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.