People outside fostering, especially people thinking about taking it up, often ask what foster children are like. They want to find out about the children you find yourself inviting into your family, albeit temporarily.
The next question they ask is usually about the foster child's parents.
The people who ask are usually adults with experience of the adult world. They usually have knowledge about being parents. You can work out a lot about the child from their parents.
As a carer you have to exercise discretion and respect about foster children and their parents, but it's also important to spread knowledge around, especially to newcomers to fostering.
I often think about one particular dad of a child we looked after.
He was a huge man, about 6' 8". He had split up from the woman who gave birth to the child, although 'split up' may not be the right way of putting it, it would be a stretch of imagination to imagine they were ever together. They had five children, though. So far.
The mother was living on benefits, had been since leaving school. Before we get aerated about that one, I'd rather she was on benefits than living and dying in a shop doorway, which is what happened before we cared as a nation.
But it is a problem we have to tackle that she has money and a roof over her head and has five babies and chaos and no apparent route out of chaos.
Anyway, this dad.
He was docile. But can you imagine how huge he seemed to infants? I often watched him from my car when he was attending Contact, they used to play football him and the son in the yard outside the Contact centre, he seemed so sad, the saddest man I've ever seen score a goal against his son.
Children playing football against parents can be the most uplifting thing. Not this dad.
The saddest thing I saw him do was when they had Contact indoors and the supervisor brough out a trunk of toys. Battered dolls, eyeless teddies, plastic builds that Einstein couldn't have worked out what they once used to be.
The dad got down to playing. Unfortunatley, not with his child. By himself. Playing with damaged toy cranes and forts.
You get a start-up picture of the child's problems from the parents.
This dad had not had a childhood himself, or else he woudn't have needed the toys. He'd had no dad himself or else he'd have grasped how to play the delicate game of encouragement v realism of football with his son.
The dad was living on benefits too. He needed enough weekly money to sustain his lifestyle, which consisted of the pub (7 nights a week), token efforts to satisfy the benefit office that he was looking for work, handling some sort of backstreet retail goods (probably substances) and following his team.
He was a football fan. He watched every game his team played, home and away. Sometimes he'd have to find the cash to travel 200 miles with his mates, buy a terrace ticket, buy seven pints, maybe fourteen, maybe get in a punch-up and get home about midnight and find someone's sofa to sleep it off. He loved his team (and I do mean 'love'), knew everything about them, was apparently accurate and pedantic about all their individuals and quirks. The football team and his group of travelling supporters, they were his family.
We worked hard with our Blue Sky social worker to get a picture of the world as the child saw it.
A child's world consists of his parents and his home, followed by school and friends.
This child's problem with his parents was that they were both absent. the mother devoted all her time to herself, doting excessively on each baby while it was a baby, then when the baby began to become a person, having another one so that there was always a baby for her to dote over.
The dad, despite being 6' 8", was microscopic, almost non-existent. He had set up his own parallel family; football.
So the child had no concept of parenting. Which meant we had to start from scratch, explaining and demonstrating that; we were a couple, dedicated to each other and the needs of our children, which, while he was placed with us, included him.
There was no quick fix for the child.
But I do know he's happier now than he woud have been if he hadn't been fostered.
However it won't surprise me in ten years time to hear he's courting trouble at football matches.
And is having trouble looking after his five kids.
Just like his dad.
Probably just like his dad's dad too. And his dad before him maybe...