Thursday, August 27, 2020


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


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!"



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 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


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


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.