Friday, February 22, 2019


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 get up and stand with 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".


"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 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-a-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.


  1. Fab post. Thanks for this.
    It is good to hear that your LA is doing such training courses.
    My LA definitely has had some trans children in its care (not sure if they do at present, but I would assume so).
    Even if you never get to use the new skills in practice first hand, its probably that a fellow foster carer will at some point so you can help them out too.


  2. Thanks Dana, yes it was a really useful day, and opened my eyes to a great many things which will help in many different ways. The other Foster Carers at the session were really top folk, it was inspirational.

  3. I've been approved six months now and have just been matched a respite carer with a child who is trans. We've had a trial respite (a long weekend) to give their main carer a break, and as it went well we'll have a placement planning meeting and then they'll be coming to me once a month ongoing. Whilst we would never wish any kid to be in care, we can see this little one stealing our hearts and we look forward to helping them grow into themselves as and when they are ready. I think they sense there is something similar about me and them, but cant quite put their finger on it... yet :)

  4. That's wonderful news Dana, thanks for the update. I remember very clearly from your earlier (pre-approval) comments that while you had some concerns that your own situation might be challenging for some people in the fostering world (I take it that ghost is slain) you knew deep down that you could be of great value, not only all round, but particularly with a small but growing quarter of young people. They are surely in with better chances with you on the scene.
    And may I add that it seems to me you are measuring the information about your own background and insights very skilfully. Fostering is proud of you.

    1. Awh thanks for the lovely comments.
      The little one is a gem. They're coming for half the Easter hols so that'll be fun.
      Professionally (with my LA and SW) totally fine with being trans. Of the kids I've looked after two had rather nasty things to say, but not specifically at me. They just didnt understand how their words were hurtful as they were used to saying that at home. They also said racist and xenophobic things too. But they both stopped once we talked things over.
      To be honest the kids care much less than one might think. They just want someone to watch them play Fifa, or help them style their hair and give them consistant predictable care (boy, my regular respite kids really dont like it if they have a different duvet cover compared to last time they stayed!).
      I've looked after nearly 10 children now from between one and 26 days, aged 5-16.
      In my LA only 2pc of carers are LGBT (compared to the general population of 6pc+ I believe) which is a shame. So given the number of carers my LA has, that would put the number of LGBT carers at around 9 or 10. It's not enough really.

    2. Not enough indeed. Mind, there are not enough people coming into fostering period.
      I love how you are enjoying the job, and the fulfilment it brings.
      Do stay in touch.