I do love fostering, but I wouldn't want anyone to think I just paint everything a rosy glow.
Here's are my ten hardest things about fostering.
1. They go. Your foster children, they go. Generally, the day a social worker arrives to take them away is the last you see or hear of them. Sometimes the going away is painful. Sometimes it's nice to get the house back for a while, until the next placement. But you find yourself getting little reminders of them; a TV show they liked to watch with you, a meal that was a particular favourite of theirs. And you wonder, you really do, how they are and what they are up to. Often. Very often.
2. Your family worry about you. You have to be guarded about telling them entertaining tales of how challenging fostering can be, it's tempting to use all the colour and drama. Best not, keep it factual. Family don't need to know anything but the basics. The child has privacy. Your family are best off only knowing approximately half of what fostering is like.
3. Getting advice from people who've never fostered. Almost everybody has never fostered. Your mum, your best friend, your children. Amatuers. You only tell them things you're permitted to, but they like to give titbits of advice. Your social worker, your training officer, your review board. They are professional. They will give thought-out advice. Never fostered though.
4.Worrying how something will look in your recorded diary. Everyday things, things that happen, you find yourself wondering how it would look if you had to write it into the diary we keep. We carers send Blue Sky a report on our foster children every so often. You get training in how to write reports. I had one kid who was good fun and a bit of a pain. One school morning I hammered on the bathroom door "Get your ass out of there". She shouted back "Did you say "arse"? And I found myself floundering, worrying I'd crossed a line. Foul language. I actually asked my Blue Sky social worker if I should report that I'd sworn at the child. I was told no way, but write it up as a fact if you want; spell "ass" as "ass". It's a donkey for heavens sake. My social worker advised me to watch less American TV.
5. Standing up to someone else's child when they try it on. Massive responsibility to get it right. The kid says "I'm going to my friends house tonight and I'm probably gonna stay" And just like with your own kids you have to say "You are not staying out at someone else's house tonight." Your own children might imply "What are you going to do about it?" and then what do you say? But in fostering you just say "I'll call Blue Sky's 24 hour service and report that you have missed the time you're supposed to come home and they'll deal with you." Actually, now I think of it, this is something that's easier than with your own children. Scrub this one.
6. Turning down a placement. Sometimes you have to. The profile you get on the case just doesn't fit with your family and what you can do. Blue Sky are totally understanding, it's your job to say "No". It's professional. Still hurts though. I remember a call asking "Would you accept a placement, a teenager who has just killed another young person. He's a good young man. It was an accident, but the prosecution have to consider a murder charge." We declined, but I regret that to this day, always will.
7. Wishing you were somewhere else. This is life, this one. I can't remember any time of my life, any circumstance I've ever had where sometimes I didn't sometimes wish I was somewhere else. Fostering is no different. Fostering sharpens things I find. The highs are much higher, and the lows can be lower. But when I've been low before in life, love and work, I was alone. In fostering I have people behind me going "You're great, rock on!"
8. Fostering can make you wonder about your fellow humans. Hell's teeth, some of the things I've learned about how our fellow humans can behave at the rock bottom end of being fellow people has left me in danger of a new and harsh philosophy. The things that people can inflict on children, things I only read about and heard about before fostering, are now the truth for children I have in my home. I have to watch myself getting quite angry, even vindictive, even worse political. Then you say to yourself "Forget big solutions, there's a child upstairs who needs me, get stuck into that."
9. When the placement doesn't work. It happens, of course. For some carers: the child is not right. It can be for a thousand different reasons, but when it happens you get the full weight of support. Blue Sky don't want you sad anymore than they want a child unhappy. It's always possible there's a solution, but if not the placement ends. This hasn't happened to me yet, although by God a child we had for a respite weekend was about the limit, so I can see that ending a placement is painful but if it's necessary it happens.
10. When you say yes to a placement and they don't come. What can happen is you get the phone call saying "Would you be willing to take..." and you listen to the details. You phone your other half at his work. You get the emailed extra information. You make up your mind and phone Blue Sky and say "Yes". You might get told "The local authority are reviewing the foster carers who are up for it, we'll get an answer in two or three hours". You read through the information. You see the list of favourite foods, so you nip out and get some in. You give the spare bedroom a final spruce, plus tweak a few things now you know the gender and age of the child. You know the name, you have formed a picture of the child. Then the phone rings again "Unfortunately..." The child has been placed elsewhere. It's happened to me several times now, it's due to things like geography (child needs to be the best distance from their real home, needs to attend same school, needs to be far enough away from a particular location or person). Maybe the child has particular problems another carer specialises in. Thing is; it's NOT a rejection. But it feels like one.
Do you know a funny thing? You know my Number 1 at the top, about wondering about them, how it turned out for children I've had in the home? I even find myself wondering how things turned out for the foster children I nearly had.