Saturday, June 29, 2019


People who are thinking about fostering are generally good-hearted but a bit trepidatious. So was I when I started to think about fostering- it's a big step.

Most of all they have questions.

I received a text today from a friend who has a friend who's thinking about fostering. My friend asked me (on behalf of her friend) if the friend would be considered suitable.

The friend, I was told, is "a single mixed race mum to a 7 year-old son. She works part-time at her son's school and has experience working with kids with challenging behaviour. She lives in a small flat and she smokes and is on a low income". 

My friend added "Any difficulties?"

I replied that for one thing fostering takes a dim view of smoking, it should never ever happen in the foster child's foster home, and carers should never be seen to smoke in front of them, anywhere.

My friend replied that her friend complies with that already - her flat is tobacco-free and her son doesn't even know she has an occasional cigarette. I replied that if she puts herself up for fostering all she has to do is be up-front about everything. The Social Worker who will be assigned to process her application will advise her.

I added a note on something  that I strongly believe; that going into fostering is a good opportunity for people to polish their act a bit; you know, drop a few pounds, exercise more, eat better, quit smoking etc. One woman I know actually traded in her sunbed for an exercise bike while gearing up to start fostering.

I pointed out that to the best of my knowledge children in care must have their own bedroom. This is an absolute. I suspect that siblings in care might be allowed to share with each other. But my understanding is that a foster child would never be placed in a home where they had to share with a Carer's child.

My friend got back to me that her friend was hoping to go for a bigger flat if she was accepted as a Foster Carer. I guessed this meant she was in social housing.

I replied that I'm not expert on local authority protocols in social housing. I know for sure that local authorities are begging for more people going into fostering, but whether they'd upgrade someone's flat on the understanding that they would use the extra bedroom for fostering is a question for them not me. Nor do I know what view the Social Workers who would be assessing her would take about her situation.

As always I suggested she get in touch with her local authority or her chosen fostering agency and they would help. I told her she could call Blue Sky for free and they'd be able to answer all her questions.

My friend texted back that in fact her friend was a tenant in a private flat, so I replied she'd probably have to  upgrade and have a spare bedroom available before she'd be approved, but if her plan was realistic she'd be considered.

As to the low income, I replied that so long as she's just about managing she could sit down with her assigned Social Worker and take a look at her finances. Foster Carers are never out of pocket in their fostering, the allowance covers everything and usually more. Carers are taxed differently so we keep most of the income as it's an 'allowance' not a wage. Plus we can claim additional expenses for certain things such as travel.

Having said that, it's not good if the Foster Carer is seriously struggling to make ends meet as it might impact her fostering, but again; one for the Social Worker.

As to being 'mixed race' - I didn't bother to state the obvious namely that ethnicity, along with faith, sexual preference, age and marital status are totally the Foster Carers own business and that - as long as their personal circumstances don't adversely impact their fostering - diversity is becoming a real credential in fostering.

I hope I got the balance right between being encouraging and realistic.

Only Social Workers know all the requirements, which is why I usually recommend people who are thinking of fostering make the phone call.

But. There was one feature of my friend's friend's circumstances which was entirely a matter for her. And I wasn't sure whether either of them had spotted it and it's this;

If you have school-aged children of your own living with you in your home they need to be got on board with the whole project. It's not for me or anyone but the parent to be the final judge of whether having a foster child in your home alongside your own children will work for them. Again your Social Worker will have the knowledge and experience to help you with that decision, but it's really important.

I haven't heard back yet from the friend's friend, but fingers crossed.

The UK needs every Foster Carer we can recruit.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019


Still feeling a bit thoughtful; my most recent foster child left to go home a few days ago. 

Today I had to take a different child to a thing called 'Contact' and it was no more or less tricky than usual.

If you were to ask 100 Foster Carers what's the biggest challenge they regularly deal with in fostering a great many would answer; "Contact".

Contact is when children in care are taken to spend time with their parents/significant others, often for a single hour, often once a week. It usually winds the children up a bit, for a thousand reasons - you can probably imagine most of the big ones. The parents/significant others are probably the adults whose behaviour is the reason the children have been removed from them. So there's going to be stuff in the kid's heads.

I never said fostering was all total plain sailing. Every responsibility in life has its downsides yet if you have the mindfulness those downsides are simply part of the whole;

We have a friend we often see in our street, a person who owns a yappy dog. The dog-owner is usually on his way home.

The mutt is leading the way, the owner lagging behind holding a bag of poo.

The owner doesn't mind. The love and company he gets from the dog is so huge it makes the downside of carrying its poo home a fair exchange. In fact, the sacrifice almost magnifies the love.

It's the same with Contact. With many of the children I've looked after, I've tried to make Contact my statement of how much I want to do to help them, even when they let me know how hard Contact is for them. They deal with it their way; which sometimes means an upset.

Today the little mite got heated up in the car on the way there, and was nearly in tears on the way home. I said; "I need petrol, while I'm in there what would you like to hold you until teatime? Crisps or a banana? Or what?"

This usually works. The little fellow got negotiating; 

Him: "Can I have some Haribo?" 

Me: "What about some sugar-free dental gum?"

One little trick from the Foster Carer and the corner is turned. I don't know how they do it. I simply couldn't. Try imagining the emotions of being the child at Contact. I'd crumble. They deal with it magnificently (with a bit of help).

The thing is; I come from a reasonably normal family. So I'm at my best in a reasonably normal family home. But the kids who come to us for help come from chaotic homes. They are more immune to life's frictions and fracas than most. They are more at home with uncertainty and turmoil.

This is a difficult fact to come to terms with,  but it's not a standpoint confined to fostering.

Remember the dog-walker I mentioned earlier? His name is Les. He is a friend my other half is very proud of. My other half loves football. The dog-walker is aged eighty-something and used to play for a big team professionally.

Not quite Manchester United big, but he played football for a living- 'Everton' I think - but now can't muster much more than a stuttering walk trying to keep up with his dog. His knees are not his own. He blames the cortisone they used back then.

My other half told me about the time he asked Les what he missed about the game.

Les replied; "I miss the changing room. The micky-taking. The madness. Every game you didn't know what was going to happen next. People came and went, some you loved some you couldn't stand. You had to have your wits about you to survive. Then I retired, got a job with the Coal Board. Every day the same."

So, yeah; he missed the chaos.

And when my time is up in fostering I'll miss the hurly-burly too. 

We often sit up in bed in the morning with our first cup of tea and ask each other;

"What did we actually do before fostering?"

Wednesday, June 19, 2019


Ryder's gone home, and as usual I'm up and down about her going.

Other Foster Carers tell me they also have mixed emotions when a foster child leaves. They are pleased and relieved that things appear to be on the up for the child, but that's counter-balanced by concerns that things might go pear-shaped again, it happens.

Then there's the sense of loss which is sparked off by little things such as having to set the meal table differently, and that's counter-balanced by having less work to do around the house.

The way our memory seems to work is that we end up with one compact flashbulb recollection of a person once they are long gone.

But in the days after departure you have loads of different memories. The question is which one will take top spot and be the single image that bursts into life whenever someone says: "Do you remember Ryder?"

Will it be the time she tried a drop of Tobasco and milked the moment, ending up gulping water from the kitchen tap?

Or maybe the day she took delivery of a beanie hat she'd bought on my Amazon account; she answered the door herself and was tickled pink to get to 'sign' for it.

I ALWAYS seem to have a clear image in my mind of the moment I first clapped eyes on each new arrival. Ryder was a typical picture of melancholy with her downcast eyes, hands plunged in her hoodie pocket. Her expression changed when I fetched her a diet Coke in its cool classic glass bottle*

Maybe I'll recall the 'goodbye' hug she gave me before climbing into her Social Worker's car.

Time will tell.

I just had a sudden thought; spool forward three or four decades when fostering is just a pleasant memory for me (that's assuming my memory is in some kind of working order...)

What will be my one flashbulb memory when I hear the word "Fostering".

So many great moments.  Mind you, the way nostalgia ambushes us every time, I bet I'll even get rheumy-eyed over the testing times.

Actually, some of the testing times are genuinely among my favourite moments.  To name but a few; managing to find a MacDonald's open at 11.00pm one night when a teenager needed calming down and only a Big Mac would do the trick - I will always picture the look on that dear girl's tear-stained face when I knocked on her bedroom door to deliver the iconic bag of fast food.

Then there was the time a troubled boy came to stay with us for a second respite spell. I opened the door to greet him and he was bursting with pride because somebody - namely me and our family - had met him, knew he was a handful, and still actually WANTED him back.

Then there's the child who asked "Why are you so nice?". Yeah, she must have maybe never experienced a normal adult who is bright and kind. (The thing was I didn't have an answer to the question, it would have sounded big-headed, so I settled for saying something like "Oh I have my off days like everyone else.") But I think of that question often and probably repeat it to myself to get through tricky moments.

As you can probably tell, I'm a bit tender at the moment. 

A very pleasant sadness.

My partner is often heard saying he doesn't know what he would have done without football.

I don't know what I'd have done without fostering.

*PS, fizzy drinks are not a staple in our house, but I usually have a closely-guarded bottle or a can of something for emergencies and rewards.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019


Here's something I hadn't seen coming;

It happened because Ryder, our newest foster child, is shortly going home.

It's always an emotional time, obviously. But last night she was very brittle and not herself at all.

She was catty with my eldest foster child - with whom she's usually on top form. At teatime she was sullen, pushing the peas around her plate.

After tea there was an argument about the remote control and I had to ask her to go up to her room and come down when she'd cooled off. This usually takes 10 to 15 minutes.

She didn't come down.

I gave it half-an-hour and crept up. She was on her bed, her face buried in her pillow.

Dear me, she was sobbing those huge but almost noiseless sobs that come from deep in the heart.

I said softly;

"Ryder? Darling? Can I come in?"

She digested that it was me and that I was sympathetic and nodded.

It's always hard to find the right words to ask a foster child what's wrong because it could be one or several of innumerable things that are not only 'wrong' but also no fault of theirs and what's more there's often nothing they can do to put things right.

It turned out that the thing on her mind was huge, not her fault, and about which she can do next-to-nothing.

Before I tell you what it was it's worth remembering that she is due to go home anytime, and that she sees this as the beginning of a whole new and wonderful world for her and for all the people she cares about. She wants this new life to burst into bloom as she walks through her front door, and for this rejuvenated and wonderful life to last forever.

Got all that?


So. The reason she was all over the place was because she'd caught a trending news item on her phone in which a group of experts announced that human civilisation would end in 2050.

Just as things seemed on the up for the poor mite came the 'news' that - as far as she could deduce - the world was going to go pffft and disappear when she is aged 41.

In fostering you get asked by children to explain some pretty strange and often almost inexplicable things. Every time your first priority is to be truthful but to protect the child from unnecessary fear or anxiety.

News providers have no such framework of responsibilities.

Sometimes it's not the fault of the News. For example (true story alert); when I was little the TV News was filled with updates on a world statesman who was very old and at death's door. Each time a bulletin ended the newscaster would say;

"There will be another bulletin in an hour."

As this went on into the next day my youngest brother suddenly cracked under the pressure and through his tears he pleaded "If he's so ill, why do they keep putting another bullet in him?"

So, with that awful image of decades ago still fresh in my mind, I went to work.

I explained (largely from well-intentioned guesswork) that the scientists hadn't been predicting the end of the world, they had been saying that life would be a lot different by 2050. I reassured her that the air would be cleaner because cars would be better. I suggested we probably wouldn't be eating meat all the time so animals would be happier. I said that by 2050 maybe most known diseases would have been conquered and people might expect to live well beyond 100. I added that her generation were gearing up to be the best ever; if anyone is up to the job of fixing starvation and injustice it's people like Ryder and her friends.

Did it work? Er...

My predictions went down okay, but she still blubbed a bit, albeit with less despair.

What sealed the deal was;

"Tell you what. I bought a tub of lemon sorbet yesterday. Sorbet is kind of like ice cream but without the cream so it's better for you. But it's a grown-up taste. It's in the freezer. I need someone who knows what they're talking about to try some and tell me if the rest of the hungry hippos will like it or turn up their noses. We'll have to sneak downstairs and get a bowlful up into your room for a secret tasting session without anyone spotting what we're up to."

Ah, distraction. Still at Number One in this Foster Carer's Top Twenty.

Oh, and was I telling the truth about what I think about climate change?

Yes, I was telling an optimistic take on the truth as I see it. But crucially I was telling it in the way a damaged and vulnerable 10 year old needed to hear it.