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 you're 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.