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.







Tuesday, March 17, 2020

CORONAVIRUS AND FOSTERING

Blue Sky have been keeping us Foster Carers informed of what the Coronavirus means to us; all the good old-fashioned common sense stuff, but I thought I'd pass on a titbit of my own that came home from school via eldest foster child.

The child in question has a love hate relationship with school; he hated it for a long, long time. He hated it until we got to the bottom of why he hated it. When we did we fixed it and it's stayed fixed. What happened was that we finally worked out that when we sent him to school he felt deep down that we were trying to get rid of him. I guess it must seem like that to a lot of children whether they are aware of it or not.

Anyhow, using the truth and hammering home the fact that we LOVED having him in the house, that we HATED it when he went off to school, that we LONGED for half past four when he's thumping through the front door like a bear with a sore head. We repeated over and over that our home is a HAPPIER home when he's in it, and SAD and BORING for everyone when he's out at school. And he went and did just what anyone would dream of doing but most of us chicken out. Not him. He called our bluff, in case it was a bluff.

He stayed home. Morning after morning he'd come down in his uniform and we'd go;

"No! Don't go to school! Please stay home…!' Etc etc.

So he did!

For nearly three weeks!

Boy did we have some explaining to do to attendance officers and their suchlike, but they got it and…it worked. One morning he came down and said;

'I've had enough of you lot all day, you're smothering me!'

And off he strode, and now has an 80% attendance record and climbing, and more important, is a much happier bunny.

That said, he's mad keen on the idea of schools closing for the virus. Just like the rest of them, except those that have to sit public exams and have geared themselves up for the angst and endeavour and don't know (at the time of writing) what is going to happen.

Today, for example, in our house, eldest foster child is going into school at 11.00am. He has permission to do half-days as one of his problems with school is large numbers of people such as you get at assembly, and fear of appearing different which he feels he would do if he were excused assembly. Plus, he has a history exam and he wants to do it! Result!

So, what's my titbit? He tells us that students (his school is a regular secondary but they prefer 'students' to 'pupils') are requested not bring in alcohol-based ant-bac gels and sprays. Guess why.

No, go on, see if you can guess.

Alcohol based…

Yep.

They've been necking it behind the bike sheds (stupid - tell everyone it's stupid) …and they make you feel sick (surprise).

Just when you thought you'd heard it all...


Wednesday, March 11, 2020

HOW DID YOU GET INTO FOISTERING?


When a new foster child arrives you generally get a visit from the nurse. Children coming into care are often less than 100% physically, never mind about emotionally.

Weight is often a problem. None of us needs a nurse to tell us if a child is overweight or worse, but when the nurse, all uniformed up and carrying medical stuff tells a child to eat their broccoli it saves us carers a job, at least for a while. 

One or two are underweight, that can be a sign of a different type of neglect, and the child needs good food and plenty of it.  Nothing wrong in my book with treating such a child to a welcome Big Mac, so long as the rest of the house doesn't get jealous.

Sometimes they have slight co-ordination problems - nothing serious - could be a slight issue with balance or mobility. It usually wears off after a few weeks good eating and…proper exercise. I don't think I've ever had a foster child who had ever been on a nice long Sunday walk.

The nurse who called the other day was one I'd not met before. After examining the child she sat down at the kitchen table next to me and asked a question I usually only get asked by people thinking of fostering;

'So how did you get into fostering?'

When I worked at Debenhams nobody asked; 'So how did you end up behind the cosmetic counter?'

Fostering needs more carers, simple as that. I used to keep my fostering to myself, but now I'm happy to tell people about it's many plusses and its occasional minuses.

When they ask how you got into it it's often a signal they are thinking about it. 

Similarly we had to have some police involvement with a foster child about a year and a half ago. It was down to the child's family, not the child, but two officers paid us a visit. I have always, always found them magnificent when they find out they are dealing with fostering. As they got up to go the younger of the two officers waited back and said to me;

'This is exactly the type of thing I joined the police force to do. You've made me think that further down the line I'd like to foster.'

So how did I get into it? I thought about fostering for a bit then decided to take the bull by the horns, and I telephoned Blue Sky. 

That's how I got into fostering. I stopped thinking about it and did something about it.

And yes, I'm suggesting that if you're thinking about it you do the same.





Wednesday, February 26, 2020

NEW SCHOOL

One of my foster children started a new school a few weeks ago. I have a shorter drive on the school run but I leave at the same time and make use of the spare moments. I still wait in the playground until they ring the bell in the morning.

None of the other parents talked to me at first, they all had their own little gatherings. I stood by myself and watched the children, mainly my own child, who at first stayed with me but quickly managed to break into one of the friendship groups which was a joy to see.

So the child would run off as soon as we arrived in the playground and I got to do some people watching. Little people watching.

The first thing I noticed is that the boys hog the centre ground, the girls stick to the edges. The boys zoom around more, the older ones acting like they're the oldest. A game of football takes up the very middle bit, I couldn't work out how they decided each time who was on which team, I think it was probably the same sides every day. Reassuringly there were two girls who played every day. If the other girls played anything at all it was skipping, and that didn't attract mixed-gender.

I always found my eyes wandering to the little lost souls. Always have, always will. Perhaps it reminds me of how it was to be me when I was a junior - I was moved schools and for the first year in the new school I was a loner in the playground.

Nowadays, sadly, it's more normal for a child to have a background issue than not. So called 'broken' homes' (horrid term) are commonplace, single parents abound. That in itself isn't necessarily a problem, but it's likely that there were problems at home surrounding the break-up, and there will still be complications.
Children themselves can be identified as having any number of difficulties ranging from the barely visible (but impairing) such as dyslexia or Aspergers. Some children carry support aids; one boy has hearing aids, others carry their inhaler. Attention Deficit Disorder and Autism aren't grounds for special education when they're diagnosed as being 'on the spectrum'. Other children are overweight, many have allergies.

Many children probably have background issues that haven't yet been identified. Watching children ay play is a great way to get insight.

The reason I mention this is because despite my many years in fostering, I still find it impossible to spot another child who is in foster care from those that aren't.  There are so many reasons why almost every child sticks out that the foster child is pretty much like all the others.

I now enjoy having a chat with the other parents.

School is one of the few places I'm not at pains to point out that I'm the child's foster parent. I often do tell people what I do, if it comes into the conversation, because fostering needs more Carers and people frequently reply that they are thinking about fostering so I give them Blue Sky's number.

The reason I don't bring it up at school is that if I  were to tell parents they might mention it to their children and if the child gets teased about it then it's in part my fault. I don't think I'm over-thinking with this one, you just have to be as considerate as possible of your foster child's right to privacy.

There's one other thing I spotted that's worth mentioning, to do with the parents. Most of us parents go through the school gates and stand on the tarmac playground. A handful of parents do not. For one parent there's a good reason, he has a dog on a lead. Another parent lights up an old-fashioned ciggy as soon as her child is gone - there's good and a bit of bad in that. But, for most of the parents that stay outside the railings, I suspect the reason is sad, a tad dark.

Many people had a rotten time at school. they hardly remember it but they found themselves labelled ' not very clever' or 'a nuisance' or 'badly behaved'. It stays with them, these unpleasant memories. They're the parents who never attend parent evenings, don't engage with their children's education; it hurts them to even think of the concept of school.

A lot of the parents of foster children are like this, I think.

Nothing much can be done, unless one day we make school a good time for all.

Won't happen in my lifetime, that much is certain… oh well..onwards and upwards.

My kid is happier at the new school!





















Thursday, February 20, 2020

COUNTY LINES

Sometimes the training sessions which Blue Sky put on are interesting in themselves, never mind how useful they are to your fostering.

The most recent one I attended ticked both boxes.

It was about something called County Lines, to do with drugs and - specifically - under-age people.

I had no idea how huge the business of selling drugs using kids has become.  If you haven't heard of County Lines hold on to your hat…

County Lines refers to the systems that drug dealers use to break out of their inner city lairs and push their drugs in smaller cities, towns and even villages. Their business model is so well designed, efficient and effective it makes you wish we could harness the dealers' intelligence and endeavour for common good. It works like this;

They use kids to sell to kids, they recruit the junior drug pushers* by coming out and looking for kids who are out of the house at twilight, especially hanging around places like skateparks. They look for the loners, preferably tall lads or girls who can pass for being older than they are. Little ones and those in groups are no good. They befriend the loner. The loner is made up that someone who is three or four years older than them, and who dresses cool, seems to like him or her.

Next time they meet up the pusher has a couple of bottles of beer and gives one to the victim. The time after that the pusher has some cigarettes and they share.

The next time it's a joint.

The next time they meet the pusher has bought them a pair of trainers like his own, £150 ones. He explains he has money because he does odd jobs for a bloke. He offers a job to the victim, all they have to do is take a parcel by train over to another town and deliver it to someone who'll be waiting in a fast food outlet.

If asked the pusher says the parcel contains sherbet. The victim will earn £100. They have to go towards the end of the day, when it's dark; they do everything at twilight. They do the job.

The delivery might entail crossing from one county into another. Drug gangs use this trick because it means crossing county lines, and when that happens it makes things harder for the police to tie everything together because our police forces are organised along county lines. When the jurisdiction of criminal activity is complicated the inquiries are much harder - records have to be shared manually, the question of which county any misdemeanour occurred is difficult, the red tape and protocols get in the way of proper policing.

The pusher keeps the victim supplied with whatever substances they are getting hooked on, and starts the victim recruiting more victims. The victim must get themselves a cell of customers who place regular orders. They are advised to go for kids who are disaffected, whose parents don't mind where they are after dark and possibly don't care. Maybe the parents don't mind their children being out because they can do some recreational drugs themselves.

Now the dealers start to make their real money. The victim has maybe one or two or three cells of half a dozen kids in each who they can use as customers and also to help  distribute the drugs. But the pushers have them where they want them because they tell them that the bill for all the drugs they've given them for personal use comes to several hundreds of pounds.

And if they don't start paying it off there'll be big trouble.

Now the victim is terrified, can't go to the police or tell anybody. They are not only working for free, they are handing over any profits made on the drugs they are selling to pay off their debts.

This next bit is particularly shocking; one other way they can pay off their debt is by agreeing to have sex with whoever the dealers choose.

If they can't pay they are in big danger because the dealers need to make sure their terror is real. Anytime you hear on the news of a kid stabbed or shot, there's a chance that it's connected to county lines.

Things have got so bad for some victims that they are taken into care and removed - hundreds of miles away - to where they can be given a new identity and can't be found by the dealers.

By any other name it's pyramid selling of the most appalling sort, and it's hugely important that Foster Carers know what to look out for since teenagers in care are perfect for recruitment.

I said 'teenagers' back there, I've just remembered that our excellent lecturer for this five star training session told us that County Lines is starting to recruit kids from junior schools...


* the pusher can be male or female  depending on who they are targeting….

Thursday, February 13, 2020

MAYBE ALL CHILDREN SHOULD GET THE BENEFITS OF FOSTERING

One of my foster children started a new school a few weeks ago. I have a shorter drive on the school run, tend to get there earlier, but I make use of the spare moments. I still wait in the playground until they ring the bell in the morning. 

None of the other parents talked to me at first, they all had their own little gatherings. I stood by myself and watched the children, mainly my own child, who at first stayed with me but quickly managed to break into one of the friendship groups which was a joy to see.

So my child would run off as soon as we arrived in the playground and I got to do some people watching. Little people watching.

The first thing I noticed is that the boys hog the centre ground, the girls stick to the edges. Sad that in this day and age of gender awareness old ideas are still alive in the playground.I don't want to bang on to teachers about something else they should do, they've got enough on their plate, but it would be good if we could even up the playing field from the earliest age. The boys zoom around more, the older ones acting like they're the oldest. A game of football takes up the very middle bit, I couldn't work out how they decided each time who was on which team, I think it was probably the same sides every day. Reassuringly there were two girls who played every day. If the other girls played anything at all it was skipping, and that didn't attract mixed-gender.

I always found my eyes wandering to the little lost souls. Always have, always will. Perhaps it reminds me of how it was to be me when I was a junior - I was moved schools aged eight and for the first year in the new school I was a loner in the playground.

Nowadays, sadly, it's more normal for a child to have a background issue than not. So called 'broken' homes' (horrid term) are commonplace, single parents abound. That in itself isn't necessarily a problem, but it's likely that there were problems at home surrounding the break-up, and there will still be complications. 
Children themselves can be identified as having any number of difficulties ranging from the barely visible (but impairing) such as dyslexia or Aspergers. Some children carry support aids; one boy in my foster child's playground has hearing aids, others carry their inhaler. Attention Deficit Disorder and Autism aren't grounds for special education when they're diagnosed as being 'on the spectrum'. Other children are overweight, many have allergies.

Many children probably have background issues that haven't yet been identified. Watching children at play is a great way to get insight. 

The reason I mention this is because despite my many years in fostering, I still find it next to impossible to spot another child who is in foster care from those that aren't.  There are so many reasons why almost every child sticks out that the foster child is pretty much like all the others.

I now enjoy having a chat with the other parents.

School is one of the few places I'm not at pains to point out that I'm the child's foster parent. I often do tell people what I do, if it comes into the conversation, because fostering needs more Carers and people frequently reply that they are thinking about fostering so I give them Blue Sky's number.

The reason I don't bring it up at school is that if I were to tell parents they might mention it to their children and if the child gets teased about it then it's in part my fault. I don't think I'm over-thinking with this one, you just have to be as considerate as possible of your foster child's right to privacy.

There's one other thing I spotted that's worth mentioning, to do with the parents. Most of us parents go through the school gates and stand on the tarmac playground. A handful of parents do not. For one parent there's a good reason; he has a dog on a lead. Another parent has a reason to stay outside the railings that's both good and bad; she lights up a cigarette (a real one) as soon as her child runs off.

I sometimes wonder if these parents, the ones who can't even bring themselves to visit the playground of their child's schools, are the ones who had bad times at school and pick up bad vibes just bringing their children to school. Awful for them, and not good for their children. 

My child is doing okay at the new school; has a friendship group at the moment. It's my child I worry about and care about, but when I see all the hundreds of little ones running around every morning I can't help wondering if they'd all benefit from the strength of support of social workers and the backup of Blue Sky and other professionals that enables us Foster Carers to do what we do.
















Thursday, February 06, 2020

DEALING WITH THE PARENTS

One of the things in fostering that doesn't get the focus it needs is how to deal with the parents of your foster child.

I think it gets a lower profile than it deserves because, as a Foster Carer, your main point of contact with professionals is your own social worker(s), and they don't usually - don't ever in my experience - show up at Contact, so the parents kind of shrink in their minds compared to how they balloon in ours.

Everything about Contact is challenging for every Foster Carer. Well, almost everything; I had one lad stay with us who had been removed from his Foster Carer due to what turned out to be a false allegation by a third party - but it had to be checked out. Maybe the harmony of that Contact was down to the fact that the contact was not with a real parent, but with a Foster Carer, and she knew how to make it work.

I'm afraid the average parent of the average child taken into care is about as competent at making Contact work as they were competent at parenting in general, and since it was deemed necessary to remove the child, that means their parenting skills are below par.

The child is usually winding herself up well before the Contact. It hangs over them often starting the day before. The poor kids must suffer all sorts of different emotions; excitement and hope, fear and pain of loss.

Us Foster Carers don't get the full picture of the problems in the family, not because they are denied us but because a lot of the bad things are kept from everybody. 

Something else which adds to the problem is that the parents are given little or no guidance in how to behave with their children at Contact. This is an oversight which is connected to one of society's great mistakes; the belief that parenting is a cakewalk. I often hear, from parents whose parenting is clearly bad, and whose lives have often gone badly wrong;

"Well my parents never got training'. And I turned out alright."


So. How to deal with them?

First thing is to try putting yourself in their shoes. No matter how thick-skinned one might be - or appear to be - a parent must be badly wounded by the charge of bad parenting. Then they discover they're going to have to say 'hello' to someone who has an official rating as a good parent. Well you're not likely to warm to that idea are you? So not surprisingly the parents often start out hoping that you're fallible (which of course we are!)

So try not to be late is one good tip. Another is to try to get their clothing right, because parents are always ready to ask 'Where's his coat?' If you dress them in an item of clothing which you bought for them that might rub a parent up the wrong way.

If they ask "How's he been?", well no two ways about it that's a tricky one. I had a parent who kept notes that I said things such as "He's had his ups and downs" and "On the whole pretty good, although he was in a bit of a state yesterday" so that she could petition for the child to be returned because he was no happier with me than with her. It didn't happen - of course - but it served to remind that they sometimes hope you fail.

It can be pretty soul-destroying watching a parent with their child. Normally Contact is held behind closed doors, but one I took a child to was between him and his dad. The dad was a huge man, 6 foot 7 and sturdy. The Contact was held outdoors, weather permitting, in a kind of stockade that looked a bit like a prisoner of war camp.

I could sit in my car and watch the whole thing. The stockade was equipped with various all-weather playthings; a sit-upon train engine, a football, that sort of thing. When the sun was out there'd be some toy boxes with dolls and model aeroplanes.

I would watch the two of them come out of the door of the Contact building into the stockade. They'd immediately move apart. Then typically this would happen; the child would walk desolately to one end of the stockade and start kicking the football against the bars. The father would stroll, hands-in-pocket over to the other end towards one of the toy boxes. He'd kneel down and start fishing around, then he'd hold one of the toys up, say a plane. Then he'd start to 'fly' it, zooming it ponderously around his head. He was playing.

I got to wondering what his childhood had been like, if he had one to speak of.

They never bonded in any way these two sad lads. They sometimes spoke to each other in short bursts across a distance, I don't know what was said, I suspect nothing nourishing for either.

I've no reason to suspect that the quality of the contact between looked-after-children and their real parents is generally any better.

But that particular insight led me to realise that although the real parents of looked-after children often have something to improve on, they too are often victims themselves. As such it's best to treat them with professional courtesy and respect.

But don't expect to get much of the same back in return.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

COLIN FOSTER, WHERE ARE YOU NOW?

Sad to learn from the news a couple of days ago that English youngsters in care are being taken in considerable numbers to homes in Scotland because they have the facilities.

The story was tucked away. I remember thinking that if it was something to do with cats or veterans it would be front page stuff, but kids

…well they don't have the vote, they don't have significant disposable income; so who cares. I'm not just blaming the news media, it's everybody. It seems to me like almost every adult has forgotten what it was like to be a child.

It's made me crosser and crosser the longer I parent, and the way fostering and me hit it off I'm going to end up parenting for the whole of my adult life.

So by the time I'm crumbling to bits I'll be mad as hell.

Look at the half-hearted way so many grown-ups try and fail to make any connection with children, if I had a pound for every time I heard;

"How old are you?" - like age is the defining issue right up front in the conversation.

Followed by;

"What do you want to do when you grow up?" - like as if the child isn't worth anything until it's an adult and can be further defined by their employment.

How come people are like this with kids? How come so many adults can't remember what it was like? (I've got a point here, let me have a rant, there's a bit of Piers Morgan in all of us).

I've been to stacks of Blue Sky training sessions with psychologists, I've read a bunch of books on how the mind works - or doesn't - from "Games People Play" by Eric Berne - 10/10 for fun, 8/10 for practical help to "Attachment" by Bowlby - 0/10 for fun, 11/10 for practical help. So I'm almost entitled to my opinion. Tell me if it's moonshine:

Most people romanticise they had a lovely childhood, but are in denial. In truth they spent their early days largely frightened, confused and pushed around by adults.

Everybody has 'triggers' - little things that bring on feelings they are hardly aware are inside them. 

Maybe…for many adults meeting children triggers dormant emotions they experienced during much of their childhood. They don't even know it happens to them, just that they get a bit thrown.

So they end up rejecting the trigger - the child. 

Anxious to move on they kill the conversation and get back to stuff with a adult - who doesn't trigger.

The point I mentioned earlier? 

It's that we need to care about children more. To be exact; the country needs more Foster Carers. 

If you're a Foster Carer like me, let people know it, and why you do it, and try to be ready to give people Blue Sky's number when they say to you (and it happens often) "I've been thinking about fostering…"

What does it take to be a Foster Carer? All sorts of things that often people don't realise they have.

I was a t school with a boy called Colin Foster. I always wondered if…nah, surely not.














Tuesday, January 21, 2020

HEAVENLY MATCH

School and fostering are sometimes uncomfortable partners in fostering.

Generally speaking most children don't want to go to school. I get that, but have to sit on it because it's our job as parents to get them there, and it's double our job as foster parents.

When I say 'I get that' I mean I get they don't want to go because I never wanted to go to school myself. Nor did any of my friends. The journey to school could be ok if you hooked up with friends and there'd always be some fun before registration. After that you think of nothing more than the next playtime, then lunchtime, then best of all the final bell and all of us pouring out into the street, free again.

I did alright at school too, got a few exam certificates. But it didn't feel like fair exchange. My own children dragged their feet every morning. Foster children find it even harder, and we sometimes find it impossible to get them there. 

Schools have their targets these days, and the easier it is to measure something the easier it is to set a lofty target and point to a number as the be all and end all of the argument.

More then once I've wanted to say to schools "Ok, you want him at your door at 8.30am every morning, how about you take your turn persuading him, see you at our house 7.00am tomorrow morning".

Getting our foster children to school can feel like you're driving a wedge between yourself and the child and that could damage the other work you need to do with them; establish trust and mutuality so you can help them move forward through a difficult time of their life.

I've made a good case plenty of times that children in care should have different attendance targets than standard pupils and I'm never convinced about the replies which include "it's important that when they are at school they are seen as no different from everyone else".

I've even been heard to say "It's more important that she keeps her act together than that she knows where Berlin is." I've even been heard to mutter "What's more important; that he doesn't become neurotic or that he can spell neurotic?"

My nadir with school and attendance was as follows;

A girl came to stay with us who justifiably had various issues, she was bullied and a bully for one.

I asked to see her head to discuss attendance, and an appointment was fixed for 9.00am. I took the girl.

We were shown to the office and sat outside, the clock struck 9.00. No head. At ten past nine she appeared and said that the school attendance officer had asked to attend the meeting and we should wait for her to arrive. She showed up at 9.25. We went into the head's office, the head sat herself at her desk, turned to the girl and said something like "The first thing we have to talk about is your problem with punctuality".

Leaving aside the fact that I had called the meeting, so should have been invited to set the agenda, or at least asked why I called the meeting, yeah…leaving that aside, where oh where on earth other than in a school head's office would someone get away with being twenty five minutes late and then chew off a person who was on time for punctuality issues.

I was so keen to get something out of the meeting that I didn't say a word, but at the bottom end of schools, that's what can happen (Ofsted failed them BTW).

Then at the other end of schools you can get this;

I was pushing a trolley round the supermarket and thought the woman browsing the veg with a teenage girl at her elbow looked familiar. She was, she was the Senco (Special Education Needs Coordinator) at one of the schools a foster child of mine had attended about six years ago. I said hello.

First thing she said to me? First question she asked? I'll tell you;

"How's Jake doing? What's his news? Is he still painting? Does he still like art?"

You know that teacher is in the right job, not surprising that school got an Excellent from Ofsted.

 So I guess school and fostering can be uncomfortable partners, it can also be a match made in heaven




Tuesday, January 07, 2020

AULD LANG SYNE

One of our fostering friends has just had a very interesting thing happen, she doesn't mind if I share it with sympathetic friends (that's you dear reader, by the way), she doesn't know I write a secret blog about fostering, but I'll make sure to be discreet.

She's an interesting recruit to fostering is Dawn. She's single, never married or had children of her own. She told me she was worried that being single and childless would stand against her when she applied to foster, but Blue Sky and local authorities take applicants on merit. Anyone who's interested should apply, no matter what your background is; they can only say no thanks at worst. It's true some people aren't suitable. I always remember hearing about the gentleman applicant who owned ten snakes, two tarantulas and had a bearded lizard running loose in his flat.

Dawn is very human, down to earth, quite well organised (she chose to box up her collection of porcelain figurines and store them safely in the attic before her first placement arrived).

I first got chatting to her at a Blue Sky support meeting one time, we had a few laughs - foster carers share a lot of dark (and light) humour - and swapped phone numbers.

I probably only see her half a dozen times a year at meetings and training sessions, although not long ago she and her new man, a lovely person called Terry, came round to ours for a curry. Long story short they ended up getting a cab home and coming back in the morning for their car. I hadn't laughed so much for a long time, all about fostering.

So Dawn texted me the morning after New Year's Eve and asked me to call her, so I did.

This is what she told me;

She and Terry (BTW he's been DBS-checked etc) are caring for a slightly frail and frightened 16 year old lad whose family has broken up badly. His dad is serving time for a repeat crime of no little violence. His mum is a chronic alcoholic and drug addict. The dad's crime was committed against the mum, the lad was in the house while it was happening.

Dawn told me the foster lad had contact meetings with his mum, usually at a MacDonalds, but that Dawn and Terry had never met her.

Now, Dawn and Terry love a family party. They don't go mad, but they both have large extended families plus friends who have boyfriends and girlfriends. So when they threw a New Year's party their house began to fill up from about 8.00pm and the guests all grouped up like guests do.

As for their foster lad; they'd discussed his attendance at the party with his Social Worker. It was agreed he should be able to circulate if he wanted to, maybe have a small bottle of beer, but he must feel free to retreat to his room if he needed to.

The place was throbbing by about 9.30pm, Dawn and Terry were making sure everyone was happy and also keeping tabs on their foster lad.

The lad was glowing! He moved easily around the party, hooked up with some of the guests who were about his generation, and seemed somehow at peace with everything.

About 11.00 Terry collared Dawn and asked her; "Is that woman one of yours?"

Dawn replied "I think I know who you mean. I thought she was one of yours."

They'd both noticed a youngish woman who seemed on her own. Terry had seen her smoke a roll-up in the garden - alone - and Dawn had noticed that she never held a glass of anything.

The woman looked a little nervous, had a piercing on her lip and some tattoos; no big deal, but none of the other guests did, at least not in the way she did.

Terry and Dawn agreed to keep a friendly eye on her.

At midnight it gets really interesting.

The countdown begins and everyone is crammed into the room with the TV. Everyone. Even the mystery loner. And the foster lad.

In fact the two of them are side by side. Then.. it's midnight! A New Year begins! Everyone's hugging in that vague hopeful way, the moment a strange combination of the celebration of life and a baptismal marking of the end of what's gone before and the beginning of new beginnings.

Then, suddenly, the foster lad is singing. Singing Auld Lang Syne. His arms crossed with the mystery woman. 

By this time Dawn and Terry have worked it out - or at least they think they have. They don't know for sure, and won't be sure even when they tell their Blue Sky Social Worker.

They're pretty sure the lad's mum did a quiet gatecrash and stayed sober just to be with her son on New Year's Eve. Probably feared that if she'd asked permission there'd be a bunch of paperwork and maybe a refusal. I doubt she'd have been told no, but scared people are cautious. So she and her son cooked up a scheme. Good for them. And good for Dawn and Terry for their vigilant but discreet monitoring.

Oh dear, now I've had to take my glasses off because some tears have gathered at the bottom of the frames.

How wonderful it can be when through all the muck and mire that life can pile on people, LOVE comes up trumps.

And how wonderful is fostering that it gives us carers so many extra moments of joy.

Friday, January 03, 2020

CHRISTMAS GIZMO

We had a great holiday thanks, hope yours was okay too. Not everyone's was.

I've talked about this before; Christmas is a hard time for chaotic families, very hard for tens of thousands of children in chaotic homes.

Carlotta is a lovely child, okay some would say she takes a moment to stay in the conversation, but she has a good heart and deserves better than she gets.

Her father left about five years ago and because her mum remains sore about him leaving, is still sticking pins in an effigy of him. So Carlotta's dad is sidelined out of her life.

Carlotta's mum hooked up with a boyfriend about two years ago, which was tricky for Carlotta obviously and also tricky for Carlotta's dad who, although it was he who did the leaving, felt resentment in case the new stepdad usurped him with 'his' former three females.

It's not known how - or even if - Carlotta's real dad pressured Carlotta or her mum or her sister to diss the stepdad (he might even have levered the stepdad man-to-man). When you've been in fostering a while you get a good gut on this stuff.

So the stepdad left. Walked out. Said nothing to the children, simply left. On the very day Carlotta  broke up for Christmas. Nice gift there big man. I believe the acronym is FFS.

What happened next?

Carlotta's mum picks her up from school and says "Kev has bogged off. You know you keep going on about a puppy?"

Carlotta agreed. 

"Well we're off to buy one!" 

And they bought one. On their way home. Total caprice, spontaneity and all that. These are the knee-jerk bad decisions that people whose lives are descending into chaos sometimes make. 

A spaniel/poodle it is. A cockerdoodledoo or something. 

And Carlotta's life is now borderline authentic chaotic.

Except this; our eldest foster child is a friend of Carlotta, they are round each others houses a lot.

See, Carlotta is not in care or any danger of it yet. My child, the one who is the rock for the other, is the one in care.

My foster child said to me: "Jeez, other people's lives", like our foster child prefers being in fostering to the alternative. Oh blimey.

The job is to get the foster child set to go home. 

But if they have a happy relaxing time with us, get to enjoy a bit of peace, not constantly hearing arguments and harsh words, what are you supposed to do, stage some unhappiness so they want home? Do me a favour.

So, yep, Christmas was happy.

Not least because aforementioned eldest foster child won the Christmas afternoon game of Scrabble, putting down "Gizmo" on a triple word.