Sunday, September 20, 2020

FOSTERING AND FOOD

So; Sunday morning quite early I was standing at the sink trying to work out how to clean out a peanut butter jar of those smears you can't get with a spoon, because I've just found out you're not supposed to put anything with food attached or even to which food has been attached (eg pizza boxes) in the recycle bin.

Complicated? Still it's for the best.

I had a kettle boiling to try to melt the stuff off, I'm standing wondering why the peanut butter people chose a jar which has an inside lip which stops you getting the last remnants of peanut butter out to smear on one last slice. I bet there's a YouTube on it. I found myself remembering that the mustard magnate Colman said that his fortune depended on the fact that over half of his mustard got put on the side of people's plates then scraped off after the meal uneaten.

Don't stings like that make you uneasy? Some things we discover are not for the best.

So I'm standing there feeling a bit, yeah, less than 50%.

Then eldest sends me a text message from his bedroom, this is eldest foster child. 

Eldest was neglected as a baby, as an infant, as a child. As Foster Carers we're trained to know that sometimes neglected children are enhanced by their neglect because they need to develop strategies earlier than children who are cared for properly. Is that theory true? Read on…

Eldest texted;

"Can I have a bacon baguette?"

See that? Not just a bacon sarnie or a bacon roll, no…a bacon baguette.

I sussed that this was because child had seen the French stick I'd bought on my Saturday shop, just for fun. But he'd had one before.

So I set to work, fished a pack of back bacon out of the fridge.

Child needs all the white fat cut off the bacon before it goes in the pan, and while it's cooking I have to be standing by with kitchen roll to dab off any blobs of white stuff that bubble up on the bacon which I told him were just water (I hope they are), but child still insists on zero white stuff.

While the bacon is cooking I slice the baguette lengthways into two separate pieces (child doesn't want hinged baguette, says they are hard to close without stuff spilling).

Eldest, estimating the time the bacon baguette will take to be ready, arrives in the kitchen two minutes early and says;

"And can it be a BLT?"

I replied yes. Then he said;

"Is the lettuce an Iceberg?"

I replied that it wasn't. I said that I'd had to chuck the last of the Iceberg last night as what was left of it was going brown. So he asked how I was going to come up with a BLT. I said;

"There's a couple of little gem lettuces in the fridge. He said;

"Little gem? Are they like Icebergs?"

I replied that frankly, lettuce is lettuce. A bag of water for 90 pence yeah?

"Wrong!" he said. "Some lettuce is more…"

I waited. Silence. Then I said;

"More what?"

And he replied;

"More…profound."

Gobsmacked by this insight I stuttered;

"Profound?"

"Yes!" he said, "Deeper, stronger, more…lettucey."

"And you don't want that."

"No"

So I ended up trimming off the darker green flowery ends of the little gem so all he had were the crunchy white stalks and the insipid pale yellow part of the leaves that mimicked the Iceberg.

He took the creation up to his room. 

A couple of hours later he brought his plate down. Which, by the way, was big. It was like;

"You did the work on the baguette = I bring the plate down."

By which time I still hadn't fathomed the peanut butter jar problem.

But I'd had another reminder why I love this fostering thing.

Catch a niff?


Thursday, September 10, 2020

SHIPS THAT PASS IN THE NIGHT

She came to us at very little notice...it was either our house or she'd have to sleep in a police cell, would you believe, aged seven.

I have never found the police to be anything other than fantastic when they are involved in helping children. All the same our spare bed was better than a night in a police station, with who knows yelling what in the next 'suite'.

My phone had rung at about 11.30pm, it was the emergency officer at the local authority. I didn't know the young social worker but she seemed to know me, she said;

"It might only be for one night Mrs ******, we'll do the placement process in the morning. Do you want me to call Blue Sky and let them know?" 

Blue Sky are 24/7, but whichever Blue Sky person is on duty might as well slumber on, all was well. I sent them a text message.

The main thing is to get the child a roof over their head, a full tummy and a warm bed. We can do the paperwork when offices open.

The police car was outside our house not ten minutes later. The officer's had got the go-ahead from the local authority and brought the little girl up our path. Two officers, one male one female, both being so soft and gentle it made the heart glow.

They handed her over, she was feigning being asleep or semi-conscious, so I took her straight upstairs and got her into bed. Her name was Rachael. She had nothing apart from her T shirt and leggings. Bare feet, cold hands. The officers had put a few bits of clothing in a carrier bag. She didn't want anything to eat. I tucked her in and said some kind words.

I dashed downstairs to catch the officers and see what they could tell me about what had happened, but they'd told my husband everything they knew so they left and the two of us had a cup of tea and he filled me in.

There'd been a 'five fencer' and the police were called. A 'five fencer' is a domestic that can be heard five houses away. 

The police turned up to find a rolling conflict between several adults. Two or three of them scarpered when the blue lights arrived. This was on an estate not far from us which has a reputation, probably well earned, for upheaval. 

The first police unit called for backup as they were outnumbered and in the meantime started de-escalation. They told my husband they suspected from the off that all of the adults were affected by alcohol and probably by substance abuse. The officers spent the time until their colleagues arrived smiling and agreeing with every outrageous accusation that was put to them, calming things down.

The adults were asked if anyone else was in the house. One of them said something about a niece but that she was 'someone else's problem'. One of the officers carried out a house check, looking in every room and calling out. Nothing. 

Two adults were handcuffed and put in a car, their arrest being on the basis that blood had been spilled and that those whose blood had been spilled were more likely to be the victims, so an ambulance was called for them. 

You could see what the officers were doing; they had to move things on. They couldn't spend all night piecing together events in search of the truth, not with a bunch of angry inebriates. So; two to the cells, two to A+E, a third adult who apparently was not the worse for wear, went with the 'victims' in the ambulance to support them.

At that point the original two officers were left with an open house, lights blazing, TV blaring. They went in to make the house safe, and one of them did a final sweep of the house. 

Upstairs, under a pile of rank old clothes and a soiled single duvet, she found a cowering trembling little girl, Rachael.

Imagine. Imagine what Rachael had gone through that night. Actually probably not much different from most nights of her life. 

She stayed for two nights, didn't go to school, just in recovery. I gave her every ounce of love and empathy I could but I don't think anything got through. It takes a lot longer. Social services tracked down her mother's sister who they said was on the straight and narrow and would look after Rachel until things sorted themselves out, whether they did or not I don't get to know.

You never forget any of the children who come to you for foster care, no matter how short the time they're with you. You remember everything about them, with hope and optimism. 

These little ships that pass in the night.




Saturday, September 05, 2020

MUMS AND DADS

When a young person comes into your home to live, their thoughts about their real parents are so very important to the whole exercise.

Fostered children have difficult perceptions about their parents, most will always struggle thinking about  their mum and dad.

Who doesn't sometimes?

A few years ago, after my dad died, I found a photo of him I liked. He was a young man of 29 sat astride a big motor bike. I had the photo blown up and took it to a framing shop to get it made up. The young man in the shop looked at the photo and went;

"Wow!"

I said;

"Yeah, that's my dad."

He went;

"It's a BSA isn't it?"

He studied the pic with ferocious intent.

"Yeah definitely a BSA, I think."

I said I didn't know, and added; 

"It's my dad."

He said;

"Cowling is the key, I'll get the magnifier."

He did. My dad was indeed sitting on a BSA. This interested the man no end.

"I think it's a 350." he said, adding "Wow."

I said;

"My dad motorbiked across Europe on it after the war. He rode it all the way to East Germany and tried to defect to the Soviet Union."

The man didn't reply, he was trying to read the number on the bike's petrol tank. I went on;

"My dad was very idealistic. He believed that communism was best for a fair and peaceful world."

The man replied;

"The first number looks like a '3', so It's probably a 350."

I continued;

"Of course back then we didn't know about the terrible things Stalin was doing to his own people. Good job they didn't let him in, or else he'd probably have ended up in a Gulag. And I wouldn't be here."

The young man ended the 'chat' by saying;

"They don't make 'em like that any more."

He framed it for me and it's hanging in the kitchen. I often look at it and remember my dad.

I also remember the young man, who had such an impossible task getting his heart to wake up to the concept of 'dad'. Why was he deaf to the word 'dad'?  It was worse than deaf, it was almost a dead word to him. Why did the person in the picture mean nothing to him compared to the machine?

I expect his relationship with his dad was what we call 'normal'; probably fair to average. I doubt he'd been taken into care or anything drastic, but it reminds me how difficult it must be for fostered children to think about their parents - if a 'normal' lad struggles to picture someone else's dad but instead displaces the concept in his head with motor bikes.

Bottom line for me in fostering is this; I never, ever ask. If they mention their folks I'm happy to go along but what we talk about and how we talk is in their control.

Even so it's a fair bet there'll be some anger shortly afterwards...



Thursday, August 27, 2020

A LEVELS AND FOSTER CHILDREN

There's this flippin' TV ritual every summer, happens about halfway through the school holidays. As a foster mum  it's started to get my goat.

Happens every summer, usually a Thursday, 6.00am. A level results come out. Breakfast TV sends cameras and reporters to schools for pictures of delighted kids, proud parents. By lunchtime it's still a 'hot' story because the 'experts' have crunched the numbers find an issue, maybe; this years results are up (they always seem to be) and by how much (not a lot, usually). Whatever, they transmit plenty of footage of well-to-do kids (sorry, they always are) all excited about their results.

The results are still the big story come the evening news with an "Education Correspondent" on hand to 'analyse' things. More shots of well-groomed kids all ga-ga  about their results.

The following morning's newspapers carry 'news' of the exam results in the form of opinion columnists along the lines of 'are our exams getting soft' or some other stirring up of things. And images of ecstatic kids, who've done good

What gets my goat? It's that the whole reporting buys into the shaky presumption that good A level results=your choice of Uni=a good degree=a good job=lifelong security and … happiness.

That's why A Level result day is TV pictures of squealing kids opening envelopes and jumping with glee, lads sagely reflecting on a future with British Steel then a proud parent steps into the shot to hug and kiss and imply their everyone's dream has come true. 

I used to do a bit of journalism; the "A Level Results day" news story is a sacred one for newsrooms for two reasons; One, there's not much else going on in August. Two; the 'news' is selected and served up by journalists; people who themselves have A levels, people who remember their A levels and have children or family who are going to sit, have just sat, or recently sat A levels. It's a big deal for them personally so they reckon the rest of us are similarly wrapped up in them. Plus they can spin it as a 'positive' news story (did TV ever show a kid look at the bit of paper and fill up saying they blew it?)

I'm not impressed because my foster kids aren't bothered, in fact the exact opposite.

The succession of shiny kids from comfy homes with supportive  parents is great. Good luck to them; though they need less luck than the rest. It's galling for the kids who got no start in life and find the gap between themselves and the fortunate ones already too big to close. 

The kids in care.

Where's the coverage of them and their crossroads in life? The kids who have no exams, no tag onto life because their home life was rubbish? Not ever in the news. Tucked away in 'documentaries' scheduled against Eastenders and Coronation St.

Where's the reporters outside their door going; 

"Well done for staying out of jail this year."

The proud parent saying "Yeah she done really good, so proud of her for staying off drugs and looking after her gran."

Which is often a bigger achievement than an A level B grade…





Tuesday, August 25, 2020

FOSTER CHILDREN AND THEIR MUM

He was worried about his mum. He didn't come to me and say 'I'm worried about my mum', you have to work these things out for yourself.

He was late home after going out to see friends. The late thing was no big deal, worth a word but he barked back;

"Fer f's sake, gimme a break!"

You never know what's boiling up in foster children, nor do they generally.

I could have said something like;

"Don't talk to me like that!"

or:

"Language!"

Stupid to go there, so I went something like;

"Alright fella, sort yourself out, I can warm up your dinner, about half an hour?"

He'd been knocking round with a bunch of mates, hanging round places like the high street War Memorial - not many other places to go at his age - then getting an invite to go to the house of one of the gang and hang.

The mum was in the house.

He talked to me about her when dinner was done.

"Yeah," he said, "She was cool. She made us some sandwiches and juice. When she went out to the kitchen we made some jokes about how she was like y'know and, yeah, one of us was inappropriate, not me."

We talked for half an hour, it's the heart of fostering. 

He knew that his mum was somehow not right about men and so males talking in a certain way about females made him feel uncomfortable, but not in a way he understood.

The thing was this; I knew there was no way that in the short space of talking about how he felt about his friends talking about mums the conversation was going to nail anything for him. But it could be a start, so I kind of said;

"Complicated, sons and their mums."

He got up and walked upstairs, saying; ".."

What I mean by the above is he said nothing, but the way he shifted his chair behind him and buried his hands in the pockets…those things were enough.

I knew from his background notes that his mother was all over the place; drink, drugs, theft, dubious men - she was vulnerable, sadly, but also something of a danger to her children. 

He had every right to resent her for her failings as a mother. Especially whejn he saw another person's mum being okay.

But he loved her and wanted to be with her to protect her; it's a common trait in fostered children and one which we carers find a bit frustrating...at first.

Then we come to see how wonderful it is, how empowering and uplifting.

He even got upset when a mate of his said something bad about another mate's mum, that was the thing.

A while later I reminded him that his mum is okay and that if she had any problems he'd be the first to know.





Saturday, August 15, 2020

COUNTING SHEEP

Some people in fostering stick in the mind. I'm often reminded of one particular foster dad I met a while ago at a support meeting. Blue Sky set these sessions up and a Blue Sky person or two are in attendance but tend to take a back seat and let us foster parents sound off. They hop into the conversation as and when we need a professional steer or a top-up of facts or information.

This dad was nearing retirement age but quite new to fostering. He started talking about the child he was looking after. I think it was his second placement, the first one had been just for a few days. He had previously worked in the NHS, some kind of nurse. 

He was a man who sat arms crossed, chin on chest, talking out loud and not taking anyone's eye. He spoke softly and you could tell that a joke or maybe a gentle twinkle of insight was never far away.

The reason I often think of him is because he said;

"I'm  no stranger to night work. Hospitals don't know night from day so you feel ready for a kip at 2.00 o'clock whether it's 2.00am or 2.00pm. Back when I was  a squaddie I stood sentry through the night in Berlin, first line of defence against the Red menace. That was all nothing compared to fostering this lad. I can go weeks of thinking I've not had a good night's sleep."

He made a good point. When a new carer starts in fostering they often find it hard to get into a deep sleep, what with a largely unknown child in the spare room. Hardly surprising. 

Whenever a new child arrives we make sure they know where we sleep and that it's ok to tap on our door if they wake up frightened, that helps them sleep.

We also make sure the front and back doors are all locked; we've never had anyone wander off but worth being sure. I also keep their bedroom door ajar, even the older ones are fine with that, and the landing light on too. 

I find myself waking up at odd times and instead of turning over and going back I lie there listening, sometimes even get up and sneak a peek into their room to make sure they're okay.

One night I remember well, way back, I couldn't get back to sleep, it was about 4.00am.

I slipped out of bed, put my dressing gown on over my fostering sleep-clothes (track suit bottoms and a tee shirt) sneaked a peek at the sleeping child and went downstairs and boiled the kettle.

Five minutes later, sitting at the kitchen table, I heard the creak of the stairs. It was the child, looking tousled from sleep but plainly, VERY plainly, delighted that someone else was awake and they weren't alone.

I fetched her a bowl of Shreddies and we sat and talked - it was one of those great talks between foster mum and child. No holds barred, everything on the table, honesty was all.

She had been in the process of coming over to us; there comes a passage of time when a foster child feels themselves able to give some sort of commitment to their fostering. It shows in different ways, sometimes a decision to call me 'Mum", taking sides with either me or my husband in an argument about nothing, buying something to enhance their bedroom such as a poster.

This child crossed the bridge that night/morning, I slept better too.

Of course, we all made sure she was ready to cross back to her real family when the time came, which it did.

And a new foster child was with us not long after. 

Back to waking up every couple of hours...









Sunday, August 09, 2020

CONTACT JOY

So we had a strange 'contact' meeting between eldest foster child and a couple of members of his real family.

We had to do it outdoors, so we met up in a park. 

We had to keep our distance so we laid out cushions on blankets 2 metres apart.

We brought some snacks, still in their wrappers, which we sprayed with anti-bacteria and wiped dry as we handed them round.

Sounds like a nightmare? Yes, but it wasn't. It was delightful. 

Much better than normal contact meetings. Normal contact meetings between 'children in care and their significant others' are just as sterile as they sound, described like that…

They happen in contact centres which are either designated buildings or rented spaces with token chairs and used toys and posters blue tacked to the wall informing about the services that social services offer. Or else they get jazzed up by happening at a 'fun' venue such as one of those places with thousands of balls you can dive into.

One way or the other, contacts are artificial. The participants often feel singled out as different from everyone else; because only children in care have 'contact'.

Our meet-up in the park was gloriously the same as everyone else. We didn't stand out at all. No-one would have guessed it was anything other than an extended family having fun and behaving responsibly. I've never heard a better natter between a foster child and his elder sister, they bonded better than I ever thought possible;

"Heard from mum?"

"Nothing. Does anyone know where she is?"

"Nah, you know what she's like."

"I kind of hope she's alright."

"Yeah, I suppose. You alright?"

"Yeah not bad. How's school?"

"Good. I like working at home. How's work?"

"Good thanks, except I have to work every other weekend.."

And so on and so on. Beautiful. 

Then we played a socially distanced game of cricket. Brilliant.

When we got home eldest foster child was happy as could be.

The pandemic is dreadful, spreading death and illness, fear and mistrust. 

All I'm saying is that our last contact was one of the best ever, should be a blueprint for a happier healthier future.





Tuesday, July 28, 2020

LIFE'S PURPOSE

Wow the pandemic is causing waves in every direction including us fosterers.

I had to go to my doctors with my new persistent backache; I thought it might be kidney stones - I've had them before so I know what they feel like.

She said it was probably just a muscle spasm or a rip or the like.

She asked me how were things, what was going on at home. I reminded her I fostered.

"Ah," she said "Enough said."

I asked;

"I suppose you have a few other foster carers on your books. How are they doing?"

Her reply was interesting;

"Well they seem to be doing better than most."

Me:

"Really? How come?"

She explained that GPs up and down the country are starting to get waves of patients coming to see them suffering from the mental effects of the pandemic. She said it seemed to be turning into a big problem particularly for people stuck at home with time on their hands.

"Some people are experiencing too much 'think-time'. They pace around the house, go to the shop where everyone is dressed like a bank robber and can't talk to anyone. They miss people."

She went on to say that perhaps people who foster have got plenty on their plate and are too busy to start listening to their own thoughts all day. 

"People's thoughts turn to death and disease and their loneliness. If they go out everyone seems to look hostile. Pedestrians give everyone a wide berth with a look of suspicion. All you can see in the supermarket are shoppers' eyes and they seem to dart around menacingly."

I saw the point; in a typical day I don't get more a than 5 minutes here or there to think. If I'm lucky I have a Houseparty half-hour with the same couple of friends on my iPad. I've got a Blue Sky long distance training session tomorrow, my social worker is coming the following Monday. Every day I've five different breakfasts to make at different times of the morning (and sometimes the afternoon…). Each meal is a battleground; this morning it was over butter v margarine because eldest FC (Foster Child) didn't know they were different and ended up at my throat because he decided after I'd used butter on his toast that he preferred Flora "Because it's vegan" even though the other components of this breakfast was bacon and scrambled eggs, go figure...

Then my doctor said;

"We have patients coming in with depression and anxiety and we have things we can do for them, mainly medication and counselling.  But we also have patients who are questioning the very point of their existence. They feel their lives are on enforced hold thank to the pandemic, but they also question if their lives were on hold anyway - before the pandemic."

Fostering keeps you busy.

It also gives your life a clear and burning purpose.




Tuesday, July 21, 2020

SOCIAL WORKERS

We've had fantastic support from our social workers at Blue Sky through this pandemic.

Really, I'm not exaggerating, I won't embarrass the person - in any case I've every reason to believe that her level of support goes across the board for all Blue Sky Foster Carers.

When I talk to friends and family who are dealing with the whole thing on their own; dealing with lockdown, hand-washing, social distancing, masks, and anti-bac wipes I realise how lucky we are to have professional help and support.

Every time we turn on the TV, pick up a newspaper, log onto our favourite news feeds it's all about pandemic fears and dangers.

The absence of certainty about how long it will go on, the concern it may come back bigger and worse, the awful prospect that we may be living with it for…

I'm not going to finish the above sentence it's too awful.

It's easy to think we're all of us in the same boat, right across the planet, but we're not. The vast majority of us are taking it seriously and doing our best, but there seems to be a thick wedge of people who are simply too ignorant to try to get their heads around what's going on. I took a train this week and was shocked at the number of groups who were trying loudly to attract attention to the fact they weren't wearing masks. 

Then there are the people who are letting it get to them so much their mental health is in danger. You see them in the street and the supermarket, mostly the vulnerable, their eyes darting in terror and anger at everyone.

Both these groups have no professional help. They are reliant on Donald Trump and their own inner voices for advice.

Not so for people who foster.

Example;

Our social worker arrived at our house for 'supervision'. We chatted, socially distancing, wearing masks. She said how excited she was going to be wearing a mask, it would be fun. She always starts with "How are you?" - only she means it; it's not a polite extension of "Hello". She wants to know how I am.  And it's no good doing a lazy "Oh fine thanks". Stupid she's not, No-one's absolutely fine, especially not at the moment.

She makes me stop and actually think about how I am. Then I tell her. Then she goes to work to help us both get 'how I am' in perspective. 

I told her I was in a bit of discomfort with a bout of renal colic (aka kidney stones). 

Instead of doing what so many people do when you tell them you've got a bit of gyp "Ooo my grandad had those" or "Yes my rheumatism's bad, is it the weather?" She said:

"Oh no! What happened?"

I told her I'd had them before, after I ran a 10k years ago. A couple of weeks back I decided to get in shape so I started a bit of mild jogging combined with drinking 8 pints of water a day. The result was that one or a few little pesky crystals jiggled free of my kidneys and set off towards my bladder, scraping and jagging my tubes.

We chatted away about it, the focus on me and my aches.

When she left I felt 500% better that someone had cared. Her chat helped me get a stronger perception and understanding of my discomfort. 

Two days later I got a text;

"How are you? Any better? I could tell you were in a bit of discomfort but you were putting on a brave face, like you always do. No-one else would have guessed but then again not many people know you as well as I do. So pleased the fostering is going more ups than downs. You do a fantastic job, as I'm always telling you.
PS If you don't book that weekend break for the two of you I'll do it for you! Don't worry about the children we'll sort them out."

If you haven't got anyone like that in your life at the moment - I'm talking about a professional aide - it's because you're not in fostering.

Yet…?

Monday, July 13, 2020

HOW TO COMMUNICATE WITH A FOSTER CHILD

Middle foster child is supposed to be moving up to secondary school in about six weeks, whether he does or not depends on the pandemic.

Maybe I've been lucky, but foster children seem to cope with the transition better than most, maybe upheaval comes naturally to them.

I've made a discovery worth sharing; it's this; today's generation of teens, the ones my generation tends to think are irresponsible on social media, communicate better with parents and teachers on Whats App/text/Twitter et al than face to face.

When I say 'better' I mean they are more open and more polite. More 'open' to a proper conversation, more 'polite'... speaks for itself.

I noticed it first way back when mobile phones were little more than phones plus texting.

We had a foster daughter who was big and blunt, the best you could get out of her by way of chat was a grimace and a grunt. She hated school and it was a struggle to get her there. One day she had an important exam, I got her there in time for it but when I got home found myself frantic that she'd a) stay there b) do the exam c) avoid causing an incident.

The conversation between us in the car to school had been;

Me: "I'm sure you'll do fine."
Her: silence
Me: "I said, I'm sure you'll.."
Her: "I 'eard! FFssake.."

The exam was set for 9.00am. I was going spare wondering; so when it was morning break at her school I texted her:

Me: "All ok?"
She replied immediately; 
Her: "Yeah. It wasn't so bad actually. I answered about three quarters really well, there was one question I didn't have a clue about but you expect that."

It took me a moment to conquer my suspicion that she had paid someone to write her texts, like pop stars and footballers do. I went;

Me: "Oh good. Are you staying for the day or do you need a lift now?"
Her: "Actually I've got a free until lunch then Art which I like. I might skip Science but Greg's in that class and he's like, y'know, fit."
Me: "OK"

More than "OK" of course, I was totally made up! 

And it's the same only more so with middle foster child. His phone enables him to communicate with me in ways his mouth simply does not. 

Here's one from last week; he's upstairs on his PC. I texted;;

Me: "Tea about five. Do you want Mascarpone and penne or a Cornish pasty and chips?"
Him: "I'm not hungry yet, I can wait until dad gets home and we can eat watching the end of The Winter Soldier."
Me; "Fine. We're having baked potato, you're not keen on them."
Him: "Cover it in beans and yeah."
Me: "Want an apple to hold you?"
Him; "Nah, I'm not religious."

Put simply, that exchange simply WOULD NOT HAVE HAPPENED AT ALL FACE-TO-FACE.

Not at all. So. How come?

Maybe it's to do with not seeing my face, hearing my voice, not being able to notice anything judgemental coming off me? I don't know.

Maybe it has to do with them seeing in black-and-white what they are about to say written down on a phone screen and know that they might have to stand by it. Once they press 'send' their words are set in stone for ever, a stray bit of bad language or snide remark doesn't disappear into thin air.

I still use speech and all it's add-ons with him. But I get the best off his phone.

And come secondary school I'll get more text chats; he's going to be travelling to and from  school by himself and he'll welcome me pinging messages at break times and lunchtime because a pinging phone makes the owner look in demand. His peers don't have to know it's his mum.

Or even more embarrassing, his foster mum.









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.