Thursday, July 09, 2020

POWER TO THE KIDS

Here in the UK, at the time of writing, the coronavirus pandemic is abating. Whether it's on the retreat or taking a breather only time will tell.

Social distancing is easing, pubs and hairdressers are open;  but the big one for parents and foster carers too is simply this; when should our children go back to school.

One news report I read has said that when they go back it will be compulsory on pain of penalties.

I have two questions which haven't been addressed by anybody, any politicians or journalist as far as I'm aware, yet they are huge.

They are;

1) Has anyone asked the children?

2) Is any other group of people in the UK required TO - on pain of breaking the law - expose themselves to possible infection? On pain of breaking the freaking law?

Answer to both, of course; not on your nelly.

It makes me mad.

Fifty years ago there was a programme on TV called the Black and White Minstrel Show. We now know that was wrong and can't believe our parents and grandparents couldn't see that. It was far from the worst example of racial prejudice. But much of the abuse was out of eyesight for most of the public, the Black and White Minstrel Show was there for all to see, and people did nothing.

Twenty years ago sexism against women was such a thing that the author of Bridget Jones Diaries has just said in embarrassment: "You couldn't write that these days".

Those problem were caused when ignorance gets together with herd mentality.

Amen to the changes in the way we in the UK regard ethnic people and women.

I'm not one for predictions but I'm absolutely certain that in a short time to come people will be aghast at the way ignorant adults continue to treat children like they are the voiceless second-class citizens that ethnic minorities and women were until recently.

We still have a long way to go before racial and gender equality is achieved, but we're on our way and those voices are being heard. But our children remain unheard.

What, they don't have opinions and feelings?

The poor people who were slaves in the kitchen or worse; slaves in the plantation, should have had a voice and people should have seen that.

My foster children are scared of the virus. They don't want to go back, but government will force them to. Force them.

And in a decade or two will be castigated and ridiculed for suchlike contempt.

Contempt? It's borderline abuse.

We'll all have a lot to answer for.

Rightly so.

Power to our beautiful wonderful children!




Monday, June 29, 2020

THE FUTURES OF OUR KIDS

One of the hardest things in fostering - maybe one of the hardest things in parenting generally - is helping children decide what to do with their adult lives.

I remember way back when I was a volunteer helper at a youth club, there was a gang of five girls, all the same age who hung out together every time they were there which was most times.

I remember one was called Maureen, there was a Tina and one had a nickname something like Bibby. The other two I can picture in my mind but can't remember their names. 

They seemed to like me partly because I was, back then, slightly cool, or whatever the phrase was back then. I was considered so cool that when Christmas came round the five clubbed together and bought me a bottle of whisky which they turned up at my flat to deliver on my doorstep because they were bright enough to know such a gift had to be given off premises, as a one-to-one thing between friends, not youth club volunteer/youth clubbers on youth club soil. 

Part of the reason I remember them with great clarity is because of something that happened about a year after I moved on from their YC and never expected to see them again.

In my time with them we often talked about what they wanted to do when they left school.

One of them wanted to work with children, another with animals. One wanted to see the world, another said she didn't want to work so she was going to get married straight away and have a family. The final girl, the most solitary one, said she didn't care what she did but she'd quite like to do something in tennis.

I used to encourage them to have dreams, and have realistic aims and ambitions, and to realise that it takes hard work and a bit of luck to get what you want in life…that sort of mentoring talk.

About a year after I left I walked past our main Tesco which was in the high street. It wasn't huge, just five checkouts. The checkouts backed onto the huge windows so I could see the backs of the women (for they were only women then) on the tills.

Three of the five were unmistakably three of my five girls; the ones who had such very different ambitions.

Made me a bit sad.

But hey, there's nothing wrong with working in a supermarket, and how many of us ever get to fulfil our big dreams? And maybe they were all saving up for colege or to go travelling, who knows.

But there they sat, side by side, left hand on the conveyor belt, right hand tapping the till.

I guess it hurt because I'd shared their aspirations, even dared dream with them.

The thing is that life and work nowadays…it seems even harder to make it sing for our kids.

So from time to time I tell them that there's only one ambition worth chasing, and that's to be happy, and you can do that however you earn your corn.

On another note I went up to town one day, me and a friend had tickets for a tennis tournament. We got there in time for the first match and the place was almost empty as the big guns don't play til last. To my amazement, sitting alone in the stand was the solitary girl. I went over and we hugged. She told me that she had tickets for every day of the tournament. 

I didn't ask her what she did for a living, it didn't really matter. She was doing what she wanted to do with her adult life.


Friday, June 26, 2020

TWENTY-FOUR HOURS A DAY

I guess I'm not the only foster mum with a twenty-four hour house just now.

Computer games are best played with other people and if players can find themselves a group who are up late all the better.

The social group in my house is based in New Zealand, Australia, Germany, South Carolina and Aspen Colorado.

Brilliant!

This kind of stuff is nothing worse than humankind moving itself to the next level, you know; one world etc. Hope John Lennon is watching with that lovely crooked grin.

You get unexpected shakedowns. For example, I woke up this morning and smelled bacon. Lovely. My other half had got up and gone down ahead of me so obviously I was in for a surprise breakfast, something a bit more special than the usual dry toast. I got downstairs to a frying pan upside down in the sink and a blackened empty saucepan on the stove.

Other half was horizontal on the sofa, football is back and he was re-watching the highlights of a game he'd watched the night before.

I poured some hot water over a teabag and said;

"Bacon for breakfast?"

He replied;

"I thought that was you…"

We had a moment. A nice moment. The pans were still warm. It had to have been eldest foster son.

He'd cooked himself a proper breakfast. Scrambled eggs and bacon. A first. He'd never done such a thing before, never asked how to do it. But he'd done it, and taken himself off to his room with it on a tray, I bet it tasted as good as anything he'd ever eaten.

Before we could talk about what a great thing it was that he was reaching out for independence we heard his steps coming down the stairs. He brought the tray and his empty plate. He said;

"Morning you lot! Alright?"

And as he spoke he placed the plate in the sink and slid the tray were the trays go.

The insensitive person would have no idea why this felt so fantastic, but we were all of us on a different planet. Eldest foster child was reaching across the bridge they talk about between parents and children. He was making plans to cross it and become one of us.

So many children who come into care never find the impetus to go forward, we had our doubts about his guy, but here he was, wanting to get into the world.

He announced that he was exercising his option not to go into school it was a waste of time and went back to bed to sleep until about teatime.

Not before informing us we were going to be watching the second of the Marvel films, the one after Thor! later that evening.

All this, probably due in no small part to the turmoil of the pandemic and the shake-up it's caused that has worked for some people.

I made myself a second cup of tea and settled at the sink to scrub thick black scrambled egg off a saucepan that's probably beyond saving.

Who cares? This fostering keeps bringing happy tears to my eyes, truly.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

CRISIS FINDS CHARACTER

I can only speak for my own foster children, although my Blue Sky social worker and others at the office say that my experience is not uncommon;

It's this; the rest of us can learn a few things from the way children in care are dealing with the whole pandemic thing.

Really.

I've noticed many adults going one way or another depending on their general disposition. Glum people have got glummer, cheery people get cheerier. I remember someone saying at a training session; crisis experiences don't so much build character as find character out.

Lots of children in care who've been through terrible times at home - and let's be blunt, being in care in someone else's home, no matter how kind the carers, no matter how lovely and calm the home, being fostered is also a stressful thing - these children can teach us a thing or two about staying steady in difficult times.

They are, on the whole pretty matter-of-fact about the whole virus/lockdown/social distancing thing. Well, compared to many of us adults.

I'm not minimising the stress and hardship, not to mention the agony of those struck down and their families and friends. 

I'm also well aware the children tend to be less at risk of serious consequences should they contract the virus.

But looking beyond that there have been other aspects of these strange times where fostered children just rise to the occasion.

Take lockdown for one. Our eldest foster child could have been quite within their rights if they'd gone stir crazy with a vengeance. We were ready for anything. How can one expect a teenager with normal energy levels and hunger for interaction to spend weeks, then months in the same four walls. How did he do? He flew it! 

Social media helped of course, he stayed in touch with the people who matter to him. He played his games just as before the pandemic appeared. It was almost as though he was enjoying a holiday from the pressures and stresses of having to be out and about with friends; hanging around outside the chip shop or behind the trees in the park.

He's done whatever schoolwork he feels is right for him. From what I can tell he's done most or all of it in the subjects where the teachers have reached out to him, half or less than half of the set work in subjects where the teachers haven't connected with him, and next to none in the subject where the teacher 'hates my guts'.

It will be very very very interesting for schools to get the stats on which teachers are getting good responses to their electronic lessons and which don't. And why.

Our foster children seem happier learning at their own speed, free from the fear that they are going to be reprimanded or made to feel stupid or left behind in front of their peers. 

It's me that ends up feeling those things every time I'm asked to help with a maths problem; it's stuff that's new to me. This I don't get, because while certain subjects keep on the move, such as science, history and even geography (I did a project at school on Yugoslavia only to wake up one morning to this on the news; "Yugoslavia no longer exists.."). What I don't get is how something that's older than mankind ie 2+2=4 can change so hugely in a couple of decades.

Then there are the big changes to contact. 'Contact' being where every looked-after child has to be taken to meet a significant other, mainly a parent, sometimes a sibling. It usually happens once a week. It almost always causes emotional disruptions and not just for the child. The virtual impossibility of contact during the lockdown played a big part in helping many foster children get through it, in my view. I have no doubt that having non face-to-face hook-ups with their significant others will not cause alienations if and when the families are re-united. 

That's not to say we haven't had a few scenes. But we've also had some great shared experiences. I now am up to date on the Avengers, and am able to answer questions on The Night Manager. 

We all hope and pray the worst is behind us, but more and more people I meet agree that while it would have been infinitely better if the pandemic had never happened, some good things may come of it.












Wednesday, June 10, 2020

THINKING OF FOSTERING?

So. I've been thinking back to the time when I was wondering about whether to foster.

It first crossed my mind way back as a child when I saw something on TV about some children that were fostered. It was quite a revelation to me, nobody (as far as I knew) at any of the schools I'd attended were fostered. If they were it may have been kept a secret; not that long ago there were stigmas attached to things that nowadays are everyday - thank goodness.

Nevertheless fostering didn't actually ring bells for me, but I learned that fostering was something some people could do.

Several years later I got a summer job working in an adventure playground with kids, mostly teenage lads, many of whom had things going on. They didn't blab about their negatives, they came to the club to get away from their troubles and be the people they wanted to be rather than the people their home lives were forcing them to be.

They hinted that maybe their dad had left home, or that mum was out every night. I got to learn whose family was in trouble with the police, which kids were unhappy and why. When they tried sneaking tins of beer into the clubhouse, those sort of things, I learned how to keep kids on the straight and narrow without losing their trust and friendship. I got to thinking fostering was something I could do.

At each of these times I had no idea what fostering was actually like, and looking back, that was the reason I kept putting it on hold.

My main worry was simply that I wouldn't be considered good enough. I even imagined being scoffed at for having the gall to ask about it. I didn't know anyone who fostered and my friends and the people I worked with were all a bit like me so I must have imagined that somewhere else existed men and women who were more special than I was, and they were the ones allowed to foster.

I ended up doing a course to become a teacher but schools weren't for me. Many of today's teachers work closely with their pupils, if teaching had been like that back when I was thinking about it I'd maybe have become a teacher.

When I was going through the application process to become a foster parent I was asked at panel "Why did you give up teaching?" and I replied "I haven't, I just don't teach in schools. I'm teaching all the time. Come to think of it I'm teaching now…"

Fostering calls for all the skills the foster parent has aquired in life to be brought together to help with every fostering moment.

Try for it, give it a go, it could turn out to be the best thing you ever did.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

SIDE BENEFITS OF FOSTERING

How's lockdown?

Are you having the 'Ups and Downs'?

I'm guessing we've all had a few things that scored a minus on our chart, plus a few plusses? It's how we deal with them that's everything.

The day before yesterday a friend of mine asked me to meet her in the park and sit at opposite ends of a bench. She told me that on a scale of 10 her anxiety was 11. She hadn't slept for 2 nights on the trot which was only making her state of mind worse. The next morning she texted me that her doctor had advised her to take 2 of the anti-depressants she'd ben prescribed and not to drink or eat after 5pm, and she slept for 12 hours. She finished by writing "I feel great. I literally can't remember what I was so anxious about!"

I remember.

She'd was worried sick about her parents who live too far away for her to have a day visit. Her dad is 90 and her mum - who has dementia - is 89. She's racked her brains how to get to see them; she could sleep in their front garden, but how could she go to the loo? A local B+B? All closed. A nearby holiday home? All shut. Sleep in the car? Same loo problem…

One day she couldn't be more miserable, next day euphoric.

Yesterday morning I took the dog round the block and met an elderly neighbour who is locked down with an even older husband who is becoming eccentric. She said that he'd bought a new computer on the internet which he set up during the night so when she came down it was all up and running and the old one - the one she knew how to use - had gone. So had her mobile phone, he'd chucked that too, all that was left of it was her sim card. It was clear the old man was mentally declining and for some unknown reason trying to make complete his wife's isolation.

I asked her where she'd been and she said she'd made a 5 minute trip to the newsagent to buy his Times last 45 minutes to be out of the house for as long as she dared. I gave her my email address and said she could email me if ever she needed to.

Then yesterday afternoon I had a Whats App chat with an old friend, someone I used to work with but had lost touch, I hadn't spoken to him for 20 years. He's a youthful 62 but he's been told he only has about eight months to live. He looked well and was cheerfully philosophical about his lot. We agreed to talk every week.

I've found that fostering has made subtle changes to who I am, and as far as I can tell they are all changes for the better. Many of the skills you need in fostering are skills we already have but haven't had polished.

This is where my Blue Sky social worker comes in. Since the lockdown came in she's been unable to visit, so instead she phones me at least once, sometimes twice a week.It's not a quick fine-minute call; we chat for about an hour-and-a-half. She's checking we're all okay, but she dresses her care up as a friendly catch-up. For example she asks about our foster children as a friend would, and if I have to say that one of them was out of line she'll ask how I dealt with it and when I tell her she feeds back. I get to understand my own behaviour and what works well for people who need kindness.

What I'm saying here is that foster children and their families have much to thank agencies like Blue Sky for. Some of them know it, some don't.

But almost everyone I know has reason to thank fostering and Bue Sky for how I am these days, and none of them have a clue and never will.










Friday, May 22, 2020

CLAPPING THE HEROES OF FOSTERING

Every Thursday evening at 8.00pm we join in the Blue Sky Zoom clap for frontline workers which means we aren't among the clappers in the street. So one of my neighbours enquired why we were notable by our absence. I explained, but I could tell from the look on her face that she didn't get why anyone would want to virtual clap rather than do it in public.

I told her I'm applauding not only the nurses and other health carers who are accepting the risks and doing their jobs, I'm applauding foster carers who are in lockdown with foster children who are often challenging and especially so in lockdown. 

Most of all I'm applauding a special breed of foster carers during this lockdown; the ones who have made themselves available to take in new children despite the risk of exposure to the virus. I can see those people's faces on the screen and it feels right to applaud them face to face.

Chaotic homes are not on hold during this crisis, in fact many are going under BECAUSE of the crisis. Social Services are flat out supporting at-risk children and where necessary taking the children into care.

In an ideal world the children would be tested for the virus and if required somehow quarantined before being introduced to the foster carer and their family.

But it's far from an ideal world, so foster carers the length and breadth of the country (and probably elsewhere) are taking the risk. Our Blue Sky colleagues are going pedal to the metal to get everything as right and safe for everyone.

How big is the risk I know not, no-one does, but it's there. If a capable adult stranger you'd never met before had to be introduced to your home at this time you would consider asking them to self-isolate in their bedroom for a couple of weeks, they'd have their own towels and be expected to use the bathroom last and wipe and spray in their wake. They'd eat their meals in their room and leave the plate outside the door.

You can't do that with a child who has been wrenched from a wretched home and put in with strangers. The foster carers accept the risk and treat the child like one of the family.

WOW!

That's humanity in action.

What's more the need for new foster carers has never been greater - and just think what a leap of faith it is to throw your hat into the ring at this time!

But if you're thinking about, please pick up the phone.

You're much needed.




Saturday, May 09, 2020

RANT

I mentioned in my last post that although I manage to keep an even keel, I have to let it out sometimes.

So, one time once my Blue Sky counsellor asked me if there's anything I dislike about fostering.

This is how supportive they are in counselling; she didn't ask what I dislike about fostering, that's a different question from is there anything I dislike about fostering.

I guessed it would seem fake if I said 'nothing'. Of course there are things wrong with anything, nothing's perfect.

My schtick is to make light of heavy, so I answered;

"Oh yes…pasta."

"Pasta?"

"Yes, pasta. Really. Sorry, I can't stand the stuff, there you are. Problem is that pasta is a staple in fostering, it's almost universally liked by foster children because it isn't green, has no mystery components such as seeds or skin and can be scoffed one-handed.

They love it. Look - I'm not a philistine; spaghetti with meatballs is almost okay. Penne doused in Dolmio is borderline. But.. help…mascarpone and bow-tie shapes, raviolis, cannelloni, tortollini, fettucine, linguini, vermicelli…aaagh! 

Pasta? 

It's just boiled dough!!!

Ever heard that line that a squirrel is nothing but a rat with great PR? Pasta is nothing but  boiled dough with great PR."

She said; You can't hate pasta, surely?

"Look, it's boiled dough! They take a decent bread dough which they could have baked and have something proper to chew on and eat, but no. They cut the dough into fancy shapes then dry it hard as bullets. Then you have to buy it. Then boil it.

Boil it. Boiling dough gives it the feel of shark liver without the flavour. It slivers around at the bottom of the pan like a rubber alien from the old Star Trek. Cooked pasta has the death glaze of a Vampire's victim about it; is there any other food which is such a bloodless grey?

Unappetising at best, revolting by itself; the Italian who invented it couldn't serve it up to his worst enemy like that. But he had a card up his sleeve; he gave it a rinky-dink name. Something Mediterranean romantic/heroic like "Merilionne Pucinniatta" or "Gucciiatta a cannelliara"

Job not done. Now the heap needs a sauce to hide its absence of texture or flavour. Heaven forfend anything with bite or crunch, the sauce has to slither even more than the pasta slivers, and the sauce, like the pasta, needs a name that has more vowels than consonants; Amatriciana, Puttanesca, Alla Norma...

Top it off with a handful of ludicrously expensive parmesan cheese (the packet stuff truly tastes of baby ick).

And a couple of knobs of stodgy factory robot-made garlic bread.

C'mon…pasta? Really?

Me, I'm a straightforward pie and mash person. Fish and chips, yes please. Sausages, every time, yes. Sunday roast and the works? Oh yes, God is in his very Heaven. I like to EAT. I'm only a 27 on the BMI; I could drop 10lbs and I will start on Monday as I have every Monday since about 1995, but eating what I like is one of my top ten things.

Only in fostering you eat what they want. Which is...

PASTA!

Oh, I don't mind much. In fact not at all really. Foster children's previous eating is usually shocking to learn. 

I can have beans on toast for lunch when no-one's around.

Foster children need their pasta.

The one thing I find delicious about pasta three, four or even five nights a week?

A bunch of foster children looking and feeling happy.


Thursday, May 07, 2020

WE LOVE YOU

We're all finding out things about ourselves during this lockdown.

That's eight billion of us earthlings locked down, so there's a heck of a lot of self-discovery going on.

How about you then?

Yes you. You who's looking at the screen with these words on it. What have you discovered about yourself during this strangest time in the planet's history.

As you're on this page I'm guessing you're either in fostering or thinking about it.

Either way you care about children and young people. So you possibly have a clearer picture of your own childhood than the average person. It's probably a solid fact, though it's not been researched yet, that adults who are good with children have a clearer memory of being children than those who don't understand or sympathise with kids.

I try not to talk about myself if I can avoid it but it's the only way to go on with this thought.

See, I've sometimes been told I'm 'stoical', as in someone who puts up with whatever it is and doesn't whinge. So, yeah, not a bad thing to be, especially in fostering. Only this; with a bit of time on my hands I thought I'd look up 'Stoical' in case it's more than just another word. And it is more. Blimey, it's an actual philosophy. Imagine..laa-di-daa me…someone with a philosophy.

When I say I looked it up, obviously what I mean is I YouTubed it. It turns out the Stoics were a whole movement of ancient Greeks who basically decided the best way to be happy is to accept that much of life sucks so learn to live with it. Or better yet allow your pains and disappointments to make you feel good because of the way you've stood up to them. They said things such as;

"Welcome with affection whatever fate sends."

and

"Be like a rock that has waves crashing into it Be grateful to the waves for they allow you to see how strong you are."

and (my favourite);

"Use obstacles as your fuel. Build a fire in yourself so great it laughs at rain."

The Stoics reckoned you should forget what other people think of you, it's your own opinion of you that is all that matters. They told each other to be good; to do good things and think good thoughts.

Thinking about it, I guess I try to be like that - although I'm only human too, I can rant and rave with the best of them but tend to do it alone when walking the dog.

Getting back to childhood memories. One of the support systems that Blue Sky has in place to help Foster Carers is counselling. I asked to talk to one of their psychologists a while back when I'd been upset about a foster child who had left us. After waving him off in his social worker's car I sobbed my eyes out and couldn't stop wondering how he was getting on. When a foster child goes they go. You almost certainly will never meet them again and never hear any news of them.

I told the counsellor, she started asking me about loss. The losses I'd had in life. She helped me unearth something awful which I'd almost completely buried but which she helped me see what a big impact it had on me. 

When I was seven my younger sister died. My parents were so badly shaken they thought I was too young to be affected, and hoped I didn't need them to help me - they wouldn't have known how to explain it anyway.  I was deeply shocked too of course, but decades later, being asked to let that dear foster child go and know I was losing him forever might have triggered the feelings I'd suppressed at my little sister's death, a very powerful thing and, you'd think, a totally negative one. But maybe not…

It might have also been the experience that taught me that no matter what misery comes along (and there's not much that's more miserable than the death of a child), you mustn't let it control you. In fact the best thing to do is get going and help the people around you who are going to pieces by behaving towards them as they need you to behave.

Check out your own childhood. I hope you don't have anything as dreadful as the death of an infant in it.

Enjoy a little time thinking about your childhood and who you are and why you are who you are.

And think about who loves you and why they do.

If you are in fostering, I love you and so does everyone in fostering.

If you're thinking about fostering; we all love you too.









Thursday, April 30, 2020

FOSTER TRAINING IN LOCKDOWN

So Blue Sky are continuing to keep Carers informed about the latest developments in everything connected to fostering. They call it training, I like to see it as an update.

Normally they would assemble us in a room and someone, almost always a hired expert, would stand up in front of us and deliver the information.

But that can't happen right now, nor will it for some time to come.

So they've started doing it long distance, using Zoom.

And I have to say, hand on heart, there are no superlatives to do justice to the experience. I'll try;

First off the tutor was a Blue Sky person; Ed Hill-Thompson. The fact that he was Blue Sky was a big plus because his knowledge of us and our needs shaded that of the usual visiting lecturer.

Second, since we were all at home (instead of sat in a sort of classroom) and we were watching a bright colourful screen meant the whole experience had none of the "First period maths, second period geography" feel. In fact it was more like an entertainment thing except there was quality learning going on.

Third the information was exhilarating; the topic was "How to get the best out of the internet". It could have been "How to avoid the dangers of the internet", but one of the big things that I took away was a refreshed view of the internet as a tool to advance our fostering and help our children on their way.

Fourth - and I'll come back and finish by expanding this bit because it's stellar - the guy Ed is just so, so good at delivering it was a privilege to be there and be on the receiving end.

The content was spread over two days, two hours each day. We hooked up using Zoom during moments before the beginning with Ed centre-screen welcoming us. If you didn't want to be seen no problem, your camera isn't used. When the session got under way our microphones were all muted or else there'd be that tinny howl. If you wanted to ask a question you could use the chat window and Ed would bring you in. None of us were seen on screen once Ed got going; the visuals were him and his graphics.

Ed used lots of the Zoom resources to keep the screen busy and informative without using bells and whistles for their own sake. 

He got us all thinking; for example, he asked us to guess (inside our own heads) how many people there are on earth. (Answer 8 billion) Then he asked how many of them had mobile phones = 5 billion. Then he asked how many used social media = 3 billion. He had text and images popping up to reinforce what he was saying. None of us had a clue that so many people, many of them in poverty, had devices; Ed told us it was down to the recycling of old  mobile phones that got exported and sold in market places. His point was that the digital universe is huge and expanding.

We were all involved all the time, for example he put on screen some logos of different apps and asked us to use a second device (I used my phone) to find out some facts about them by logging onto a website called commonsensemedia, which reviews media aimed at children and young people and assesses the positives and the negatives. We learned that most kids have 50-60 apps on their mobile phones and that it's not hard to spot the logos on their phones and once you've seen the logo you can, if you feel you should, do a check on the app.

There was the right amount of information, all of it gold dust, but too much for me to reprise here. I was particularly interested in an aspect of gaming I had no idea was a factor namely that there's a trend in modern day games to lure players into gambling. It works like this; the player gets into the game for free, but to progress they have to acquire resources, maybe a helmet or a set of skis. They can buy a thing called a 'loot box' for a sub-pocket money fee, say £2.99. But they don't know what they're going to get, a bit like a lucky dip. If they don't get what they need to progress they try again; in other words they're gambling on the outcome.  Ed reminded us that as children they ought not have unlimited resources to gamble, but he reminded us also that we had a responsibility that our children didn't reach adulthood and access to deeper pockets with a taste for gambling.

So finally Ed himself. Ed is simply magnetic; a quick mind combined with an easy style, he has a ready wit, he's an engaging person who really knows his stuff and loves his job. Qualities like those are infectious and we could all sense we were almost being baptised and born anew from the mire of lockdown. Plus; Ed is spectacularly cool. From his immaculate street-modern hair style (he self-deprecatingly apologised that he needed a haircut - ha ha), to his huge ear lobe inserts; from his discreet nose piercing to his David Beckham art work, the guy oozed the kind of savvy we Foster Carers need on our side.

If you're not with Blue Sky I have yet to find out whether his wisdom and knowledge is out there in any form that can be got at, if so it gets a 5 star rating.


Sunday, April 26, 2020

GOOD CAN COME FROM TERRIBLE

I don't want to harp on about the coronavirus and the lockdown etc.

So I won't.

I do want to tell you about some of the nice nooks and crannies of parenting that the whole thing has magnified.

Middle foster child is nearly ten, going on twenty-seven.

Child used to regard the difficulty of going to sleep as a big problem. Being awake half the night left the child exhausted by midday and lonely and frightened the following 2.00am. The child had to try to sleep see, because it was school in the morning and it gets pointed out to them they mustn't yawn in class.

Anyway, sleep is no problem any more. Everything is on the button.

Rises as and when, usually about 10.30-11.30am. I've talked with friends with similar-aged children, it's normal, if not exactly copy book.

Eats a brunch instead of breakfast just like swanky top end people do at weekends, then rattles through the schoolwork set for him (which is working really well for him, I k now it's difficult in a lot of homes).

Then goes back to bed.

Sleeps.

Gets going proper about 4.00pm, gearing up for friends time. This is how it is for our foster children right now, if not children of all types everywhere; their network is virtual.

How fantastic is that!

When I was a kid my potential friends were limited to neighbourhood kids and kids in our school class. About 5 to 10 possibles…

Middle foster child has access to just about every potential friend…in the world! And it's being used!!

People my age often go "Tut tut!" about the internet, they've probably enjoyed their diet of it's dangers. I'm doing a Blue Sky training session on internet safety shortly, yes it can be a danger but wow it can be an absolute boon.

So child gets going on the PC about 6.30pm, because that's when child's gang are showing up. They're mostly Americans. Child has a buddy in Nebraska, someone in San Jose, another in Canada and a German dude who stays up into the night like our kid.

Our kid gets every new internet friend up on visuals to be sure it's not a 47-year-old with a dodgy agenda.

Then…they play! Not just... 'play' because 'play' is far more than a meaningless pleasure.They explore stuff like friendships and empathy and loyalty and conflicts and - maybe best of all - how to win by bonding and sticking together.

They learn their place among others.

They begin to find out who they are and who they want to be, and close the gap between.

They aren't just hanging around on a patch of playground tarmac talking about whether their Physics teacher is loopy. They're on some virtual planet pitched in as a unit to go head to head against a bunch of armed dinosaurs or whatever. It's active, it's interactive…most of all it's fun. Jeez, shouldn't we all be looking for ways to have fun right now?

This pandemic is truly awful, it's taken so many lives and will take more. Perhaps we will have to live with the threat for a very long time.

But it's not disrespectful to those who are suffering to hope that, human nature being the heroic thing it is, some good comes from it.







Thursday, April 16, 2020

FOSTERING; STOCKHOM SYNDROME?

Being locked-down with somebody else's children - that's fostering in the age of the coronavirus - is hard work, but interesting.

There's been a strengthening of the bond between ourselves and our looked-after children, though they don't rush at us to tell us that they like us even more than before. But they do...they do seem to like us even more. And I'm not sure why.

Our middle foster child came chuntering into the living room while we were watching a 5.00pm TV coronavirus update;

Middle child; "What's all this, oh b*****y h**l!! They still going on about the d****h bag virus. Duh! Yak yak! Virus duh and virus… er duh! It's a germ dude! Get over it. J***s C****t!"

And he left. I thought he made a number of decent points, albeit within the parameters of his own vernacular. What had he told us?

He's scared for himself. The news has felt the need to report the deaths of young people and children, presumably to help everyone understand that everyone is at risk, but it must be sickeningly frightening for many kinds. Also; he hasn't had much good happen in his life so far and he'd feel totally cheated if he had to leave for Heaven without having had much in the way of Ambrosia.

He is scared for his mum and dad. His mum in particular, he doesn't know much about his dad. But he knows his mum doesn't know how to look after him and she sure doesn't know how to look after herself.

But how come the new wave of empathy from our foster kids?

Is it the Stockholm syndrome? That's where captive hostages form a bond with their captors. If I'm not mistaken one kidnap victim joined the group of terrorists who had kidnapped her and helped carry out a bank raid. Surely not, after all, foster children are hardly in captive are they? Although the facts of the matter might not get in the way of how some of them might perceive their circumstance.

Perhaps it's just that they can see that the virus is serious, that anyone can get it and it can be life-threatening for anyone. We have a fostering agency keeping us on track with how to protect our foster children, and we stick to it to the letter. Some of the requirements are a pain for them - our eldest was very miffed that we wouldn't let his bestie come round to shoot the breeze last weekend. His argument was that his bestie has a mum and dad who live apart and he's been able to visit both of them, so er…he's obviously not got the virus. We stuck to a simple and obvious 'No' and threw in that we thought the bestie's mum and dad were taking a chance, we weren't sure what the law might say, not that we were going to raise it with anyone - after all it was his hearsay and almost certainly skewed to shore up a flimsy argument.

Then there's the constant hand washing and anti-bac wipe-downs. Middle foster child was indignant that a bag of hot chicken wings ridge crisps that had been specifically requested had got antiseptic 'all over it' which would 'ruin the taste'.

They roll their eyes as if it's a pain when I insist they keep track of their parents wellbeing, and that we all wish them well.

There are lots of plusses, no really there are. Of course the illness is awful and has caused terrible grief and fear, and it's not done yet (it's mid-April 2020 at the time of writing). But just as previous generations told us that there was something special in the ether during wartime, there are good things going on all around.

I think that our foster children are more in tune with us foster parents at this time because they feel a bit safer with us than they might have done in their real homes. They would know what their real parents are like, and whatever their faults, the children will be desperate to know that their folks are being sensible, taking advice about staying home, and observing the precautions.

They might even be happy that we show we care about their parents, that we make sure we keep them informed about their parents…but are dealing with the fact that they might feel personally safer in our house than in their real home.

Monday, April 06, 2020

FOSTERING FUN

My Blue Sky Social Worker showed up this morning for a Health and Safety check on our home. You get one of these per year in fostering, they're no big deal. This one was different because when I say 'showed up', I mean that she appeared on a What's App video link and we did the whole thing via video.

Brilliant.

What sort of things get checked?

She needed to make sure our driving licences were in order, that our car is MOT'd and insured and that our boiler has been serviced. This meant lots of holding up documents against my phone's camera lens, but hey it worked.

She checked that our garage is locked (vulnerable children don't need to be able to get into the garage; too many possible risks). 

I needed to show that medicines are kept out of reach. This is important but easy - there are lots of lockable cabinets on sale. In our house we keep them in a small and elderly but impenetrable Samsonite suitcase that happens to have a combination lock. It means we can carry all our medicines to wherever they might be needed.

I showed her our fireplace and the fireguard we need for when we have a rare fire in the hearth.

We keep toilet bleach out of reach of our foster children, in fact we keep the whole lot of caustic kitchen and bathroom cleaning solutions out of harms way. 

I hope this growing list of do's and don'ts doesn't seem oppressive, it's not. You'll see.

So then we talked about our upstairs windows. See, modern windows usually come complete with locking devices, but some of ours are wooden so we had to put long screws through to ensure them shut - no problem. 

Health and Safety in the home is a complex thing and thank goodness for social workers who guide us through it. The key for them is how to keep each specific home safe for each specific child. For example, if you have a responsible 16 year old foster child is unlikely they'll accidentally poke something into an unprotected ground-level plug socket. But if you have a curious 3 year-old you'll need socket protectors, again no problem.

We talked about our pets a lot. Our new dog is 10 months old now and our lovely Social Worker needed to know things such as where she did her poo, how quick it was collected, where she slept and what her personality was. Badly kept dogs have done bad things, I'm glad that fostering is on the alert.

Anyway, about done, we moved on to our annual big joke, namely…

Is the puddle in our back garden a water feature or a pond? 

Now, this will soon start to get you either fascinated or extremely bored, but you have to remember that for years it's become a running joke. And Blue Sky has resources when it comes to sense of humour and few things are more important in fostering than a sense of humour.

Why does it matter whether it's a water feature or a pond? Er, I think it's because one needs to be covered with a protective mesh and the other doesn't.

Any idea the difference between a water feature and a pond? The definition exists!

Our thing is a plastic tub about a metre across and shin high. If you went into it in your swim trunks you'd not get wet apart from your lower legs, bum, and below your waist. You'd have to be more than flexible than me to get out of it without help. It's titchy. We keep the water level about that of a washing up bowl. It's a water feature.

But…a while back we put a goldfish in it. 

Game changer! 

A fish? 

It's a pond!

Now, I can see - we all can see - that children must be protected from the possible dangers of water. Children have tragically died in garden ponds and lakes and in fostering you have to be careful. If you have a water barrel or even a bucket you keep topped up to give the flowers a drink, you have to keep them out of harm's way.

We keep a wire mesh over our water feature/pond/bucket/puddle/mini-lake. 

And every year we do our Health and Safety check and laugh our socks off about the latest precise definition of it.

Which is one of the many helpful support mechanisms Blue Sky do, because fostering is a massive thing to do, and keeping other people's children safe and healthy is a massive job. 

Blue Sky help us do it in a low-key way - and with the right amount of laughter.



Friday, March 27, 2020

LOCKDOWN = CRISIS FOR FOSTERING?

There's enough to worry about what with everything at the moment (the virus lockdown etc). I don't want to add another concern.

But I haven't heard this one mentioned yet, so I'm going to.

When I started fostering one of the most surprising things was when I learned that more children come into care between December 25th and January 2nd than any other time of the year.

It surprised me because I'd assumed it was the season of goodwill in every home, a time of the family coming together…but no.

It turns out that when some families are cooped up together with nothing to do but eat and drink it can bring out the worst in them; jealousies, old rivalries, simmering resentments - the list is endless, and the breakdown happens over a period of 12 days.

So - and here's my point - what's going to happen in suchlike families when they have even less scope to get out and are cooped up for 12 WEEKS.

OR EVEN LONGER!!!

We're less than a week into lockdown here in the UK and the media are bombarding us with serious stuff about how to look out for the elderly and vulnerable - quite right too. There are lighthearted features on what to do to pass the time. But what about the physically fit and healthy but daggers-drawn families  more used to a lock-in or a lock-up than a lockdown?

One thing's for sure; there's not a lot anyone can do to prevent such families from boiling over. Their problems are usually deep-rooted and intractable. So; if it it's going to happen it's going to happen.

About the only thing we foster carers can do is hope and pray that more people come into fostering.

And that the government, which seems to have discovered a forest of money trees, can help with the cost.

Everything else, let's hope, will get back to normal eventually. The stock market will 'bounce back' (don't it always?). Premier League football will be on 7 days a week again, queues will concertina up again, toilet rolls will be available again.

The child who has to stay with a dangerously chaotic family because the only place they can be housed is the local police station cells, may never be the same again.



Thursday, March 19, 2020

SOMEONE LIVING IN OUR FRONT GARDEN

Fostering, like life, is full of surprises. No-one saw the Covid-19 coming.

If you're reading this a considerable time after it was posted you'll know how the virus thing turned out.  

I suppose if you're reading this a considerable after it was posted that means that we got through it. It seems certain that we didn't get through it without the tragedy and tears of loss. Back in March 19th 2020 - today - we could only hope the loss of life will be minimal.

At the moment of writing this it's 6.30am in the morning and everyone else is asleep. It's a Thursday which would normally mean the house would be shifting about with hangdog people giving off theatrical lethargy and a controlled edginess pointed at the person cajoling them to get off on time.

Not this morning. Today is the day following the UK government's announcment that schools are to be closed from tomorrow until further notice. The announcement was made about 5.00pm yesterday afternoon after my brood had spent a tense time awaiting the news with hope in their hearts.

Eldest foster child was indignant;

"If Scotland and Wales can close their schools why can't we?"

To my surprise he listened to my attempt to answer that.

When the announcement was made the house experienced a new mood. A mood that can only be brought on by such news as this; no school for the foreseeable future!

I'm happy too. I love it when the house is full of life. But it's  not unmitigated joy, there are people in pain and fear, plus the person I love is living in our front garden.

What has happened is this;

My other half, who I've been with through thick and thin for three decades, has an old respiratory condition. When he was a child he was given a vaccine against polio but it backfired and he got polio. They thought he might never walk again, but he beat it and although he'll never run any marathons you wouldn't know his past from the spring in his step.

Polio, it turns out, often never fully leaves the victim. It's ghost can return in what they call post-polio syndrome. One of the symptoms can be respiratory problems. Which, should he contract Covid-19, could make him vulnerable.

In the middle of the night before last he felt hot, then went feverish. He had a headache, sore throat and achy limbs. His work takes him to a number of different workplaces, and one of them has an employee who tested positive about ten days ago.

We didn't panic, but he had to isolate.

We are VERY lucky in that we've got a little motor home, in fact we were due to go away for a couple of nights soon. But instead of being a holiday home on wheels, our motorhome has become an isolation unit on wheels.

He moved in straight away, about 6.30am yesterday. His temperature was 37.8C, a tad below the virus warning number.

I cleaned and sprayed everything he might have touched in the house and kept up a manic regime; every time I walked past the kitchen sink I washed my hands.

I texted the kids in their bedrooms and got a really nice reply from eldest foster child, a young man not famous for his kindness and consideration, but it's in there. He replied;

"I hope he's okay."

Doesn't sound much but it was. In fostering, no matter how crazy life gets, you are always looking for for fostering's many good moments.

Next thing I called Blue Sky (their offices open at 9.00am though you can get them any time of day or night if you need to). Their first words were the same as my foster son's. They said they'd inform my Blue Sky social worker who I'd met with three days before. She was going on leave that very morning however her holiday of a lifetime to Thailand was called off at the last minute.

Everyone's lives are all over the place.

I didn't get much rest with him in the van, me passing him things he needed (paracetamol, a fresh battery for the thermometer) through the drivers side window, then coming inside and…washing my hands. His temperature crept down, his headache softened. All day I was geared up and ready to call our surgery to see if they had any test kits, but he never reached a point of distress.

This morning I opened the bedroom curtains and looked down. He saw me from the motorhome and waved. We texted. He was on his first cuppa. His temperature was 37.3C, still a bit high for him. Headache a bit better, still pounding. Most of all; no dry cough - or at least no more of a dry cough than he's had a long time now.

I made him a sausage sandwich and passed it in through the window without touching his hand.

Got to go, the downstairs is filled with children claiming there's no point going to school today as half the staff are off and tomorrow - the last day - will be a short day anyway. 

Take care.