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.


  1. Interesting post (again). I'm definitely a fan of counselling now, after not being one for ages. Its most certainly helps but counselor can seem like 'the bad guy'. Odd I know.
    As for praise being hard to take, I totally understand that. It could come from the kids history. As I had a serious mental health diagnosis part of my assessment was discussing what would I do if I got unwell again and if I had any triggers. Yes! Praise! As someone who witnessed domestic violence as a young 'un and got upset, to stop me crying I would be praised, and so the association built up that praise was related to bad things. It still happens now - direct praise can make me upset the rest of the day. My SW knows though. At panel I was asked how that would impact me around children, and I said I'll have to (try to) put aside my own issues and make praise part of their lives (if its okay to do so). Even 'well done for getting ready for school by yourself', a small well done, can help someone whose been largely unpraised. I guess counselling just helps you see things in a different light.

  2. Interesting comments as usual Dana, (that's not praise by the way, just er ..objectification).
    Seriously it goes to show how hard we have to concentrate in fostering, which is half the challenge and half the delight in one.
    I'm told the most frequent course of action after a person recognises the value of their counselling is that the person decides to become a counsellor.
    I think your choice of the future you is even better.