Thursday, August 26, 2021


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The thing here is that 'devices' (phones, tablets, laptops) have superceded the TV, and our technology is now a solitary exercise.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


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


 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


 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? 


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.