Tuesday, August 28, 2018


When a new foster child arrives it's hard to keep up all your other responsibilities because you're so focussed on settling the newcomer in.

You're ever on the alert for things that help you build the fullest picture of the child, learning about their personalities and how to make best use of who they are to help them towards being who they want to be.

Take Ryder, who's settling in brilliantly. Okay, the odd glitch, usually around Contact with her significant others, nothing a couple of minor fixes can't heal over. On our way home from Contact I take her straight to the sweetshop. She knows this and it even helps get her to the Contact, she starts talking about her treat, it softens the complicated emotions.The distraction of choosing from the vast shelves of goodies works wonders. She knows she's free to spend as much time as she wants browsing, I never hurry her. She always manages to persuade me to go a bit over her budget, all part of the therapy; the distraction of having freedom of choice and entering complex financial negotiations distances her from the angst. Just to nail the whole thing I choose a treat for myself, agonising over what to have and getting her advice. I pick something, usually a packet of mints rather than a bar so she can sample my treat on the way home, it bonds us.

Then you get the moment when she offers you a sweet from one of her packets, and you know you're getting somewhere. 

Naturally I'd be happier offering her carrot sticks or an apple, but Contact is such a major upheaval for her she deserves what she wants the most, which is a sense of control and freedom. We have an ongoing competition between her and me as to who has the whitest teeth, which has led to her cleaning her teeth not only voluntarily but if anything too often. Sometimes the foster mum's tricks of the trade are almost too successful for their own good...

But like I started out saying, the first few weeks of a new arrival can result in other priorities dropping down your radar. 

I've noticed that I might cut corners with little things - the family might moan "Not pasta again...", I cram the pedal bin rather than empty it when almost full, cut back on the hoovering telling myself I'm the only one who notices a few bits on the carpet. I re-assure myself that it's down to having an extra person to feed and tidy up after, but the truth is I'm pre-occupied with helping them feel at home, and it fills my head.

The one mistake I try to make sure I never make is to let the others think I don't care about them as much as before. You have to up the TLC for everyone (even my other half, who is easily capable of feeling neglected...).

It's really important, most important of all, to re-assure any other children in the home, that you love and care for them just as much, maybe even more. The minute they get a whiff that you are doting on the new arrival, allowing them a bit of extra leeway while she settles in, they're going to get unsettled. 

So here's what happened...

At the tea table Ryder passed a comment which was, shall we say, adult in nature. Either she didn't know what it meant but had heard it said in her real household, or she was making a bid to raise her grown-up status. 

The table went silent. Everyone was waiting for me to react. In these situations you get no time to think and you usually feel afterwards that you said/did the wrong thing. I fell back on a tried and trusted trick of mine which was to say this;

"Er, Ryder, no more of that sort of talk please, I'll have a chat with you about it later."

Deferment. I love this device. I use it especially when I'm asked a really difficult question by a foster child relating to their fostering, or their real family. It gives me a chance to think my words through, if necessary get clarification or advice from my social worker. The children usually are happy that my head is filled with thoughts of them and their needs.

However, in this instance eldest foster child got the knock (only slightly) because he felt that if he'd come out with a remark like Ryder's the you-know-what would have hit the fan. How do I know he got the knock? Am I vested with mind-reading powers or supernatural skills? No.

He said so. He said, immediately;

"If I'd said that you wouldn't have said what you said to her to me".

Which was true, but I couldn't tell the whole family that a new arrival is entitled to individual treatment until they are familiar with our do's and dont's. 

So I did deferment followed by distraction;

"I'll explain later, meantime who wants vanilla who wants chocolate chip?"

But I did speak to each of them separately. I got to Ryder asap. She kind of knew what she'd said, and agreed she was only trying to act grown up. She did really well not to get upset with worrying she might be in trouble, because being in trouble at her real home was, we had been told, worth worrying about.

Eldest I planned a quality 15 minutes with, just the two of us in the garden, it was getting dark and quiet. 

Quality 15 minute chats one-to-one with foster children are a big hit. They know it's going to be just 15 minutes, which is long enough to get things said, short enough for them not to feel in jail.

I asked him not to pass anything we would talk about on to Ryder even if she asked (requesting his confidence was also a way of marking his maturity). I explained the truth, that Ryder got allowances in her early days with us. The clincher was that I'd done the same for him and it had helped him. Now he had to help me help Ryder. But it went further and we talked about him and the big things in his life. The mate he'd had a barney with, they were back on track. The teacher he thinks has a downer on him has been not so bad recently. The teacher he thinks is brilliant who gives him a fist bump. 

It got deeper. He talked about the dad he hadn't seen since six Christmases ago. 

Then he talked about his mum not paying him any attention.

His mum not paying him any attention. I could have kicked myself to the end of the road and back. The big thing I give this child is attention, constantly. Except (the child was telling me via his subconscious) when there's a new foster child in the house - or at least that's how it can feel to him.

The quality 15 minutes turned into nearly an hour and I came indoors geared up to give everybody else in the house a quality 15 minutes (or hour) sooner rather than later.

And yes, including Ryder.

And yes, actually, including me, because things turned out for the better in the end.

As is so often the case with fostering.

Monday, August 20, 2018


Our latest foster child, Ryder, a girl, has been with us about a month now.

Thinking about it, it's amazing how quickly most foster children find a place in their foster family. I'm not saying they always ease cheerfully into the right slot, not saying they shine a light where before there was darkness, blimey not saying that at all.

But what they often achieve is just as much a piece of human magic. They establish a relationship with each of the other family members - very quickly. It might not be totally harmonious, but minor tensions are what family is about as much as bonds, in fact sometimes the bonds are the tensions.

But wheras in a 'real' family the relationships evolve and grow over years, a foster family adapts to a new member in a very short time, mostly according to that child's wants and needs. I've seen it over and over. Each family member - especially the other foster children - make concessions to the new person, as long as they're reasonable and any concessions are recognised by everyone and respected.

We sort of all shift over a bit and make a space.

And the child, however young or bruised, finds ways to function with each family member and the family as a whole.

There's no scientific forensic thinking on the child's part, it's mostly - maybe entirely - instinct.

They look for a solid adult who is strong; stalwart about rules and guidelines, consistent and fair.

They look for an adult who is warm and gentle, loving and friendly - and generous.

Often these things are all found in the same adult, sometimes it's a team thing.

They look for similar yins and yangs in the other features of your family life, the other children (if there are any), the pets, the layout of the house, the facilities (PC, TV, larder, fridge, bathroom) and the essential rhythm of your home.

They look for their place in the pecking order, which brings me back to Ryder and her settling in.

She's very  comfortable with my husband. She chats with him, and jokes. She's polite with him. Same goes with everyone else in the house.

Except, to begin with, me. 

I remember the first time I came across this; foster mums often notice it. Social workers are well used to it.

The professionals tell us that a typical foster child will have a confused picture of the whole concept of 'mother'.  They tell us that very young children need to make an attachment to a loving parent. Having spent 9 months inside mother's womb, she's the most likely candidate. Plus she might be the provider of her own milk, so the mother/child attachment should be well ahead of any other.

But attachment needs more than just those things, and some children don't receive the necessary and end up with a poor sense of attachment, something which can make all sorts of relationships difficult for them through life.

The infant gives out love and devotion towards an individual who doesn't give it back.

The child ends up with a confused and upsetting view of her own mother - and mothers in general. 

Taken into care, their reservations about 'mother' are complicated further. Here's a new 'mother' - what? She's trying to replace my mum?

I've tried lots of tactics to lessen this problem for new foster children, including telling them to call me by my name rather than thinking of me as 'mum', behaving more like a sister/friend than a mother, I've even tried to extend my non-mothering to things like sharing the cooking. Every little bit helps, but in the end you just have to be patient.

With Ryder it took about a month. Now she's happy not only to sit next to me when she plays a video game on my iPad, but snuggle up. Lets me put my arm around her shoulder.

Even manages to let me know that deep down she likes feeling close. 

We don't know yet if there's a clear plan to re-unite her with her real family, it seems unlikely for while, her contact with her mother is less than great. 

Doesn't matter if the child is going home almost straight away, the job is to offer them attachment from the moment they walk through your door. 

It's a great job, too. Best job in the world!

Wednesday, August 15, 2018


There's a phrase I like;

"The smallest fish are the sweetest." I'll tell you how I first heard the phrase shortly.

In life our greatest moments are simply great, how could they not be? There are the traditional milestones if you are lucky enough such as falling in love, marriage day, birth of our children. We might be lucky enough to enjoy other milestones such as passing exams, getting that job, getting promotion. 

People beat diseases, they pass driving tests, they win £500 at online bingo.

And for many people in this wonderful new world we have, there are new and huge milestones; coming out and being accepted, discovering who you really are and that your friends and family are happy for you.

Whatever your backstory, being approved to foster is one of life's biggest milestones. I'll never forget walking out of the room knowing that people who knew what it took thought I had what it takes.

To be honest fostering doesn't throw up endless milestone moments. It's real life. Mind, you get a few; the best milestone moment we've had so far was when a foster child who was with us was nominated for an award, it was going to be staged at a big hotel in a big town so we splashed out and booked a suite at the venue. The child was so agog with the accommodation that the evening was given over to watching back-to-back new-to-view films in the suite's dining room while room service brought endless chips with everything.

Here's the moment... when it was the child's turn to go up on the big stage and collect the medal and certificate, he ran up and punched the air. First and only time the child was unequivocally in a great place, hopefully he found more such moments as he grew.

Well done social services for organising it, it was a moment the child will never forget and nor will we. Milestone moment.

But milestone moments don't have to be massive occasions, and in fostering if you are on your toes, the little moments come thick and fast.

So here's last night's one, I hope you can get that it wouldn't have even been a tremor on any scale, but it was seismic for us.

Foster child brought the eating debris down from the room. 

We didn't ask. We've never nagged. Sometimes on a Sunday morning there would be dead plates which once were spag boll or Chinese. Empty crisp packets, apple cores, juice cartons. The child ate healthy but was territorial and seemed to be attached to the clutter.

So I'm standing at the sink keeping it moving as cups and plates and cutlery go through. And suddenly, there in front of me without any flag up that he's coming is foster child with all the debris.  An armful of plates with cups and food remnants piled up, the child is heading for the kitchen bin to scrape off the waste and then looks at me with doe eyes saying "Do you want this stuff in the sink or the dishwasher?"

Any idea what a killer moment that was for me? So what did I do?

I went (casual as you like); 

"Yur thanks, can you stick them in the dishwasher?"

So the child did. A tiny thing, but huge, huge.

He'd probably had it up his sleeve for a while, wanted to deliver his surprise new self as and when it suited him.

Milestone.  Small one, but in fostering you have to stay alert for them.

I mentioned earlier where I came across the phrase the smallest fish are the sweetest. Years ago I was at a birthday celebration for a girl friend who happened to be Irish but the bulk of the folk were local. It was staged in a big pub backroom, and a darts competition broke out. Men and women had come from all over, some from across the water, and  my other half (who follows darts) said one of the Irish fellows looked vaguely familiar. 

The darts got very competitive, except for the aforementioned little fellow, who seemed not to care much but managed to scrape a win every time.  He ended up in the final, against the overwhelming favourite, a slightly cocksure local man.

Short story long the Irish fellow won (by a whisker) and a while later myself and my other half found ourselves at his table. We said to him "Do we know you from somewhere?" He put his finger to his lips and whispered who he was. He'd made the finals of the World Darts Championship several years ago.

So I said to him; "What does it feel like then, winning fifty quid in a little occasion like this?"

And he smiled and said (and I'd like to believe it was true); 

"Just to make it fair I threw with my wrong hand."

Then he said (and I know this is true);

"The smallest fish are the sweetest."

As they are in fostering.

Thursday, August 09, 2018


It's amazing how many people are interested in fostering but can't get past thinking about it.

Literally, our next-door neighbours and the people who live diagonally opposite us have both let us know they are up for finding out more,  but this is the thing;

They've been 'Up for finding out more' for YEARS. 

They keep having inquisitive conversations with us which end in me saying I can put them in touch with someone and they quickly say something like "Well actually now is not a good time because..."
And they cite a reason such as one of their children is moving up a school, or a grandad is going through a rough time. 

In many cases the real reason has to do with their suspecting that they might not be up to scratch. No-one wants to be told thanks but no thanks. 

In my experience, people sometimes put off making that first contact in fostering in the same way as some people who can sing a bit or act a bit never actually try to make something of their talent because they were afraid of being told they weren't good enough. They can keep the dream going in their head and tell themselves they'll do something about it when the sun is shining. 

It's a shame. I once heard someone say there are thousands of Frank Sinatras out there, but he got up and gave it a proper go. And he benefitted.

With fostering, if you get up and give it a go and you help just one child - just one - you're bigger and better than Frank Sinatra.  A child will benefit.

All because you had a go.

You took the risk (not that it's much of a risk) - it doesn't cost a penny to find out if you, your family and your home have the potential. And the fact is the majority of people who take the plunge discover they are five star fostering material. I haven't got the exact figures, but not many applications fail.

Then there's fear of commitment. I once had a boss who, when we started talking about my work arrangement said "Hey nobody wants to get into something they can't get out of", and that's a good way of looking at many things in life. In fostering, if you make the call, a process starts which you can end any time, without giving a reason, no shame or recrimination. And for anyone on a budget, absolutely no bill or fees.

Even if you get on board and foster; it's not a ball and chain for life. You have help coming at you from every direction and if you need a breather - it gets arranged. We ourselves had years away from fostering while our own children were little, and came back when they could grasp what was going on around them. Just for the record I regret the break; I didn't need to do it - I now know our children could have coped fine, it might even have matured them faster.

I could blog on til the cows come home but the point I want to make to people who are thinking about fostering is that the only way to allay any worries or misunderstandings (believe me we had plenty of those ourselves way back - all of which turned out to be docile) is...

...to make the call. 

Speak to a human being, Google for your nearest or friendliest looking point of point of contact and start talking. 

It's what I did and I'll never forget how in the first 2 minutes of talking to someone (her name is Di by the way and the last time I visited Blue Sky she was still there picking up the phone to strangers and engaging them), I felt better.

I also remember how nervous I was making that first call.

A little voice inside me was saying something like..

"Are you really sure you might be able to do this fostering thing?"

Well, turns out I am, and I sometimes even  get told I'm alright at it, which sounds best when it comes from the kids.

It's a huge leap from thinking about doing something to actually doing something, but every day a person puts it off is another day for a child with no roof, no bed, no home, no hope.

Make today the day you stopped thinking and starting doing.

Sunday, August 05, 2018


One of the many things that social services and fostering agencies hope we foster parents to try to get right is keeping our foster home as normal a home as possible.

Yeah. Right.

I always think it's like trying to keep a rowing boat on the level when someone steps in with no balance. The thing rocks, everyone hangs onto the sides, then after a bit the newcomer stabilises and so does everyone else.

Mind, sometimes those moments are half the fun.

So; we have a new child Ryder, and we happen to be in the middle of a school holiday.

And my sister-in-law is going in for a new knee.

I could talk about Maggs until the cows come hime, she's a rock.  You value your friends in fostering. Don't have to be lifelong friends, can even be trusted colleagues, just someone you can have a whinge and a laugh with. Maggs bounced back after a difficult marriage break-up - on better terms with her ex these days than when they were married, funny, there's a lot of that about - and met the love of her life on the internet when the whole IT dating thing was about 20 minutes old. That was years ago and they have two children age 8 and 6. Thing is that he works nights.

And now she's going to be crock for at least a fortnight.

Maggs has bailed me out more times than I can count. She got herself security checked so she could look after our looked-after children for a morning or even a whole day. Maggs has never said no.

So, boot on the other foot, Maggs needs cover while she's laid up. Obviously I'm there. It's a bit more complicated when you're a foster home, but the job is to run a home that's normal, and helping out a pal is normal and after all her other half is my other half's half-brother (ain't modern life wonderfully complicated?).

Anyway, last night, tonight and tomorrow night Maggs two children are staying here. Brilliant! the house is like the youth club I always dreamed of!

A houseful consisting of; me and him, our own children, foster children and 2 others. The others sleeping on cushions and pillows in the front room (everyone else envious). Stuck in the middle of all this mayhem is new foster child, Ryder. I'm watching like a hawk in case she boils over, but if anything the chaos gives her cover.

It started out awkward, everyone not sure who was who and what was what, but believe me in minutes there came a businesslike calm about the house. First off people scattered to their own corners with their phones, then gradually got drawn to the TV where one of them had got up videos of a band (Green Day?) and deep discussion began as to whether they were rubbish.

It was a GREAT evening. We had a houseful of; children whose parents foster alongside children who are being fostered alongside children who know nothing of fostering.

We watched a Netflix film that was edgy and therefore cool and kept an eye out if any of the younger ones found it tense. If they did they kept it in, and no-one had nightmares. Everyone had my home-made popcorn and complained there were more un-popped kernels than the quality stuff you get at CineWorld.

There was no big result. In fostering it's about bit by bit. The bit on this occasion was that fate chucked us a situation which meant we had to be a normal home and do what a normal home would do, and we did, and it was a winner. And some foster children from homes where things hardly ever clicked could relax in the atmosphere of a home where there were clicks going off everywhere.

Me and him went to sleep with the torch on the bedside cabinet just in case of a power failure (happened to us in Spain). I told everyone that if there was any problem in the night I'd come and find everyone. Didn't want to end up with a houseful of children who watched a slightly spooky film and are all spooked out in the dark.

Eldest foster child sidled up to me at breakfast next day and said "Mum..." (Always sends me doing cartwheels when they choose to call me 'mum'). "Mum," he said "Just so you know...torches are so last century, we all have a torch on our phone duh?"

Perfect weekend, right down to the essential rebuke for being a dinosaur.

A happy dinosaur though...