Friday, February 22, 2019

WORLD IS OUR OYSTER

Just been to the most AMAZING training session.

It was so consuming I got carried away at lunchtime. I'll tell you about that later.

It was run by my local authority, and most of the twenty people attending were Social Workers and professional counsellors, three of us were foster carers.

My Blue Sky Social Worker was there too. It was their idea to take me along because there's a growing need for Foster Carers who can help a particular set of children, and although the Social Workers present were geared to take the information out to any Foster Carers they work with, it was great to have some of us there alongside the other front-liners.

The training was superbly delivered on a topic that is moving, complex and increasingly relevant for Foster Carers.

The training day was about Transitioning. 

People who are transitioning can be people of any age, but at the moment it seems to be young people especially who realise that the body they are born in does not conform to who they really are, so they wish to make public adjustments in how they present themselves to the world so that the world perceives and accepts them as who they know they really are.

Phew, I hope I got that last paragraph right. We got so much fantastic information I literally came home feeling head-heavy.

Nothing like the headaches affecting people who at birth are labelled "Male" or "Female" after nothing more than a quick glance at their anatomy. There's much more about gender than genitals. Transitioning is a recent thing for many people to take on board including most humble Foster Carers like myself, but I'm eager to learn and help.

Not that the thing is recent in itself. There's no evidence that a higher percentage of people feel uncomfortable in their assigned gender than in past times. It's more likely that we humans are growing up about wanting to respect every person's right for their understanding of who they are to be how everyone else greets them.

Imagine how brave a young foster child has to be to endure the break-up of their family while wrestling with the huge issue of their gender. 

This is where us Foster Carers come in.

I'm not going to try to pass on more than a sample of the information that was discussed at the session, because I came away with so much I'm still trying to find the right brain compartments for some of the material. It's a delicate thing.

I'll give you a pocket-sized example.

If, as a Foster Carer, we are asked to look after a young person who is transitioning, we must find out (preferably from them) if they wish to present as male or female. Or in another way.

That bit I find easy to understand but I will have to concentrate to get the practice right if and when I have to.

I heard in the media that there are currently more than seventy different and accepted variations in between male or female. As foster parents we aren't expected to be familiar with them. But we can be expected to try to help by being supportive. If, for example, we are asked to look after a young person who may have previously been deemed female but who now wishes to be accepted as male we refer to them as; "He" and His" where before it was "She" and "Her". And obviously vice versa.

But. If the person hasn't made a declaration, or is managing their journey at their own pace, we should try to say; "They" rather than "He" or "She".

I discovered immediately how hard this can be. At one point early in the day I was asked to come out in front by the lecturer who had a beard, a deep voice and wore a lumberjack shirt (I'll tell you why the shirt is a consideration in a moment).

I was asked to put a cross or a tick against a list of words that people who are transitioning would find acceptable or unacceptable. Words such as "Trannie" (I gave it a cross which was correct, it's unacceptable) and terms such as "Lesbian" and "Gay" (I gave a tick; correct they're acceptable). I was going along okay until I came to "Queer".

Hmmmmm.

"Queer" was an insult back when I was younger, but then again I'd heard that nowadays some people are proud to describe themselves that way.

I hesitated while the other students discussed and gave me advice, but I was in a quandary, so I glanced at the lecturer and said to the other students;

"I think I'll wait and see what our man here says."

See?

See how easy it is to get it wrong?

Okay, not 'wrong' in any intentional sense, but only ten minutes prior to me calling our (excellent) lecturer a 'Man' we'd been hearing that if there is any doubt it's best to say "Person" rather than "Man" or "Woman" or "Boy" or "Girl").

Our lecturer was a person. A person who, we were to learn as the session developed, had been assigned the gender 'female' at birth, but realised pretty early in life (age 3 or 4) that they weren't female.

The things that tripped me up were that the person delivering the lecture had a beard and a deep voice (testosterone injections they told us later) which enabled them to have desired characteristics that they wish to present consistently every day. Plus they had presumably chosen to present themself at the session as a person who chose to wear a shirt that many would associate with being male. Maybe they did that every day, I don't  know, but it all added up to my mistake. Not a huge mistake; the lecturer laughed as loud as I laughed. In the same spirit. 

It's a lesson I appreciated learning in such a vivid and indelible way.

Looking around the room I saw that there were 16 women, all dressed in conventional female clothing and 4 men who dressed as conventional males.

Now then, here's another interesting bit; how did I know the people in the class who were dressed in female clothing WERE female? Because at the very start of the session, instead of the standard opener where everyone has to introduce themselves and say what we're hoping to gain from the day, we had to say whether we wished to be perceived (for the purposes of the session) as male or female or other.

Wow. I've never been asked to express which gender I wished to be perceived as, have you? 

Yes, I've had to tick the box "M" or "F" on faceless forms and surveys plenty of times, but that's a world away from being asked to say out loud how you wished your gender to be perceived by actual people.

Was I tempted to say "Male" or "Other", just for the experience? No. The business of the day was far too important to play around.

Lunchtime wasn't business though, lunchtime was a hoot.

Sometimes I may give the impression that fostering is all pizza and perseverance, no time for partying.

Well when lunch was called, me and my Social Worker spilled out onto the street looking for a sandwich bar, but it was raining. We sheltered in a doorway wondering what to do. Then we noticed that the door belonged to an Oyster bar. I looked at SW, SW looked at me, and I blurted out my current maxim; "You're only middle-aged once!"

Half-dozen Suffolk rock oysters and a glass of cranberry juice each later, we were back for more amazing, fascinating and valuable stuff - which I dearly hope one day to put to good use.

Then home in time for pizza, perseverance..and a bat's squeak of pride and pleasure.

Yep. If you concentrate, life is good, in fact it's great, especially in fostering.















Monday, February 18, 2019

PROGRESS

Some days in fostering you really feel your age. But you're never too old to learn.

Progress is the watchword in fostering, at least it is in my book.

I know there are children coming into care who need only feeding and clothing. Some of the older children are often well rounded individuals with fine social skills, good manners and bright futures. All they need is their meals, a warm home and clean pants and socks, and let's face it those basics things are crucial for survival so they matter most of all.  Getting them right isn't always easy either, especially the feeding. Children brought up on fast food, or no food, or having to feed themselves aren't going to take to three square meals a day straight off.

Then was once a foster child whose story I was told. She had been locked in the kitchen all day as a toddler and had learned to eat the pet food put down for the dogs and cats. Someone did a good job fostering that child  because the reason I heard her story is a story in itself; 

A young child came to stay with me who needed a new school so I found a Primary and signed her up. On day one I went to talk to the child's class teacher and tell her what I could about the child. The teacher looked at me with kindly eyes and told me that she hoped to make an insightful teacher for my foster child...because she herself had been fostered. 

The teacher went on to confide in me how she had been locked in the kitchen all day and had lived on dog food...

You don't hear enough about the successful foster children. She was a brilliant teacher but she must have been difficult to feed to start with.

So yes, the basics are extremely important for children coming into care, but myself  I've never had a child who cried out for the fundamentals alone.

If I step back from my fostering I can see that I treat every foster child as a work in progress. It's my hope that when they leave they are that bit better prepared for the things that life will throw their way.

It's not a one-woman-show either. I'd be lost without my regular updates with my Blue Sky Social Worker, not to mention the regular reports I'm asked to write up on each child's state; things like how they are at school, how they are at home, how well they get on with friends and their foster family. Your Social Worker reads each report and arrives at your home armed with praise (if it's due), encouragement, advice, insights and ideas.

They too are looking for progress in the child. The better a child becomes at making and keeping good friends the better. The day the child reads a book by torchlight under the duvet for pleasure is a red letter day. The child's relationship with their Foster Carer is crucial, but it can often present the poor child with a mountain of mixed emotions. But improving that relationship is one of the big things that indicate that the child is growing stronger and healthier.

And you know who else is a work in progress?

Me.

I KNOW that I'm a bigger, better, wiser soul than I was the day I picked up the phone and asked to be considered for fostering.

I also know there's even more work to be done. On me.

For example I hope one day to be more philosophical if things don't go according to plan, because in fostering you're often just a twig on the back of a stream.

And there are plenty of other tweaks I have on my To Do list.

Such as keeping bits of wisdom in the forefront of my mind. For example I like these;

"It's never too late to be the person you want to be."

"The greatest act of courage is not being afraid of who you really are."

Oh and one other snippet that I love to bits is one I heard on a TV documentary about an Englishman who went to Spain and became a bullfighter. He was aged 68 when they interviewed him and asked him how he felt about being 68.

Say what you like about bullfighting (I hate it with a passion), but you have to take your hat off to his reply which was;

"I'm loving it...you see..."

Then he twinkled and said;

                                 "...I've never been 68 before."






Friday, February 08, 2019

AN AMAZING CONTRIBUTOR WRITES

This comment was posted this week on one of my Secret Foster Carer blogposts that date back a while.

The post in question was "Nine For Breakfast", and in it I mentioned that I had been fleetingly unsure whether to extend my full attachment/empathy to a child who was due to be with me only for a few hours.

I thought I'd publish the comment as a separate post to ensure it gets the prominence it deserves.

This young person shows such maturity, warmth and insight that I'm confident they will be a credit to the fostering profession if they decide to join us.

I have a sense of pride that we are attracting readers such as this person (oh, and such as you too dear reader)...

I'd like to thank the contributor, and say to them that their thoughts and feelings will always be welcome here;


        "I'm a teenager in... two unstable homes, and I found this post fascinating. 
First, I'm really young, 16, and my situation has never been close to as bad as what foster children are coming from. My parents divorced when I was nine, I'm the oldest of four, and it was (is) a bitter divorce. It's been one thing after another since then; parents remarrying, almost redivorcing twice, people dying, etc. However I feel safe and loved by my siblings and parents and I'm doing well right now. 
Second, I'm reading this blog because I want to foster someday. :)
Anyways, I've been through trauma and I can definitely say that if I had been taken from my home at any point by strangers, I'd DEFINITELY want a temporary foster parent to try to bond with me. Not in a pushy way, because I'd retreat. In a gentle, warm way. 
Likely I'd be unable to function. If I feel I can trust an adult, even a strange adult (sometimes especially an adult I don't know as well), I tend to let my guard down. I tend to allow my hurt and brokenness and fear to come to the surface. I'm desperate to know somebody cares, that life isn't just full of suffering and despair. The other day actually I started sobbing after my mom said something that normally would make me slightly disappointed, if that... I cried for hours. I needed her to be there for me. I needed to know she wasn't going to give up on me the moment I showed signs of weakness. 
I'd need that even from a temporary foster parent. I might find it really healing to have a temporary foster parent who, in the midst of something traumatic, listened to me and gave me a hug. Let me cry and be broken with only love in response. Even if I never saw them again, it might make the difference for me between feeling traumatized later on and feeling like, "bad things will happen but I'm not alone even in the most awful pain; I remember when Foster Parent A was there, even though I barely spent any time with them..."
Or maybe I'd really appreciate the simple things like a smile, a kind word, etc. Especially with sibling sets, taking care of a younger sibling for the older sibling will mean more to the older sibling sometimes than if you fixed all older sibling's problems. Siblings going through tough times tend to have either incredibly strong bonds or entirely shattered bonds, I think. 
Anyways that's all I wanted to say! :) 
Thank you for being there for kids who are hurting and broken and loving them through all that. You will never know how much that love impacts them."