Monday, October 14, 2019

A LITTLE RESPITE FOSTERING

It's a Monday morning and I'm up early because we had an emergency/respite child arrive out of the blue late Friday night and she's due to go home first thing this morning. To be precise the plan is for her to be taken straight to school to give her foster family an extra 8 hours to right their ship before the child arrives at their excellent and wonderful foster home.

It's a fallacy that a foster home has to be some kind of a cross between a 5 star hotel and a goody-two-shoes show home. Life has its ups and downs for everyone and we in fostering are no different, no better, no worse. Indeed our homes need to be as normal as possible or else the period a child spends with us would be the equivalent of being wrapped in cotton wool and put in storage.

We've only had the child - Becky - here for a couple of days and nights but we offer attachment and engagement from the very start even if we know the child will be departing shortly. I'll admit I wasn't sure at the start of my fostering whether that was the right thing to do, but a Blue Sky training session put me right.  Just as an aside, at the same training session the child psychologist was of the view that we should see ourselves as foster mums and foster dads rather than foster carers. In the expert's view a child in fostering needs a parent figure more than a person who offers only care. It might seem like splitting hairs, but I think my fostering has been improved by seeing myself as their surrogate mum, and in any case 'care' has connotations which children might pick up, whereby the cared-for are somehow unwell or disabled.

Becky is a picture of sweet peace and compliance, but you can tell that if she wanted to she could look after herself. For example; on Saturday tea time I passed around a plate of chocolate digestives and everybody took one. One of my other foster kids was having a debate with one of my own sons about football, it was an old argument, heated but sufficiently mutual for me to let them get on with it. Suddenly the foster lad pointed out of the window and when my lad turned he reached over and took a small nibble out of his biscuit and put it back on the plate. Becky was sitting next to the foster lad and saw it all.

What she did next is still tickling me. She'd already eaten half her biscuit, and in the confusion she switched her half-biscuit for the whole one on the foster child's plate. She moved so fast, like a card sharp, I could barely believe I'd seen it.

The foster child looked down at his plate and the half-biscuit and said "Hey..what the..where did..?" He looked around the table to see who was chewing; but no-one was.

Becky caught my eye and gave me a look that was the equivalent of a knowing wink, I don't think kids wink any more, but they can widen their eyes and wear a tiny smirk which is the same thing.

Good for her!

She going soon, I'll wake her up in plenty of time.

I'll get her some breakfast and drive her across town to her school, then she's on her own. I've packed her a packed lunch. It's got a chocolate biscuit in it. I don't need to write a note explaining that I got her payback joke. She's as bright as any button and she'll get it.

It's what I do for my own children who are with me for life, what I do for every foster child whether they're here for weeks, months or years. Or in Becky's case two nights.

Treat them to everything a parent should give a child; attachment, engagement, love and laughter.

And if they show a sense of social justice, combined with a sense of humour make sure they know you know and that you respect them for it.






Monday, September 30, 2019

RUMINATIONS

Saw my first commercial for Christmas today (September 30th)

We're supposed to moan about over-early Christmas advertising, but deep down I love Christmas so it put a spring in my step.

Christmas, if you foster, is a mixed bag.

You probably won't be surprised to learn that more children are taken into care over Christmas than at any other time of the year. The experts say that the coming together of family tensions, alcohol and raw sentimentality tips many families over the edge. Plus the fact that families are crammed together for several days with nothing to do except "ruminate".

"Ruminating" is one of our worst habits. We all do it, but some do it worse than others. It's what you do when you think over and over about something that bugs you. The something is often almost less than minimal. It might be a one-off put-down that the woman on the supermarket checkout probably didn't mean but it annoyed you and as you walked away you started going over and over it in your mind, trying to re-write the moment so that you come out triumphant.

When adults ruminate we are always the heroes of the moment. Our enemies are overcome by our moral superiority and crushed by our wit and elan. It's a pleasant thought process that beats real life.

But it' can be a central cause of the conflicts and breakdowns that overshadow Christmas for many chaotic families.

So, this is what happened one Christmas in our house;

The phone rang. On Christmas Day. It was Blue Sky (fostering never sleeps nor has any knowledge of the concept of public holidays). The duty placement officer asked the time-honoured question;

"Would you be willing to take a child who…"

The child in question needed a bed because her family had 'broken down'. 

What had happened was this; the family consisted of a single mum with three children by three different fathers. None of the fathers supported their children in any way, not financially or emotionally. They were never on the scene except for one of the dads (Dad A) who showed up from time to time for a night in the sack. Then there was a different dad (B) who was after money or maybe some of the other goodies that the mum sometimes had or dealt with in order to supplement her benefit income. Dad C was person unknown.

My guess is that none of these 'dads' had any family of their own to go to for Christmas. I'm not going  to defend their treatment of the mum or their children, but it's probable that these poor men had been brought up in chaos. 

And when might they feel that the worst?

Flippin' Christmas.

What had happened was that they'd all showed up at the mum's flat. All three of them. Poor men, pining for the childhoods they'd never had, standing at the door with badly wrapped presents. Not all together, that would be sitcom time. One of the dads (B) showed up on Christmas Eve out of the blue, but was angered that one of the other dads (A) was already there. The dad who was already there had taken the trouble to phone and negotiate spending Christmas in the flat. He was the one who showed up for bed. There was a flare-up, obviously, but a peace was achieved. Dad B slept on the sofa, Dad A got the double bed and the mum. Unbelievably at 3.00am Dad B heard a knocking at the window, it was Dad C. 

Dad C had last been heard of doing tractor work in Herefordshire. His own father had been killed in a farm machine accident which is recorded on the information I received but details of which I won't pass on. I wish I didn't know it but I do.

Dad C slept on the armchair in the same room as Dad B. 

None of the dads slept much. In their befuddled alcohol-affected minds they drifted in and out of ruminations.  In their worlds each of them were the ones in the right. The other two men were robber-baron thieves and they themselves were the superhero. So in the morning...

…there was an altercation. Neighbours called the police (who, like Foster Carers, never sleep)…there were tears but no laughter.

Flippin' heck, it's Christmas Day remember? 

The most wonderful day of the year?

None of the three dads had done enough to be arrested, but all three could not be trusted not to return to the flat, they had nowhere else to go. So the children were deemed at significant risk. Hence my phone rang, and my family moved one chair each around in the living room and made another space on the sofa. I remember we watched "Home Alone" and the kid laughed and went soppy like the rest of us.

They are darn tough cookies these kids.

It's just that they don't need to be, so young.

They've got us though.

And we've got fostering.

We've got Christmas too, and hopefully enough self-awareness to stomp on ruminations when they pop into our heads.

That kind of placement is called emergency fostering by the way, it's a calling and I don't do it at the moment because I have some steady placements right now and sudden arrivals and departures can throw them. But if you're thinking about becoming a Foster Carer, emergency care and respite care is a good way in.

Talk to Blue Sky.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

NICE FEEDBACK

I hope you'll forgive the slightly whacky last couple of posts, it's just that from the moment our new puppy ('Friday') arrived I was totally struck by how similar her situation is to that of a newly-arrived foster child at the home of a newly approved Foster Carer.

I had to get inside Friday's head to anticipate her needs in a new home and it's helped my fostering.

It's not a pudding that wants over-egging, but as a seasoned foster mum I've welcomed many children into our house. Most of the fostering things I do these days I've done before and I pretty much know that they work (well, about 90% work...) I'm probably getting wise and practised about most events that might crop up. However the matter of welcoming a new young puppy dog is not something I've done for 15 years, so there's little I have to draw on what to do. 

I have to be alert all day (and night) to meet her needs. I have to THINK -on my feet.

Takes me right back to my first year in fostering when everything was new. I'd forgotten how exhausting it can be; not just the caring but the planning and the responding. Then there's the business of digesting a vertical learning curve.

Then there's the emotions. No two ways about it, there's some stress at first.

One big difference is this; at the end of a long day of peeing in the wrong place and chewing through a phone charger lead and dragging an entire plant in from the garden and into the kitchen along with about a third of the garden (this is the pup by the way, I'm not that far gone yet).

…at the end of a long day Friday will snuggle up against me on the sofa and look at me with an expression which is close to saying "Sorry about the mess, thanks for the chicken-ish supper, and thanks for the cuddles."

See, you don't really get enough of that kind of feedback in fostering. Not from the child anyway. If you're awake enough to notice there are little things that tell you that a foster child has started to trust you, and that they grasp that you dish up mascarpone pasta on Monday nights because it's THEIR favourite and Monday is usually a rotten day. But you're lucky to get a real gush of reward from your foster child, and so what? It's not why we do it. 

The plaudits come from elsewhere. 

You can look yourself in the mirror and tell yourself that you're doing something good and give yourself a deserved pat on the back.

You can wait for a family member or a friend to say "Wow, you're doing a great thing."

The security woman in my supermarket is a a total stranger to me. I got chatting with her. I mentioned fostering and she put her hands to her cheeks in awe and said she only wished she had what it takes. I told her maybe she did and gave her Blue Sky's number.

Or maybe, once in a while this will happen to you;

My Blue Sky Social Worker showed up today for something called 'supervision'. It's a roadside check-up - monthly in my case - to make sure you're alright and your fostering is on track. These sessions are fantastic, the people are so kind and professional, they add another 100% to how you do your fostering.

So, I'm having my current fostering work cut out with eldest foster child who's got stuff going on at school. Without going into details there are squabbles with other pupils, and other 'issues'.

Getting him to school every school day has been...interesting. But we're winning.

Then my Blue Sky SW turns up on the doorstep and presents me with a bag. She says;

"This is from us at Blue Sky because we know you've been really busy lately and we want you to know we think you're doing amazingly."

Inside was a stack of goodies. Marks and Spencer goodies.

Salt caramel popcorn, pistachios, a bar of dark rich chocolate, fancy biscuits, beetroot crisps, lime presse, apricot chutney…

Hey don't get your hopes up; I've been with Blue Sky for the best part of a decade, first time I've been slipped contraband.

My Social Worker said "Something for all the family". But before she finished the sentence I was tearing into the carton of spiced tea bags to brew us one each. The she said;

"Did he get to school today?"

Before I could reply "Nearly but not quite." a voice came from the top of the stairs; "What's the fuss?"

Long story short, eldest foster child joined me and Social Worker round the table. We laughed about stuff and he bagged himself the popcorn and the pistachios and went back upstairs.

And is going to school tomorrow, no problem.

So let's see; family okay, foster children okay, puppy okay…

…and me? I sat and watched a catchup Eastenders on my iPad and ate the whole bar of rich dark chocolate, and guilted, as you do.

So yeah,…Secret Foster Carer... okay.

Very okay thanks.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

FRIDAY DOG

A while ago I wrote a post called; "Can I get a dog?" Eldest foster child had not let up for a couple of months.

Long story short; I went and said "Yes."

She arrived a couple of Fridays ago, and she's called... Friday.






OMG is she gorgeous. Not just on the outside; Friday's beautiful on the inside. She's gentle, loving, kind and incredibly clever. She's peaceful, loyal and incredibly even-tempered. She's house-trained herself (okay after a few accidents) and she finally sleeps (mostly) through the night.

We had to drive across country to pick her up. Me, eldest foster child (buzzing like I've never seen before), and his best mate. We arrived at the farm on time, Friday was the last of the litter, probably the last-born. I'm not going to say she was the r**t (I'm not even going to use the word in case one day she reads this blog and recognises herself), but she was noticeably small and timid.

We fell for her straight away. It was hugely heartwarming to see eldest foster child go into parenting/caring mode. He's a rough and ready lad, a bit of a bruiser, but he picked her up ever so gently and cradled her like a baby, rocking her gently from side to side and whispering in her ear. Yes, almost mothering her.

We paid up, carefully loaded her into the safety cage and belted up the cage (I'd done some research - turns out dogs have to be secured in cars these days which is great). On the drive home she celebrated her good luck in finding top owners by letting out the most fabulous fart, and followed it up with a mighty poo. We drove home with the windows down.

The first evening was chaos, as expected. Eldest foster child's friends showed up so he could show off his dog, fair enough. Friday managed a tinkle in the garden and several in the house, mainly but not exclusively where wooden floors wouldn't mind. Everyone eventually went up to bed and the Secret Foster Carer arranged sofa cushions on the kitchen floor and settled down for a long night, also fair enough. Friday settled quickly in the safety and security of her cage.

Anyone who's owned a dog, or even merely lived in a home that had a dog, knows more than they realise they know about fostering.

The process of helping the new family member fit in and feel at home is not very different. The level if care, which eases back once the new arrival starts to feel their feet, is not dissimilar. The responsibility is there too, as are the linked rewards.

I'm not going to push the similarities between fostering and acquiring a new pet too strongly - a distressed human child is vastly more complex and needy.

But the arrival of Friday in our home has flagged up some interesting parallels.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

HELLO. MY NAME IS FRIDAY.


HELLO!  I'M FRIDAY.
I'M A TRAINEE FOSTERING PUPPY.


Hello!!!

My name, apparently, is 'Friday". 

I'm 14 weeks old so mind yourself because I've learned a few things in my short time such as how to pull a face that makes everyone go "Awww!".

Up until not long ago I was with my mum and my brothers and sisters and even though I was the littlest one of all I got my turn for milk, eventually.

Funny though; one by one my brothers and sisters went off and I never saw them again.

Then a bunch of people came and looked at me and suddenly I was put in a box thing and then the box thing was put in another thing called a car. I got a bit nervous about all this and couldn't help but leave a present on the floor of the box. Everyone else in the car seemed very impressed and opened all the car's windows so that all the people we were zooming past could enjoy the lovely whiff. 

Anyway, the big news is, long story short; I've ended up living with the people who came in the car! Living in their house! As if I was one of them!

They are nice enough. They aren't my own, but I can teach them how to live with me. Apparently I have a special job to do when I'm old enough. 

"There is a phone on here somewhere, and it's mine"

For the time being it's up to me to search every single corner and crevice of the entire house so that I know what's what around here.

I've noticed that on the top of things called "tables" are things that interest humans, and that the things that interest them most are  
1)"phones" 
2) "remotes" 
3) "sunglasses"

I have begun my own collection of these things which I keep in the garden under something called a "rhododendron".








One of the humans reminds me a bit of me. It seems that like me he's not one of the actual family, he's something called a foster child. I get on with him best. The others are very kind and know how to put food in a bowl and stuff like that. They don't seem to appreciate it when I drop a spray of marker pee around the house. This is a totally necessary requirement, I have to do it, it's dog law. Yet one or two of the other smaller people in the house start shrieking things like "Oh my God she's doing a wee!". 

Not my bestie friend. He doesn't get het up at all. He steps over it and goes about his own business. My kind of dude.

When I first arrived one of the bigger humans (like me, a female) spent the night on cushions with me on the kitchen floor, but I'm cool on my own now until it starts to get light.

I'm picking up their language nicely; I keep hearing them saying things about me like:

"Hasn't she brought a lot of love into the house."

and

"She's so clever and kind."

Time for a pay rise perhaps? I've only had dried puppy food so far, but there seems to be something to be said for things called "chocolate digestives".

Here's my plan;  keep up with the face that makes everyone go "Awww!" Perfect the whimper I have taught myself that also makes them go "Awww!" Then do BOTH when one of them is eating a chocolate digestive.

Oh yes, and also find out more about what I can do to help with this "fostering" thing.




"I used to enjoy digging up the earth on this bowl and then they decided to store bricks in there.  Sometimes these fostering humans simply don't think."







Friday, September 06, 2019

CHEERS TO FOSTERING

This happened during the summer, I hope I got things right.

Eldest foster child asked if he could go to a friend's house for a sleepover. Our lad hasn't always been much good at getting and keeping friends. We always encourage him.

I spoke on the phone with the other lad's mother who is also in fostering.  We reminded our lad of the do's and don'ts. We reminded him that he could call us anytime if he needed us. We made sure he had £10 in case of emergency and put him on the train.

The other lad lives about 40 miles away. They became friends through mutual fostering circumstances.

I don't sleep well when one of our foster children is away, whether it's on a school thing or a sleepover. 

My phone pinged in the middle of the night. A Whats App message from him;

"Are you awake?"

I messaged straight back "Yes".

Then I checked the clock. It was just after 1am. He pinged back;

"Er, I'm like, feeling sick."

Me: "Do you want me to come and get you?"

Him; "Another kid showed up and they put me on the floor on cushions."

Okay, so; he's feeling rejected and abandoned (his big psychological challenges). 

Me; "You alright? I'm happy to come and get you."

Him; "Yeah but it's like an hour in the car so nah I'll be fine."

He and I swapped messages for about an hour. Eventually;

Him; "So yeah come and get me if you want."

So I did. I climbed into the car and drove across the county. He crept out of the house and flopped into the back.

The drive home was very revealing. 

I keep a carrier bag and a roll of paper towels in the car if needed and they were needed. He was sick about ten minutes after we set off. Then he started talking.

"Oh my God I'm never drinking again."

Aha! 

Me:

"Oh dear, what happened?"

I obviously had a need to investigate while at the same time maintain the growing bond between him and me. Sometimes in fostering you call on your experiences as a parent of your own kids. Other times you call on your own personal experiences. This journey home was a mixture (or a cocktail, you might say) of both those experiences.

It's a shame that alcohol plays such a big part in young people's aspirations to be treated like adults. Us parents deal with it as best we can.

It turned out that the 'other kid' who showed up was a cherished acquaintance of my foster lad's friend. Cherished because he is 18 years old, and somehow able to occasionally buy soft liquor using this trick; he stands nearby an outlet and pitches the following scam at kindly-looking adults. He says that he wants to buy his grannie a present because it would be her wedding anniversary, but she is on her own these days. He tells the person that her favourite drink is something (forgive me characterising it this way) old-lady-ish. In this case he said she loved peach schnapps (having already spotted that the outlet sold peach schnapps).

They swigged on a bus stop bench before going back to the unsuspecting foster parent's home. A few hours later my lad's head, stomach and guilty-conscience was swirling. So he called me.

I chatted to him about alcohol and it's dangers. But he'd already learned the downsides first-hand. We'd warned him about drinking plenty of times, including mentioning it in our list of Do's and Don'ts at sleepovers when I drove him to the station.

I wrote it all up in the report I write regularly for Blue Sky, and my Social Worker talked me through how fostering deals with these things these days. Namely; we Foster Carers do what we can to protect every Foster Child in our care. As they get older almost every child will want to experiment, push some boundaries, try some risks. It's our job to do everything possible to protect them and at the same time prepare them for life.

Our job is to asses whatever's going on and act accordingly.

I'll admit a piece of me fretted as to whether I'd got something wrong. You shouldn't be collecting your 14 year-old foster child from a sleepover at 2.00am, tiddly and sick.

But we always, ALWAYS, have the back-up and support of our Blue Sky team.

The outcome was that we took encouragement from our lad's responsible behaviour once he discovered what he discovered about drink. We are also over the moon that he confided in me, and turned to me when he needed someone he trusted.

On the whole, I think, a positive bunch of events.

Oh and by the way, the personal experience I drew on was, in my case, a disgusting sweet cider. I'm not going to say what age I was, but it was close enough to my foster son's age for me to know the feeling.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

FOSTERING AND BICYCLES

Bicycles can play a big part in fostering.

I was at a Blue Sky Support session, it was a while ago now, but I'll never forget the story a foster dad told.

Blue Sky hold regular Support Meetings. Foster Carers turn up (voluntarily) to swap fostering stories, share laughter, drink coffee...that sort of thing. I love them.

Sometimes its single foster parents, sometimes couples.

On this occasion we went round the table taking it in turns to recount what had been going on in our various homes over the preceding few weeks.

So. One couple had a story, the dad started it;

"I've got fit, that's what's happened this month. See, we've got a lad who's had a hard time and he's kind of withdrawn into himself for his own protection. Didn't want to go to school, didn't want to come out of his room. Didn't want to talk. Wanted to eat his meals in his room. But we would call upstairs to tell him his meal was ready so that he'd have to come down and get it, and because he got hungry he had no option, so at least we got 60 seconds with him every mealtime. One morning I asked him if there was anything else we could do for him. He paused at the door and replied "I'd like a bike".  So we found him one."

The dad went on to explain they filched an old bike from a nephew who'd outgrown it. The foster dad  unveiled it to the boy, whose eyes lit up. The lad said; "I wanna go for a ride."

Ah. Here was the dad's problem. He couldn't let the lad just go off. So he went into their garage and dragged out his old (very old) bike. And off they set, the dad on his dead bike. He continued;

"I guided him down a road and into fields where there was no traffic. Then he set off. With me giving chase. He set off at breakneck speed. He wasn't trying to give me the slip. He was trying to get away from everything. At a pace. I couldn't keep up or catch him, I just kind of held on. Every so often he would stop and glance back over his shoulder, see I was hanging on and set off again. What could I do but follow?"

Us Foster Carers were exhausted just listening;

"Then, after about half an hour, he went under an underpass, where a motorway crosses over the fields, he stopped and for the first time in five miles I caught up. He was stood on the bike, like the boss. I pulled up next to him, panting. He said to me 'Shall we go on?' and I replied 'If you want.' and he replied 'Nah, Mandy (my partner) will be serving tea.' So we headed back."

He joined us for tea that night, he wanted to tell my partner how he'd trounced 'dad' in the bicycle race. Mandy played a blinder, talking about what an amazing cyclist their foster son was.

This foster parents story is what fostering is all about.  Yes it can be tiring and demanding, obviously. But the rewards beat everything.

The dad had us crying with laughter about which bits of his anatomy took three weeks to heal.

The mum had us all filling up with nice tears about...er...fostering.







Tuesday, August 20, 2019

"CAN I GET A DOG?"

Eldest foster child is away having a sleepover with a mate - who also happens to be a looked-after child.

House considerably quieter. It's not that he's loud it's that often the presence of foster children in your home means you're always slightly more alert than when you're alone or with your own brood.

Actually, I'll tell you something interesting, quite revealing...

When I say he's not loud I really mean it. He keeps himself to himself. Getting information out of him is like getting blood from a stone. He's the king of the one-word answer, a maestro of the time-honoured teenage one-answer-fits-all; "Dunno" or "Maybe".

eg; the "conversation" just before he left for his friend's house went;

Me: "What time are you leaving?"

Him: "Dunno."

Me; "What are you and Charlie going to get up to?"

Him "Dunno."

Me; "Is it just you and Charlie for the sleepover?"

Him: Dunno. Maybe."

Scintillating stuff!

However, last night he sent me a text message;

"Can I get a dog?"

I texted back; "I don't think dad's up for it."

Cut a very long story short, we spent the evening locked in text conversation. We swapped thoughts about getting him a dog, doing better with his maths, which teachers he likes best and why, what Charlie's family are like, how come Charlie is fostered, what he had to eat for tea - they went out -, what the restaurant was like, what he thought of the film they were watching while he was texting me, and much much more.

A total of 108 texts from him!!! This is a comparative encyclopaedia (remember those?) of information on him.

But it was more than that. The information was gold dust, but the mutual affection was platinum.

The texts were grammatically sound and spellchecker had done its job, which I took to be respectful of him. There were a few text shortcuts I had to look up (eg OOF - meaning "I'm relieved") and never a full stop at the end, which I understand is a signal of intimacy, a conversational trick to welcome a reply.

Our chat got to the stage where my phone pinged every 30 seconds.

It felt SO good, I felt like his mum and his best friend rolled into one.

He was missing me!

It's fashionable among older people to sneer at kids always on their phones. I bet if some long-faced goat had seen my foster lad texting away he'd have had a boring moan about whatever happened to conversation.

Maybe the kids way is better.

If it hadn't been for his mobile phone our relationship wouldn't have risen to a new level.

It was absolutely glorious, with only one minor fly in the ointment...

He doesn't merely want a dog, oh no.

He wants a husky. Yep, a HUSKY. Requiring a garden the size of Wales plus two to four walkies a day, of up to eight miles.

My plan, as usual on the "Can I have a dog/snake/monkey?" request* is to allow it to be forgotten until the next time.

But neither of us will forget that text chat, it was beyond heart-warming for both of us.

Another fantastic fostering moment.



*BTW  So far in fostering I've been asked; "Can I have a..."
...goldfish, tropical aquarium, formicarium (ant house), newt, terrapin, piranha, tarantula, giant centipede, hamster, gerbil, mouse, rabbit, budgerigar, parrot, cockatoo, kestrel(!), dog, cat, Maine giant cat, rhesus monkey, python, anaconda and a two-foot lizard called a blue-tongued skink.

Makes you wonder if maybe Noah was merely a Foster Carer who didn't know how to say no.



Monday, August 12, 2019

'WHY ARE YOU SO NICE?"

"Why are you so nice?"

The above question remains a memorable moment from my early days in fostering. It's up there  among the reasons why I've stayed fostered and keep on doing it.

His name was Kevin.

He didn't like his name, he told me that.

I asked him what he'd like to be called and he said "Jamie".

So I called him Jamie. How hard is that?

Jamie was very compliant the first few days. Then, when he was confident that we would love and respect him even if he let it all out, he had a meltdown. Nothing big; tears at bedtime, toys out of the pram. It was a Thursday night.

I remember with chilling clarity this dear little boy saying to me...

(Look, as the Secret Foster Carer I must ensure no child - or anyone who knows them - can ever identify the child should they happen upon this blog, but if this child ever reads this he might possibly recognise himself and so I apologise to him now and hope he understands that his courage and courtesy is worth passing on).

He said to me...

"If you were away from your mummy and you thought that something terrible was going to happen to her then you'd be frightened."

He was seven years old.

Jamie (Kevin) had learned that his job in the world was to find ways to protect his mum. Aged seven. Go imagine.

If you try to remember your life when you were seven years old, I bet that (like mine) yours wasn't perfect, but compared to having to...what? Stand in the way of men ten times your size? Find tricks to lessen impending violence? Keep your mum from doing another needle? Help her stagger upstairs and get into bed? Talk her out of jumping?

What did he mean? I asked but he was too anxious to tell me.

I reported all to my Blue Sky Social Worker and she and I pieced together that Thursday nights (it had been a Thursday) was a big night in Jamie's house, people had money. Thursday was what they called 'Payday' - when the benefits (as was) were paid out. Thursday night in Jamie's home was probably pub, pick-up, takeaway... back to her place...all the trimmings.. all sorts of goings on.

I tried to talk to Jamie about his home life, and keep him informed that his mum was straightening out. And it slowly dawned on me what he meant about me being 'Nice'.

It wasn't any big thing such as getting an overview on his case and developing a programme of targets and markers aimed at reconciling him with his significant others. That's the job, BTW, right there. That's the scientific role of the Foster Carer.

It wasn't even that I tried to provide a warm loving environment, and re-channelling information about his situation, re-defining his world in such a way as to ease his troubled mind - although that's the humanity of being a foster mum, right there.

It was just that I looked up with a smile when he came into the kitchen. I never said a word if he was late for the table. I cut off his crusts without ever banging on that they were good for him. I tidied his bedroom when he wasn't around and never mentioned the apple core under his bed.

I don't want to be seen to judge other parents, but I've seen a lot of parenting going on.

And blimey, don't some parents go on? On and on;

If I had a pound for every time I heard a lazy mum or dad look round from their chats with each other at the school railings and shout "Oi! Be careful!" because their child is running I could upgrade our Peugeot.

When I say 'lazy' I mean they don't take the trouble to understand what information the child can take on board and process what they say so that it doesn't come across as constant rebuke.

That is the world of the average child - whether they're in care or not. An unending chorus from adults of what NOT to do and what they have most recently done WRONG.

You see it over and over again when you take a foster child to Contact and their real parent claps eyes on them. Nine times out of ten their first remark is telling, here are a few genuine ones I remember;

"Look at your hair, forgotten how to use a comb?"

"Stop that disgusting sniffing, where's your handkerchief?"

"Come straight here. Now! Stop wandering everywhere."

"Charming. No nice hug for your mum then?"

Parents will say that they mean well, but I've always thought that defence is a cop-out.

All they have to do is show they care, really care. Show it so the child feels appreciated.

When Jamie's mother barked at him to get down from the foot-high wall which lined the stairs leading up to his Contact Centre I saw his spirits fall. 

When we left, just him and me, I said to him;

"You've got fantastic balance. See if you can walk down the little wall."

So he did. Got to the  bottom without falling off, and jumped down the six inches to the ground with aplomb.

Job done. Great job too, is fostering.







Sunday, August 04, 2019

THE PROBLEM HIERARCHY

It was a red letter day in the Secret Foster Carer's kitchen this morning!

Something I have been working on for about 30 years finally fell into place; to perfection. Absolute perfection. A perfection that can only be reached with non-human affairs.

Human relationships never seem to fall exactly into place - especially within a family.

And that can go double within a fostering family.

Let's not beat about the bush; family affairs are very... how shall I put it? Let's try "uneven". You never know when you wake up every morning who is going to be up and who is going to be down, or why the downs are downs and what if anything can be done.

I have a friend who tragically lost a son. It was a while ago now, and she and her husband and remaining children are making the best of it. I drop in for a cup of something every so often and we talk. We talk all over the place, but almost always find a moment to talk about their loss.

Last time I was there she explained how her wider family (her parents, brothers and sisters) were having trouble with something, a syndrome that my friend heard about from her counsellor (she sees someone once a week, finds it very helpful).

The thing her family were having trouble with is called the Problem Hierarchy.

The Problem Hierarchy works like this; within a family group,  even if the members are scattered around the home, even if separated  by work or school or because they live apart, they are aware of their own personal selves and their own feelings, especially their fears and problems. More to the point they are aware of how their own personal problems square up against those of the other members of the group. Because humans are social animals we crave company, especially company which offers us sympathy and support. We learn from an early age that a great way of getting what we need is to let people who are close to us know that we have problems.  This understanding comes to us at a very early age when we discover that skinning a knee gets lots of sympathy.

I've been to Blue Sky training sessions where we discussed how it's a good idea to reward a child who has played happily by herself by approaching her and showing interest, otherwise the child will learn that the only way they get your attention is by initiating a problem and getting upset.

My friend told me that her family were becoming uneasy because there was no way any of them could go to her with their problems because the loss of a child is so high up the Problem Hierarchy they fear they would appear thoughtless.

All this leads me to how the Problem Hierarchy affects us in fostering.

It's simple; it's highly unlikely that anyone else under your roof will have day-to-day problems that outweigh those of any foster child in your care. So you have to manage things accordingly.  Perhaps the foster child is aware of this and takes comfort in knowing that they have the broadest back, and that nothing that is going to be discussed at the table will match what they're dealing with.

The permutations are endless, and as with most things in fostering the Carer simply has to be on her toes all the time. There are moments to let the foster child have centre stage, and moments to ask the foster child to advise your own husband on what he should do about the neighbour who works noisily on his car until eleven o'clock at night.

As I said earlier, human relations never fall exactly into place. You can measure a child's height, but their emotional disposition is not only impossible to gauge, but it can change dramatically. A foster child can be 9 foot tall one minute and 3 inches tall seconds later. Only there's no easy way of knowing their emotional size at any given moment especially as you haven't seen them develop from day one, a factor which helps spot the feelings within your own brood.

Problem Hierarchy is another giddy challenge for the Foster Carer, another reason why this job is so fascinating.

But back to my big news. What was the achievement of a lifetime in my kitchen this morning?

Well, I finally managed something I have been accidentally working towards ever since I first had a kitchen to call my own. What happened was;

On my supermarket run this morning I had bought some fresh ground coffee (one of my foster children's nurse is visiting later and she prefers proper coffee to instant, and I enjoy a hit of fresh caffeine now and then too.

When I got home I needed an airtight Tupperware container to put the coffee in and store in the fridge.

I went to the back of the cupboard where my Tupperware lurks, and there it was; piled and ready to reveal to me my shining achievement. Which is that...

...my collection of assorted containers and lids (about 20 pieces in all) consisted of NOTHING but unmatchables.

Yep, every single container had lost its matching lid, and every single lid had lost its matching container.

I closed the foil coffee pack with a peg and as I put it in the fridge reflected on two of my human frailties. One; I will probably NEVER throw out the 20 useless pieces because a small voice tells me that maybe their partners will somehow turn up (stupid). Two; I felt a curious satisfaction that a measurable perfection in the world of objects, that could never be achieved in any human affairs, had at least come into my life this morning, namely that my Tupperware collection was 100% useless.

Not 50%, or even 90%. It was a watertight absolute.

And, thought I'm convinced there are no absolutes in human interaction, and in fostering you'll never play a perfect game, but I'm pretty much 100% certain that in fostering you're part of a perfect game.



Wednesday, July 31, 2019

THERE'S A BIT OF SECRET FOSTERING IN ALL FOSTERING

One thing that's always struck me in fostering is that the poor dears who come to us for care often open up about their lives; but not always to their Foster Carers.

We find out in roundabout ways that they have talked to their Physics teacher, or maybe they've opened up to your nephew at a family barbecue.

I know it's pathetic of me but every time it happens I feel a tiny bit jilted. My logical brain tells me that a troubled child would surely seek out the person who cares for them, shelters, feeds and protects them.

I have to remind myself that my own children didn't reveal much of their fears and frailties. My friends said it was the same with their children. I put it down to some sort of natural order of things.

This happened once;

A foster child called Ricky had been with us for six months. He was a lad who spent most of his time being silent, some might say sullen but I found him simply in need of an arm round his shoulder. Every so often he'd let off steam and you just had to facilitate. In other words just stay away, let the child expel their negative feelings. The emotion doesn't last very long and they're at peace for days and weeks, sometimes months  afterwards.

I wanted to try to get to the bottom of his sadness and anger. I hoped I could help him. Fix things.  But Ricky was an absolutely closed book.

Well, towards me he was.

But he clicked with...his hairdresser!

This hairdresser is the same one I use. One day Ricky told me that the haircuts I gave him were not up to much, so I booked him into the place I go to and his hair was cut by Trish who is a nice person, very trendy. She wears black, has various piercings, a few bits of body art, and has a girlfriend.

Ricky opened up to Mandy to such an extent that Trish felt she should chat with me about it the next time I was in her chair. I should say at this point that Trish is such a good friend that she's part of my network. That said, I wouldn't tell her anything about my placements that would compromise their privacy. But if a foster child of mine confides to a third party I'm right to hear what transpired so I can assess whether to build it into my fostering.

So. Ricky told Trish that he was a bit gay. Well; "maybe".

Of course I could see straight away he was never likely to tell me that. Or probably never tell anyone, at least not for a while, except luckily my hairdresser.

Obviously once I discovered this my feelings for him went to a new high; this was a foster child who needed all the support I could muster. But I couldn't reveal what Trish had fed back to me.

I raised it with my Blue Sky Social Worker and we agreed that if Trish had become someone Ricky could trust and wanted to talk with we should allow it to happen; but that it would be confined to professional encounters (only when Ricky is getting his hair cut. Trish is a £30 per cut hairdresser, but it was worth every penny to book Ricky in for a 'trim' once a fortnight.

The end result was a relatively happy lad.

Who had excellent hair.

And a Foster Carer who was also happy that the job was getting done one way or another.

Listen; if you're thinking about trying fostering. Do it.

The good you will do is second to none; especially when you learn how to mange things from the background.







Friday, July 19, 2019

WHY FOSTERING IS LIKE THE INTERNET

I used to go to Sunday school when I was little and found out after a couple of years why my parents - who doubted the God thing themselves  - sent me. I'll save that bit to last, it's quite juicy.

Only, I remember exactly where I was when I too began to doubt the whole God thing. I was in church. At Sunday School.

A guest vicar got up to give us a sermon and he started it like this:

"Hello children. I'm sure you all have bicycles. Well in a way, Jesus is like a bicycle..."

And on he went. And on.

And on.

His thing of liking something to something it clearly is very unlike began the thought in me that maybe it's down to me to come up with a code to live by, and St Peter can fact-check me at the gates. And basically that's how I get by.

The guest vicar also turned me off poor metaphors. But there are some I like, such as this one:

"Fostering is a bit like the internet."

As in;

Sometimes you try to log onto the internet and can't get a connection. Or else it's painfully slow.

So you restart. 

No better.

You switch off and leave it for a minute.

No better.

You go to Settings and check your connection. You re-select your wi-fi code. You check your phone and it's not connected either. You turn off your router and turn it on again. Your phone is back on wi-fi but the PC ain't. Hmmm. You go back into settings and try...anything.

Then...suddenly...for no apparent reason...it's working again!!!

You don't know which fix fixed it or even if it was none of them...who cares? It's FIXED, so on you go!

Same with fostering.

Your foster child has a thing about not saying please or thank you. It's no big deal but it might serve them well to fix it. So you try mentioning it. You try asking for the magic words. You try to get them to practice saying "Can I ...please". You offer quaint shortcuts "You could say "Ta" instead of "Thank you". 

You keep at it. Then one day, out of the blue, you put an apple of the sofa arm next to where they're engrossed in Fortnite and say "That'll hold you until teatime", and  as you're leaving the room you hear something. Something that came from the child. What was it?

Some sort of grunt. It wasn't a word as such; if it was a word it was spelled something like "Gnu".

It was a tiny, grudging, embryonic, barely viable...

"Thank you"

You don't know why, when, how, or even if your efforts have been successful. All that matters is that the child has come on. Just like with the internet, you simply breathe a small sigh of satisfaction and get on with things. 

Like I often say to myself "Ain't fostering grand!"

ps Why did my God-doubting parents send me to Sunday School? Well, one fine Sunday the School decided we'd all go for a walk, so we paired up and crocodile-marched down the road, round the corner and straight past my house. My parents bedroom faced the street and as I looked up I noticed that their bedroom curtains were drawn shut. This could only mean that my mum had gone down with one of her 48 hour migraines. The other explanation was unthinkable.
When I returned home I found my mum in the kitchen singing along to a Jim Reeves number on the radio. I asked her how she was, she replied something like;

"Fantastic! Never felt better!"

Aaagggh! To discover your doubt about God AND that your parents are nothing more or less than human flesh and blood, all thanks to Sunday School, is a big journey.

Maybe Jesus IS like a bicycle..?

pps, I never told my parents about the Sunday School trip past our house, that would have been wrong.