Tuesday, April 30, 2019


I have to go back some to remember my early fostering days. It was a bit of a blur. I'm up to speed on what's what now, and what I know might be useful to people who are thinking about fostering.

Things have changed for the better. Fostering is now in better shape for the foster child and for the Foster Carer than ever before.

Would you believe that when I first got interested in fostering there was a shop in my high street with pictures in the shop window of children who needed a foster home. Can you credit that? I hardly can. But it was how some things were done then, I know.

Fostering has advanced in leaps and bounds.

What happens now is that prospective Foster Carers are more or less fostered themselves by their fostering agency. I can't say for sure if it's the same if you sign up with your local authority as I've only ever fostered with an agency. First you contact them and they make a quick decision on whether you might have what it takes. 

You get a visit from someone from the agency who basically runs the rule over you and your home. People shouldn't be put off by the idea of being given a checkout. It HAS to happen, that's surely  obvious. It would be a tragedy if a potentially wonderful Foster Carer who has the personality and wherewithal to help poor waifs and strays is put off by the idea of being assessed. I mean, look; if a child of yours had to go and stay at someone else's house for a while you'd want to know they'd been checked out right?

Always remember, the fostering agency (this goes for Blue Sky for sure) is on your side from the get go. Britain need more people in fostering, people from all walks of life, with all sorts of backgrounds, circumstances and personal histories.

Once you get that first green light, you're off on  a joyous journey through the approval process right up the the great day when you get your full approval rubber-stamped and find yourself in the heady heaven of waiting for your first foster child.

The approval process is not just painless, it's positively delightful. In a nutshell it consists mainly of someone visiting you at your home and listening to you as you go over your life. They are interested in who you are, who your family is and how your home works. I've done this process twice and both times I found myself really looking forward to each session.

Fostering needs people who have dealt with life's downs as well as the ups. Had a divorce? Got a tiny skeleton in the family closet? One of your own kids fallen foul of the law?
EVERYONE has a few things they think they'd better keep a low profile on. But your fostering visitor may ask you, with utmost sensitivity, to talk about them. Why? Because fostering is all about helping young people who are in crisis, and while it may not feel like it at the time, when we are handling the dramas and crises that sometimes pitches up in life, we are learning some of the skills we might need as a Foster Carer.

Can't get used to life in civvy street after a career in the armed forces? One of the very best Foster Carers I've met is an ex-squaddie, wow do his foster children respect him.

Worried about your age? I was privileged to meet a fantastic Foster Carer who was a widow aged 72. The most recent recruitment session I spoke at was attended by a couple in their young twenties.

Ethnicity and religion, gender preference are absolutely no issue at all. I understand why people are led to worry, thanks to the prejudices and unkindness of others, but there is NO room for any suchlike harshness in fostering, not an OUNCE. I promise.

I hope that if you are the one in a hundred who read the Secret Foster Carer and who is thinking of trying fostering, that toady is the day you make the call.

Please, please do.

Monday, April 22, 2019


Here's a tricky question which I get asked often;

"What's the best thing about fostering?"

The best thing changes day by day, sometimes by the hour, sometimes minute by minute.

Sometimes you get fantastic little moments that knock your socks off. They come and go, like the one that's just happened today.

But it's the big 'best things' that endure, such as the simple fact you're doing something that's just plain good. There aren't many walks of life where you get uncompromising respect. The Foster Carer can look in the mirror and give yourself a quick pat on the back. It's not WHY I do it, or any Foster Carer does it, but it's gratifying nevertheless.

The other deepest things are the times when you can be confident you've made a difference for a child. Actually that one takes the beating. Then there are the visits from your Blue Sky Social Worker which help you focus on the positives.

Those three strong emotional pleasures are shored up by practical plusses; fostering is a respected profession so we are supplied an allowance which more than covers the costs of looking after someone else's child. It can't be called a salary (for accounting reasons - after all we're fostering 24/7 so counting the hours we are asleep but on call you could argue it's a 168 hour week. If we were paid the minimum hourly wage we'd be on £71,722.56). The actual allowance is substantial and covers more than our costs, but it's not quite up there.

Then there's the endless parade of great moments like this;

Our middle foster child came downstairs with a few days of the school holiday left and said;

"When are you going to tidy my room?"

Don't you just love loaded questions? I watched a YouTube about it. Manipulators call it a 'presumptive call to action'. The question is not asking whether you're going to comply, but when.

I should have replied something like;

"Here's a bin bag, if you can fill it with rubbish from your room and whizz it down in less than 5 minutes you can have a ...."

"A what?"

"A surprise. Of your choice."

I've worked this bit of counter-spin before but on this occasion was taken unawares and replied badly;

"Er well I was going to wait until you were back at school before..."

Which wasn't clever. It raised the spectre of going back to school, and that's sure to lower the mood and sure enough foster child went into a shell. Nothing big, just a sulk. A sulk I know well, blimey I pull one myself (privately) from time to time, not that they ever do me any practical good. They klind of feel nice though, some sort of self-righteous indignation.

School holidays are as big a challenge in fostering as they are in any parenting. My strategy is to let them get bored for a few days, then start organising a few low-key things while talking up the one BIG thing that is scheduled for the final days before back to school. If I was rich it would be a huge party or taking a bunch over to see Panic! At the Disco. 

I usually settle for a sleepover. They go back on a Tuesday or sometimes a Wednesday, so a Saturday night sleepover means time to recover. Sleep-overs are actually "Stay-awake-overs". They try to be up and doing crisps and diet coke into the small hours. Who wouldn't?

So I lifted the mood by saying;

"Got the final guest list for the sleepover?"

And got the reply;

"Robin says he has to come."

So I said;


"Robin's a pain."

"Oh surely not, Robin's alright."

"You would say that wouldn't you."


"He Instagrammed that everyone says you're the best mum out of everyone's."

OK. Blimey. Foster child pulled a face which meant something like "So maybe you aren't so bad after all". And I said something like;

"Well being a mum is hard and I'm sure all your friend's mums are great."

But as I went about my jobs I reflected on another 'best thing about fostering' moment. I'm obviously not the best mum out of all of the mums, but; my foster child was proud I was his 'mum'.

And that's one heck of a best thing.

So back to school with all's well!

Tuesday, April 16, 2019


One of the most interesting dimension of fostering is helping children find independence.

A child's journey from needing everything done for them to being able to do everything for themselves is a big part of parenting and maybe an even bigger part of fostering.

Only it's a different journey for the foster child. And for the foster parents.

Take Bethany, an eight year-old girl who arrived at our house with boxes of stuff. She had too many possessions to fit into her bedroom, we had to store overflow stuff in the garage. Among the stuff were no cuddly toys, in fact no toys at all. It was all fashion clothes, party shoes and adult possessions such as fancy hair appliances, stereo music players, and so on. She even had two phones.

She came down to tea on her first full day with us dressed for dinner at the Ritz, but to be fair to her she didn't own a T shirt or a pair of jeans.

The overwhelming thing about Bethany was her sadness. She had the heaviest heart I've ever come across. Never laughed, never even smiled.

She was overweight, had hardly been to school, and despite an outer worldliness that belied her tender years, the inner eight-year old Bethany was still an infant.

It took us a while to get to the bottom of her story. You have to do the digging in order to work out how best to help the child. Our Blue Sky Social Worker and I put our heads together. Bethany's Local Authority Social Worker provided as much background as she could and we sussed out the rest.

Bethany's mum was a person I'd describe as 'hard'. I met her for the first time when I took Bethany to have Contact with her. As Bethany and I walked across the car park of the  Contact Centre the mum leaped out of her huge shiny 4x4 and roared;

"Where's her coat? She'll freeze!"

I would also describe the mum as 'domineering'. As she led Bethany inside and I turned to go back to my car to wait, I heard her bark at Bethany; 

"Step it up sister I haven't got all day for this..."

'Insensitive' too then.

Back home with us Bethany began to drip-feed us with insights into her life so far. We knew that she had two younger brothers who were in care elsewhere. We knew that the mother held down some sort of management/buying role with a high street fashion chain which explained their extravagant social housing home - one of those ones with more flat screen TVs than books. 

By the way, in my fostering time I've seen some pretty dire privately owned homes, and some pretty high-end social homes.

As each day went by we picked up more details about Bethany's childhood, and know what? It turned out there had been no childhood. 

Bethany had been recruited by the mother to carry out free child-minding, probably from the age of 3 or 4. She had never been played with, never had friends round for a tea party, never made a sandcastle or been to a pantomime or the circus. Her childhood to date had been one of surrogate parenting, housekeeping, cooking, cleaning and general servitude. 

Something occurred to me at the time and I raised it with my Social Worker during our investigations. I said to her;

"Y'know what keeps nagging at me?" I asked, "Bethany's childhood isn't so very different from my grandmothers, except nan wasn't showered with gifts."

The reply put me in my place;

"That was then and this is now. Having a proper childhood is a human right. Beth didn't merely pitch in with the jobs which is what your gran did, Beth was a modern-day slave and the gifts were shop freebies and no substitute for love and care."

She was spot on. 

So. The fostering job with Bethany was to let her go into reverse and have a childhood BEFORE we set her on the road from childhood to independence. 

She stayed with us for eight months, during which time the mother was deemed by the professionals to be a 'functioning sociopath' (hard, domineering and insensitive). The professionals decided that she would struggle to show true love and care, but could be negotiated with to abide by a set of parenting guidelines which would be periodically checked. If she stuck to them Bethany and the boys could go home and stay. The mum could continue to bank the various benefits which augmented her salary and - very important to her - keep up appearances (imagine her shame if colleagues found out her kids had been removed).

The parenting guidelines were aimed at avoiding the neglect that the children had been exposed to while the mother pursued her lifestyle. Examples include not being left alone at home for a whole weekend while the mother went on a romantic soiree to Dieppe and the children being allowed an education and contact with other children. There were a couple of other outlawed activities I won't trouble you with but which almost landed the mother in Crown Court as well as the Family Court.

To the best of my knowledge the intervention worked for the children. I told Social Services that if Bethany ever went into care again to call me first and that hasn't happened.

What did we do during her time with us? We gave her a childhood, as best we could. I taught her to swim, my other half taught her to ride a bike. At Christmas she played along with the Santa thing.

We also respected her urge to grow up. She saw in the New Year at our house and made a roomful of adults roar with laughter when she drew "Gone With The Wind" in charades and put on a memorable performance.

I suppose it's obvious that I miss Bethany. But then I miss all of them.

I guess I found my independence in the usual way, but in fostering I found something even better.


Wednesday, April 10, 2019


Our latest foster placement, Ryder, is coming along.

When you start in fostering it's all a bit of a blur at first, but you soon pick up some patterns, such as the so-called honeymoon period. The child arrives and is usually compliant; curiously co-operative. Then they get to know us and our home. They relax - and express understandable sadness and anxiety. We get through those days and once the child settles the work begins for real.

Okay, yes sometimes Ryder still gets steamed up. Who wouldn't?  I would, anyone would. If you're a child who has been brought up in a home that is deemed unfit, well you're going to be brittle at the very least. The problem things in her home didn't begin just before  social services went in. The unfitness was in her case almost a generational problem and in my experience the problems at home besetting children who end up in care are usually in place from before the child was born. Probably long before the child was born.

That is the case with Ryder.

But. She's been with us a while now. And if she gets upset (which happens less and less) she knows to retreat to her room and come down when she feels better. Big progress on the self-awareness front, and she knows it, and is proud of herself.

Last week I went into her school because we had what is called a PEP meeting. PEP stands for Personal Education Plan. Every looked-after child is entitled to a Personal Educational Plan.

When you start fostering it's one of the first thing's that differentiate looking after a foster child from one's experience of having children of your own (if parenting your own child applies to you - it's not a criteria).

And the PEP thing is a superb thing.

The meeting is usually at the school and is attended by the school's childcare officer, my Blue Sky Social Worker, the child's Local Authority Social Worker, and the Carer.

Just go back and read that attendance rosta again; it gives you some idea of what a fantastic country we live in that so much expertise and loving care is made available to each poor mite that has to be given a breather from their real home. I'm not saying the UK is best in the world, but it's hard to imagine anywhere is better. Plenty of other countries should come over here and take a look see how it can be done. Hats off to our people.

From Ryder's last PEP it's clear Ryder has a way to go in several respects.

Ryder gets into disputes with classmates, although the school points out that the number and seriousness of the stand-offs are by no means standout; and since Ryder is in fostering her interactions are slightly more closely monitored. A pupil in care at any school has a childcare officer attached to them, and they keep a discreet eye on their clients.

There was never anything like this when I was at school, and it's a wonderful support mechanism, both for the child and for us Carers. If anything happens at school we get a phone call. If anything happens at home that the school needs to know about we know who to phone, and they know what to do.

See what I mean? The support and back-up in fostering in the UK, at this moment in time (2019), is out of this world. Thousands of young people are getting the help they need to start them on the straight and narrow.

Ryder is showing progress in English and Art. Maths is not too good, and PE is er...not a strong point.

As a child in fostering Ryder is entitled to something called a Pupil Premium. It's a sum of money set aside by the Local Authority to pay for anything special by way of eduction, so we're planning to get Ryder some one-on-one maths tuition.

See? The whole package just gets better and better.

It's important to remember that in fostering you're never alone, you've got an army behind you.

And the way it often works is that the Foster Carer is up front on the big white charger - only we don't expect a medal, the little victories are reward enough.