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.


Monday, June 07, 2021

SWEET SORROWS IN FOSTERING

 Here in our house we're heading towards that day in fostering which is simultaneously heart-wrenching and heart-raising.

Our little one is being lined up to go home.

If ever there was an experience that fits the phrase 'bitter sweet' this is it.

It's happened in our house plenty of times, you'd think we'd have got used to it, but no chance.

First, there's the child's emotions to help and support. As their foster mum, my thing begins after the news is broken to them. It's always been the child's Social Worker who explains what's going to happen and answer any questions. Usually the child accepts the news unemotionally then potters off to brood.

What a maelstrom of emotions for them...

Deep down they long to go home, always. But the fears - sometimes real, sometimes unfounded - are swirling around in their mind. Fear of recrimination, fears that the unhappinesses they remember in full technicolour awaits them.

And always they carry the  sadness that their life up to this point has been so rotten that they feel marked for misery, so why bother to try?

It's normal for the child who has learned that they are headed home to kick off once the social worker says goodbye and drives away.

This is what happened yesterday, a Sunday.

The child had got the news on Friday and had seemed unmoved. Saturday came and went. I didn't raise the subject except to say a couple of times cheerily "We'll really miss you." 

It's a treading on eggshells thing. You'd like to sit down with the child and talk endlessly, but that's only do-able with the older ones. Little ones don't really do conversation, and don't grasp the multi-layered thing of their internalised emotions. So they can boil up a bit.

Sunday morning we were woken early by the TV downstairs. It was blaring. Sounded like a raucous cartoon with yelling and violence. I guessed straight away that little one was making several statements. 

I put on my dressing gown and went downstairs quietly so as to assess, hopefully get a glimpse of the scene in the living room before deciding how to play it.

Maybe the act of moving slowly and methodically gave me a chance to think. First off I realised I was annoyed for being woken at dawn on a Sunday, so the job there was to throw that feeling out, it would only make matters worse.

By the time I got down into the hallway I'd got my act together and pitched in with a watered down version of a technique I learned in a training session about self-harming. We were taught not to get angsty. Be matter of fact. You peer into a child's bedroom and there they are with a pair of sissors and blood streaming from a forearm (shocking image, never happened to me yet, touch wood). The advice was you should say - gently - "Oh dear, poor you. Stay there and I'll get some paper towels and help you clean up." The amazing bit; you DON'T snatch the sissors away. You show them you trust them.

So. I put my head around the door. Child was expecting me and was rolling around, squirming in front of the big TV which had that mad Spongebob doing their thing.

And I said something like;

"Oooh! Spongebob! Love it! I'm going to get a cuppa tea and watch with you. Want breakfast yet? Bit early for a bacon sandwich but it's never too early for Weetabix."

Child stopped writhing around. There was a moment of still. Then child said "Can I have sugar on it?"

I went:

"I'm gonna have a cheeky spoon of honey in my tea, so yeah you can have sugar on it and it'll be our little secret."

He went; "Yea!"

I went into the kitchen and a thought occurred to me, one I've had before many times, it won't go away.

It's a stupid thought, it goes like this;

"Should the foster mum or dad start to distance themselves from the child who is due to leave in order to help the child with the transfer to a home which might have a bit less warmth and emotional comfort than we try to offer in our foster home?"

I always shoo the thought out, noble as its intent might be. It would be plain wrong, not sure I've got it in me anyway. 

You look out for them with as much affection and kindness as you can, from the moment they come through the front door to the moment you watch them lug their bags up the garden path and into the car. A child you've grown close to, almost as close as your own children, is going, and you wll probably never see them again, never know how they go in life.

So you fill up a bit, part sorrow, part hapiness for them and yourself - a job done. 

Then you go upstairs, strip their bed and get it ready and waiting.

And begin hoping that next time your phone goes the words on the screen are;

"Blue Sky"

And a voice says;

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