Sunday, September 30, 2018


Egad, the shops are filling up with Christmas stuff and we're still barely into Autumn.

Barely Autumn and yet I've already made my first Christmas blooper.

It wasn't a howler, more like an oversight.

I wasn't concentrating at the time.

What happened was this;

Last Saturday I did an early-morning big shop at the supermarket. A long list. I ended up at the till with a full trolley and started loading the conveyor belt with a week's worth of staples. The belt ended up groaning with boring stuff, almost nothing to raise anyone's spirits.

The aisle next to where I was queueing had a sign hanging above it saying "Seasonal". Christmas stuff. Stacked on the very end of the aisle was the usual 'impulse buy' bits and pieces you don't need but often pick up because having spent fifty quid on dull basics, we shoppers are suckers for a pocket-money sized treat.

So I nipped over and picked up a handful of chocolate Father Christmases. One for each youngster.

What could possibly be goofy about that...? Read on.

I drove home with my head full of how to structure another Saturday. A recent bike ride had gone down well especially as we ended up at a Taco drive-though.

When I got home I unpacked and put everything away, a part of shopping I've come to find tedious, even with the kettle whistling and a cup of tea in sight. It's irritating having to find the right little home for all the over-priced and over-packaged supermarket stuff. I KNOW that cheese shouldn't go in the fridge, but I'm more concerned about bacteria than flavour. Ditto eggs. Does chorizo go in the meat compartment? Will botulism break out if I'm wrong? Decisions, mind was still elsewhere, not quite in the moment.

When I came to the chocolate Father Christmases I stood them in a line on the breakfast bar like a police identity parade where everyone could see them when they came downstairs.

Sure enough there were fake-indignant  cries of "For goodness sake!" and "What the heck...?". But the treats disappeared one by one.

About an hour after the last Father Christmas vanished there came a commotion from the tech spot. Our 'Tech Spot' is a small annexe-type room off the living room where there's a TV for PC games and a family laptop. People can use their phones in there.

A dispute had arisen, nothing special but it had our newest foster child at the centre of it and she was winding herself up. So I did my usual and tried distractions.

But Ryder didn't flich, she didn't care whether she got a bowl of vanilla or chocolate ice cream, didn't care whether we cycled to the park or to McDonalds. She was fighting back tears. So I ended up saying;

"Come on dear, everything's alright. Let's go up to your room and you can come down when you feel better."

She took a bit of persuading but went upstairs crying her poor little eyes out.

I kept my ears peeled downstairs and after ten minutes it was quiet in her room so I went upstairs, slowly and quietly. When I got to her door I asked if she was okay.

Turned out she wasn't. She started talking through the half-open door.

She wanted to know when she was going home. She wanted to go home. Why couldn't she go home? Nobody tells her anything. Is she going to be here for ever? 

Then my gaffe came to light. She said;

"Can I go home for Christmas?"

See what I'd done, dammit? My 'harmless' little serendipity gift for everyone had triggered her. 

Ryder had taken her chocolate Father Christmas and started thinking. Then fretting and ruminating about her situation. Her feelings turned into negative emotions then negative behaviour.

Christmas is a testing time for chaotic families. More children have to be taken into care during the period between Christmas Day and New Year than any other week of the year. 

Christmas for families who foster can be brilliant if you plan it out, talk to everyone and keep talking.

I hadn't got round to planning Christmas and preparing Christmas in the minds of my foster children, but I went and stuck it into their minds without proper preparation.

I took Ryder for a drive in the car and she recovered herself enough for me to talk her through Christmas; that I would help her buy presents for whoever she wanted to give gifts to, I would arrange for her to see whoever she could see in the days immediately before Christmas. I'd get her Christmas cards to send. I'd need her to help me decorate the tree. She could draw up her list of presents she'd like "Santa" to bring her for Christmas because she would (barring a miracle) be waking up in our house on Christmas morning. I would try to arrange for her to be able to have a phone call with anyone she wanted to on Christmas morning.

And looking beyond Christmas, she would be allowed to stay up on New Year's Eve until midnight so she'd be awake at the right time to make her resolution and make her secret three New Year Wishes.

Foster children probably make the self-same New Year Wishes the world over.  Sometimes they come true.

Me, I've got one more New Year resolution to add to my shortlist.

To concentrate...

Wednesday, September 26, 2018


Fostering can take over your life, you have to keep it in perspective.

Mind, in my case I find it so absorbing I don't mind it filling my day.

Take last Sunday; the whole house went trampolining. Everyone except me. I was excused on the grounds of having a scratchy throat and the slight snivels. I find that colds don't come to a head in me these days, maybe I'm too busy to be crock. Nevertheless the family drove off and left me with a free afternoon.

I ended up on the sofa reading the bits of the Sunday paper I never usually have time for. 

Something caught my attention and it's stayed with me. It was a book review.

The book was about what we are doing with our lives, here in the West. The thinking in the book doesn't apply to poorer countries where people have to struggle to stay alive. The thinking applies to countries such as ours where almost everyone has a reasonable level of security against plague and pestilence and access to life's basic comforts.

What's happened to many of us, especially the young, is that they've replaced the rush which we humans used to get from catching a rabbit for supper with artificial adrenalin rushes such as bungy jumping and white water rafting. Everywhere you look people are signing up for extreme this and extreme that.

The book, according to the review, is very scathing about these diversions, calling them empty experiences, and you can see the point there. 

The most recent bucket lists are chock-a-block with adventure sports plus a handful of material wishes such as owning a second home in the sun or a Harley Davidson.

The reviewer echoed the sentiments of the author which is that these pursuits are ultimately unsatisfying because they're unfulfilling.

Exhilaration without any spiritual reward.

So what's this got to do with fostering?


Anyone who wants to feel really, really alive - the way you do when you've pushed yourself out of your comfort zone - anyone who wants to take a small but genuine chance and reap bucketfuls of reward ought can see where I'm going here...

It's a crying shame that the country is still way short of the numbers of foster carers we need. Yet every weekend men and women are throwing themselves off skyscrapers in Seoul, jumping off bridges and out of aircraft. There are folk who can't have a curry without it being the hottest vindaloo in town; they must test themselves. 

I'm not knocking these activities like the author of the book seems to be, especially for the young. When we're full of vim and vigour it's fair enough to want some aimless thrills. The young deserve a break from the humdrum, there's a lot to be said for having a buzz.

But I'm afraid I look at the 'pelotons'  of middle-aged men cycling furiously around on a Sunday morning going nowhere in particular and wonder if they'd feel a bigger surge of endorphins if they did something useful instead.

Thousands of men and women hit middle age and get scared about seeming  to be old. Not us foster parents. I'm past my sell-by date in lots of respects but I can name all the Avengers, I dig Deadpool and can recite most Simpsons episodes off by heart.

To the couples - and singles - who suffer from empty nest syndrome when their youngest finally leaves for Uni or whatever I'd say your nest doesn't have to be empty!

Surely if you feel your life is too quiet, too empty, too dull that you need to go looking for artificial kicks and distractions, surely you are in pole position to start thinking about fostering.

Actually, don't bother with too much thinking, pick up the phone and talk to someone, whether it's a fostering agency like the one I work with (Blue Sky on 0845 450 3519) or your local authority or whoever, just do it. Find out about it; get some info, then do the thinking.

I've sat around socially listening to people sharing their experiences of sponsored parachute jumps and half-marathons, listened to the trials and tribulations of one family friend who is forever planning' excitement'; one week it's the Cresta Run (a crazy toboggan ride somewhere in France I think), then the following week he's going to go riding a motorbike across China. But y'know what? Whenever it's my turn and I talk (as far as I can bearing in mind privacy) about the ins and outs of fostering, everyone goes quiet.

Because they know fostering is one of THE ultimate experiences.

Go on; do yourself a favour; not to mention a favour for a kid with no roof...begin a REAL experience -  a hugely fulfilling one; 

Pick up the phone!

Friday, September 21, 2018


Being well supported is so important in fostering.

I don't know how much support is generally offered to foster parents by other agencies and local authorities nationwide, I hope there's plenty. Maybe I'm biased, but it's no surprise to me that the fostering agency I work with has been marked by Ofsted Outstanding years in a row.

Here's the sort of back-up they provide.

We did a regular weekend respite care for a very sad child called Alfie. He had suffered dreadful neglect and abuse and was very upset. Alfie was at the end of his tether.

When adults behave badly it's often their own fault but when their family breaks down they blame other people. When children in chaotic families behave badly it's not their fault, they are the victims. But when the family breaks down, astonishingly, they often think it's their fault and blame themselves.

For example I've mentioned before about the child who scrubbed his hands at length several times a day. Turned out he believed the reason the family had broken down, the reason he was taken away and put into care was because ...because he hadn't washed his hands properly.

Alfie desperately wanted to be seen to be a good person.

He was! He was thoughtful, fair, name it.


Every time we said to him things such as "Well done that was really kind of you..", "Aren't you a good boy!" It went down badly, he got upset.  I felt hurt because I was doing the right thing.

Okay, so now the great bit;

Blue Sky use counsellors to help their carers. I've met a lot of people who are a bit scared of counselling but they're missing out. All of us would go to A&E if we broke our leg. We'd go to Spec Savers if our vision was blurred, so why not go to someone who can help on something as important as fostering?

They listen to you about your foster child and about you. They also listen to how the fostering is going for the child ('impacting' they call it), and how it's going for you.

Here's the conversation (in a short form) about Alfie;

Me: "He gets upset. He gets upset if I tell him not to do something then he gets upset if I tell him he's done something good."

Counsellor; "It's not unusual to get upset being told we've done something someone else doesn't approve of." Pause.

Me; "Too true..." Pause.

Me again: "I don't like it too much myself.."

Counsellor; (laughing) "Does anyone?"


Counsellor: "How are you when you're given praise?"

Me: (I'm relaxed by now because the session is fun, free and fascinating) "I'm hopeless!"

Counsellor: "What do you mean?"

Me: "I don't know... Er...It makes me uncomfortable. I don't know why..Why do I find it hard to take praise?"

Counsellor: "It's a problem for a lot of people."

Me: "Good to know I'm normal then..."


Me: "Maybe I think I don't deserve it."

Counsellor: "And do you?"

Me: "Yes, sometimes I do!"

Counsellor: "Have your foster children sometimes seen you reject praise?"

Me: (In my own head) "AGGGHHHH!"

The number of times I've brushed off the kind comments and praise of social workers and the gratitude of foster children, even minimised their debt for what I've done and said things like "It was nothing" or "You deserved it".

Long story short, we worked out that Alfie wanted to be seen to be what he was; a good kid. But didn't know how to take a pat on the back.

It was a bit more complex than I have space for because part of Alfie's mess was a parent who'd made him feel bad about everything he'd ever done. Being told he was good, hearing that he had been a help; it triggered feelings of injustice, lack of love.


The counselling was HUGELY helpful. We devised a game which we played around the kitchen table at teatime. We went around the table and each of us had to say what was the best thing we'd done that day. It could be the nicest thing such as;

Me (I always started with me); "I dropped a sausage on the kitchen floor and instead of washing it and putting it on someone's plate I chucked it and had one less myself."

There'd be various noises of Ugh etc, but the rule was that once the fuss and discussion had died out everyone HAD to say; "Well done!"

People could nominate a good piece of schoolwork, making a friend feel better, putting their laundry in the basket without being asked...

You've heard of the 'praise sandwich'? It's where if you want to tell someone something they might not want to hear you sandwich the negative thing in between two bits of praise. Well in Alfie's case the praise sandwich was a piece of praise in between two bits of...praise.

The idea, obviously, was a sort of mental homeopathy; we'd give Alfie small doses of praise and he'd build up a resistance to his unconscious revulsion.

And with counselling and the rest of the help behind us we kind of got there in the end with Alfie.

Funny thing thought, when my Blue Sky social worker kind of said; "Well done", I kind of said "Ahh, it wasn't me..."

In fostering we do a FANTASTIC job. We get lots of help which we should accept.

We get lots of praise, we should accept that too.

Monday, September 17, 2018


Time for an update on Ryder, our newest foster child.

Ideally I would post about her more often, people are interested. Thing is a) I kind of feel that even though I'm entirely vigilant about her privacy - as I am with all my placements, occasional updates are more proper than some kind of diary  b) I'm rushing around like the proverbial housefly.

Ryder has become yet another hero of mine. When you learn what children have been through before they come into care you often need the strength and expertise of your social worker to take it all in. The children's sheer courage in trying to stay on top takes your breathe away.

They're heroes.

Here's a good question; have you ever met one of your heroes? The ones we have when we're small? You know, maybe someone like a certain Australian soap star turned pop star....

No offence to the guy but when I was (much) younger, he was a hero of mine. What happened was this; my mum used up a favour from someone she knew and managed to get me a ticket to be in the audience of a TV show where he was the star guest. Imagine the excitement.

Half an hour before the show started we were asked if anyone wanted the loo. I went.  We were led through a corridor and round a couple of corners and when we got there I spent a bit longer than anyone else checking myself in the mirror, so when I came out the escorts had gone and I had to retrace their steps to get back to the studio.

I'm not one for mischief but on this occasion I hoped I'd take the wrong turning and maybe bump into...him.

And it kind of happened.  I found myself near the studio at the corner of a corridor of offices. I peeked around an open door and at the other end, sitting on an ordinary chair in front of an ordinary desk was...him! There were a handful of other people milling a respectful distance from him (he was a star), but he was simply plonked on an ordinary chair staring almost glumly into middle distance with one of his Cuban heeled boots up on the desk, his blue eyes heavy-lidded with tiredness or maybe boredom.

I felt sorry for him. He looked lonely, a bit beat-up, vulnerable.

I was desperate for him to glance up and see me and smile or even beckon me over to give me his autograph. Well he didn't. One of the researchers spotted me and asked if I was lost and took me back to the studio.

The point of all this is that in spite of it being a nothing event it actually increased my hero worship of him. He was not only stellar but human.

And he remained my biggest hero. Until I fostered.

Every foster child is different. Not necessarily more different than your everyday child, but as a foster parent you get a bullet-point life history of each child whereas your own children grow bit by bit with you. Their pain is concentrated into several pages of typed up facts.

The two things that foster children have in common is: one; they've been taken into care and two; they have been through other bad stuff.

When I was young my hero was some pop bloke who had endured nothing more than putting up with being famous, being good-looking and talented, probably a bit lucky and fairly rich. Poor lad. And there I once stood feeling sorry for him!

Fostering doesn't half give you a perspective.

So, what Ryder said to me was this;

"I'm gonna look after my mum like you look after us."

Oh dear, eyes filling up while I'm writing these words as I imagine the life of this dear little hero.

It's becoming clear that Ryder is a carer. She's not yet a teenager, but is looking after her mother, her sibs and possibly any number of drop-in 'friends' of the family.

Foster children sometimes tell us foster parents things that help social workers get a fuller picture of the child's existence.

Ryder told me about the times she's had to put her mother to bed in the middle of the day because she was paralytic. She also has cooked, cleaned, hoovered, washed-up and even laundered other people's laundry. The mother, I can tell you, appears to have mental health problems as well as alcohol and drug-related problems and a whole lot of other  problems getting through every day. 

Ryder's instinct tells her it's wrong that she is having to mum up a dysfunctional home unit. She seems to sense that her childhood has been taken away, and that's one of many reasons she gets het up from time to time.

Who wouldn't?

But when I go to bed tonight and I'm thinking about what to think about to feel good (yep, I'm getting into mindfulness, it's great), I hope I'll remember that Ryder wants to base her parenting of her wayward parent and needy sibs  on the skills that her foster parents try to use.

Or, to put it another way, be like me; her foster mum.

Yet another way in which what we do makes a difference.

Monday, September 10, 2018


A friend has lost someone dear. I've helped my friend, and my family have helped me. Our foster children have been marvellous.

Experts say there are 5 stages of grief when you lose someone. The stages are said to be; Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.

One of our readers commented about feeling a bit daunted that she is going to Panel (where foster carers go to be approved to foster), and a bit daunted about the prospect of fostering. Interesting, because now that I think about it, there are clear stages that characterise many fostering placements and it might be useful to mention them.

They're only as I see them, I'm not a psychologist. Mind, I've probably done more fostering than your average psychologist, so there might be something in my thinking even if it's only raw experience.

The stages are mainly from the foster parent's viewpoint, and apply to full placements rather than respite or emergency care.


The prospective foster parent begins the process of gaining approval to foster. The excitement begins, but there's always that human fear of falling at the last fence. Alongside the daunting feeling that we might not be approved, we keep asking ourselves "Can I do this fostering thing?"

(You only go through this stage once, unless like me, you take a long break from fostering and need to get approval over again).


You've passed! And now a child is coming! The phone call said you've been selected. So many good buzzes! A chance to help a child to shine! Someone out there thinks you are good enough! A child's chance to find a way out of somewhere bad. Who will it be? What will the child be like?


The child is (usually but not always) shy and respectful, co-operative and compliant. The foster parent learns mainly about the child's brighter side.

Stage Three DAUNTED

Some foster children come to trust their foster parents enough to let true feelings out. There's surely no such thing as a human being who wouldn't feel unfairly treated being taking into care as a child, even if they can see it's for the best. Their family's breakdown wasn't their fault but they often imagine it was, and don't understand what they did wrong. Injustice, confusion, fear... makes us all agitated and cross, the child is right to get upset. For foster parents the task of trying to help a pitifully sad child is a tad daunting. But it's fundamental to our work, and we have people to help and support us. The process is under way.


The child discovers she is still with you despite testing your love. Now the core work begins. She'll still have her moments but they recede and shrink. It doesn't always feel as if the child's heart is mending, but our social workers can and do show us the progress we are making. She begins to look, act, speak and feel sometimes as though fostering is some kind of extended spa holiday where the treatments are not the physical facials or gym-based weight loss, the aim is to strengthen and shape up her feelings and emotions.

Stage Five BONDING

The child and the foster family form their own unique unit according to the deep-rooted identities of each and their hopes and dreams for the future. There is the warmth of familiarity, the reassurance of people being consistent. They love the inclusive feeling they get from fair boundaries, of feeling loved when they know the answer should be "No" and the answer is "No", because the parent cares.


There are only two outcomes; either the child goes or stays.

 The first resolution, she goes: hopefully back to her real home, job done. Or else maybe (not the same but good too) she goes to another foster home or to some other form of care. Job done too, but in a different way. The foster family rests, the child gets another chance. Nobody failed.

The second resolution is that the child stays. Gets Christmas holidays with you. Goes on summer holiday with you. Gets a second Christmas holiday, second summer holiday. Starts to recognise the landmarks and milestones in her foster family's year.


You either get a child who becomes part of your family in one capacity or another, or a complete newcomer arrives and you start the job again.

Or both happens.

However it goes, the end feeling is one of SATISFACTION