Monday, December 24, 2018


There are certain times of the year when thoughts about what to do with a spare bedroom are higher in the mind than other times.

The onset of summer for example, when people wonder if signing up for Airbnb will pay towards a holiday. They get to go to Morecambe for a week and people who are fed up with living in Morecambe can get away from it all in a place which the homeowners want to get away from...

Another time is around September when the local college puts flyers through letterboxes asking the homeowner to consider taking in a foreign student.

Then there are the times when you get a nasty letter from the bank or the loan company and you consider turning the 'study' back into bedroom and renting it out to a lodger.

All these thoughts have their merits. A friend tried Airbnb and had one lovely family use the house for a week, followed by an even lovelier family. But they found the hard graft of getting the place right plus the stress of worrying about everything too much in the end.

We used to take foreign students, they were fun and interesting. One lad from Finland never left his bedroom, a girl from Russia would get so drunk at the nightclub the police used to have to bring her home. An Italian student got pregnant and was so scared of her religious dad that we had to arrange everything for her.

Actually it was coping with the children of affluent continentals that reminded us that we might have what it takes to foster.

And how much more rewarding - in every way you can think of - is fostering.

Christmas is a time when fostering comes into its own, especially as our own children are old enough to be a bit cynical about it.

What's Christmas without a child's wonder at the fantastic concept of Santa? What Christmas without helping a child write a letter to him? And then leave a plate with a mince pie next to a glass of milk out on Christmas Eve with a note saying "For Santa"*

What's Christmas without a child outside your bedroom door at 5.45am wondering if Santa's been? What's Christmas without...oh you get my drift.

Actually the Christmas spirit comes through in many other ways, but nothing as brilliant and innocent and gleeful and grateful.

Look I'm obviously not saying people should foster to recapture the Christmas they enjoyed when their kids were little.

I'm just saying it's one of many cherries on the cake of fostering.

Or, if you like, on the Christmas Pudding of fostering.

Thursday, December 20, 2018


Ryder, our newest foster child, came home from school and asked if there is a King called "When Says".

I said: "Eh?"

She said that they'd been taught that he was a good King but he didn't look out the window much. In fact the last time he looked out he saw the face of Steven.

I won't reveal yet, you might have guessed already anyway, but it turned out that there was nothing wrong with Ryder's reading skills, general intelligence or hearing ability, it was someone else's speaking problem.

There's a lot of it about, and funnily enough I learned a bit about it - a bit of learning that will come in handy in fostering - from I'm A Celebrity Get me Out Of Here.

It was the Redknapp's son talking about football. He had a little verbal tic which was to say at the end of sentences "And that."

So he'd say "...they need more in defence, not just strength but tactically and that.."

Or: "...he's quick and that.."

Except he didn't pronounce "And that" like "And that".

He used a little noise that came out as:


I noticed that the Redknapps are clearly a lovely family, but ole 'arry an' 'is folks back 'ome, cor lummie vey don'e arf murder de ole English language, nah wot I mean? 

Bert the chimney sweep in Mary Poppins.

It's called 'Estuary English' as it started out in the Thames Estuary.

It's almost as though some people use language deliberately to emphasise they're street wise, down wiv the kids. It endeared enough voters to make Harry the winner of I'm a Celeb.

In fostering it's not uncommon to have children arrive in your home with all manner of communication problems. Some can't put a proper sentence together at all. And when I started fostering I found myself wanting to correct them when they made a pig's ear of saying something. I misguidedly thought I was helping them become better equipped for later life.

The children didn't thank me for it. Looking back it may even have discouraged them from opening their mouths to express something in case I corrected a grammatical error or a missing 'g' on the end of an '-ing' word.

I relaxed this one quite quickly. In fact I think my own speech became a bit Estuary too.

Listening to the Redknapps I realised that they are a happy family who speak an English that is definitely not text book. Yet look at them; winners all. An apparently blissful and very intelligent family unit who might end up the new Osbournes (Ozzy's elocution isn't exactly Received Pronunciation come to think of it.)

I talked about it with my Blue Sky social worker when she visited this week. Apparently it doesn't affect a child's ability to communicate if they learn what 'educated' people would think is a botched way of talking. Children learn to talk long before schools try to teach them to write English in a different way from how they speak.

Long before reaching the classroom children have (hopefully) bonded with their parents and one way of bonding is to pick up their parents verbal habits. The intimacy of speaking the same language in the same way is a form of attachment not to be underestimated.

So; I no longer try to make my foster children talk 'proper'. The way they speak is the way their parents speak, and whether they know it or not it's a link to the home they hope to go back to.

As for Ryder's King problem: it was the way she'd heard the Christmas song "Good King Wenceslas looked out on the feast of Stephen."

She'd learned "Good King 'When Says' last looked out on the face of Stephen."

And to the best of my knowledge it may well have been a schoolteacher who failed to sing the words in such a way as she'd grasp their individual meaning...