don't get a second chance to make a first impression".
On the other hand, I want their first impression of me to be the real me.


Okay, late. They said 4.30ish. No big deal, the traffic thickens up round here about now. The conversation with my Blue Sky social worker had just got properly superficial when I saw a woman at the gate who was double-checking our street number on the gatepost.
"Hullo?" I said to my social worker; "Who's this?"
Social workers can spot other social workers at a hundred paces whether they've met or not.
"This'll be them...!" she said.

Nothing on earth makes you want to stare as much as wanting to stare at a new fostering arrival, to glean everything you can from their shape and size and gait and demeanour.
If you do watch them coming up the path, they must never know your eyes are on them.
I've settled the dilemma of whether to wait for the doorbell or open the door as they are coming up the path; I go and open the door, smile, and if the child is small, drop down onto my haunches so we're eye-level and gently say;
"Hello, you must be Ryder!"

Ryder is quite small for her age, despite the crisps and biscuits. Neglect can do that. The child can almost wish itself to disappear into thin air and no longer be the nuisance everyone tells her she is.

Ryder has long yellow hair. And is wearing what I can only describe as a party dress. A pale pink frock tied at the waist with a tired purple bow. She has white ankle socks and scuffed trainers.

Her social worker is carrying a suitcase with Ryder's wordly goods and Ryder is half-hiding behind the social worker. Lost, lonely and bewildered. If the kid had a floppy hat she'd be Paddington incarnate.

"Hello!" said Ryder's social worker on behalf of both of them. The woman is young, with a gentle face and open smile. I discovered later that she used to be a nurse but wanted something meatier to get her teeth into. She got what she hoped for.

"I'm Abigail, I'm Ryder's social worker.."

I confirmed who I am, ushered them in, and introduced the two social workers to each other. Kindred spirits; social workers, they are always pleased to meet a fellow SW. They got on with the formalities. I squatted down again and whispered to Ryder;

"This must be a bit scary for you, but in this bag is someone who also arrived here today just like you and is a bit frightened. He needs a friend to look after him."

And I gave her the bag with the fluffy bear in it (see last post).

I have never yet had my arrival-present thing blow up in my face. It might happen one day, but I'll keep doing it. This time it hit the bullseye. Ryder lifted him out by one ear, dropped the bag on the floor, had a good look then gave him a cuddle to her chest.  In a surprisingly clear strong voice she said;

"What's his name?"

I said I didn't know, I hadn't asked him, and suggested Ryder ask him. She rolled her eyes at me;

"He can't talk. He's a teddy bear."

And we were off. Her and me. Chatting. My new kid, my project or whatever you want to call it, which will last until she and her mother are ready to go again.

I reminded her that Paddington was a teddy bear and that Paddington can talk. She replied something like Paddington is not a Teddy Bear but a real bear although it's only a film, and real bears can't talk in real life  and nor can teddy bears. I came back that we love Paddington because of the things he does and says even though we know it's make-believe, so we should make-believe that her new friend, who needs looking after, can talk.

Turns out Ryder's new bear's name is "Mauvie", due to his fur being mauve-coloured. I'm having the chat while making more tea for the SWs and fetching a glass of apple juice for Ryder. I open the biscuit tin which goes down well; there are digestives, pink fingers and Oreos. I ask Ryder if Mauvie Bear wants a biscuit. She replies he doesn't as they are bad for you. Ryder however goes for the Oreos, informing me that they are expensive and American, and that she wants to go to America when she's old enough.

We foster parents know full well that this period in fostering, just after the initial arrival, is called the Honeymoon.


10.05 am Earlier Today

My mobile rings. I don't get many actual calls these days on the mobile. Friends and family, we text each other.
An actual spoken call means one of two things: something quite important or unimportant such as a cold caller on about PPI.
It's important; the Blue Sky placement team. Would I be willing to take a child who is being taken into care today. A nine year-old girl whose single mother has repeatedly failed to provide the levels of care that social services have requested/instructed since the family came onto their radar after a tip-off from neighbours.

I said a provisional yes, the file is being emailed to me. Then I texted husband.

10.30 am

File digested.

"Ryder" is one of three, the children have a record of conflict with each other so they're being separated. Social services had planned to set up fostering arrangements in advance but tempers in the house suddenly rose to danger point possibly because the family twigged there was an intervention taking shape. There seems a  possibility that Ryder's eldest brother may be a 'perp' (police talk for perpetrator) rather than fellow victim. Or maybe a bit of both.
Ryder has been profiled (interviewed) knows something major is coming. She might be re-interviewed at some point, might even be needed again to give evidence in court. At this stage I'm not confided in as to suspicions of who might have done wrongdoing to whom, except to know that Ryder is in the clear. So wherever she goes Ryder's  new family'll need to have tons of TLC on standby from the getgo, maybe more later.
Ryder's notes say she likes Paddington Bear and Love Island.
I always pay special attention to the child's food likes and dislikes (Mazlow's theory of needs, bless him...).
Ryder likes chocolate, cheese and onion crisps and/or hula-hoops, biscuits (especially chocolate biscuits), Big Macs, Peperami, Baby Belle mini cheeses, and Fridge Raiders.
Dear Lord. I bet she's another child coming into care who's never eaten a piece of fruit. Come to think, I've hardly ever had a foster child come to stay who didn't need teaching how to peel an orange.
She goes to a school about 15 minutes by car from me so I can (just about) slot her into my usual school run.

10.45 am

My Blue Sky social worker telephones me. They can usually be relied on to be excited for their carers when a new child is maybe on the way.
I ask whether Ryder has been sexualised in any way and she agrees that though there's nothing on the file it's a question that should be asked in the light of doubts about the older brother's behaviour, and since I have children already in my house, including an older boy, I want to keep them safe too.
I told my social worker that our 'provisional yes' would stay provisional until that issue was clarified.

I go upstairs and do yet another check on the spare bedroom; clean and tidy, fresh sheets (obviously), clean towel folded on end of bed (I know it's a bit hotel-ish, but the child doesn't know us and at first might baulk at sharing towels with strangers). Also; nothing that belongs or might have belonged to any other child; I want them to feel the room is a new start, it's theirs and theirs alone.

11.05 am

Social worker calls back. She's spoken at length with the local authority social worker who's carrying out the order to remove the children (on her recommendation). Ryder has not, (they are as certain as they can be) received or engaged in any inappropriate behaviour. The problems with her older brother are best characterised as verbal and emotional bullying.

I confirmed we're prepared to take Ryder. Our bid is in. I remind Blue Sky that I do a school run from about 3.15pm to 4.00pm, they can't get me between those times, and if we're successful and the child needs to come here before 3.00pm someone will need to stay with her at our house until I'm back.

I keep husband informed by text.

Now begins the wait.

12.15 pm.

Not a long wait! Phone rings. Blue Sky Placement team; Ryder, they are pleased to tell me, will be coming to us.The placement officer says he'll inform my social worker.

12.30 pm

My social worker phones to say it's great news. It does actually feel like something to celebrate - or at least feel good about - every time. Part of me is fully aware that a child coming into care means a child has been through awful times, and probably faces dark days ahead too, but at the moment of confirmation that a child is coming, the hope and realisation that you have a chance to give them a chance, overwhelms. You do a few cartwheels in your head, send your other half a text ending with an exclamation mark then three xxx's.

Ryder, I learn, is at school today, and will be going to school tomorrow. They like to keep that continuity, it helps normalise something that is anything but normal.  The school will be informed about her change of circumstance. She will make her own way back to her house where a social worker will carry out the dreaded removal.

I don't like to spend too long thinking about removals. I know for absolute certainshaw-burtonshaw that it can be hell on legs for all concerned.

I was once given a graphic description of a removal by a very saddened social worker who brought the child to us and told me about it while the child was out in the garden playing with our dog. If you don't want a picture in your head that will haunt, skip the next paragraph.

You've been warned. The child, aged five, clung onto the bannisters so tightly, all the while screaming and crying, that the social worker had to prise her tiny hands off finger by finger. But with each new finger to prise the finger that had just been released shot back in an iron grip around the bannisters. There, now I'm filling up for the child, but hey that was way back, and I happen to know the child is going along pretty well.

Welcome back. (Look, I bet you read the above paragraph, and if you did and felt a sadness you're ready to foster, if you aren't already fostering...)

I'm preparing a Tupperware snack box to go in her room consisting of a packet of cheese and onion crisps, 3 buttered cream crackers and a banana.

Out in the garage is a bin-liner full of unwanted soft toys. I seem to remembered a nearly new Paddington-ish teddy bear. I have a drawer of saved gift bags, the toy fits in one of them, I'll give it to her as an arriving present.

My Blue Sky social worker is aiming to be here at 4.00pm or shortly after to help with the arrival. Ryder is expected to be brought here with her local authority social worker some time around 4.30pm.

Gives me a chance to explain to the rest of the family that there'll be one more for tea tonight.

I'll describe her arrival (if I get time) next post.