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.