Friday, October 22, 2021

FINDING THE RIGHT MOMENT

 Our eldest foster child - not a child at all - is getting ready for the outside world.

He leaves fostering any time soon.

Ged's smart, in a street-wise way. He's only been with us a couple or three months, but he's still our boy. You have no option but to let them into your life from day one. Seeing him go off alone to face his future alone is emotional.

On the surface it seems more emotional for us, his foster family, than him, but I suspect his nonchalance is about acting grown up.

You remember how you fussed first time one of your children went off on their first sleepover? Making up that overnight bag of toothbrush, clean underwear, pyjamas ("I'm not wearing them mum, no-one's going to be in jim jams!") pieces of paper with phone numbers. And so on.

Well, let me tell you getting a child ready for an everlasting sleepover is a site worse.

Luckily his Social Worker has been on hand with the information about what he needs and what he's going to be provided with. Say what you like about the state, our country is magnificent at caring for young people who have problems.

He's been offered accomodation in a sort of sheltered home; a block of single room apartments with communal facilities. He's been guided towards several employment opportunities, and helped with his benefit rights. 

However, the poor lad is still dangling on a thread as to whether or not his estranged father will come through with his verbal promise of providing him with funding. And we have had no option but to find a way to break it to him that he may have to go it alone.

He'll be disappointed as heck, but surely less bamboozled if he has prepared himself it may happen.

The conversations are similar to so many that we fostering folk have with chidren in our care about their real parents.

We try to help looked-after chidren get a bead on reality about what's happened to them but have to tread warily because they don't ever want their parents to be criticised by someone else. One often  finds oneself diplomatically acknowledging that the parents meant well, and had a lot of bad luck, and may well be all the better from having some help with the routine problems that previously they faced alone. 

Only when you've laid the ground can you go into the matter that the children themselves deserve better.

Ged is reluctant to 'split' on his dad. Like many of us, he pictures his dad as somewhat heroic and noble; a victim of circumstances and other people's failures and deception.

I'm pretty certain that his dad is either in prison or spent plenty of time inside. Which can be quite colourful for a lad-about-the-streeets. It beats having a dad who's an IT manager. 

However the question remains; if Ged comes into his windfall, where has the money come from?

Technically and ultimately it's not at all my problem. But.

When one fosters each child who arrives becomes your child the moment they step through the door. It's the only way. You offer attachment and empathy from the get-go. You don't merely care, you also worry, fret and fear for them. You lie awake plotting how to make things as good as they can be for them. You live for the moments when you see them smile where previously they didn't, or hear them singing in their bedroom.

You simply want them to find some peace and ight-heartedness.

I'm gearing up to wondering out loud with Ged if he'd be better off without any apology money from his dad. Even if it materialises.

Got to find the right moment, and the right way of saying;

"You're smart. You've got what it takes to do what everybody does and try to build a good life and living on your own ability and hard work."

Then I know he'll say "Then how come everybody buys a lottery ticket?"

See what I mean about him being smart?




Monday, October 18, 2021

"PROMISE NOT TO TELL…?"

 One eternal dilemma faces most fostering folk at some point.

It's when a foster child says;

"I'll tell you something if you promise not to tell anyone."

I suspect we face this one often and it's forever tricky as so much depends on so many things, not merely what the child wants to tell.

At the crux of the dilemma is this simple fork in the road;

If the child's disclosure has to be reported and the child discovers that you told someone in authority it can damage your relationship to the extent that the child may never tell you anything again, and you may miss out on even more substantial information, which might be a damaging thing for the child.

A lot depends on the child's age and ability to understand if you reply to the request like this;

"I'll respect your privavcy in what you may want to tell me but you must understand that if you tell me something that I'm required to pass on I'll have no option but to tell someone."

If you're not in fostering you might be wondering what these revelations might be, okay;

I've had kids tell me about being asked to do things in their bio home that are breaches of the laws of abuse. Those things simply HAD to be passed on, and when the police visted to collect the allegations from the child that child rightly guessed I had disclosed. In the most startling of such cases I first informed both Social Workers involved who rightly advised me to contact the police officers who were already investigating the child's adult family and needed all possible evidence as the case was heading to court.

Most incidents of this headache aren't so straightforward.

For example, recently a child told me that it upset her that one of her (older) teachers repeatedly told her class to 'pick a partner' for an activity such as walking crocodile down to the public library. The problem lay in the fact that the child had been only recently placed in the school and being new, none of the other children wanted to pick her. To my way of thinking this was completely wrong, the teacher should put in some effort and pair children off so that some positives are had. I spoke to the school and it blew up in my face. The teacher took the child to one side and, rather than apologise, explained the reason for her practice, which, incase you're wondering, was some convoluted argument about children needing to feel comfortable with who their partner was when out in public as there was traffic and other pedestrians to worry about.  

I've got a recent one of these on my hands, they're always tricky. I can't reveal, so I'M not going to say to you "If you promise not to tell…"

It's going to be between me, my kid and one other eprson.

If in doubt ask your SW, and my lovely Blue Sky person has taken control with the usual clear mind, good heart and professional acumen.

X




Tuesday, October 12, 2021

TIME MILLIONAIRES

 Phew, had some loaded days just recently my end. 

It's partly fostering, a job that never sleeps, but also life seems so much busier than I ever remember it. Not for everybody though, it seems.

I'll get to the fostering story in a tick, but first; 

I've just finished reading a newspaper piece about a growing bunch of people who seem to think they're some kind of hero because they've decided to do nothing. Yep, do nothing. Or if they do anything they do as little as possible all the while making out they're busting a gut.

They used to float around the office acting like they were working, but in the new normal they log their laptop onto a YouTube 10 hour video of a blank screen so their boss doesn't get pinged that their device has gone to sleep.

Their philosophy is that you're only here for a short time, make it a good time.

What?

To give their shiftlessness a gleam of honour they fly a rinky-dink banner for their lifestyle, they call themselves...

"Time Millionaires".

One example was of a bloke who used to run a craft wine bar in Sheffield. He worked his fingers to the bone, even missing his mum's 50th birthday, which she'd expected, because he was "busy". He worked 6 days a week from 10.am to 1am, then on his day off did the paperwork. He's packed the wine bar in and now runs a pop-up coffee stall which closes at 1.00pm. His profits are down 75% but he's happy because he can get stuck into his passion which is photography.

I guess these Time Millionaires would look at fostering and run a mile. Too much like hard work.

My point is that worthwhile work is vastly more rewarding than meaningless inertia.

When our middle foster son came to us he was in a state. Terrified, haunted, pale and weak. Semi-literate, didn't know what a toothbrush was.

He was proper daunted. 

We stayed up through the night with him for the first few months, easing him in his terrors. We had to absorb a lot of anger, only maybe once or twice letting our own exhaustion get the better and talking back. Our Blue Sky SW said our couple of lapses were understandable if unfortunate but we're only human and she stressed that the child is coming to know we are for the child.

What we didn't get wrong was to pretend we were on the job while really spending the afternoon watching A Place In The Sun while gormlessly re-touching photographs of sunsets.

So; on to this week. The child in question has just had a hectic and anxious time fretting over several things; an assesment at school, a fallout with a friend, a 'which trainers to wear with which top' misery (very real BTW) and…

Whether or not he's picked to play for the school football team.

So; it turns out he got a B+ for the assessment, his friend-falling out is so mended  that he's throwing a 'gathering' (teenspeak for 'party') at our house including the errant friend, and…

He's playing central midfield for the school team.

Now, here's my point; 'Time Millionaires' have  empty wallets compared to fostering folk. The bloke who walked away from his wine bar to run a coffee stall and take up photography is impoverished beyond words compared to your average foster parent.

But I guess at least he'll get to go to his mum's 51st birthday.

We humans are indeed only here for a short time, but is sitting around in trackie bottoms diddling your life away a "good' time?

Nah.

You want a great time?

Foster.



Thursday, September 30, 2021

BEING AWARE OF LITTLE THINGS

 In fostering little things happen all the time, some of them not good. Even though they're little the not so good things can get to you if you're not on top of your own thinking.

Life is tiring, fostering can be especially tiring. When tired it hurts more if a child is spiky, you notice negative things more easily. You can also completely miss some positives.

We had our Annual Review earlier today, it's where Blue Sky fostering folk get to be quizzed by an independent bod on how things are going. They aren't on your case, if there's any case being made t's that they're kind of on your side. I've always found them helpful.

Today they got my partner and I remembering positives we'd actually missed, even though we were there at the time.

We ended up talking about something that happened quite recently and we hadn't given it enough celebration; It was this;

Our middle foster child is a permanent; never going home. Poor kid is pretty much alone in the world and as such has always been hostile to the whole notion of family and parents. Child has been with us long enough to know what our family is like, namely we're all in it together but a bit splintered at the outer edges - like most if not all families. We've got relatives here there and everwhere, some are close geographically and emotionally, some are far off in every way.

The child has been with us long enough to have got to know almost all of them a bit.

So then, a few days before our review the child blurted out of nowhere;

"Wouldn't it be great if everyone could be together here for Christmas; the whole family?"

I can remember thinking at the time;

"Nice idea soldier, but that ain't never gonna happen."

The child's remark came up at the Review and we dwelt on it. It was a huge remark, but had seemed little at the time.

It was huge for reasons which became obvious once they were spelled back at us. The child had identified themself as family.

Our family. Choild now accepts that WE are their real family.

See, usually fostering is about getting the child back to their real family. That's the normal job. But it's often the case that the child will never go back because the home has either disappeared or will never be safe. The child's placement in fostering becomes 'permanent'. It's a challenging notion for all involved. But our kid has done it.

None of us had any idea when the corner was turned, we probably never will as the child is a private individual and we respect that right. So, us and the Review bod, we moved the conversation on to how important it is for people in fostering to be on the lookout for things to celebrate, not just being alert to things that want fixing.

Probably a good maxim for life in general, not just fostering...





Sunday, September 26, 2021

COMMON SENSE AND FOSTERING 2

Someone once wrote;

"Common sense is the most evenly distrubuted commodity on earth, because everyone thinks they have the right amount.."

Common sense is our best freind in fostering. I've talked about it before.

Recently I've been writing up about Ged's journey. He's an older placement, only been with us a short time, who is due to go out into the big wide world any day soon and can't wait.

But there seems to be a potential setback around the corner and as yet social services haven't raised it with him but I suspect he's got wind of it somehow.

The back-story is this; Ged was abandoned by his real father many years ago. The dad wanted nothing to do with Ged and Ged's mother didn't pull any punches that his father was a rotten egg. You can imagine what Ged had to listen to, she had a drugs problem along with plenty other difficulties, so Ged probably heard some pretty searing tirades.

However. The father somehow got word to Ged that he'd opened a savings account for him and he'd have access to it in the form of some sort of 'trust' when he became 'of age'. The arrangement appeared to be that Ged would receive regular tranches from the fund in a way that would maintain the fund so it would get a decent rate of interest.

It's not the first time I've come across chaotic parents offering fantasy futures for their children "once we've sorted ourselves out."

Now that he is nearly of age, there are doubts creeping in as to the truth. Little niggles such as Ged telling his local authority Social Worker that he remembered that his father believed that the age at which a person comes 'of age' is 21 and not 18. This thinking might be in line with different culture - we understand that Ged's father returned to his native country many years ago, possibly to avoid the rap for something.

Equally, the father may have raided the account himself to 'fund a business venture' or something.

That's if the fund exists at all.

Social services have done a fantastic job with Ged but if he discovers there's no money it's going to be us foster parents who'll have the lion's share of helping him manage his huge disappointments. He'll have to be helped to deal with the damage to the image he's built up of his absent dad. Then there's the loss of his anticipated independence if he won't have an unearned income in a few weeks time. 

He'll be upset and may become despondent or angry or both. He might hit the bottle or the weed. He might even be tempted to get an income by doing something illegal or otherwise dangerous - the County Lines problem is getting worse (see earlier blogs about this growing drugs nightmare involving children, or Google it).

Foster parents are used to helping their children deal with disappointing parents and family members. I remember a Contact session once - 'Contact' is where children in care are brought to have a session with significant others - the mother simply didn't show up. We waited nearly the full hour when a message came in. The mother said she couldn't come to Contact because she was having hair extensions done. Another time I took a lad to have Contact with his dad, it was a hot summer's day so I sat in the car and watched them go out into the courtyard on the Contact Centre where there was an all-weather storage crate-full of toys. The dad spent the entire Contact playing with the toys and didn't say a single word to his son who sat along on the swing musing over his bad luck.

We get a lot of quality training at Blue Sky, but it would be impossible for them to cover every base. Time after time the humble foster mum or dad has to conjure up strategies from out of thin air and, although our Social Worker is ready and able to offer support and advice it's down to us, standing in our kitchen, to come uo with the right things to say and do. 

With Ged I'm not going to break any news or hearsay to him. I'll wait until and unless he says or shows he needs an arm round his shoulder.

So I find myself wondering; what if he says something and the answer depends on exactly what he says and how he says it. I have to interpret. We often have to try to feel the moment and read between the lines. Then what if he starts acting differently? I have to judge if it's a conscious attempt to raise a dilemma or maybe he's unaware he's not himself?

Every call is a judgement thing.

The main tool we fostering folk have at our disposal is our own knowledge and experience of the school of hard knocks.

And dear old common sense.



Wednesday, September 22, 2021

DE-ESCALATION AND ICE CREAM

 Middle foster child came downstairs in a strop or as my nan used to put it 'with a right cob on'.

He used to be eldest foster child but since the arrival of short-term 17 year old Ged, he's now the middle one.

I heard that PG Wodehouse started a short story with the sentence;

"It is not difficult to discern the difference between a ray of sunshine and a Scotsman with a grievance."

For 'Scotsman" read "Foster Child".

Some of them, they bring a special skill set to the important matter of appearing p****d off, it's practically an art form. Or more like a stage act, in fact.

An episode is often first flagged up by a louder than usual slamming of their bedroom door followed by unusually heavy footsteps coming down the stairs.

You say to yourself; "Here we go…"

You are supposed to look concerned and say;

"Everything alright?" or "What's up? You OK?"

And so you do. They don't just WANT you to inquire, they NEED you to. It's the beginning of the dance which will probably end in them getting ice cream, or a nod that they can stay up late and watch Netflix on Friday night. Or both.

Nobody knows the trouble they've seen, and their lifelong experiences in their bio home has taught them a wealth of survival techniques. They will have watched parents, older household members and family members playing the problem hierachy game and learned the benefits that can be squeezed from things being all wrong.

The problem hierarchy game is where people compete to be the one most under duress.

Of course; many things in foster children's lives ARE all wrong; they had a tough time, their parents parenting was questionable at best, their education chequered. Now they live in a strange house full of of strangers.. and however much we foster parents try, it's wrong.

But they don't present us with these very real wrongs.

When they want a bit of TLC or a metaphorical cuddle it goes a bit like it did with middle child.

He came stomping into the kitchen and made for the larder.

"Oh Jeez! No Salt and Vinegar!"

Then he's off;

"Why are we always out of Salt and Vinegar? It's not that hard is it? To buy crisps? I mean, you guys act like you're all so clever and you've got two cars and wooo you're foster parents, but even a Zombie hamster could get crisps right."

I try to say nothing.

"I mean…crisps! How hard is that?"

I shrug as if to say 'Yeah we're pretty useless…' He goes on;

"I mean, it's like the other day when Jason came round and you gave us chips with the burgers and everyone knows it's fries with burgers, chips go with fish! I was like SO embarrassed. Is that why you get the food all wrong round here. One minute you're trying to make me obese the next you're starving me!"

Jason is his friend who sometimes comes round and they chill. It's uplifting hearing their laughter and mock gee-up banter.

Me;

"How was Jason today?"

"Jeez how should I know? He's an idiot. I don't care how he is. If he wants to hang out with Ben Willis' bunch of wallies that's his doom sorted and so what? He was the embarrasment. Not me.""

So we gradually got to the nitty gritty; he and his friend had had a bit of a tizz. 

Apparently over politics. Well, to be precise over whether Boris Johnson is a ****** or not.

They'd fallen out digitally (messages).

It hurts rotten when you're young and finding your way with friendships. We all made plenty of mistakes and thought it was the end of the world.

Children and young people in care are sometimes more clumsy socially than their peers and a bit more desperate to build relationships. 

There's not much we can do there, they are usually best off sorting these spats out themselves, all part of life.

But it's one reason why there's usually a tub of emergency ice-cream in the fridge.

I remember a Blue Sky training session on de-escalation. The trainer said that offering a pleasant distraction, such as going on a bike ride could help the child's anger. One carer was against the idea saying;

"I'm not going to reward bad behaviour by giving them something nice!"

He had missed the point on this one, de-escalation is about distraction, and anyway; kindness is not a 'reward', it should be ever-present. Is sticking a sticking plaster on a wound a 'reward'? 

Bottom line, ice cream works. 

Monday, September 06, 2021

BONDING BETWEEN FOSTER CHILDREN

 It's always an upheaval when a foster child leaves. The house is quieter, there's less work to be done and those that are left behind in the home have to re-configure.

Ged is gearing up to fly the nest; he'll be 18 soon and is hungry to put his childhood behind him and stretch his wings. There are so many positives, but you still have to keep an eye out for impending difficulties.

And there is a big one. See, our youngest foster child adores Ged. 

Ged, to him, is everything that I and my other half aren't. Ged is cool, he's a geezer. He knows what today's music is about, he can talk for ever about gaming.

Youngest wants Ged to be his dad - he doesn't say so but it's written all over him. He wants to go with Ged, but hasn't said so. When Ged goes it'll leave a big hole in his heart, and that's in part a healthy, normal and profound thing.

But. 

Youngest has experienced endless abandonment in his short life before care. His real father came and went, other 'fathers' came and went. Then his mother overdosed and has never fully recovered. He was fostered initially alongside his sibs (4) but it all got too much for the foster parents and the little mite who came to us was deemed the main fly in the ointment. And boy was he a handful at first.

We set square on keeping him with us partly because of the fear that if we abandoned him back into the system it could be the last straw. Anyway, we haven't yet given up on a child and one gets possesive about a 100% record in anything - mind this is a good obsession.

Blue Sky worked with us shoulder-to-shoulder to help him find a bit of peace; Oppositional Defiance Disorder is a gruelling house guest. But you get what you pay for in fostering, and though the emotional cost to us was steep to begin with, it began paying for itself within a couple of months.

I'm not claiming he's a saint, but he's come on in leaps and bounds, and Ged's arrival gave him the role model he's always craved.

My job in the next few weeks before Ged goes is to talk to my BS social worker about how to play it. Do I ask Ged if he can stay in touch for the sake of the youngest? Do I talk to youngest about it, try to get as much understanding of the coming event as I can? Do I make plans such as a farewell dinner for Ged or play it like it's no big deal?

The probability is that it's going to be tricky - sticky even - and we'll all have to react to however it impacts youngest. 

Oh, and remember to enjoy all the enjoyables such as helping a fine young man enter the world, and appreciating that youngest has learned to attach to a parent figure. Maybe he'll transfer that bonding to us? That would be nice…

But in fostering you never hold your breath..


Thursday, August 26, 2021

THE SHAPE OF A FOSTERING FAMILY

 Perhaps the most impacting thing about fostering is the effect it has on the shape of your household.

I'm talking about the shapes the people in your home make between themselves; round the table or sitting in the living room. Time was when people's living room had all the seating facing the fire, the source of warmth and comfort. Then along came the TV and the furniture was re-organised to face the new source of warmth and comfort. Everyone knew where they sat, everyone together.

The thing here is that 'devices' (phones, tablets, laptops) have superceded the TV, and our technology is now a solitary exercise.

Before we started fostering we had a 'normal' home, in the sense that we had a fixed cast list. There was mum, dad, and three children, year in year out. The five of us.

Of course, thinking back, the arrival of each of our three wonderful kids caused a massive change in the shape!

But once we decided "three will do", home life was a matter of us five knocking around each other, breakfast/lunch/tea… outings…family TV... 

 You form a circle, same faces, same lovely people. Same dynamic.

Then, you start fostering. And an unknown squib is thrown into the works. A child who's almost always had a horrible time and needs - and I mean REALLY NEEDS - loving attention.

The home isn't the same circle anymore. When the new child arrives the shape is more more like a figure of 8, with us in one circle of the 8 and the arrival in the other. But the two are joined at the hip and the foster parents have to turn the 8 into an 0.

Take, for example, Sammy. A ten year-old girl who arrived at our house complete with a warning that her father was apoplectic that his two daughters had been taken into care; not because he was concerned about their welfare so much as his self-image as the ultimate perfect male was challenged.

Sammy had lived under a cruel regime since her mother ran away.

I always feel sorry for those men who dress as super heroes to get camera attention about their grievance that the system obstructs fathers from having a just access to their kids. We haven't seen the Fathers For Justice men for a while; they used to stand around on top of famous buildings in their baggy Batman costumes having been advised by their PR people that the costumes would get them space in the newspapers. But I always wondered if really thought of themselves as supermen, and what kind of parenting that mindset would cause.

Sammy's father was probably a narcissist.

Sammy arrived on a freezing afternoon in mid-December. It had been decided that there were risks for her that were different from the risks faced by her older sister, so the sister was allowed to stay with the father, unless things changed.

Sammy was sore about that. No matter how awful home life is, 99% of children in care want to go back.

In the early days Sammy would join us for meals, sit in silence, then scoot back to her room and shut herself in.

We went to work to try to make her feel at home with us, and luckily, Plan A was a fair success, but I'm not sure you could do it nowadays.

What brough her down was the TV. She loved Jerry Springer (today's kids had the same affection for Jeremy Kyle). She would sit in the living room by herself and watch. Once we knew she liked losing herself in the small screen we expanded our watching - family films complete with popcorn, crisps and Fanta. We'd sit together and she began to relax with us, join in conversations about the movie.

It was only a week or two before she would call out from the landing "You wanna watch Jerry Sringer in a minute?" And so I did.

Sammy stayed with us for four months. Not long, but long enough for our family to morph into a six.

We were told her father had been counselled and had agreed to a Social Worker visit once a week to make sure he was sticking to a new self.

Ans, since taking up fostering, our household has a new self too.




Friday, August 20, 2021

WHAT WOULD GARY LINEKER DO?

There's been a swathe of friendly arguments in our house about Gary Lineker. For those who don't know he was once a brilliant footballer who's re-invented himself as a brilliant broadcaster/entertainer/pundit/social conscience. Well, that's my view. Others in the house think he's re-invented himself as a big-eared millionaire woke.

I annoy the enemy by musing, when faced with a moral choice such as tea or coffee; "What would Gary Lineker do?"

Also in our house we are faced with a proper moral dilemma at the moment.

We have a lad in care with us, I'm calling him Ged, who's not been with us a couple of months and is due to leave fostering soon.

A child of one's own is a child one has tried to guide into adulthood through the years. You hope that you know them and know their needs and how best they might fly the nest. When a young person arrives into your care almost complete and rounded off…there's little you can do to help prepare them, compared to what you want to do.

It's a great big world out there; sometimes cruel and brutal, sometimes sweet as a nut. 

But here's the thing; with one's own children the cord is never cut. They are your children 'til you're no more and amen to that, because they know it and take comfort that they always have you and maybe even your spare bed to fall back on.

My dear old dad, now departed, was never happier than when (with me by now in my forties) he was able to make me a snack of his trade mark cream cracker sandwiches with cheese and Branston or being able to give me a lift somewhere. I loved it too.

You're never alone with a parent or two still breathing.

Children nowadays no longer pack their bags and head off into the blue yonder at 18, if they ever did. What with the cost of buying a home, the state of employment, National Debt at eye watering size - the spin is that the country's swanning it, but doest it feel like it? Then there's the dire zero contracts. 

A huge number of UK children haven't left home.

It's grand that they have that option, despite the occasional frustrations for all concerned.

Ged doesn't have any such safety net.

His dad's a self-confessed no goodster and his mother's with a man who insists her children stay away.

His brothers and sisters, all younger, are scattered through fostering.

My God, you'd think he'd be petrified of that many-headed serpent we call the future.

Seemingly not a bit of it. 

Ged has been tossed in the wind so much of his life it's next to nothing to him to face being tossed around all by himself. He's exhilarated by the prospect of not having to be home by 11.00pm.

He doesn't seem worried that he might end up without a home to be home to by 11.00pm.

So, naturally, I do his worrying for him - with plenty of assists by Blue Sky. Their worrying takes the form of practical support and guidance in what his entitlements and fallbacks will be when he reaches his 18th birthday.

There have been changes in the status of young people in Care when they reach 18. In a nutshell - as I understand it - children in Care are no longer fostered, but can stay on with their foster family until they are 21 under a sort of supported lodgings scheme. I quote;

"These arrangements are known as Staying Put in England, When I’m Ready in Wales and Continuing Care in Scotland. In addition to this, Northern Ireland has its own arrangement for caring for a young person aged 18+ called Going the Extra Mile."

I guess that in many a household where there's a teenager heading for their 18th birthday there are some heavy discussions. In our case with Ged, we've been tooled up by Blue Sky as to the many ways it could work if Ged wanted to stay on.

The thing is he doesn't. He wants to spread his wings. And to be fair, he's hardly going to have time to bond with us and feel like he has a family to fall back on; his placement with us was tailored to preparing him for the world and he knows it and is keen.

How will he manage? Ah, well this is where it gets doubly interesting

Ged believes, and social services say it might be true, that he will come into a bit of money when he's 18. Or maybe when he's 21. He's keeping this information close to his chest and I don't ask about it, it's his business.

The story he's hinted at to various Social Workers and other confidants during his years in care is that someone, probably his untrustworthy father, has put aside some probably ill-gotten gains as a sort of dodgy trust fund for him. Possibly to say sorry for being a rubbish dad.

Do I believe it? I haven't enough to go on. Our Social Worker says that Ged is street-smart enough to know between a concrete promise and hot air, so the chances are it's better than a maybe. The sum is believed to be a solid five-figure amount.

Even if it's true, will it be enough for life out there? What with rent, bills, the inevitable motor bike, not to mention the raves

So, here's where we're heading with him. He's a fine guy. We're intending to tell him that if things go badly there's lots of help available, including this;

He's got my mobile number and he knows not only where we live, but where HE lives if he needs us.

With us.

I didn't have to ask myself; "What would Gary Lineker do?" (Although I reckon he'd do what we're planning to do).

And I won't be asking that question out loud on the matter of Ged, too jokey.

Mind, I may have asked myself; "What would the professional, caring foster mum do?"





Monday, August 16, 2021

TEENAGERS

 I've been asked for thoughts about fostering teenagers. I'm no expert, but it is a block around which I have been a good many times, and loved (almost) every minute. So here's a few random ones;

* Put up with the fact that they are teenagers. One good way of doing this is to go back over what you were like when you were a teenager. Try to remember the angst, the fears, the frustrations of being treated like an adult when it comes to things like paying full price for a bus ride but being treated like a child with things like being denied a driving licence or a bottle of beer, even though the state says you're old enough to join the army. 

* Don't pretend you understand them even if you do. The only thing a fostered teenager has complete ownership over is who they are, and they don't want you peeking into their soul, it's theirs. If this means acting ignorant of their favourite music and not knowing one Marvel superhero from another, so be it. PS; don't say their music is great either. They'll switch genres in a trice. You're not supposed to like it; stick to telling them how much you like Abba. 

*  There will always be something to worry about with them. We foster carers are lucky because unlike ordinary parents we have specialist advice to go to, namely our Social Worker. Don't ring them up for any old thing, but Blue Sky provides supervision sessions and they're the place to talk over any suspicions about drugs or romantic enterprises or eating concerns.

* Their room will be a mess. It's their mess. They won't mind you clearing away anything mouldy or hazardous, but they'll know to within an inch exactly where their three-day-old socks are; one is under the bed, the other is behind the wardrobe.

* They live their lives by a different clock to the rest of the world. Their day starts at 11.00am or later, and extends to 2.00am at night. It's not any form of defiance, it's to do with circadian rhythms or somesuch. It's a biological fact, as is the biological fact that they will make enough noise sometimes to wake you up. Get earplugs.

* They do not need to eat their vegetables. Their digestive system appears to be able to create all the neccessary vitamins out of a packet of Walkers salt and vinegar. Alternatively, GIVE them an apple, to keep as theirs. Most often, but not always, ownership of the apple means they no longer see it as a threat to their independent choice of food, and it becomes edible. Don't say "Here's an apple for you", instead put a small bowl of fruit in their room; an apple, a banana and an orange. They'll eat them except the orange. Oranges need peeling which is a faff. Also; by refusing the orange they remain in control (they think).

* They won't talk, unless you get them onto a subject they're comfortable with, one they'll know more than you about. They'll possibly know more about fleecing the benefit system, or the best tips for sofa surfing, or how to get off a charge of shoplifting. For many teenagers in care they witnessed at home these matters as representing the badge of adulthood, and they'll open up if they can sound like 'grown-ups'. And indeed, in these respects they are more grown-up than most adults.

*They'll never forget you. Even though they'll hardly say a sentimental thing to your face, many years later they'll  call at your door to say thanks, either metaphorically or literally.  One foster mum I know had this exact thing happen and still fills up when she tells people about it.

Thursday, August 05, 2021

REVELATIONS

 One of the joys in the first few weeks of a new child arriving is that you get a drip-feed of revealing information from them about themselves and their past history. The revelations help form your way to foster them.

It's not so easy with younger ones. They don't have the mental apparatus to share significant experiences, so you have to watch and listen. With older teenagers it's easier. They talk - once they start to trust you.

Our new placement Ged is a charmer. He's incredibly polite and considerate, so much so that I'm wondering if he has something else going on elsewhere and is storing up favour in case the something else breaks.

I hope that doesn't sound cynical, it's based on hard-won experience and there's no way he'd guess I have that small but real concern in the back of my mind.

I'm now 90% sure the smoke I smelled on him when I picked him up from a late train wasn't tobacco.

Ged has means. He buys classy clothes and train fares are no problem for him. He owns recording and editing equipment for his music which doesn't come cheap. 

My worry is based on an excellent training session I had with a Blue Sky expert on drug use among today's teens. The session was entitled "County Lines".  I hadn't heard of County Lines before. If you have and know all about it forgive me banging on, but a caring concern is in my mind now so I'm going over it again.

"County Lines" is a term for a technique used by drug dealing gangs to escape arrest and prosecution. It works like this; they recruit independent minded teenagers by using older teenagers (16 to18 years old) to dress cool and hang around  outside school gates getting to know the younger (14 to 16 years old) teenagers. They want the loners, the losers; the ones who'll feel emboldened by a cool older dude befriending them. They give them 'free' stuff. Not illegal stuf; maybe an expensive pair of trainers. Then they tell them they can earn good money to pay them back for the 'free' stuff by doing a delivery job for them. 

The delivery involves them crossing a county boundary carrying a package.

The package contains drugs. The reason the youngsters are sent across county lines has to do with the way English police forces are organised. They are set up along county lines. If a crime is committed that has crossed county lines the police paperwork becomes disproportionate and the investigation stagnates. Even if it doesn't, the 'criminal' is a bewildered teenager who doesn't know anything.

So, armed with this training, have I any other reason to harbour a small concern that Ged is behaving less like a foster child and more like the guest from Heaven? 

Yes.

We were chatting about our respective family histories, I mentioned that I had a distant relative who is  'known to the police' as they say.

Ged trumped me; his dad's in prison.

For drug dealing.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

PRIVATE PHOBIAS

 Fostering really is Forrest Gump's box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get. We've had all sorts, which has been great; but when we began fostering we hoped for teenagers because we felt we'd be able to manage them best.


So here we are now with two teenagers in the house, the one we used to call eldest who is now no longer the eldest, and Joe who who  has been with us for 3 weeks, and is due to leave us in about 15 weeks.

What happened yesterday is a nice story of why teenagers can be great foster children.

What happened was this;

It was the middle of the night. Nearer daybreak than sunset. Noise had woken me up, it had only been a little noise and the reason it woke me up was because it wasn't one of the usual little noises of the night that you get used to (a little gurgle of the waterworks or the far off yap of an urban fox). It was the sound of someone moving about downstairs.

I lay there for a bit straining my ears for it to repeat but it didn't.

Nevertheless I'd heard it. So I put on my dressing gown and crept down the stairs. There was light coming from the living room, the door was half open. But it wasn't the light from a lamp, it flickered. The TV was on. But the sound was off.

Either someone had left it on with the sound down or someone was watching but not listening. I peered round the door only to see Joe wrapped up in some movie or other and wearing a pair of wireless Air Buds. After a few seconds he sensed my presence, snatched up the remote and paused the film.

"Hello" he said quietly, adding; "I haven't woken you up have I?"

I asked him if he was okay. He said he was fine but he couldn't sleep...

He told me he couldn't sleep ever, at least not in the conventional sense of going to bed when it's late then sleeping until it's about time to get up. He had never been able to sleep normally.

Joe had been with us for three weeks now, and he's only just revealing that he has something worse than insomnia, he has a phobia about beds, he's practically allergic to bedrooms.

But here's the amazing thing: he has been awake through the night every night since he came here, but we didn't know; he didn't want to bother us with his problem. So when we'd go to bed he would say he's just going to stay up for a little bit…then he stays up through the night. If he does sleep it's more like a nap with his feet up on our sofa. He often watches TV, but has connected it up to his Air Buds so we don't get woken up. The noise that woke me was him creeping into the kitchen for a snack.

I came to suspect there might be some dark reasons for his problem with bedrooms, so I decided to let him tell me about it if he wanted to, or keep it private if that's what he preferred. Might be best if I don't know, and best that he doesn't revisit seriously nightmarish memories.

The other possible scenario might be that he himself doesn't have any clear recollection of anything that might have caused this aversion.

The big positive all of this is that Joe has developed strategies for dealing with his problems, which include not wanting to inconvenience or trouble anybody else.

He is a fine young man, a credit to his generation, we can only hope that he develops better and better strategies in the future for dealing with his past and his present.

And if there' s any justice in life, and there often is in fostering, he will.


Wednesday, July 21, 2021

NEVER BEEN CALLED "MUM" THIS QUICK

 Been a gap in my blog posting because a new child has arrived.

He's actually a dream placement (oh yes, they're out there, most times you only hear about the challenges).

He's 17 years old coming up 18. His being fostered is being wound down, tapered off. Won't be long before he's out in the world fending for himself.

He's sturdy physically and emotionally. Carries himself with dignity, wit and warmth. 

Our fostering of him is almost hands-off, that's how they want it; let him experience all the sense of independence available so that he's as ready as possible for adulthood.

Here's a little story that'll give you an idea of this fine guy; his name's Joe.

Joe goes out most nights, tells us where he's going and what he's planning. Whether he tells us everything or not…you know what teenagers are about, you must do. You were one once. Remember?

He takes the train each evening and catches the last one back. Our house is a bit too far for a walk home from the station so I pick him up. 

The first time I collected him it was about 10.45. I parked in the station car park. It's next to one of those pubs you get near railway stations, a bit of hurley burley about it. I wound up my windows and clicked the button to lock all the doors.

When his train pulled in he appeared and strode across the car park towards me with a nonchalent wave and a friendly grin.

As he reached the car I unlocked the doors and he opened the passenger door. Three lads were spilling out of the pub and ragging each other in a friendly/confrontational way, calling each other names in that jokey/ironic way they've heard grown men do. The language was colourful but harmless. 

They were going past the car and Joe had the door open.

"Guys," he said in a friendly voice - I could hear the smile - "I got me mum in the car 'ere".

The lads fell silent. They carried on walking. About ten yards beyond us one of them shouted an expletive, just to save face.

Joe got in. "Kids!" he sighed. Then he said;

"Mind if I wind down the window?"

I agreed. But I could still smell the smoke on his parker.

I'm not clued up enough to know what he'd been smoking. If he'd been twelve it would have been an issue for me, I'd bring it up with my Blue Sky Social Worker at our next supervision session.

Joe told me that being mixed race had many benefits. He hopes to go into the music business, he spends a lot of time creating digital music. 

I tell him that however and wherever he goes along in life, I'll always be in his fan club.




Monday, July 12, 2021

TO FEED A FOSTER CHILD

 Food is right up there in the minds of most foster children.

Funny, I must mention this to Blue Sky; to my knowledge we've not yet had a training session on cooking for looked-after kids.

When a young body's growing it gets hungry and in many chaotic homes mealtimes are…let's say unpredictable.

In our house we're the opposite; weekday breakfast is 7.30am, tea's at 5.30pm. Weekends are more relaxed but I keep on top of everyone's food needs. I'm always asking "Sandwich?".

A full tummy, or the prospect of one, is incredibly comforting for kids in care.

One of ours at the moment is going through a challenging phase; questioning this, poo-pooing that. It's ok, not abusive, in fact it's done with a twinkle in the eye; there's a lot of affection in it.

When I dish up he looks down at his plate and says;

"What's this? We had it night before last!"

He will be referring to his plate of fishfingers and fries with baked beans and a side of lettuce, cucumber and tomato.

And referring back to four nights prior when it had been oven baked fish in breadcrumbs, boiled spuds and green beans.

So here's what happened tonight…I love it.

A week before he'd found a recipe book in the kitchen, a book I'd been given as a Christmas present (aren't they all?) last year. A Nigel Slater full offancy dan small portion vegetarian dishes, often using types of pasta I've never heard of.

Our kid flipped it open and started going;

"Wow! Look at this!" and "This looks fantastic!"

I festered for about a week.

Then I wen to Waitrose and bought Romano peppers, puy lentils, Gorganzola, basil, parsley, a red chilli..blah blah.

Oh, by the way as you read this, I know you're ahead of me and you know exactly where this is going..

Two hours I slaved. 

Well, not slaved. More like shaved;shaved garlic and ginger. I diced and skinned, I whizzed and blended, I roasted and marintated.

About 5.00pm (30 minutes to teatime) I texted him; "Tea at 5.30pm. A Nigel Slater recipe. I've made a red pepper and green lentil melange with feta cheese, marinated red onion and a home made pesto of fresh basil, parsley, walnuts and olive oil"

Then I added (as you would have done);

"Or you can have a Cornish pasty."

Cornered, he came back:

"I'll take it"

He came downstairs and looked at the plate. It did not look as irresistible as the platefuls do in recipe books.

He had the pick though; melange or pasty.

I knew what he was thinking. It was nice he didn't want to hurt my feelings.

I said:

'It's not your sort of thing after a hard day is it?"

We had a fantastic 10 minute exchange. He was hungry and wanted his usual tea-food, but for maybe the first time, was cautious about hurting me:

"The thing is kinda alright. But why'dya put peas in it?"

I aplogised.

Short stort long; he let me order him a Dominos pizza. There were no hard feelings.

In fact it was a great thing, he saw I'd tried and was okay that food-wise he'd over-reached.

In fostering you're growing all the time.

Fostering is more nutritious than mere food.




Friday, July 09, 2021

THE ART OF REVERSE PSYCHOLOGY

One of my happiest memories in fostering is a tale of reverse psychology. At least I think it's reverse psychology, the colleague who worked it on me was a dab hand and the trick is to make sure the other party isn't aware of it.

I'd used reverse psychology with our own children with modest success, I think they tumbled pretty quick. Getting them to drink water was a long battle. I tried calling it "Sky juice" or even "Chateau faucet", no dice. Then I hit on "Please do not drink water as drinking water helps you run faster and you'll be able to beat me in a race and I can't have that."

That one worked, for a while.

In fostering, it can be a magic wand.

"I bet you can't run upstairs and clean your teeth and be in the car for the school run before I count to ten". That sort of low-level thing. Works EVERY time. They love the challenge, love the game. What's more I make sure they always win, and winning is so rare for most kids in care they lap it up. They probably tumble too, but carry on the charade because the kick they get is so pleasant.

I never thought I'd fall for reverse psychology myself. One of my happiest memories, though, is of falling for it hook, line and sinker..I think. Maybe. I still don't know. See what you think. 

We'd had a call from Blue Sky asking; "Would we be willing to take a child who…?"

We said yes, and the boy arrived.

Poor lad, he'd been through absolute hell. I can't and won't give you any details because you don't need the pictures in your head. It was truly horrific, a criminal matter. Literally.

Two long weeks into the most challenging placement we'd ever had, we weren't exactly at the end of our tether but the pressure was on. Blue Sky sent troops of social workers to us, even one of their head honchos paid a visit to check we were ok and bolster our resolve.

I've never given up on any child, but on rare ocassions each and every foster carer is entitled to consider passing a child on, perhaps to a home that doesn't have a housefull of others as we do, in which case you'd be doing it for the child's benefit, and that thought can sugar the pill.

So I can't be certain that we weren't wondering if the lad was too much.

Then we got a phone call from the courts. They needed a psychological assesment of the lad so they were sending a top man to visit us.

And boy, was he ever a top man.

He gave me his card on the doorstep which had his qualifications on it. I've kept it down the years as a souvenir. He had 14 letters after his name. He was billed as a "Chartered Psychologist". He explained;

"There are psychiatrists and psychologists, then one step up from them you have your Clinical Psychologists, I'm sure you fostering folk have heard of them."

I nodded.

"Well," he said "Most of us Chartered Psychologists like to think we're one step up from your Clinical Psychologists. So I'd better be on my toes."

Blimey. 

He had two private sessions with the lad. Then he sat me down at our kitchen table for a chat. His verdict was very saddening;

"In simple terms the lad has little or no chance of repair from the damage that's been done from birth".

To allow me to take this in he glanced away over my shoulder at the kitchen dresser behind me where we accumulate various bits of flotsam and jetsam; string, cotton reels and old books. Then he said;

"It's like when a boxer takes so much punishment there's no way he should still be standing. I don't know if you ever saw Mohammed Ali fight George Foreman?"

I replied yes, it was a dim and distant memory. Actually I remembered it well. I happen to enjoy boxing. I know it's not a proper reflection of me, and if they banned it I wouldn't miss it, but while it's around I can't resist it.

"Well," he continued "This lad has been punched out, literally and metaphorically all his life. Just like Ali was that night, taking punch after punch after punch. No-one can take punches for that long and stay standing."

"So," I said "Are you saying that the child will need to be Mohammed Ali to survive?"

"No." said this clever man. "I'm afraid I think the poor lad has little or no chance. You can try if you want, good luck. I would expect he's going to end up in a unit."

"No," he continued "I'm saying that his foster parents will need to be Mohammed Ali for them to survive."

We took the job on. Somehow we stuck by the lad, it was a long haul, but worth it. Oh so worth it. He ended up doing pretty fine. He's not without his moments apparently, but on the whole he's…well…whole.

It was a few days after the psychologist's visit and his words were still rattling in my head. Telling me I stood no chance with the lad? He doesn't know me. I see myself as an; "I've started so I'll finish type of person". I happened to be sitting in the seat he'd sat in, and, deep in thought glanced up at the kitchen dresser. Suddenly for the first time in years, I actually took notice of the books gathering dust there.  A couple of Nigel Slater's alongside a Weight Watchers, a few cheap novels…

…and a biography of Mohammed Ali.

Not only that, but hanging on the back of our kitchen door was a bunch of shopping bags, one of which my other half bought in Sports Direct with a picture on it of Mohammed Ali standing triumphantly over a fallen opponent. The image had lost it's meaning down the years, but now I suddenly saw it afresh. And a massive penny dropped.

This Chartered Psychologist saw that part of his job was to motovate us into giving the lad our best shot, and figured the way to do it might be to summon the spirit of a man who happends to be a bit of a hero in our house.

Telling us the lad stood no chance and that we'd have to be Mohammed Ali to succeed, well…who wouldn't come out at the bell for another round?

Was I had?

Probably yes. But in the nicest, kindest professional way.

And I'm so grateful for it.

So, I hope, is the lad. Which is what matters most.




Saturday, July 03, 2021

ON BEING GIVEN 'ADVICE'

 A reader writes;

"Maybe you can direct me to the posts if you've written about this before, but do you have any advice for dealing with well-meaning family and friends who have concerns(read: fears) about my family's interest in fostering ? For example, teenage boys seem to make people really nervous ("aren't you afraid they will steal, lie, do drugs, abuse your bio kids??") Husband and I aren't stupid about risks involved, and the precautions necessary to protect family and property, but I struggle to reassure others in our circle. We tend to see teenagers as children (albeit with certain, often serious difficulties) just as much in need of homes as younger kids, but to society at large, teenagers,and foster teens in particular seem to be very threatening. Anon."

Oh dear Anon, I've always kept unasked-for advice from 'well-meaning' others at arm's length. The advice is often ill-informed and usually gloomy. I don't know why people have such affection for what they call 'The Worst Case Scenario".

Everyone sees themselves as well-meaning. Most people judge themselves by their motives, but we should really judge ourselves by our actions and their consequences.

I even try not to give advice myself, simply tell stories of how fostering can be and let people draw their own conclusions.

But I'll break that habit at the end of this peice, and give some advice directly to those people who wade in with their well-meaning advice and see if they find it helpful.

If push came to shove I'd advise you to sign up to foster (you seem just the type), and tell your family and friends that if it doesn't work out you'll opt out of the profession. 

But you might ask them what they're basing their advice on;

Actual personal experience of fostering? Doesn't sound like it. 

Verifiable statistics? Concrete information? Solid facts? 

Or maybe they're dependent on those good old fall-back canteen culture wisdoms such as "It's a well-known fact" or "Ask anybody, they'll say the same".

Then there's the Chinese Whispers syndrome where someone knows someone whose friend was friends with a man whose wife's sister-in law tried fostering and "it was a nighmare". I've heard that one a few times.

They like to add that suchlike information is "straight from the horse's mouth".

Oh and there's also "They don't warn you in advance because they need all the fosterers they can get."

Look, I've had plenty of teenagers come to us for fostering, I cherish the memories of every single one of them. Teenagers were the age-group we went into fostering to care for. 

You can tell your friends and family this; a foster mum (me) told you personally that before fostering she'd taken in foreign students. All of them middle class, with affluent parents, solid homes, academic success and real prospects in life. I bet you a pound to a penny your friends and family would be alright with them eh? Give them a mo to check their stereotype handbook…and yes…foreign students, they'll be good as gold.

Well let me tell you they'd be wrong there too. Those little minxes; stole from us, got pregnant, got brought home in police cars, smashed a hole in a bedroom wall, threw up on their bedroom floor…I could go on.

None of the teenagers I've fostered did any of that. 

Not one.

Of course they have their problems.You are clear you're conscious of that and consequently halfway to dealing with whatever the issues. Tackling the problems of our foster kids, that's the nub of the job, right there. The Von Trapp children you do not get when you foster, who wants them anyway?

I'm truly shocked that people are coming at you with what sounds like unsubstantiated drivel about stealing, lying, drugs and abuse. Jees, you wouldn't be allowed to spurt such prejudice and negative stereotyping about any other group in society.

Give those family and friends the link to this piece and ask them to read the next paragraph out loud to themselves looking in the mirror, because it's how they should start talking to themselves;

"I can go on telling myself I care for a friend or family member who wants to foster til I'm blue in the mouth but to stand in their way of caring for a child who is alone and frightened is  wrong. 

If I was a kid with no home and no family to care for me I'd be shocked that on top of what the world has done to me, my  foster parents have to listen to others telling them I'm maybe a thief, a liar, a druggie, an abuser.  

Instead, from now on, I'll tell my family and friends who want to foster to go for it, wish them good luck, and ask them if there's anything I can do to help, encourage and support them."






Tuesday, June 29, 2021

A REALLY LONG WEEKEND...

 Been a hectic few days here since my last post, we had a respite placement.

A respite child is one you look after for a short, fixed period of days to give his long-term foster parents a break. They literally had a break, went to Wales for a few days. They needed time away from fostering, and I learned they needed a little time away from their lives too.

When I talk about the highs and lows of fostering I often forget that we're doing it alongside the highs and lows of everything else in life.

I'll tell you what I know about them - and what I can publish, because their anonymity is as important as that of every child I talk about.

They are a couple, he's on his second marriage, she's never been in anything of a serious relationship so they both got a bit of baggage of different sorts.

He drives for a living and has started to struggle with the pressures put on him by his job and his employer such as the time expectations, the traffic, customers being obnoxious and the sheer lonliness of having no-one but your own company unless you count Radio Two and Ken Bruce…

His first marriage had ended in him letting her have everything; the kids, the home, the car and most of his earnings until the kids grew up. Apparently he's simply Mr Nice and wanted them to be ok.

She had some sort of office job before fostering; I gather she felt it was a career rather than a job if you know what I mean. Then she got the chop from out of the blue. They spat her out like she was a bit of gristle. She went in one Monday and they were waiting for her, asked for her badge and told her that her stuff was by the door. She went to collect it in tears and noticed her desk was already gone. Why do some employers kick people when they're down? She didn't even get to say goodbye to people who'd become her sole social network. Lonliness takes many guises, hers was a big one.

They met on the internet.

How do I now all this? Because Blue Sky got me to go into their office to meet her with the child to check out if the respite placement would work ok. How that for leaving no stone unturned?

She and I had coffee and while the child was causing mayhem around the office we talked about everything.

The child, Craig, was ten years old and sturdy. His dad, she told me, was six foot eight and treated with respect by the four cops it usually took to go and deal with him when he got lit up.

Blimey.

Craig was, shall we say, hyper-energetic. But I took a shine to him because his mischief was harmless and he had a twinkle in his eyes that often betrays a sense of humour; and laughing at the same thing is the equivilant to the hug you often want to give a child in care but can't, especially during a pandemic.

Long story short; I agreed to take Craig for five days and four nights. When Craig discovered I had met him and liked him enough to want him in our home for nearly a week he felt wanted, and that cut a lot of ice. That said; he was hard work; never rested, hardly slept, always on the go. He'd go through drawers, pull things out of cupboards, chase a fly round the house…you had to have eyes in the back of your head and endless energy. We watched a DVD of Home Alone one evening, it's a good one with foster kids, it's got the lot, even Christmas, which they love. He watched it about ten times before they came to take him back to his foster home.

As he left I said two things to myself;

1) "Go well young fella, and best of luck to your fantastic foster mum and dad"

and

2) "Phew!"

Job well done. Spare bedroom spare again.

C'mon Blue Sky ring again with;

"Would you be willing to take a child who…"


Saturday, June 19, 2021

EVER BEEN STOOD UP?

The last couple of weeks we've had two calls asking us if we'd be willing to take a new child.

The spare bedroom is ready, spring-cleaned and with fresh neutral coloured bed linen. A bowl is ready for fruit. I always provide a bowl with an apple, bananas and an orange. The orange is decorative, It rarely gets eaten - peeling it is a faff - but I think the colour is warm and friendly.

Both times we said yes we would and both times we got a phone call after a few hours from Blue Sky's placement team to say the child was going elsewhere.

It's worth talking a bit about how the "Thanks but no thanks"  call impacts us fostering folk.

Blue Sky do it well. They usually cite a practical reason such as another home had better proximity to the child's school, or that they felt the child needed a bit more distance from the real home. Or maybe that the child needed one-on-one care, or a less busy home than ours.

But no matter how gently the message is delivered I'm always taken back to the time I was stood up on a first date. We'd agreed to meet outside the cinema at 7.00pm, the film started at 7.25. I got there early and stood in a shop doorway opposite to see if my date was lurking, I must have wanted a chance to gird myself. It got to 6.55pm and no sign. At exactly 7.00pm I crossed the road and started looking both ways. I think I realised the writing was on the wall somewhere between 5 and 10 past the hour.

Then the anxiety kicked in. I got nervous not just because I was being dissed, but because other cinema goers might realise I was being passed over.

I remember trying to look as if I wasn't waiting for a date that wasn't showing up.

I get reminded of this injury by lots of triggers. Sometimes standing still outside a cinema does it for me. I was watching Big Brother one time when Dustin Hoffman appeared, and that did it for me because the film we had planned to see was a Dustin Hoffman film.

And I get the same fleeting feeling of rejection or abandonment when we're passed over for fostering. I've talked to other foster parents who agree. They're often keen to talk to me about it because, like me, they try to put on a brave face at the news. They say they get all sorts of emotions such as "Maybe Blue Sky will get fed up putting me up for placements and being told no thanks". Crazy thought but we're only human.

Then there's the straightforward disappointment of never even getting to meet a child who you've got to know in your mind from the notes you are sent.

Whenever it happens our Blue Sky Social Worker is on the phone in a flash to re-enforce the message that we are great foster parents and the reasons for the 'no thanks' were practical and genuine.

So maybe I should just face the facts, get a grip. Or 'man up' as my other half puts it.

Right. I'm going to watch Meet The Fokkers one night this week and get over the Dustin Hoffman thing once and for all.




Friday, June 11, 2021

WAITING FOR YOUR NEXT CHILD

 People who are considering fostering, or perhaps just starting in fostering, could maybe use some idea of the situation I'm in right now, because you will be in the same boat one day, perhaps you're in it right now.

You've got a spare bedroom, it's available for a child.

You're waiting for the phone to ring…

Perhaps different authorities and agencies contact provisional foster homes using text or email, but Blue Sky has always phoned me person-to-person, I think that's because speed is of the essence. Everybody wants to get the child settled somewhere asap, but the process has to be got right; the right child in the right home. 

I keep my phone to hand all the time. If I'm driving and it rings I pull over somewhere safe as quick as I can. You get asked;

"Would you be willing to take a child who…"

What follows is a brief verbal outline of the child, in my experience paragraph, maybe two. I have always said yes (so far), but if the placement appears in any way especially tricky I call my other half, who also has always said yes (so far).

Then an email appears in your inbox from Blue Sky with more information. It's always a hugely eye-opening read. Your eyes are opened time and time again to the sad world many children have to endure.

The Social Workers and Blue Sky Placement Team work hard and fast to sift their options. Generally there's more than one foster home available and they have to weigh up which is best. That must be no easy task, what a responsibility.

Then your phone goes again, and it's either;

"Thank you so much for offering to help, but they were able to find a home nearer to the child's school (the reasons obviously vary). You're let down gently and take heart from the fact that your home will have another evening without the demands a new child naturally briings in.

Or;

"We'd like to take you up on your offer, the child can be brought to you this afternoon at four o'clock if that's convenient, and your Social Worker is aiming to get to your house for three o'clock to support the hand-over." Obviously the specifics vary from child to child, but that's the gist.

For me, and many Carers I've talked with, the next few hours are amazing, you feel so alive. I usually go back to the email with the child's notes because they sometimes contain clues to the child which will help. I think this is done deliberately to help ease things for the child. Things such as their favourite foods, fads, general likes and dislikes. If they've got a favourite band you can clue up on. I once was able to get a CD playing in the kitchen and the girl's face just lit up like I can't describe. Stuff like that. If I haven't got their favourite food in the larder and there's time I always make a dart to the supermarket….

…I'm getting excited thinking about it.

They say if a job's worth doing it's worth doing well. In my book there are very few jobs worth doing above fostering, and therefore fostering is worth doing to the very best of one's ability and then some more.

Of course, it helps if you love it.