Thursday, January 17, 2019

USING YOUR NOODLES

I do hope you find these blogs useful and interesting. Maybe they might inspire someone to give fostering a go. I like to hope that.

I find it helpful to write them. They help my understanding of what I try to do in fostering. Having to write it down, I have to focus. It's almost as useful as my supervision visits from my Blue Sky Social Worker. A friend of mine goes to private counselling and estimates that if you were paying for the services of a monthly Blue Sky Social Worker visit (in my case for a couple of hours a time, sometimes three) your bill for time and expertise would be about £300 per session.

In case you wondered my friend (Kate) goes to counselling because she has a teenage daughter who has mental health problems. My friend is sad that her child is sad, but most of all Kate torments herself that maybe somewhere along the line she got her parenting wrong and that's why her daughter is all over the place.

OMG if my friend could only see some of the parenting that Foster Carers hear about when a new child arrives!

Kate frets that she missed signs in her daughter that she needed help. Kate beats herself up that she got the distance between her and her daughter wrong. Sometimes too removed, sometimes too smothering. Kate's wrong about these things, and is on the road to seeing things straight, namely that she's an excellent parent.

Kate and I have had many talks about fostering and it's now on her list of things to do to make the call and start the process to get approved. But she's worried that having a less than perfect family will disqualify her.

How far from the fact could she be!

No-one's family is free from fret for goodness sake. Blimey, no offence but if the Royal Family teaches us anything it's that if having everything doesn't mean an idyllic family, how could anyone be expected to have a happy family on a budget what with employment uncertainty and bills rolling in?

Just as an aside...wouldn't it be cute if one of the Royals opted to foster. I wonder how they'd do?

Back to my point.

Our eldest foster child has reached the age where he needs to challenge elders and betters. Just like my own children at that age he's out to see what it feels like to assert. Just like I did, actually when I was that age.

Just like maybe you did too.

So when our Social Worker turned up last time we got down to brass tacks about how to handle someone else's teenager when the teenager wants to test their early adulthood on their nearest parent substitute - namely their Foster Carer.
.
We talked about the behaviours. I listed some stuff...

Staying in his bedroom which is starting to smell of socks.
Being up late(1.00am!) in his bedroom and sleeping in on weekends until midday.
Not speaking unless you could call a grunt a word. Coming home later than agreed.
Giving off the opinion that middle-aged middle-class people are the world's biggest problem.

Every time I raised one of his ways my Social Worker went:

"Normal! Well done! You're doing a great job!"

"Normal! He's on his way to being fine!"

My Social Worker left me with the understanding that if he wasn't where he is we would have something to worry about. I think I kind of hoped that was true but when you're a normal parent you never know. When you're a foster parent you get to know. A qualified professional swings by on a regular basis and helps, advises, supports and empowers.

So. Eldest foster child is one his way, he's on track, he's being a pain in the you-know-what.

Actually, not a non-stop pain.

This afternoon he came home from school and forgot he was supposed to be Rebel Without A Cause. I was preparing a chicken meal with baked potatoes and a side salad. He hopped up onto the breakfast bar and started telling me all about his day. He was singing with the joys of the world, telling me funny stories about his teachers and schoolmates.

Then, suddenly, he remembered he was supposed to be a troublesome teen.

He went to the larder and fished out a packet of emergency flavoured noodles I keep there. He went for the Thai flavour. He tossed the packet on the kitchen table and grunted that he wanted them for tea.

I could have gone; "Excuse me, it's chicken and baked potato tonight."

I didn't. I boiled a kettle and knocked out his noodles.

He was in the back watching a Friends when I took the noodles to him.

He didn't look up but...

The way he said "Thank you" will stay with me for a long time.

He was thanking me for more than noodles.

And my team consisting of my husband, my children, my local authority social worker, and most of all my Blue Sky Social Worker, deserved those thanks, because he's on his way, and I know he's on his way thanks to the help and wisdom of all the above people.

And him.

I never forget that these children are heroes and that it's a privilege to support their journey back to a good place to re-start their lives. I have to remind myself of this a lot.

They remind themselves of this too.

Sometimes.






Friday, January 11, 2019

FOSTERING AND VIRTUE SIGNALLING

This is a not bad joke from Lucy Porter who is a stand-up;

“It’s really hard to define ‘virtue signalling’, as I was saying the other day to some of my Muslim friends over a fair-trade coffee in our local feminist bookshop.” 

Virtue signalling is when people mention the good they do.

I slipped it in because us Foster Carer sometimes get to feel that we are virtue signalling when it comes out in general conversation that we foster.

One night last week I was helping out at a fund-raising event for a charity organised by a friend, a gal called 'Reb' (short for Rebecca - she doesn't like 'Becky'). It was taking place in our church hall. I say 'our' church; I'm afraid I'm not much of a church-goer, but I'm happy for those that are.

Before the doors opened to the public I was chatting to one of the church's stalwart parishioners who never misses any of the Sunday services, in fact he told me he attends a special service on the Saturday evening the night before the Sunday worshipping, just to make sure his Sunday worshipping is as wall-to-wall as it can be. He was very nice and kind enough to tell me all about the church, that is to say everything I needed to know about the type of stone it's built from.

I was happy to listen because it clearly meant a lot to him to demonstrate his knowledge. And his dedication. There was a bit of virtue signalling going on. But before he could start another story about stone we were joined by another group of people who were also helping out at the fund-raiser.

They turned out to be the deputy mayor, the former mayor and his wife. When I say they were 'helping out', I mean that they were attending in their official capacity. The deputy mayor wore a short chain of office, explaining that the full chain was very heavy and he preferred the smaller one, which did the job; there was no mistaking that he was somebody. Moreover he was somebody who represented a body which visibly  cared and did good works. Such as sending dignitaries to worthy events. They joked about all the warm wine and canapés they had to nibble at their various charity functions.

The mayoral party were very jolly, nice people all, but couldn't help a bit of mild virtue signalling.

My friend Reb, who organised the event, came over and introduced herself to everyone. She has the original heart of gold, does great work for a great charity. Everyone reflected privately that although they had their virtue, they couldn't compete with her. Hers was a very modest, almost non-existent spurt of virtue-signalling, if any at all.

Then the deputy mayor turned to me and said "Forgive me, but who are you and what brings you here?" - and I had a mini-meltdown. See, I know Reb through fostering. Not that she fosters; I met her at the school railings a few years ago and we clicked. I replied;

"I'm just a friend of Reb's."

The ex-mayor's wife chimed in with;

"Through work?"

And I replied;

"I don't work.'

And the conversation moved away.

Later that evening Reb buttonholed me and hissed; "Why didn't you tell them you're a foster mum?' 

I told Reb a white lie, I said;

"Oh Reb, to be honest I spend day and night thinking and talking about fostering, it's nice to get out and have a break.'

But that wasn't the reason. 

The real reason is because whenever, wherever and with whoever it comes out that you foster, that is the end of all other conversation. It simply consumes everyone's thoughts, people want to know anything and everything about how it works, how you do it, what sort of children come to you. It's always important to respect children's privacy and I am always at pains to make sure that no child who has ever stayed with me could be recognised or identified by whatever I choose to tell them about my fostering and the great efforts of agencies like Blue Sky and our social services.

But the truth is I didn't want to risk taking the moment away from Reb and her charity, after all, that was what the evening was all about.

And before anyone spots that I've just put out a really subtle and brilliant bit of virtue signalling for myself, let me remind you of two things; one, I'm anonymous so no-one knows to pat me on the back for respecting Reb and two; Foster Carers (in my experience)  don't do virtue-signalling. 

So much so that half the time when our Social Workers visit they practice virtue-signalling in reverse ie they signal our virtues for us!




Monday, January 07, 2019

ON THE TWELFTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS...

Every so often a child in fostering gets het up.

Not every child does so, but in my experience a great many do.

Not all the time obviously, or even often.

How could they not, when you think about their lives?  I have no illusions that no matter how comfortable and safe my home is, no matter how much care, kindness and even love - yes of course love - I provide, foster children will boil over sometimes with the frustration of their lives.

So it came as no surprise when, two days before she was due back at school after an exciting Christmas and New Year, things got on top of Ryder. She just needed to let off a bit of steam.

The first I knew that she had triggered was a little shriek of frustration from upstairs and the clonk of something colliding with something. And a few choice words you would never hear in church.

I learned a long time ago not to explode out of my chair and bolt upstairs. In fact I did nothing, just waited silently because sometimes these little moments blow over.

Then again sometimes they don't. In fact sometimes the signals are a cry for foster mum to come, so when I get that vibe I start off towards the kerfuffle, but slowly.

See, a parent running up the stairs towards a child can stir up unpleasant memories for the child. So can a loud voice calling out. Even a face that's supposed to express 'What's the matter?" can be mistaken by the child for "I've had enough of you and now you're gonna regret!"

Instead I go up to the child with a sympathetic smile and say quietly "Alright mate?"

It turned out the things that had made the clonking noise were 1) her  mobile phone and 2) her bedroom wall.

Not a good combination. The phone was still on the floor. I was hugely tempted to reach for the phone and either relieve myself of the worry it was damaged, or at least have a chance to work out how much it was going to cost for a new screen.

But Ryder is far more important than any mobile phone. She was sitting on the bed, crying. Her eyes were staring vacantly at the air in front of her face, and from those eyes tumbled huge tears that were chasing each other down both cheeks.

I've also learned that there's not much point asking them what's the matter, because the thing they think is 'the matter' is usually just the trigger. In this case it turned out that the problem started when she'd lost a life in some phone game or another.

In this case it was, as usual, a whole army of things that were 'the matter'.

She didn't know where her younger brother was and that worried her because she'd become the boy's surrogate mother.

She didn't know where her mum and dad were and she was worried for them too.

She didn't know when, or even if she could ever go home; the authorities are still unable to determine which of the parents is a perpetrator and which is a victim. They are probably both both, if you see what I mean.

Losing her life in an app game reminded her that she'd lost her life in real life.

There's not much point putting an arm round a shoulder either. It's a disappointing fact, but an important one for the professional Foster Carer to remember, that in difficult moments we can seem to be a manifestation of the things that have gone wrong in their lives.

Instead I played my tried and trusted master stroke, if I say so myself.

"I only came up to say I've made my mind up about Black Mirror Bandersnatch."

The sobbing paused, the rhythm briefly interrupted  by Ryder taking on board what I was saying.

"So, it's got some strong themes but parents reviewing it say it's okay for someone your age, so I'm going to push back supper and ask you to set it up so everyone can watch it now it's getting dark outside. While you're doing that I'll bowl up ice cream, what do you fancy? Chocolate chip or caramel?"

Ryder came racing down that stairs sixty seconds later, my guess is she'd messaged school friends to make sure they knew she was going to have seen the must-see interactive TV thing before back to school time.

My only concern had been that there is reported to be certain words in the thing.

But Ryder's near-miss with a wobbly had helped me know that the film would not corrupt her.

She'd learned certain words many years before...and was learning to keep them to herself.