Tuesday, April 20, 2021

THE INTERNET? IT'S FANTASTIC!

 Children coming into care nowadays come into a home which contains an additional unseen foster parent. If the foster parents are partners there are three foster parents in the home. If the carer is single there are two parents in the home.

The add-on parent figure is the internet. 

By 'parent figure' I mean influencer, a term that used to be 'role model' in the good old days.

The internet has become a surrogate adult role figure. Back when I was little the potential surrogate parent figure was our favourite teacher, or maybe a TV figure or a pop star.

Not long ago a child's underdstanding of adults other than their mum and dad was limited to a small group of grown-up outsiders, but now they can hand-pick from millions of potential role models. Or, if you're not careful, be hand-picked.

On the whole, although ocassional problems happen, it's a great thing.

They can watch and listen to adults from all walks of life and find out who they like. Perhaps more important they can choose friends from any number of people of their own age.

One of my current trio of foster kids is a very particular child, someone who would have struggled to find a friendship group if the child's choice had been confined to schoolmates, neighbouring children or children of family members. That algorhythm was the total extent of potential friends for all children until recently.

Now, they have a world-full, but how do they pick and choose?

Easy, the internet narrows it down for them, narrows it down for all of us, actually.

It brings people with similarites together. Some folk will rush to the negative there, and there are potentiual pitfalls. But the positives don't get enough reporting, maybe because the positives don't result in headline-grabbing misdemeanors such as the Washington riots, they result in happy contented young people, relieved that they aren't the only one with that viewpoint, those likes and dislikes or that problem, whatever it might be.

Five years ago, on this blog, I posted a piece entitled "The Noise of.." about how us foster parents have to be half awake through the night especially when a foster child is anxious.

In the post I mentioned that I had begun using honey instead of sugar in my early morning cup of tea.

Five years later - three hours ago - I got this response, proving that the internet's trawling of information and it's dedication to bring people with what it thinks is shared interest is alive and well, if sometimes off key.

Awaiting moderation

Agriculture commented on "THE NOISE OF FOSTERING"

3 hours ago
Beekeeping (or apiculture) is the maintenance of bee colonies, commonlyin man-made hives, by humans. Most such bees are honey bee hive in the genus Apis, but other honey-producing bees such as Melipona stingless bees are also kept.



Monday, April 12, 2021

THE FULL ENGLISH

 Middle child not feeling too well come mid-morning, or maybe just a case of needing a metaphorical hug, so I got child settled on the sofa, under a duvet, and watching cartoons. Child had only nibbled at a bit of toast for breakfast, so I offered a full English, child bit my hand off;

"Oooo pleeeeease!"

"Full English". Aka "A Fry Up". Not to be confused with the "Ulster Fry" which the Northern Irish consider superior, but which is in fact exactly the same, so it is indeed to be confused. A "Full English" consists of anything that can be fried in a frying pan (a skillet to Americans). So. It can be bacon and eggs, sausages, baked beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, fried bread. If you like your hash browns, which Americans do, go for 'em. Some like black pudding (blood pudding to Americans) that's ok too. 

Not all of the above items at once, just any four or five of them.

So. To work.

Anyone who's watched "Four In A Bed" - a UK TV competition show about bed and breakfast (B+B) businesses where they take it in turns to cook each other breakfast - anyone who's watched that show knows the palaver of cooking a full English, only for hyper-critical B+Bers to tear each other's plateloads apart.

Well the whinging criticism of those 'professional' moaners would not amount to a hill of beans compared to how much criticism you'll get from a looked after if it's less than absolutely yea. Every detail and intricacy goes into the cooking of a full English for a looked-after child if you care.

And care we do…and I love it.

Preparation; all the ingredients out of the fridge first. Oven turned on to warm, put a plate in.

First, the bacon: Two rashers of unsmoked back with every single tiny bit of white fat removed. It goes into a frying pan which has been glazed with as little vegetable oil as can be coaxed across the surface, on a moderate to low heat so that the bacon doesn't get ahead of the rest.

Second….aaaaggghhh! I go to the larder and remember that I used up our last tin of baked beans on the jacket potatoes two nights ago. Go to plan B…

Second becomes... chips! Fries to be precise. They're such a crowd pleaser the child might not notice the lack of beans. The joy and decadence of French fries of a mid-morning is up there with Barack Obama's secret morning cigarette in the White House. To tart them up to their very best I shallow fry them in vegetable oil to get them that bit crispy - you don't get crisp if you oven bake them, you get floppy.

Third, a small tomato cut in half across its equator and lowered flat side down onto the pan next to the bacon.

Fourth; the acid test. The fried egg. I saw on TV Raymond Blanc telling the camera that if he was auditioning chefs for one of his restaurants he'd ask them to fry an egg. Some did it with a cavalier flourish, y'know, breaking the egg with one hand, all that flashy stuff. Then swirling it out onto the plate. They didn't get hired. Raymond "Voila" Blanc hired the kid who inspected each egg in its shell, who tested the heat of the oil by holding his hand above it and so on.

Same care goes into frying an egg for a looked after.

I use a separate frying pan with vegetable oil about the depth of the thickness of two pound coins. Then add the egg from as low a height as possible. Next is the tricky bit; getting the yolk to set in the exact centre of the white, it means waiting 'til the white has begun to set and lifting the pan and angling it so the yolk moves where you want it but the white stays still.

Gentle heat for the egg too. The fries are done, out they come, pat the oil off with kitchen roll, wrap loosely in foil and into the warm oven.

The bacon is coming on. Flip and, using same sheet of kitchen roll to gently wipe off the unappetising white stuff. I'm told it's only water, but no self-respecting looked after child would do anything but turn up their nose, quite right too.

Flip the tomato halves.

The egg is done underneath, the yolk still uncooked. Spoon some hot oil that had fried the chips onto the yolk to speed it up.  Using spatula, trim off the thin egg white that always oozes outsideways making a funny shape. Fried egg now done and perfect shape.

Time to plate up. This bit is critical.

First the egg, carefully tranferred so it lies across one quarter of the warm plate. Then the fries so they lie parallel to each other and opposite the egg. The two rashers of bacon go on next, slightly overlapping at a corner like a pair of playing cards, then the tomato, flat sides up.

Seasoning. Vinegar first, on the fries. Then salt on the toms and the fries (it is a cardinal sin of sins to put the salt on chips first, the arrival of vinegar washes it off).

A clean and polished knife (one with serrations to make it easier to cut the bacon) and fork…and we're nearly there.

All but for the final, and really, really important bit.

A helping of tomato sauce. 

The reason it's so important is not it's brand, which helps, nor that the helping is the right size (about 3/4 of a tablespoon). No, the importance lies in finding the right…

…location on the plate.

Quick story; when the first computer was flown to the UK from the USA it jammed and they had to fly an expert over from New York to see what was wrong. He took a look at the computer, which was the size of a removal truck, and asked for a piece of chalk. He drew a cross on the side of the computer and said "That's where your problem is". They opened it up and he was right. As he headed back to the airport they reminded him to send them an invoice. When the invoice arrived it was for…$10,000 dollars! They deciced to ask him to itemise his bill and he sent them the following; "To drawing a cross on the side of the computer: $1. To knowing where to draw the cross: $9,999."

Well it's just as big a deal to get the placing of the dollop of ketchup in the right spot. Some use the intuition of the Force. Not me. The tomato sauce goes on the edge of the plate with the chips on one side and the bacon on the other. These are the two items on the plate that need ketchup. The egg has its own moisture in the runniness of the perfectly fried yolk. And tomatoes don't need tomato sauce, obviously.

This done I take it in, and over the din of Homer Simpson I get a genuine "Thanks".

Not only that, when I'm not looking, the child clears up the plate and cutlery and leaves them in the sink. Result!

And. Not only that, there's more. Later same day the child has a wobbly about a Microsoft Account disabling itself on his PC which affects his school work. I keep my cool and we work out a solution based on the fact it's a shared account with the school so the problem probably originates at their end.

I get a text from child about an hour later saying problem solved.

Also saying the most beautiful word I've ever, ever seen on a phone screen.

He ended the message with a word the child has never, never used before; One word;

"Sorry".

Did the sorry have anything to do with the meticulously cooked full English? I reckon maybe it was in there. But most of all, the child is heading in the right direction.

And that means the world in fostering.

That...and a meticulously fried fry-up.




Saturday, April 10, 2021

COKE ISN'T ALWAYS COKE...

 Kennard was eleven when he came to us. In fostering you normally don't know how long you'll have a child for, or what you're going to get in return for your efforts.

You try to give something to the children and somehow they give something back, however long or short their stay.

In our home we work on the basis the placement might be for a long time, but always we're working towards getting them ready to go home. It's a what they call a dichotomy right there I suppose, but in practical terms it goes like this;

The instant they walk through our door and into our home for the first time they are family.

And we care about them so much that we want to help them go away; to their real home.

Yeah, it's a weird one, but no-one in fostering will tell you fostering is a straightforward thing.

So; Kennard…

 Eleven years old. Mum white British, Dad second generation Caribbean. I'm quoting the information we got at the time, if in a hundred years from now someone reads this and thinks I'm somehow out of order even saying it, it's how it was back in 2021.

Kennard's dad is in prison. Kennard loves and worships his dad. Kennard's mum is a wreck. Kennard loves and worships his mum.

So you have a situation in your own home like this; it's teatime and you sit down with your partner and your own kids and a foster child. The foster child is shy and quiet at first but soon discovers that he has a credential; he's more world-wise than anyone else at the table. When I say 'world-wise' I guess I mean 'street-wise'.

The foster child's version of the "my dad is tougher than your dad" thing is more like "my dad knows more about crack than your dad".

Yet Kennard was never more buzzed up than by the fact we kept cans of fizzy drinks in the fridge that they had to ask for…but we usually said yes. Fanta was Kennard's big one, we also kept a few tins of Coca Cola.

So. You find yourself at your own dining table with your own children listening to an eleven year old who you have never heard of until a week ago explaining to everyone how you cook up a batch. Or something like that. I wasn't really listening I was wondering what effect Kennard's world weariness would have on our kids, my partner and me.

Make no mistake, this is what fostering sometimes brings into your home; the stark reality of an existence you've striven to protect yourself and your loved ones from.

But. Life is a two way street. Kennard left us after nine weeks. His mum had sobered up enough and the person in her life who was a danger to Kennard had got the message.

Kennard left us having learned how to bake brownies and loving Spongebob Squarepants more than .. oh I won't bother you with the TV he'd been milked on. 

Kennard left us having picked up some tinges of normalcy. I wouldn't claim he had a song in his heart, I wouldn't be at all surprised if he's behind bars or even underground. 

But Kennard asked if he could keep the Teddy Bear we gave him on his first night.

Well, to be precise, he nicked it.

And in return, my family all know where to go to score coke...and how to make a snowball.

Exchange is no robbery...




Tuesday, April 06, 2021

HOW WOULD IT FEEL TO BE TAKEN INTO CARE?

 What must it be like for a child on day one of being taken into care?

If we foster parents can feel something of the shock-horror they have to deal with it'll be a big help to our fostering.

Every child is so different, so utterly unique. Each experience is subtly different in so many ways it's not easy to think of many features of their experience that are consistent. But there are a few things that are almost ever-present;

1. They didn't see it coming.

2. When it happens it happens fast - at least in their perception.

3. They have an awful feeling that the erupting events are maybe their fault.

4. They know nothing - or next to nothing - about where they are being taken.

5. So much fear...

I've found that the chidren who have come into my care never volunteer anything about the day they were removed, and I always respect their privacy over the event; my Blue Sky Social Workers tell me what they can.

One child who came to us, Marianne, was out of the house when the visit happened. The Social Worker had to sit with the child's mother - the father was off the scene - and await Marianne's return. The mother had no idea the child was out of the house, much less where she was or when she would return.

Social Workers are respectful of each famiy member whatever their concerns about the harm they may be responsible for, so for example, Marianne's Social Worker informed me that Marianne 'may have been witness to drug abuse', rather than say;

"The mum didn't make so much as a cup of tea for herself but kept having to nip to the loo and come back all trippy…" 

THEY DIDN'T SEE IT COMING. 

So for Marianne it came out of the blue. No matter how miserable their lives may be, no matter how much fear or pain or deprivation a child is experiencing, their home is their home and the familiarity of the people in it and the conditions of it give them some kind of comfort. 

They think their lives are about the same as every other child.

Children taken into care almost always have no idea that the investigations that Social Workers undertake could end in a Care Order, even if they know that some strangers have visited. They know nothing of the decision-making process which each case is subjected to, and the gravity that embraces each stage of the process. 

WHEN IT HAPPENS IT HAPPENS FAST

As far as Marianne was aware; she was out hanging with freinds, came home, walked through the door and next thing was in a car heading for our house.

When the professionals conclude that a child is at risk they can't set a date in the future to prepare the child and the family. Once a risk has been declared it's all systems go. Imagine if they ruled a child was at risk and decided to remove the child in a week's time? Delays can occur in search of the best foster home or for other reasons, but the need to act swiftly is high on the list.

So; often the first whiff the child gets that their world is turning upside down is the arrival of the one or more Social Workers tasked with the harrowing job of removing the child or children. There's usually a scene, but a bag is packed and the child says some sort of goodbyes.

Imagine.

Don't imagine too hard, you'll feel unwell, I just did, just then. Have felt sick often thinking about it.

THEY HAVE A FEELING IT'S THEIR FAULT

Marianne needed coaxing out of from the terrible notion that her waywardness had led to her being separated from her mother and 'family' of various adults who were in and out of the house. She felt a massive guilt, which would have enveloped her in the car as she was driven away. In truth it never left her, just softened a bit. But when she walked through our door and into our lives she was consumed, utterly eaten alive, by the rock-solid confirmation that she was a bad person, the worst person.

Children taken into care are usually comparatively compliant to begin with, one theory on this has to do with the above. They believe they have been found guilty of such terrible things, most of them unknown, that they better act perfect or something even worse will happen (goodness knows what they imagine that might be).

One fostered child told his foster parents his family had been broken up because…

…he didn't wash his hands properly.

True.

THEY KNOW NEXT TO NOTHING OF WHERE THEY ARE BEING TAKEN.

Way back in time Blue Sky had us make up a little booklet about who we are and what our home is like. It had smiling pictures of us and the dog, and some descriptions. I believe it was used once, when we agreed to take an older child whose fostering was teetering - but safe - but who was finding the journey to school too arduous. We lived closer. It was the one time (for us) the child could be prepared in advance, so she was given our booklet.

A few days after she came she told me;

"Your house is nothing like in the photos. And from the look of you in them pictures I thought you were all posh."

SO MUCH FEAR…

They arrive bearing a fearfullness that only children who have been taken into care fully know. We can only try to imagine it, then use EVERYTHING we experience when imagining to help the child through their first 24 hours in our care.

Everything. From - if they are small - kneeling down to their eye level to greet them to make ourselves look less intimidating…to making sure they know what do do if they wake in the middle of their first night with us and feel scared.

Everything.

It's our job, our profession.

Our utterly all-consuming profession.






Sunday, March 28, 2021

SLEEPOVERS IN FOSTERING

 One of the hidden benefits of becoming a Foster Carer is that it opens up your social world to a pool of people who are all candidates to be your new best friend.

Lonliness is one of the curses of the age, and there are times when we foster parents feel alone, such as the middle of the night with a restless foster child. Alone but not lonely, because next morning we can pick up the phone to our Blue Sky Social Worker and/or one of our new best friends; a fellow fosterer.

See, we carers meet up a lot. I don't know whether local authorities or other fostering agencies do this but Blue Sky hold regular coffee sessions (which they call support meetings) and catch-up sessions where we hear about the latest research into troubled kids (which they call training sessions). But these sessions are a roomfull of people who are doing the same thing. And nothing makes it easier to get to know someone than if they are doing the same amazing thing as you.

And fostering is as amazing as it gets. You only really really know what it is once you start doing it.

Our wonderful Social Workers get it, but at a kind of theoretical level. They know their stuff, they care to the nth degree, they'll do anything for you. But only carers know what it feels when the front door closes behind the last professional delivering a child, and you're alone and it's down to you from that moment on. Everyone in fostering except carers can clock off most evenings if they want and so they should. They can have a weekend off to re-charge. 

We are Foster Carers. For us it's 24/7.  

I promise you, if you come into fostering, you will be signing into a tribe of incomparable people, all of whom will have your back 'til they draw their last. Seriously.

We are a rum bunch.

My lot, my fellow fosterers in the Blue Sky catchment I'm in, without giving too much away, consists of a man who can't be reached by email not because he can't do computers but because he doesn't have good literacy. But he fosters great. Then there's a woman who used to have a top white collar job with a publisher, she's as literate as they come. Put the two together and you'd think they were sibs.

Fosterers...

A man who lost his job as a mini-cab driver, a woman who didn't know what to do when her youngest son left home for the army. An ex-professional footballer, a man who does baggage at the airport, a woman who can't have children of her own, a former nurse who had a bit of a breakdown with the stress of NHS. A divorcee who loves parenting, a gay couple who simply want to do the best for the world.

We could hardly be more diverse. But we are ONE, because we foster.

In our house we don't do dinner parties, never did - not even before fostering. But a few weeks after we were approved and got our first placement I was at a training session  and found myself sitting next to a carer and we simply clicked. The session was too short so I asked her and her partner to come over to us for spag boll the following Saturday. 

At the time we had a young foster child, one who was very compliant about bedtime, so there was every chance we'd be able to have a good chomp and yak with our new pals - they didn't have a placement at that point in time.

Long story short, they had such a good time (red wine was taken - in responsible quantities ie I had one glass then stuck to OJ) that we put them up for the night in our spare room and sent them off home in the morning with a full English under their belts.

They are friends for life, two of so many I've made in fostering.

I'm not saying people should consider fostering to improve their social lives. I'm saying that if you take the plunge you will have countless reasons why you'll be glad you did it, and one of those reasons is your new pool of pals.




Monday, March 22, 2021

I'VE BEEN EXPECTING YOU MR BOND

 Foster children who come into your home, into your life, they're all unique. Their uniqueness unfolds in the first days and weeks as you spot quirks and traits and oddities about them.

There are also several key things the poor dears have in common, one of which is a neverending surprise to me, despite all the years I've been at it.

They all care immensely about the adults who have let them down. They care about them more than those adults seem to care about the child. There's a powerful bond that flows from the child to the parent, but is scarcely returned.

Sometimes the phrase 'let them down' doesn't truly cover the awfulness of the parenting they were subjected to. They might have experienced chronic neglect where the child, however young and helpless, is simply left to fend for themselves. They have to find food, find somewhere safe to sleep in a turbulent house, find ways of keeping warm. On top of that they have to deal with the feeling they are worthless. They sometimes have to suffer the most unthinkable physical abuse, so unthinkable I'm not going to give examples of horrors I've come across. Then there's the other form of abuse; emotional. The child might have been ridiculed, made the butt of endless derogotary remarks, verbally threatened and made to live a solitary life in fear of everything about them.

Phew. It does me good to remember what they've been through, especially when they're being difficult.

But at the same time it pains.

I've heard of victims of crime meeting their perpetrators and becoming sympathetic towards them, surely human nature at it's very very best.

But in foster children the way they love their persecutors is beyond an admirable human trait, it's almost beyond understanding. My wonderful Blue Sky Social Worker and I are often in awe of the child's concern that their parents are okay. 

We rationalise it;

"Maybe they are worried that if their parents are sick or worse the child will one day have nowehere to go."

"Perhaps the chaos and awfulness of their lives at the hands of those adults is all they know and they experience a sort of comfort in the familiarity of the toxic home."

Whatever lies behind it it's one of the wonders of the world.

I mention it right now, in the middle of the Covid pandemic, because it's a hightened issue in fostering. Children in care have concerns for the wellbeing of their 'significant others' which are well grounded. Often the parent or parents have abused their own health and would be vulnerable if they went down with the virus. Contact between child and parent is difficult, sometimes impossible, and often all the child wants from contact is to see for themselves their parents are alive and well - or at least as well as they've ever been..

The last time I did a virtual contact between one of my lot and their significant other, the child wouldn't come to the laptop, they were satisfied from the sound of the adult's voice that things were ok.

I got to wondering if sometimes the children themselves are surprised and confused about the strength of the bond they feel for the other party. 

And surely they must sometimes grieve privately that the bond doesn't seem to be returned.



Friday, March 12, 2021

AN ARMCHAIR LEWIS HAMILTON

If you read this post anytime in 2021 you won't need me to tell you that there's a pandemic going on.  I suspect that someone reading this in the not too distant future will wonder "What's she going on about?"

Blogs tend to hang around in the ether, what a great tool they'll be for the social historians who'll try to assess how humanity dealt with this bizzare episode in our history.

Fostering seems to be weathering the storm that is a global pandemic pretty well, in many ways it's business as usual. 

The fact is the needs of children in care are so intense that us foster mums and dads can often be almost oblivious of the obvious dangers of Covid.

I drove off to the supermarket earlier today and it simply never ocurred to me to make sure I had a mask in my pocket. When I arrived I blithely got out of the car, grabbed my shopping bags and was halfway to the doors when I noticed a customer coming towards me with her trolley and I found myself saying to myself;

"What's she got that mask on for…?"

And the penny dropped. I'd been so wrapped up in fostering stuff I'd momentarily forgotten about Covid!

Luckily I keep spare masks in the car so all was well.

What had distracted me?

This morning I did a school run with eldest foster child. He's an absolutely fantastic person, I feel so lucky to know him. And know him I do, probably better than anyone else on earth. The courage he summons to deal with terrible things that have happened to him. The blazing intelligence he posseses. His wit. His joi de vivre. His incessant carping...

I said to him as we drove along:

"I want you to know you're dealing with this pandemic better than anyone I know."

He really is. Now he's back at school he takes every precaution against bringing the virus into our house. He has improved his diet because he wasn't getting as much exercise as when he has PE. He does all his school work and homework on time and does it well. He asked if he could have a bottle of white Listerene to keep his mouth healthy and his teeth white. He has built a set of virtual friends to keep his social skills on the move. He tidies his room. He might be the only teenager in the UK who does, but so he does. He looks after his pet lizard, he brings his plates down if he snacks in his room. 

However, when I gave him a word of praise he responded as I knew he would, he told me to shut up.

We drove on in silence for a bit. Then the usual criticisms of my driving began. According to him I either drive too slowly or too fast. I use my indicator unecessarily. I change gear too often. I am always in the wrong lane.

This is just a game we play, I come back at him calling him an armchair Lewis Hamilton, telling him he's the worst passenger I've ever had. 

Getting close to his school I tell him I'm going to drop him at the bus stop layby. He replies;

"Unless there's a bus behind."

I say "I know that, if there's a bus behind I'll go past the layby and drop you in the side road."

He says "Use your mirror to see if there's a bus behind."

I reply; "What, that mirror up there? I always wondered what that was for." 

He nearly smiled.

I dropped him off and drove home wrapped up in the joys fostering can bring if you keep your wits about you. 

And half an hour later set off for the supermarket still giving myself little hugs and clean forgot there's a flippin' pandemic on.

No harm done. 

Quite a bit of good, all things considered.


Thursday, March 04, 2021

SMART FOSTER MUM CALLING...

 This'll make you laugh.

One of the tricky questions in fostering is what do foster children call their foster parents.

I have one who calls my partner 'dad' but doesn't call me 'mum', I get called by my name, which is the child's choice and I'm fine with that.

We've found that most foster children prefer to call us by our first names. I recieved a Christmas gift under the Christmas tree last Christmas from one of our foster children with whom I have ongoing jokey arguments about politics. It was addressed to "The Kitchen Communist". Funny. Child and me laugh a lot, it's great.

My first name ends in 'a', which is the first part of the thing that'll make you laugh. Let's say my name is "Lisa" - it's not, but it helps tell the story.

The second part is that we've got some smart speakers in the house, one in the kitchen and another in the living room. One of our foster children has one in the bedroom.

The child in question is quite assertive; needs to feel in control of various situations. Child is forever ordering me about, telling me what's wrong with my cooking and asking for this and that. I take it all with a pinch of salt, water off a ducks back. If the chid says "Lisa, I need a pair of Apple Pro Earbuds" I reply neutrally "Okay, I'll look into it.", knowing full well that the next day the child will be asking me "Lisa can I have an electric guitar?", "Lisa, I need a new pair of trainers?" which will equally be forgotten about the next day.

Of course I often say "No". It leads to a difference of opinion which in part is what the child wants, enjoying the argument, we usually end up laughing. But the child would far rather hear that they'd got their own way, and had one up on me.

Child knows that Alexa does what she's told if child asks the question correctly.

So, there I was sitting at the kitchen tableon my laptop doing some Blue Sky admin when the child appeared and said;

"Alexa, my phone is rubbish. Can I have an upgrade?"

Alexa went: "Sorry I don't know that one."

Child repeated; "Alexa, look at my phone it's rubbish."

Alexa began to repeat; "Sorry I don't…"

Child barked at Alexa;

"Alexa! I'm not talking to you!"

I looked up. Child was looking at me. Had clearly been addressing me. As "Alexa".

I said;

"Has it come to this? I'm now just an "Alexa"! What am I your smart robot now?"

We both ended up doubled over laughing. 

Hope it made you smile too...


Saturday, February 27, 2021

SLEEPLESS IN ____________ (YOUR LOCATION)

 Is it only in my house? My current foster children and my own lot are finding sleeping more difficut than before the pandemic.

It's a real headache when they have to get up for virtual school, can be very upsetting.

One of the first things you learn in fostering is how to deal with the middle of the night. Blue Sky put on masses of excellent training but there are some things they can't really train you for because they are so child-specific, and the middle of the night is one of those things. Luckily you can chat things through with your Social Worker, but in the wee small hours, you're on your own.

Many foster children find sleeping hard, almost all of them in my experience. Their first night is like our first night on a new bed or in a new house or on holiday. The strangeness can keep sleep at bay. Then their minds turn to the overall strangeness of their lives, and dark thoughts start swirling such as why the whole break-up of their family is their fault, and how they might be in trouble when they go back.

Today's a Thursday, they have distance lessons this morning.

One of mine texted me at 02.28am last night asking if I go to the corner shop later could he have an energy drink. I don't think he actually enjoys them, he's just worried that he's going to underperform.

I think these distance-learning classes can be a bit fretful for some children. When they're in class among twenty or thirty other students they can switch off for a couple of minutes here and there, take a breather from out-and-out concentration. People can't concentrate non-stop. You need to be able to look sideways out of the window for a moment, even if your eyes appear locked on the whiteboard or the teacher as if you're rivetted.

I went to an old primary school back in my day which had been built in Victorian times. The classroom windows were so high our teacher had to stand on a chair to see out of them. This was because the schools didn't want children looking out of the window when they should have been paying attention. The teacher stood on a chair one sweltering afternoon because a boy had asked if the could 'be excused' - go to the toilet. The toilets were outside, across the tarmac playgound. She gave the boy permission then, when he'd departed, climbed onto the chair to watch him. I'll never forget the triumph in her voice when she muttered;

"I knew it! He's gone straight to the drinks fountain!" She'd got him!

I mention this because in a couple of decades time many of the fears and pressures we currenly put on our children in the name of education will be seen as just as harsh and as those things from the past. These are my own thoughts BTW, not Blue Sky's or anyone else's. It's just that I notice things keep moving forward nicely and maybe one day we'll have a nation of children all of whom really, really really want to go to school to learn...

My dear little foster child, who's been to hell and back and will live with awful memories all his days is this morning so frit that he'll mess up his electronic lessons that he's begged for a caffiene-packed fizzy drink to help his energy levels after a sleepless night. His sleeplessness is caused in part by his urgent efforts to nod off and we all know that doesn't work. Then the mind starts working overtime and he pictures himself being dumbstruck when asked a question or struggling with a task as his eyelids droop.

I went to the corner shop specially and bought a bottle of some sort of low-sugar non-caffiene fruit drink which I'll pour into a glass, top up with sugar-free tonic water and take into his room where he will be at his PC and tell him it's what he needs. He'll buy it…I hope.

But what to do about sleeplessness in this pandemic? 

Maybe the additional screentime they have to put in is playing a part? Maybe it's the fact that they can't go to school because a potentially lethal disease is out there? Maybe they can sense that the whole house is also struglling to fall asleep.

See, I was awake myself when my phone pinged with his text, at 02.28am. I texted him straight back to let him know he wasn't alone in his wakefulness.

I also texted him to say I knew how hard he worked and he replied;

"meh"

Then I texted him that I know he hates praise, but that I'm very proud of him.

I'm proud of every foster child who's stayed with us, you couldn't not be.


Tuesday, February 23, 2021

"HE'S A RESCUE"

 Took littlest foster child for a walk with the dog. We have to trek along a few pavements before we get to an overgrown sprawl of greenery where dogs are allowed off the lead.

Dog loves being off the lead, as do us foster parents…

On the way there we met a lady neighbour I hadn't seen for some time, her labrador had grown old and had needed to make his last trip to the vet a couple of months ago. 

She was standing in her front garden with another dog, a replacement. The first thing she said was; "He's a rescue!" She told me the dog had been bought as a companion dog for a child who had autism, but two years on the child still hadn't taken to the dog and there was increasing argy-bargy. 

We got to the field and I let dog off her lead, she went for a wander. The child ran free too, kind of 'off the lead' and having a wander. I was off the lead too, and I let my mind have a wander. Wanna come with me?

The announcement "He's a rescue!" peeves me a bit. I got to having a nice peeve about low-rent virtue signalling.

One lady I bumped into a while ago with her "He's a rescue!" dog asked me this;

"Do you know where I can get a template for a brooch-sized hare? You see I'm making some jewellery to raise money for the local pet sanctuary."

Bully for her; pretending she was asking for help when all she wanted was to  celebrate the fact that her compatability with Mother Theresa and Tracy Emmin was coming to the rescue of unwanted pets.

I was really enjoying myself, getting peeved about bargain-basement virtue signallers.

"Surely,' I peeved to myself, "There are bigger and better ways of setting the world right than being boastful about having a 'rescue' dog. If anyone's entitled to virtue signalling it's nurses and teachers and vaccination centre volunteers and they don't make a meal of it. Nor do careworn partners of elderly victims of dementia, the scourge of our times. Nor do social workers who are beset by other people's misadventures day and night while putting up with bouts of scorn from some newspapers and an ill-informed public." 

Actually people who foster could toot their own horn louder than most at the drop of a hat, but we tend to hide our light under a bushel.

I remembered that the woman with the new dog had told me that she couldn't let her dog play with ours because it hadn't had any innoculations. A two-year old dog without it's jabs? Made me wonder about the potential for chaos in a house with an autistic child and an incompatable 'companion' dog you don't get innoculated.

I watched our foster child playing happily with our pedigree dog, a dog we had to pay through the nose for. My mind was racing across the grass, free as a bird...

Why didn't we get a blessed 'rescue' dog? I'd have been able to counter "Yes, ours is a rescue dog too". The reason we didn't is because in fostering you have to take care that any pet in the house is harmless to children, and while rescue dogs can be good as gold there's a greater chance they may have had bad times which could throw them off kilter, especially with children who might want to play rough and tumble.

So we bit the bullet and paid through the nose for a dog whose background we could be sure of. It still doesn't mean you can take anything for granted, but you've done your best.

Letting one's mind off the lead it can go off and find all sorts of interesting nooks. I found myself experimenting with a new opinion namely that there are two types of people on this earth; on the one hand there are those that broadly can't get much right in life and their haphazard behaviour sours things for those around them. On the other hand there are those that broadly can't get much right in life but their haphazard behaviour makes things better for those around them.

Even people whose haphazard behaviour makes things worse for those around them.

I looked up and saw littlest foster child heading back to me, and here comes the dog too, hoping for a treat. I've got ten seconds left off the lead.

I told myself that rescuing people is what we do in fostering.

I did a little dance of virtue signalling to myself, in the privacy of my own mind. 

Then I did a bit of other people's virtue signalling for them, like this;

If you are a Foster Carer you are the salt of the earth, a modern day unsung hero. Totally unsung. We keep it to ourselves.

After all you never hear a foster mum or dad say out loud; 

"He's a rescue child"




Wednesday, February 17, 2021

JUST ONE LOOK AND MY HEART WENT ZOOM

 Triggers are massive in fostering.

Triggers happen in everyone's head all day long. You know how it goes; one thought leads to another that leads to another then is followed by a thought that gives you a feeling, the same sensation you felt at the time when the thing you've found yourself remembering actually happened.

Example; like many I've been doing lots of things 'virtually'. Blue Sky Social workers can help and support us long distance using laptops or phones. The word 'Zoom' enters my head ten times a week. 

And it's a trigger.

It makes me feel happy and nostalgic in a way it probably doesn't for anyone else. It's a good trigger.

Many triggers, maybe most triggers, are bad. From nowhere we find ourselves remembering things that don't make us feel good, they set us on edge. We find ourselves feeling anxious or embarrassed about something that happened way back. Funny how we have sharper memories of things we'd rather forget than things we'd love to be thinking about all day!

This phenomenon is especialy true for children in care.

There was the child who had a panic attack for no apparent reason around tea time. Turned out the sound of a ring pull being pulled on a can of beans triggered memories of his stepdad's lager drinking which often ended in anger and violence. The child hadn't made the connection and it took us a while to pin it down.

Another child who went into meltdown when her carer rushed out to put out the wheelie bin with a look of urgency on her face. The child saw the expression and mistakenly connected it to the look one of the adults in her house had on her face when there was trouble on the way.

If you can work gently with your foster child and identify triggers you're halfway to fixing a lot of their upsets.

Take current eldest child. When the child arrived I used to shout up the stairs when it was time to come down for tea and there'd often be a kerfuffle. Turned out the child's abuser was a shouter and any raised voices got the defences up. I took to walking upstairs humming and whispering through the door that tea was ready. Why did I hum on my way up? Because lots of foster children develop super-hearing which they needed to stay one step ahead of trouble in the house. They can hear everything that's going on and it can trigger fearful memories if they hear anonymous footsteps on the stairs heading their way. 

What tune do I hum?

Well, these days it's often an eighties song by a group called Fat Larry's Band (I know, I know…probably couldn't call themselves that these days.) It has happy memories for me of a sweet little romance I had way back before I met the actual love of my life.

The song was called "Zoom".

See what I'm saying?


Wednesday, February 10, 2021

EXHIBIT 'A' YOUR HONOUR

 Sometimes, not often but sometimes, you forget you are a fostering family.

Which happened quite early this morning like this;

I was on the landing heading for the stairs with the laundry basket and aiming to get the washine machine fired up with another load in time to get it on the drier and dry for tomorrow morning.

As I got to the top of the stairs I noticed something on the carpet in the corner, couldn't quite make out what it was, it was shiny but odd-shaped. I put down the basket and picked it up. It was a torn scrap of a crisp packet.  Not far away was another scrap.

It took me all of three long minutes hunting around and bending down to find and pick up what was clearly a dismembered and licked clean crisp packet.

I guessed it was licked clean because the insides were spotless, the only kind of clean you can get by licking, so obviously whoever had the final go at it was probably canine, the finger pointing squarely at the dog.

However the dog could never be more than an innocent bystander in such an incident as the crisps are kept way out of her reach.

So the question was, which of the human family members had helped themselves to a bag of crisps then left the wrapper lying around for the dog to get at, lick clean, then tear into strips.

In fostering one is well advised to know when not to notice that somebody has done something that deserves a rebuke because if you pick up on everything you're at it all day and people either get fed up or grow immune to your badgering.

But two of my brood, one a foster child the other child one of mine were near enough to the washing machine for me to blurt out:

"Did either of you leave a crisp packet lying around for the dog to get?"

"Nah" came one answer.

"Nope" came the second.

Having asked them both it was only fair I should ask the others so I called up the stairs;

"Did anyone up there have a packet of crisps and leave the bag out for the dog to rip up?"

"Not me…" etc etc from upstairs.

I started loading the washing machine and realised that everyone in the house was having a nice recreational morning except me, because after getting the laundry started I had a dishwasher to empty, an online click and collect supermarket shop to order and a number Nine to order be delivered (not a Chinese takeaway this time, a metal number Nine for our gate post to replace the old one which has got so rusted over that delivery drivers are getting confused). In other words it was the beginning of another day of lockdown jobs jobs jobs. Followed by jobs.

I felt hard done by, a feeling which always wafts away when I'm onto the next job, but it didn't waft away quick enough. Before I could stop myself I ordered;

"Right! Can I have everyone in the kitchen please now!"

As they showed up sheepishly I began to regret turning the home into some kind of suburban Stalag.

I regretted it even more when what happened next happened.

I started to interrogate them as to who was the guilty party, but before I got very far I sensed they were forming ranks. As far as they were concerned they were ALL innocent and if any blame lay anywhere it lay with me.

"If you'd trained the dog properly she wouldn't rip up wrappers" said one. The rest all nodded.

"Whenever we ask if there are any jobs to be done you always say there aren't, but you could have asked us to do a house-tidy instead of getting all stroppy. We only charge the going rate." The others nodded more, in unison.

So there we stood, a Mexican stand-off I believe it's called. Me versus a posse of children, some of whom belong to me, the rest belonging to others. They were all for one and one for all. 

Thick as thieves. The children of one big happy family.

Y'know what? When my fed-upness wafted off, it felt great. Really fantastic. When your own children and foster children bond into one unit you know you're getting something right and that good things are going on.

As for the guilty party? Ah...I noticed as I was putting the shredded packet into the pedal bin that it was a packet of cheese and onion flavour. This gave me a pang of guilt. I buy our crisp snacks in big assorted bags, some of our brood like salt 'n vinegar others prefer plain. Some like Hula Hoops or Pringles. Towards the time for the next delivery the only single packs left are cheese and onion which…

…none of them like.

So me and my other half end up eating most of them.

I honestly don't remember leaving an empty packet lying around, not my nature. Other half has been known to.

Did I tackle other half on it? Not on your nelly. I let it go, but not without another smile at the memory of our houseful of kids sticking up for one another as if they were all family.

Which is how it's best in fostering, if it happens.

You just have to keep your eye out for it, the evidence is there m'lud. 

Sunday, January 31, 2021

SCULE OF HARD NOCKS

Fostering can be the school of hard knocks for all concerned.

To paraphrase Alice Cooper; school is not just out for summer, it's out for the year.

I've got quite a few friends about my age, some are in fostering, some not. By the way there's no better way to meet like-minded people and form lifelong friendships than fostering. We still get a Christmas card from a fostering couple we haven't seen for ten years, but we know they are pals for ever.

Many of my friends have children at home who are being taught long-distance with varying degrees of success.

Some parents/carers/guardians end up being on the rough end of the resistance to learning that schools have to deal with day out, the only difference being that a teacher has 30 students at her all day, we have a fraction of those numbers.

One of the schools one of our foster kids attends tells me off the record that they have no shortage of parents who have given up teaching their children so are finding reasons to send them back to school despite the lockdown, but that most of those parents have not found it in their hearts to express new respect for the professionals who battle away!

Among my friends there seems a growing divide. Some of their children are being uncooperative, others are knuckling down. Among my lot it's about a 50/50 split. That's not how it usually works in classrooms, where the influence of the mis-behavers often overcomes the influence of the kids who want to learn and so you get a 70/30 split or worse.

One mum whose two daughters are both kicking against her efforts is desprate to pick anyone's brains on how to get them working but to no avail. If your kids don't want to learn…you can lead a horse to water etc.

I'm leading up to this weeks PEP for our eldest foster child. PEP stands for "Personal Education Plan". Children taken into care are often behind academically so the system puts a whole load of extra resources their way according to their individual needs. It's one of the many fantastic ways our state and private agencies come to the aid of the innocent victims of domestic crisis.

Eldest has just completed a bunch of exams which could be taken in school before the latest lockdown, so they were for real.

Eldest has been with us a good many years now, on arrival in our house could barely read and write and had a phobia about numbers. The child had been kept at home, never ever been to school. Not only that, the local school we got into turned out to have problems of it's own and the child had to be removed and found a new school.

You'd think such a set of experiences would result in a lifetime block on learning…and yet.

The PEP meeting was attended as usual by myself, our Blue Sky Social Worker, the child's Local Authority Social Worker, the child's SENCO (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator) and the child's Virtual School Officer.

It fell to the Senco to read out to everyone in their Zoom windows the child's exam results.

A hushed silence followed. No-one quite knew how to react. The little mite nailed it. The results were up there among the school's top 3%.

We all gushed with pleasure and relief that the child is making their way.

I told the meeting that I'm holding back on telling those friends of mine whose children are struggling, partly because I don't want them to get despondent, partly because they might ask for advice.

Advice! 

All we've ever done is always let the child be sure they are unconditionally loved and that our family is not going to fall apart. We share with them our curiosity about the world, we sometimes let ourselves be seen reading a book for fun. If they ask if communism is a bad thing I say "I'll Google it", and they come back having Googled it too. They tell us their opinion and we fun-argue the opposite.

If we teach them anything concrete it's to look on the bright side, count your blessings, remember things could be worse.

I hope these blogs don't seem sugar-coated ever. Fostering can be tough, really tough, but there are always bright sides.

Fostering can be the most fantastic thing you ever ever do.



Sunday, January 24, 2021

THANK YOU TO A READER

One of our readers, "A.M." writes;

" Thanks for your reply! I've been going through your archives, and I know you have written about this a bit already, but curious for more of your wisdom in offering kids the paternal/maternal love and affection they need while also being very sensitive to the fact that of course you never replace or even "compete" with biological parents. I'm sure this is something that is a bit different for each child. I'm thinking specifically about older teens who are starting to sort through complicated feelings about parents, and becoming more and more independent, while still needing true parental love from someone who cares. Would you be willing to talk more about what you've learned about this delicate balancing act?"

What we're talking about here - how to parent a foster child - it's the very heart of fosteringisn't it? I think the first thing I'd say is this;

A.M. gets it dead right with .."a bit different with each child" That is so on the nose. Listen, we just bought our third Golden Retriever, same species, same breed, same background. Are they the same? Heck no. It took us 3 weeks to start to know this new one. And foster children are a thousand times more complex. And individual. So job one is to try to get to know and understand the specific child, and while doing so make a complete foul-up of parenting them."Eh?" I hear you say. 

Us fouling up is what they want and need and are used to. You do your best, you try everything but usually don't get an early connection. Why? To them, you're being useless is what they require; for you to be no good. Again, why? Maybe because they resent you seeming to try to top their real parents (who, believe it or not somtimes they really love and care for in their own way). So their thing is roughly "What makes you think you're better than my mum?" They will notice; "Yes my foster parent tries to listen to me, doesn't get angry/weird/absent/slurry…but WHOA! my mum is still my mum and she's more my mum than these folks so they must stay back."

So the first thing is to get through the opening period, maybe a few days or weeks, as their carer, while still acting like a proper parent.

You start offering attachment the minute they walk in the door. Kindness, respect, consideration, understanding, emotional embrace. So you ACT like their parent. But don't expect the child to act like your child, not yet, maybe not ever. Why? Because attachment is everything a child needs emotionally and it's likely they've had little or none, so they don't get it/resent it/are frightened (of kindness? yeah sometimes).

This goes for foster children of all ages, however A.M. asked about older teenagers.

We've had quite a few, they have all, in our experience, been easier in some ways than younger ones, and harder than little'uns in others. They are closer to being able to reason with and appreciate it when we show our respect of their maturity by engaging with them as kind of equals. They are proud of their world of music and social media and movie culture. They want to tell us things they think we don't know, things they've learned about humankind;

"Did you know a lot of guys act like they're more important than they are?"

You have to say "Really? Wow, tell me about it."

Teenage foster placements are getting into things that younger ones (hopefully) haven't yet. So you're looking at things like staying out late and wanting to try alcohol, tobacco, tattoos, piercings…and other stuff even more interesting. 

You're looking at stuff like drugs and romance and maybe even petty crime.

Sounds scary? It's not, you've got social workers right behind you plus something even more powerful. It's this...

…you were a teenager once yourself. You were no paragon of virtue, who wanted to be?

You remember being a teenager better than you remember being five or seven or ten. So you have a jump start; you can identify. You can sympathise. 

Imagine how you'd have felt if what happened to them had happened to you when you were thirteen or fifteen or seventeen.

What else do you need besides remembering how you were and imagining how they are? 


Sunday, January 17, 2021

ALL'S WELL THAT…(YOU KNOW THE REST)

 Since you're sitting where you are reading these words about fostering it's safe to assume you know a bit about fostering, even if your knowledge goes no further than giving thought to taking it up.

Therefore I think you'll get why I ended up over the moon yesterday despite a rotten start to the day.

Yesterday was a Saturday. We're in lockdown so, like many homes, our house is a bit low. We are feeling the sadness mingled with all the other negatives, one of which is being cooped up. Luckily we have a dog who needs walking, so even though the weather was absolutely wrong (freezing cold, blowing a gale and raining that painful rain which is almost but not quite sleet).

I togged up with a waterproof jacket, thick jeans and my favourite trainers (they are comfy and I wasn't planning to go on wet grass.

I kitted up with the dog lead, some poo bags and some dog treats for when she sits when asked.

Not forgetting my face mask, just in case.

I set off at 9.30am, no-one else in the house was stirring but my dressing-gowned other half was left in charge.

I realised 100 yards on from our house that I'd forgotten a hat, gloves and a scarf. Not only that, my 'waterproof' coat was soaking up the rain like a sponge, so I decided it would be once round the block and home for a cup of tea.

However…

We turned the corner and there it was; the biggest and loudest drain clearing truck ever. Stood still, lights flashing with a bunch of people in hi-viz waterproofs. It looked scary. So scary that the dog froze.

One of the men saw us and kindly pointed out the gate to the meadow. He seemed to be saying they were going to be where they were for some time and the only way we could go on was to take the gate.

I acquiesced. I did as he suggested. I can be pathetic like that, but at the time it seemed the best idea.

The meadow was a sea of mud, and on the far side was another dog walker with two labradors. Our dog begged to have a play with them. I didn't want her off the lead but I flipping well acquiesced again. Before she set off she did a quick poo. By the time I'd scooped it into a bag she was half a mile away and rolling in a muddy puddle the size of a duck pond. 

I wanted to have a nice chat with the other dog walker, but all we coud manage was shouting;

"Lovely day for it!"

By now I'm soaked and freezing so I grabbed the dog, her put on her lead and we headed home.

But when we got to the road the drain-cleaning monster machine had moved and was now right between us and our house. There was no way the dog would go past it.

This meant going the long way home, butat least it took us past a dog-poo disposal bin so I could…

….wait a minute! Where's the bag of dog poo?

I'd dropped it inadvertently somewhere out on the meadow! 

I'm one of those dog walkers who gets riled up when she sees bags of discarded dog poo on the ground. So I had little option but to…go back and find it.

Which took half an hour, by which time I'm aching with cold and wet to my skin.

Luckily when we came off the meadow a second time the truck had gone, so we hauled ourselves home and in. But it wasn't over. The dog was a mudball but I was so cold and wet she could wait for a towelling down, I gave her a dog chew and settled her on the doormat and staggered upstarirs to dry myself with the hairdryer and put on dry clothes.

When I came downstairs the dog was nowhere to be seen. Egad! She must be upstairs! She was, sitting proud as punch on our bed, oozing mud and dribbling bits of dog chew on the duvet.

Cross with myself, I chased her downstairs and into the garden for a hose down.

It was still raining so I got soaked a second time.

Okay, you've been there haven't you? When all the little things that might happen but usually don't happen all happen one after another and you end up cursing the very universe.

Then this happened;

I was sat shivering at the kitchen table hands wrapped round a mug of builders tea, when eldest foster child came downstairs.

I said;

"Morning. Would you like me to make you some breakfast?"

"No, it's alright," he replied.

"I'll make myself some."

See, it's the tiny things in fostering that make you feel warm about the world.

It was the first time he'd made himself a meal.

I acted casual, y'know, you don't want to make them feel self-conscious, in fact I said something cheeky like;

"I'll have whatever you're having."

Which got the usual snort of mock-derision which has become our affectionate way with each other at the moment.

And the dog-walk was forgotten. 

The world was back in my good books, all thanks to our wonderful, brilliant, mixed-up but doing his best to repair himself foster boy!

Friday, January 08, 2021

TIME TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

 A reader writes;

"Thanks to you, Secret Foster Carer! It was your blog that pushed me over the edge to foster. I love the small moments you capture. And I love noticing when they happen to me. I fostered a 1 month old baby for 3 months recently. When she went back to her mom, her mom (who is 20) wrote me a note that thanked me "for having her back". It was such a wonderful young person thing to say, and it meant the world to me. Everyone deserves to have someone who has their back. -Roma"

Pushed Roma over edge? Blimey, sounds like a hairy moment in a Hitchcock film

…no, wait a minute…come to think...that's exacty how you feel when you're on the point of giving fostering a go.

You've read up on it; back in my day it was books and newspaper articles, today there's plenty of stuff on the internet. All the while you're browsing, you're thinking and wondering and imagining.

You picture yourself doing it; sometimes you see yourself as the perfect foster parent with a brood of smiling foster kids. You dote on them and they dote on you. They cheer your dinners as they arrive on the table and thank you with their eyes for all you do for them.

Sometimes you see yourself up the creek without a paddle. You know which creek; temperamental child, disconsolate, ungrateful, unmanageable. You wonder why you got yourself into fostering.

You are indeed standing looking over the edge.

So you put it off. You say to yourself; "It's something I shall do when the time is right for me".

Fair enough.

But picture someone else, a real person, one I know.

You are a six year old girl. You have never been loved, never told a bedtime story, never been sung a nursery rhyme. You have never been to school because the adults in your house were worried you're plight would be discovered and they'd get into trouble. You have two older siblings who are as frightned and angry as you, but they take it out on you because you can't fight back. You're allowed out to wander the streets, even late into the night; the adults in the house don't want you under their feet, they've got drinking and smoking and other things on their altered minds. You are never fed, it's up to you to creep into the kitchen and find some food. Sometimes there's nothing, not even some cereal dust in the bottom of a box. It's a shame the dog died, you could lick the sides of his bowl if he'd left some smears of dog food. You sometimes had luck checking the cartons from last night's takeaway for a stale pizza crust or the bones of a KFC. 

That child - and thousands like her - can't wait while good people such as your good self, people who have all the skills but probably don't realise it, put it off until a bit later.

I KNOW it's a scary thought. I KNOW you feel you're standing looking over the edge. But Blue Sky is your parachute and the drop, once you jump, is not that big. Remember; you're not getting into anything you can't get out of if you need to, for whatever reason.

Have another read of Rona's words.

Then pick up the phone.

You're on Blue Sky's website right now, there are lots of ways of contacting them. They're friendly, kind and understanding. They're on your side from day one.

I remember with total clarity the day I plucked up the courage and dialled their number. I remember the song in the voice of the person who answered;

"Blue Sky Fostering, how may I help?"

I said:

"I'm thinking of becoming a Foster Carer"

She replied;

"How wonderful! Oh that's really great news! Good for you…I'll put you through to someone who you can have a chat with…"

She did.

It was the best phone call I ever ever made.

Is it all smiles and plain sailing? No.'Course not.

Is it hell on wheels? No. 'Course not.

Most days it's in the middle, like normal life. Only in normal life you're on your own, imagine normal life with an army of positive-minded professionals  looking after your back!

The allowance, which I recieve fortnightly (I don't know about others, I don't ask), is respectable and the tax people are, shall I say, fair (it's not a wage, it's an allowance). I'm not saying it's tax-free but it's taxed differently from how earnings are taxed, and it results in the allowance being a useful addition to the family income.

There's been a huge spike in the number of chidren needing a foster home.

They need you, and not sometime in the future.

Blue Sky are waiting for you.

So too is a poor frightnened child somewhere.