Wednesday, June 21, 2017

FOSTERING AND SCHOOL ABSCENCE RECORDS



One of our foster children almost, but not quite, likes school.

The rest of them, every single one we've ever had, hated school. More so than our own children, much more so. Probably, if you could put a measurement on it, I'd say foster children have a dislike of going to school that's about 50% greater than the average child.

But they are still subject to the same attendance requirements. 

In fact, because local authorities monitor each and every foster child's school attendance on a daily basis, it's fair to say their attendance is subject not only to greater scrutiny, but because local authorities flag up - to the child's social worker and also the school - what they consider to be  attendance records which should be explained, it's accurate to say that foster children's school attendance is more rigorously enforced than for ordinary pupils.

There's good reason for this is many cases. The child who you wave goodbye to in the morning with their backpack and lunchbox who turns left instead of right when out of sight and simply doesn't show up at school but spends the day mucking around town; that needs to be identified and acted on, for sure.

A child might have a recurring health problem which the foster carer needs help and guidance with, that's another upside to the scrutiny their attendance records are under.

But there's a downside to the stark, naked percentage figure that is used to characterise a foster child's absences...you know the number, for example;

87.5%

To be honest, I'm not clear what is considered ok, I think it's anything above

95%

While anything below

90%

Causes emails to fly around, questions to be asked, concerns to be logged and general harrumphing to take place in various offices.

Numbers. They're so comforting for people who can't see people.

Sometimes children have a sore throat and a cough, sometimes they have been sick in the night. When it's medical it's an easy decision. Sometimes the school will ask if I've taken them to the doctor, not so much because there's any real medical concern (thank you very much, I hope I'd know when a child needs a doctor), but to get some sort of 'expert' validation that the child is unwell so that their absence looks that much more legitimate on the paperwork.

But what to do when life itself creeps up behind them and knocks them for six? Those days when they just cannot face the world, can't face sitting still and quiet and being made to calculate sums and write grammatically correct sentences because their insides are swirling with emotion and their head hurts, not with actual pain but with the torment of things that have happened and are still happening around their poor innocent selves.

There are days when children who have come into care cannot get up the strength to go through the motions in the playground of keeping up appearances with their friends, of tiptoeing around conversations about home life, because they don't want to be reminded they haven't got a home, or seeing all the other children being met by their real parents and they've got a stranger waving at them from behind the railings.

There are days when the mental and emotional health and wellbeing of a foster child is best served by telling them to go back to bed and you'll bring them their breakfast on a tray. 

They usually recognise the occasions when you've said; 'No school for you today' because their lack of wellness isn't medical, it's spiritual. 

I phone the school and tell the truth, in the language they need;

"Jenny had a very distressed night, we're not sure of the exact cause, so we need to make sure she's not sickening for something, so we'll keep her under observation. If her state worsens we'll take her to the doctors, or if necessary A and E. If she recovers you can expect her tomorrow." 

I have even gone so far with the truth as to say:

"Johnny had a dreadful Contact with his parents yesterday after school. His father didn't show up at all or apologise or anything and his mother was late and somewhat the worse for wear. He had to learn that neither of them want him back and that his sister is in hospital after a drugs overdose. He is not well enough on the inside for school today."

I've always, always, found that foster children know what the deal is when I allow a day off for this special and very important healing. The deal is; 

One day off and back to school the next. And let's not have this happen too often. 

There's never been any argument or debate, even though I've never ever had to spell out the deal to them. They get it. They pull themselves together.

They fix their heart and soul all the more easily because they've had it confirmed that in their foster mum they have an ally who is on their side, it's us versus the sometimes grizzly old world.

They learn good stuff about love, hope, friendship, family.

I try to keep the hallowed numbers up. Sometimes I let the child go to school with a runny nose to help balance the books.

I also keep both sets of social workers in the loop. Verbally. They get it; they know and understand better than anyone there are certain days when certain foster children are too wound up to do a good day's schooling.

I know it's a pain for teachers to have to swerve things to help children catch up missed lessons, but that's their job.

We're trying to repair life for a damaged child.

That's our job.

And BTW, if it isn't obvious; a job to be proud of.


Sunday, June 18, 2017

GOOD OLD CONTACT…NOT



Phew.

One of those multi-Contacts.

'Contact' is where your foster children meet up with their significant others; mums, dads, siblings. Sometimes Contact is a bit more complicated than that, but hey ho. We take our foster children  along, no matter their worries in advance, we pick them up no matter their upset afterwards. 

Today was a complicated one.

It was something along the lines of; our foster child was down to meet a sister who was probably her most significant other as the real mother is not known but the apparent mother who was the partner of the father who is not necessarily the blood father but the male who stood up at the time to claim he was going to paternalise the family but found it too much so he left so another male arrived whose behaviour along with the behaviour of some of our child's siblings became unacceptable. The sister had a child of her own possibly by the first or maybe the second father mentioned above. 

But the sister was, until our foster child came into care, the only person who the child had felt any love from.

Now, the uninitiated would think that for a child in care the prospect of meeting the most profound attachment of your life, someone you love but who you don't get to see much, is going to engender deep joy and happiness in the child.

Not never in my book.

It makes them tense, fearful and edgy. 

Maybe there are foster children who confound this scenario, if so, lucky foster carers.

Usually you have to get to work. It is work too. It's a job, and sometimes you have to see it as a job to get it done to the best of your ability. Sometimes it means squashing your urge to treat everyone in your home as family and remember that with your foster children it's a job.

In today's case, the sister brought her own child and wanted to chat about the whole family with me while our foster child played with the sister's child.  By the way, there's isn't a genealogist alive who could get within a hundred light years of what relationship our foster child is to the child of her 'sister'. 

And the sun was high. The contact was in a park. 

You're checking on a thousand things; Sun factor 30, re-hydration, lunch (Maslo's basics).  You're checking on your foster child every 10 seconds as they zoom around the park for a) Health and Safety b) Emotional wellbeing c) Fun. Fun is actually most important but harder to measure.

You're checking on the significant others. How is the sister? How is her child? What will you say if social workers ask if you think your foster child could go live with her sister? Should you let your foster child go off to the ice cream kiosk with five pounds to buy three lollies, what if the cost is more and the child gets upset? What if they can't queue properly? 

The sister seemed a bit thrown by everything she has to deal with right now.

We got home half an hour ago, the journey was sweaty and a bit tense, but when we pulled onto our drive the noises made were that it was a good day.

Like I said; 

Phew.

We'd sat in bed earlier this morning and started talking about what was good in our lives, we don't do it often enough, I don't think people do generally. 

Fostering is, on the whole, one of the three or four best things in our lives, and tomorrow we'll wake up a bit earlier than we want to and sit in bed with a cup of tea and talk about what more we can do for everyone in the family, including and especially the young people we have been judged good enough to help. Then we'll  get going, clean our teeth and make breakfasts and lunch boxes.

Then I'll phone Social Services and say we had contact with our child's sister and we're a bit worried she's got a lot on her plate. I've done it before and you know what? Every time they are grateful for my information. Or at least if they're not they do a damn good job of protecting me from the possibility that I need someone to have a moan at.

The sum-up of today in the park with the ultra-complicated contact? It was a marginal victory for love over yuk, for good over bad, for better over worse. Which is basically what fostering is on a day to day basis.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

SENSIBLE SHOES




We've got a respite fortnight ahead of us, a young man whose foster parents are going on holiday and not taking him.

Apparently he's fine with this, they are a good bit older than him and he's uncomfortable being seen with uncool adults. 

Not being cool is a big issue in fostering.

Up until recently I tried my best to be down wiv da kids, but not no more, and I'm more comfortable than I used to be, and somehow so are our foster children.

What's more embarrassing for them; a couple of fuddy-duddies who prefer Bo Diddly to Snoop Doggy or a sad pair of wannabee young ones making out they get the new Zelda and are thinking of getting a tattoo?

The lad who's coming to stay with us might think his permanent foster carers are behind the times, he ain't seen nothin' yet, wait 'til he gets a load of us.

We wear slippers. We drink 29 cups of tea before lunchtime. We go to bed after News At Ten. We listen to Steve Wright's Love Songs on a Sunday morning while I'm peeling the veg for Sunday roast and husband is cleaning the car.

We disapprove of bad language and believe that teeth should be brushed at least twice a day. We believe in proper pyjamas and dressing gowns. Hair should be combed and faces washed, that's what flannels are for.

We like family films better than ones with non-stop car chases, we don't mind Mock The Week but don't care for Frankie Boyle. (Actually we do, but watch it on catch-up when they're not around).

We wear sensible clothes, our hair is the colour God intended. We floss and take a multi-vitamin every morning. And a vitamin D tab. 

And calcium, now we are both non-dairy, which is as dangerously trendy as we get.

And you know what? I swear our wonderful real children and our lovely foster children prefer it that way; it speaks of some kind of natural order of things, and offers our young people a gap ahead of them, a future world that we don't get, and it belongs to them.

I can't wait for the moment when our respite lad catches the eye of one of our other foster children and they collectively sigh at how totally out of touch we are.

It takes a truly cool couple to be happy to play the uncool couple, but it works.

So: cardigans at the ready...we're going for a nice walk to help dinner go down...
now where are those sensible shoes?



Thursday, June 08, 2017

HOW TO BECOME CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD



All the little things that go to make up family life are somehow heightened in fostering.

It has to do with the changing shape of your home as young people come and go or come and stay.

When your home is peopled by your own flesh and blood, children who've been with you from birth, they've grown up with you, you know them and their ways and vice versa.

In families, big things get discussed thoroughly and decisions get made.

Like I said at the top, it's the little things, and there seem to be more little things in fostering than with ordinary families.

"Like what?" you may wonder. Okay; little things like this;

Does a sweatshirt go into the laundry basket after one wear?

Is it okay to kick off shoes inside the front door and leave them, one under the telephone table,  the other on the other side of the hall?

Is it okay to even ask for a lolly with tea under an hour away?

Is it the responsibility of whoever uses the last sheet of toilet paper to hang a new roll and put the cardboard tube in the recycling bin?

Capice? 

But the problem I've always had is that trying to deal with these little things on the hoof is a) hard graft and b) it goes in one ear and out the other.

I've been in fostering long enough to know that you need to be always on the look-out for new ideas.

And we've road-tested one and it's come up smelling of roses!

We had a Family Board Meeting.

I dressed it up for fun, 7.00pm kitchen table. Table had a sheet of paper and pencil for each of us, there was Fanta, and a bowl of jelly beans.

I didn't overload the agenda, and managed to get a good discussion and agreement on my big bugbear at the moment which is stuff (banana skins, crisp packets, empty tea mugs) being left lying around.

Laundry practice was agreed, and the chairman agreed to extend the fruit bowl from bananas and apples to grapes and berries. We confirmed that fruit can be eaten at any time without having to ask, but crisps and ice cream has to be asked for and don't bother if cooking is going on; a meal is imminent.

It was civilised, grown up, and a great many birds were killed with one stone.

The next one is scheduled for a fortnight, to keep the momentum going.

However.

...I'm a bit worried that there may already be a plot to form a power block and squeeze me out.

As Shakespeare said, uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.






Saturday, May 27, 2017

"FOSTERING. CAN I DO IT?"



I've been asked this question on "Meet The Secret Foster Carer";


Hello there,
I've just come across your blog as I am doing ongoing research about it, as it has always been something I've wanted to do. I say 'ongoing' because I am about to have our second child, so it would be a plan about 2-3 years in the future. Could you tell me how your work fits around your foster care? I would need to work part-time in addition to fostering but it is flexible and could be made to fit, however everything I read about it says that the agency would rather you committed full-time to the care role. Do you have any thoughts or tips on how you make this work? Thanks!


Always a pleasure to talk to people who are thinking about coming into fostering.

First off, good luck with your second, I wish you and your new child all the best for your pregnancy and the birth. They say the second is more fun than the first because you've been there and done it before and that was true for us.

I don't know which fostering agency you've been talking to, but it's always worth asking around and getting a bunch of views and opinions.

The only opinion that really matters is your own; if you believe you can foster with a young family and while doing part-time work, you're more than halfway to doing it and doing a good job.


When you say "it's always been something I've wanted to do", that chimes with myself. I first heard about this fostering thing when I was a kid aged about 14 and thought to myself the same thing as you. People who foster do it for a whole range of reasons, but I've come to believe that the people who do it because they feel it calling are at an advantage because when your heart is in something you can't help but give it your best shot.

That said, look; it's going to be flat out for you. A young family is delightful and draining, I know you know that. Working part-time to make ends meet is something many households have to do and the arrival of the zero hour contract culture hasn't delivered workers enough freedom to pick and choose their days and hours, so you'll be lucky to find an employer who'll be flexible and fit your work times around the needs of a foster child.

This is where your fostering agency and their placement team come in.

I can't speak for other agencies or local authorities, I simply don't know enough about their practices to comment one way or another, but Blue Sky is truly excellent at treating each carer as an individual.

Our personal specific circumstances are paramount to them. They work hard to get to know us, to know our families and how we all fit into the world. Then and only then do they look for a match that suits us. They don't make judgements, don't dwell on negatives. They look at a prospective carer and ask themselves;

"How can we make fostering work for this family and a needy child?'

Every carer is unique, we all have our strengths and weak spots. Sometimes those things aren't what they seem to us.  When you apply to be approved to foster a social worker will visit you regularly over a period of time to find out about you. Don't worry, it's truly a pleasant exercise, remember; they are on your side, they want, they need foster carers.

At the end of the process they'll have a good picture of what would be best for you, and what sort of children your family are best suited by. 

And always remember, you have the final say. Nobody knows you and your home better than you, and you have absolute authority over everything.

That said, there's nothing wrong with taking the long view. You could get yourself approved and ease yourself into fostering by taking a few weekend respite children and see how it works for all concerned. Or be an emergency carer, where the children tend only to be with you for a very short time.

As your family grows up, and you all become more familiar with the do's and don'ts of fostering you can, if you choose, go full-time.

And stop being full-time if it doesn't work.

I found it useful to talk to someone when we were first giving it some thought.

You could phone Blue Sky on 0845 607 6697, it's usually a lovely lady called Di who answers. Have a chat.

Good luck.

I have a feeling you're going to be great, and be the reason a whole bunch of sad children end up leading happier lives.



Wednesday, May 24, 2017

HELPING FOSTER CHILDREN WITH BAD WORLD EVENTS



When something terrible like the Manchester bombing happens, children wonder about it, and worry.

Nowadays they don't just watch TV reports, it's all over the internet and social media.

Some schools conduct special assemblies or lessons to help explain, if an explanation is possible, and to help quell fears.

All children, we must recognise, don't know what these events mean for them.

Who does?

I remember way back when a famous person was unwell, dying in fact.

The news programmes said that there'd be another bulletin in an hour, something like that.

A child we were looking after at the time became more and more upset, which at first we thought was down to the gravitas of the unfolding story.

Wrong.

The child became more and more affected by the ongoing reporting, and ended up in hysterics in his room. We attended. He sobbed;

"No wonder he's dying, every hour they put another bullet in him!"

I haven't made that up.

TV news is something we have to help our children with, especially our foster children.





Tuesday, May 23, 2017

WHERE ELSE IN LIFE DO YOU GET GIVEN A 5 STAR FRIEND?




We're having a nice breather in the house at the moment.

There's a spare room, which we're all agreed can be filled anytime; one of fostering's great joys is wondering who's coming next.

What happens is you get a phone call asking if you would "Take a child who..."

Then you get a profile of the child. They email it over.

It's a file of information about the child, the key stuff. Mind, as I've always said, not a complete picture, I mean, could anyone sum up anyone in a page and a half, or even a hundred?

It's usually a couple of pages. By that point, your personal social worker starts getting involved.

Certainly, waiting for your next placement in fostering is one of life's most exciting/trepidatious  experiences. I love it.

We're a family who tries to say yes. We have only had one no-no, and that went back to when Aids was huge and one of my own children had his/her fears about it overblown by all the media hype, and ended up with a bit of a phobia. I was sad to have to talk to Blue Sky about the problem and say we would have doubts about taking a child who might be HIV positive but they were fantastic. It never came up as an actual issue, but I'll never forget how understanding they were.

So as I was saying, you get an email with a profile of the child who needs care and frankly, when it's your first placement, you're somewhat in the dark about what the information means.

Luckily your personal social worker is right on hand to help interpret the case. 

When you foster you get;

a) A foster child, plus the foster child's social worker, whose role is to help and support the child. 

And;

b) A separate social worker whose job is to help and support YOU.

Newcomers to fostering aren't really clear what this means.

Having your own foster carer means you have a person, a professional, whose job is to look after you and your family. Once you get your head around this level of support you feel a million dollars. 

Life is a scary, sometimes lonely, journey. Most of us try to forge relationships along the way. A partner, a bunch of friends, our families. Those people are there for us in their own sweet way, some of them are rocks. And we are there for them. It's a slightly haphazard network thing, but on the whole it works, most of the time. People do their best; untrained and often busy with their own lives.

We don't get assigned a professional carer, a full-time paid supporter available 24 hours a day 7 days a week whose job is to back us up. But in fostering that's exactly what you get.

And they don't do it just because it's their job and they're paid to be there for us; every single one I've ever had attached to us has been full of love and care, and have ended up friends. 

You're not really supposed to keep them as friends, but one of our ex-social workers is just that; a true friend - yet still a professional; she doesn't ask anything except general chit-chat about the fostering we're doing now she's no longer officially attached to us.

Your personal social worker is all the things you want them to be; excited as you are when a new child arrives, as concerned as you are about the things that have to be tackled with the child, and as delighted and exhilarated about the rewards you and the child experience.

From the heart; having someone on your side, a dedicated supporter who gets to know you, gets to know your real family and your fostering family, and is there for you all the time is probably one of fostering's most unsung wonders.

It becomes a type of love, and I love it and am eternally grateful for it.

Now, come on phone...RING!