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!


  1. I've been told that often the foster child can resent the female figure in the household, and get on better with any males in the house. I wonder how that's gonna pan out with me, as I'm going to be a single carer. Would that mean child has no one they 'get on with' because the only person in the house is similar to their mother, or realising there is only one adult, they'd get on with me regardless. Also I wonder how this works with single sex couples. I know my LA has around 10 male only couples, though no female only couples. Hmmm.

    1. Hi,
      we are male same-sex fostering family. We have 3 foster sons. Our first days and months went very smooth. Each boy developed attachment to us at his own peace. To avoid "parent replacement" feelings we asked boys to call us by name. They like this very much. We were lucky that all our boys are very cheerful, open minded and have great sense of humor. This helped to break ice.
      After short time we received goodnight hugs. We introduced and maintain as much possible home routines: it is very needed in 5 guys home :)
      After 3 years we have 3 cheeky teens who are calling us Daddy or Dada - especially when they are trying to get out of trouble :)

    2. Hi Maagic, thanks for your comment, very interesting.
      Sounds like you're doing a fantastic job. I'm with you when it comes to thinking out ideas to suit the situation, like your using names rather than dad to start with.
      Some people think you can over-think fostering, but then some people thought Mozart over-played the piano.
      Good luck to you 5 guys.

  2. Hey Dana. As I said in the post but probably didn't stress very well, all the parental attributes a foster child needs can be found in a single individual. In fact the whole prototype of what used to be called the nuclear family (2 parents - male and female - and 2.4 children) is out the window, if it ever really existed. All families are unique and probably always have been.
    I remember going to a party thrown by a single mum friend of mine, I was last to leave, stayed and helped her with the clearing up. We chatted about single parenting and she said "To be honest the only thing I can't do that a couple can is wash the dishes and dry them simultaneously."

  3. Thanks for the reassurance. I guess all families are different. I suspect it may be good for some kids in care to only have one new adult to get to know too. There will be some practical issues mind, like if I need something at the shop I haven't got a partner to mind the kid whilst I nip out...

  4. Many foster children have only had one adult around, in some cases, barely half an adult.
    And yes, if they're too young or there are other reasons why you can't nip out for 5 mins leaving them in the house (always a thing to discuss with your social workers) they simply have to tag along - as with any child.