Thursday, October 31, 2019

ORDER! OOORDEEER!!!

I don't know about you, I'm having a bit of a tough time explaining the state of the nation to our foster children.

If you're reading this in a country other than the UK, you probably have had a whiff of our wranglings here, basically we've tied ourselves in a heck of a knot about whether to leave the European Union, and now there's a fierce general election going to happen during the run-up to the Christmas holidays - which should be a time of peace and goodwill and general all round happiness.

The subject of what's called Brexit came up at our last Blue Sky support meeting and here's an interesting titbit; when we went around the room the Carers reported that almost all the foster children who had a view mirrored their real family's views: they were Leavers. Their parents had set them straight about that.

They had single-minded views about immigration and uncomplicated views on foreigners meddling with British laws such as the shape of bananas. 

Same with my eldest foster child, Toby, or "Tobes" as everyone calls him. Tobes and my own eldest, Michael, or "Mix" as Tobes calls him, is a Remainer. 

How I long for the good old days of teatime debates over Game of Thrones v Harry Potter, Man Utd v Arsenal etc. Those meaningless arguments which are actually great bonding, especially if the Foster Carer is a good enough moderator. I usually manage to manipulate the thing into a draw before it ever gets personal.

But the Brexit debate - as in many other families I suspect - is testing my judicial skills!

You can almost smell the thing getting ready to kick off as people take their place at the tea table. 

Me; "Did anyone have anything interesting happen at school today?"

Tobes; "Yeah, we found out Mr Purbright is a remoaner."

Mix: "Purbright? Ain't he English?"

Tobes; "Nah, he's a Jock int' he."

Mix; "Nah dimbo, not an Englishman, he does English."

Tobes; "Physics. Dunbar does English, she's a remoaner an' all."

Mix: "Yeah, all our teachers, the ones we've found out about, are for staying in."

Tobes: "Like I said the other day, teachers don't care, their jobs are safe. There ain't no migrants floodin' in and wanting to be teachers."

Mix: "No one's flooding in that was one of the lies."

Tobes; "Yeah? What's that new barbers then?"

Mix; "Where?"

Tobes; "The one next to that weird bar, used to be an ice cream place."

Here comes me with a futile effort to move the conversation onto something less gritty:

Me: "Oh you mean the pop-up bar?" 

Silence.

Our youngest foster child comes in with;

"What's a pop-up bar?"

Me: "It's a bar where you can buy drinks but only at certain times because…"

Tobes; "It's Europeans innit."

Mix: "Yeah but Boris said there'd be 3 million more he did. Din't he mum?"

THIS IS THE CRUCH  TIME, EVERY TIME. EITHER ME OR MY OTHER HALF GET DRAGGED IN ON A POINT OF ORDER AND WHOEVER WE CONFIRM TAKES IT THAT WE'RE ON THEIR SIDE.

I try;

Me: "Well, it's certainly claimed by some of those who want to stay that at one point during the referendum debate someone on the Leave side suggested that any new country joining the EU would have the right of free movement, however I never heard it myself, not personally, and…"

Basically I go on and on for a bit and tire them out. At some point during my ramble I might be lucky enough to stumble on something that sparks a different conversation, luckily on this ocassion the diversion had already been signposted;

Youngest foster child: "Why do they call them POP-UP?"

Tobes: "Yeah. It's not like they sell pop do they?"

Youngest; "What's pop?"

Mix: "It's what they used to call fizzy drinks in the old days."

And we were off on another tack. What's the worst fizzy drink?  Answer Cherry Coke. Is diet Pepsi as good? Why is Fanta so good with pizza? and so on.

There's a serious point here though. My children are worried because they've picked up the fears of so many adults, but misunderstood them. All the adults I know who are committed one way or the other only really fear one thing. They fear being on the losing side. Pathetic in my book, but the problem is that our vulnerable kids are picking up the vibe that terrible things await them for the rest of their lives if Brexit goes the wrong way. 

So as with all things troubling them, I try to offer reassurance and paint a picture of a positive future no matter the outcome of this little spat.

Oh, and if you know who I'm talking about I'll miss John Bercow, the retiring speaker; my version of his cry of "Order!" will continue to echo round our kitchen table for some time to come.


Friday, October 25, 2019

LITTLE THINGS THAT MAKE FOSTERING

Natasha was seven when she arrived at our house, at about 4.30 in the afternoon as I remember. 

The social worker who had supervised bringing her into care parked up outside our house, got out and opened the rear door of the car. I’m afraid when a new child is due I'm a bit of a curtain twitcher, eager to get my first glimpse of the child. It's probably nothing more noble than raw curiosity, but I tell myself I like to start my fostering the minute I clap eyes on the new child and get as many clues as to what they might be like and what their needs might be.

Natasha was quite sad, sad and slight. She had a lot of hair which fell over her eyes, eyes that were downcast. Foster children are almost always trepidatious on arrival. She did glance up halfway up the path I remember the look on her face as she took in the view of the house, a look of apprehension, certainly not hope or relief. 

The reason I remember the Tasha arrival is because of what happened next. Natasha froze, her tiny feet planted on my concrete path. With her free hand the poor girl tried to prise her fingers out from the hand of the Social Worker who stood firm. I resisted the obvious impulse to rush out and help but held back and watched. The Social Worker crouched down so that her eyes were level with Tasha's and the Social Worker's other hand went out behind Natasha‘s head and started gently stroking. I couldn't see the tears but I could guess Natasha was crying silently because the Social Worker fished a tissue from her cardigan's sleeve and dabbed  beneath the little girl's eyes.

It was such a touching sight I could feel my own emotions getting the better of me and I wanted to rush out and sweep the little girl up but the Social Worker was doing her social work very gently with Natasha and it was working. She waited 'til Tasha calmed down, I saw Natasha nod her head. Then the social worker gently picked her up and set off towards my front door carrying Tasha.  My doorbell went and I opened the door not sure whether to do my usual trick of crouching down to the child's eye-level because the child might still be in the social workers arms at adult eye-level but when I opened the door with my gentlest smile and my softest voice I took in that Natasha was standing next to the Social worker. So I dropped down and said; "Hello you must be Natasha, come in both of you. Natasha I’ve got something for you in the kitchen which I think you might like so slip your shoes off and come through."

I always have a little welcoming present for a new child, something to play with while the Social Worker and I finish up whatever business is needed, and I ask the child to slip off their shoes as the signal they're at home. If the Social Worker asks shall I take my shoes off I say no that’s alright visitors can keep the shoes on. 

As it turned out Natasha was more interested in the dear dog we had at the time and the handover went very smoothly. The Social Worker told Natasha that she would come and see her to make sure she was settling in in a few days. And settle she did And probably would’ve done so anyway - without all the tiny bits of effort - she was a tough cookie. But when you’ve been fostering for awhile and had a few placements you find yourself using the little things that you’ve learnt such as not to rush out on the street, to be down at their eye-level when you open the door, soft smile, little gift, shoes off. Oh there's others; their favourite meal for tea (served out in bowls on the table so people can help themselves thus avoiding the stress of an over-full plate or other food fears), make sure they know the bathroom and how to flush. 

Blue Sky run lots of fantastic training sessions, but the little details; especially the ones that are specific to me and my own character and personality and views about parenting and fostering, which I think are the spine of the job, things that are about the moment, you can't really be trained to do.

I was talking about this with my other half of the weekend. He's a, incorrigible football fan; past help really. He said it doesn’t matter how much training a team does in the week, when the whistle goes it’s up to the players to use the training to help them make the right decisions minute by minute as the game goes along. In the end the little decisions are the game-changers and it's down to the players.

I've about reached half-time in my fostering and I like to think we're in the lead.

Monday, October 14, 2019

A LITTLE RESPITE FOSTERING

It's a Monday morning and I'm up early because we had an emergency/respite child arrive out of the blue late Friday night and she's due to go home first thing this morning. To be precise the plan is for her to be taken straight to school to give her foster family an extra 8 hours to right their ship before the child arrives at their excellent and wonderful foster home.

It's a fallacy that a foster home has to be some kind of a cross between a 5 star hotel and a goody-two-shoes show home. Life has its ups and downs for everyone and we in fostering are no different, no better, no worse. Indeed our homes need to be as normal as possible or else the period a child spends with us would be the equivalent of being wrapped in cotton wool and put in storage.

We've only had the child - Becky - here for a couple of days and nights but we offer attachment and engagement from the very start even if we know the child will be departing shortly. I'll admit I wasn't sure at the start of my fostering whether that was the right thing to do, but a Blue Sky training session put me right.  Just as an aside, at the same training session the child psychologist was of the view that we should see ourselves as foster mums and foster dads rather than foster carers. In the expert's view a child in fostering needs a parent figure more than a person who offers only care. It might seem like splitting hairs, but I think my fostering has been improved by seeing myself as their surrogate mum, and in any case 'care' has connotations which children might pick up, whereby the cared-for are somehow unwell or disabled.

Becky is a picture of sweet peace and compliance, but you can tell that if she wanted to she could look after herself. For example; on Saturday tea time I passed around a plate of chocolate digestives and everybody took one. One of my other foster kids was having a debate with one of my own sons about football, it was an old argument, heated but sufficiently mutual for me to let them get on with it. Suddenly the foster lad pointed out of the window and when my lad turned he reached over and took a small nibble out of his biscuit and put it back on the plate. Becky was sitting next to the foster lad and saw it all.

What she did next is still tickling me. She'd already eaten half her biscuit, and in the confusion she switched her half-biscuit for the whole one on the foster child's plate. She moved so fast, like a card sharp, I could barely believe I'd seen it.

The foster child looked down at his plate and the half-biscuit and said "Hey..what the..where did..?" He looked around the table to see who was chewing; but no-one was.

Becky caught my eye and gave me a look that was the equivalent of a knowing wink, I don't think kids wink any more, but they can widen their eyes and wear a tiny smirk which is the same thing.

Good for her!

She going soon, I'll wake her up in plenty of time.

I'll get her some breakfast and drive her across town to her school, then she's on her own. I've packed her a packed lunch. It's got a chocolate biscuit in it. I don't need to write a note explaining that I got her payback joke. She's as bright as any button and she'll get it.

It's what I do for my own children who are with me for life, what I do for every foster child whether they're here for weeks, months or years. Or in Becky's case two nights.

Treat them to everything a parent should give a child; attachment, engagement, love and laughter.

And if they show a sense of social justice, combined with a sense of humour make sure they know you know and that you respect them for it.