Saturday, April 22, 2017

THE TEA CUP PROBLEM


A teacher in our family says that two of her best friends and allies at school are her selective deaf ear and blind eye.

Same in fostering.

She says that if she picked up on every single thing that the students shouldn't be doing or saying she wouldn't get any teaching done.

And I find that too, especially with our latest placement.

He is pretty much an adult, but because he's dealing with depression there are all sorts of small not-quite-right behaviours which I'd discuss with most children, but which I've found myself ignoring with him. Because if I picked up on them all he'd be crestfallen and that could lead to black dog moods which set him back weeks.

The teacup issue is the absolute case in point.

THE TEA CUP ISSUE

It doesn't seem like a big deal, but then again it is. See, we use rounds of tea in our house to bring everyone together. Saturdays, Sundays, school holidays; the kettle is always warm.

When he first arrived, no-one minded him leaving his cup wherever he put it down after finishing. For the first week or so we didn't want to start nagging; he was in a strange house, he'd had a bad time. He has low self-esteem and over-reacts if he thinks he's being criticised, not in an aggressive way, just withdraws into a cocoon of silent sadness.

He's been steadily improving in most respects, but the tea cup issue must soon be considered.

I've got past being annoyed. Even when, one day, there were only three of our tea mugs available and clean in the kitchen. Several brown-stained ones in the dishwasher. I did a hunt and found two hidden out of sight on the floor next to the armchair he uses, three dotted around the computer room and FIVE up in his room.

One in the back garden and one under the tree in the front garden where we suspect he might hide to have a crafty roll-up even though he swears he doesn't smoke.

Therefore The Tea Cup issue is bigger than I thought. After all, he usually takes his plate up to the sink after a meal. He puts used clothing in the laundry basket.

So; 

WHAT IS THE TEA CUP ISSUE?

Is it an unconscious longing to be an infant again, wherein all things are done for him by the adult? Or at least they should have been done for him, so maybe he's having a miniature re-childhood and experiencing the right feelings of being looked-after. Or perhaps tea-drinking is a mark of adulthood and he doesn't want to be there yet? Doesn't want to be an adult until he's had a proper childhood?

Or is it an unconscious rejection of his new foster home? Does he recognise the symbolism of our relentless; "Who' wants a cuppa?" as a way of saying "We are family" and, grateful as he may be for our support would rather be with his own chaotic clan.

Then again; possibly it's to do with the fact that his mind is always teeming, so that at most given moments he's a million miles away, turning everything over and over in his head so that he's oblivious to the fact he's just finished a cuppa and ought to do something with the empty like everyone else does.

WHAT TO DO ABOUT THE TEA CUP ISSUE

Well for starters here's what I'm not going to do; I'm NOT going to say;

"Would you mind taking your tea cup out please, and put it in the sink." 

Because;

a) that's only a half solution, I really want him washing it up, drying it and hanging it on its hook. 
b) he'll twig that it's been an ongoing thing and his mood will likely plummet when he works out we've had a long-term grievance and put up with it because he's not well (he is resistant to the idea he has a mental health issue, ask Prince Harry about that). 
c) Bottom line; it wouldn't work. I just know it in my gut, we'd be back to square one on day two.

What I MIGHT do is;

Buy a set of individualised mugs (many of ours are matching) so that everyone has their own mug. It would mean he'd get something he's probably never had, namely ownership of a household item. It would lead to jokes about why is dad drinking out of mum's cup, is there something he wants to tell us?

I might put the communal cups in a cupboard, it's not as though we ever have  two dozen people around all wanting tea.

What I PROBABLY WILL do is...carry on as before, picking up his mugs as I go along and washing them up for him. And feeling a bit like a butler. But also, feeling a bit like someone who's doing all they can for him, showing as much care and love as can be done.

Because I suspect that, bottom line, a piece of him loves testing how much we care and feeling safe when he gets the re-assurance, and if the Tea Cup Issue is giving him that, then bring it on buster!

And;

I'll try to pay enough attention to myself so that when the day dawns that he takes his cup to the sink, washes it out, dries it and hangs it up, I'll notice, say nothing, but do three mental cartwheels for joy. And happen it will.







Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A LONG GOOD FRIDAY




Sometimes you can tell right from the off if a day isn't going to go well.

Children in foster care occasionally get out of bed on the wrong side and there's not much can be done.

I learned the hard way to have my antenna twitching from my first  cheery 'Good Morning!'. If there's no reply you know what you've got. Or maybe you get a grunt back, and have to assess what the grunt means, and what's the level of grump.

When it happens you have to concentrate to get things right and avoid a build up.

When I started fostering, having brought up my own children who by comparison (or so I remembered) were models of consistency, I was a bit affronted when a foster child ignored me or  made dismissive noises that translated as "I don't know/care" if you asked what they'd like for breakfast.

I'd make the big mistake; I'd try to fix things for her. I'd make her favourite breakfast, compliment her hair and choice of T shirt, dangle a treat;

"Would you like to go to the cinema on Saturday, or bowling?"

And somehow my efforts seemed to make things worse.

I learned the best thing to do every morning is to be neutral. No overblown good cheer, no singing along to the radio, in fact no radio. Just a calm, measured household. No fuss when they show their face, sometimes they seem to wish they were invisible. Or maybe not exist at all.

I stopped digging to try to find out what the matter was. The reason I gave up was because they themselves didn't know.

It happened this Easter;

Good Friday morning. A bit of a lie-in for all, but he clearly didn't want to get going. At half past ten he appeared, scurrying to the bathroom then back to his bedroom.

I made a bowl of cereal and took it up.

'Wassat?'

"Coco Pops"

"Don't want it."

What I've found is that it's all down the next things you say or do.

I DON'T say anything like; "There's no need to be like that" Nor do I say "Well what would you like instead."

I MIGHT say "I'll leave it here in case you change your mind".

I DON"T say "What's wrong?"

I WON"T do anything that might be construed judgemental such as pick up socks and pants off the floor or even open the curtains.

I MIGHT say something like; "It's going to be a quiet house today, but if you want a lift to town or a friend's just ask." And I definitely wouldn't mention friends unless I was sure there hadn't been an argument.

I find that if you avoid trying to take control, and definitely avoid getting into a discussion/disagreement/argument, just become a piece of furniture, that's your best bet.

It's frustrating because you want to get to the bottom of the low spirit, maybe even solve a problem.

But you can't; it runs too deep. They have to be permitted to feel glum from time to time, surely to goodness.

The Good Friday grump turned out to be a Short Good Friday grump (apologies to Bob Hoskins).

I tried to suss what had brought it on; maybe bad family memories of Easter, no Easter eggs or egg-hunting games, maybe a child shocked at the story of a man being nailed to a cross, maybe he got busted on a computer game, or someone hacked him off online.

I'll never know. All I know is that by biding my time and picking the right moment to use my secret weapon, distraction, we started to climb upwards. I said;

"Do you remember your April Fools Day joke on dad? When he was in the bath and you knocked on the door and told him there was someone on the phone for him?"

His mind filled with a happy moment, and we were up and running.


Monday, April 10, 2017

MONDAY MORNING PURPLISH BLUES



People often ask me why I started fostering.

It's a hard question to answer, but only because if I decide to answer it honestly it ends up sounding as though I'm actually asking whoever has asked the question why they themselves haven't started fostering.

So, seriously;

"If you haven't started fostering, my question is why not?"

Look, of course it's impossible for some people. They might not have the space or might be having a turbulent time. 

And some people probably aren't cut out for it.

But if I find myself talking to someone who had a spare bedroom - especially for example if they are going through 'empty nest syndrome' - and their family life is reasonably settled, and (crucially) they like children...then yes, I truly wonder why they aren't doing it.

Not that I'm critical, don't misunderstand; I recognise it looks like a big step, scary even.

But take a typical Monday morning. We're all a bit downed by it, I'm just back from the supermarket, the lady on the till was all Monday morning. 

Only I wasn't. I went along with the game, because it's a good game, Monday morning moaning, but my heart wasn't in it.

I love Mondays, especially when the schools have broken up.

The house is a home; full of people who are happy (or at least happier) because there's no school.

One of mine has got a big day planned with a friend, all mapped out; several firsts (first solo bus trip, first visit to a sit-down cafe,) and is excited, nervous and proud. And I get to share it (at a remote distance).

Another of mine intends to stay in bed until about lunchtime, because he can.

Tomorrow I'll get "I'm bored" right left and centre and hey, that's great, because they are asking me to play with them, or at least come up with stuff to do. Baking, painting, hide and seek, chase, pirates, living-room-parkour, den-building - and that's just at home and in the garden.

Fostering beats away the Monday blues even on a school day, there's so much to do you can't start feeling sorry for yourself.

A lot of people feel sorry for themselves because deep down they suspect they haven't fulfilled their potential.  The lady on the supermarket till, I mentioned to her that one of my real children is worried about not doing anything in life. She replied "God I know the feeling, I'm 53 and I haven't done anything in life!"

When we're young we dream of being pop stars or millionaires. As we grow we realise that (though that would be nice), it's even more rewarding, more uplifting, to do something substantial for someone else.

That's fostering, that's largely what drew me to it.

When I look back I remember the first time I learned that there was such a thing as fostering, and thought to myself;

"I bet I'd be okay at that, I reckon it would be tops, wonder if I'll actually ever do it?"

Well, I think I am okay at it ( no more than that, no smugness here), it is tops (yes it has its bottoms moments too) and yes, I did do it, and I'm skipping this Monday morning because I did actually do it.



Thursday, March 30, 2017

EVERYTHING YOU WANTED TO ASK ABOUT FOSTERING (WELL ALMOST...)



People who are wondering about entering fostering tend not to ask the questions they really want to know. They usually vague questions such as;

"What's it like?'

If I was starting out again I'd ask the following, more specific questions. 
And I'll try to answer them honestly, from my own personal experience.

Q: "On the whole is fostering worth doing?"

A: "All life's big things; love, marriage (or partnership of whatever flavour), children, family, and work, are what you make them. Fostering has its challenges, I'll be quite honest about that, but on the whole it's fantastic (otherwise I wouldn't still be doing it). In fact, for me, it's the best thing I've ever done.

Q: "Is it hard to get into?"

A: "Takes time. After you've phoned or emailed your local authority or a fostering agency, and said; "I'm interested in becoming a foster parent" someone will visit you and have a chat. They're making an early quick-fire assessment. Some people aren't right for it; maybe their home isn't right, might be their situation, (eg free-roaming pet snakes, the only spare bedroom being the utility room next to the washing machine....)
I don't know what percentage fall at the first hurdle, but no-one's time is wasted. There follows a period of six to twelve months where you get regular visits at home from a specialist social worker whose job is to go through all your circumstances. I've been through this twice, found it fun and helped me focus. They dig into your whole life. They're not looking for perfect angels, those people don't exist. They are interested in how you've dealt with the different difficulties we all face in life.

Q: "Is there an exam?"

A: "No. At the end of your assessment you go and see a panel of people, sounds scary, but they are friendly and supportive. You must be good to have got thus far."

Q: "Do you have any say in which children are placed with you?"

A: "Definitely. Even before you're approved the social workers will be working with you on what sort of profile your ideal placements will be. Some people are better suited to teenagers. Some will prefer younger kids. A lot depends on the shape of your family, especially if you have children of your own. Some carers are initially cautious about children who've had their troubles. Some are worried about being thrown in at the deep end, so they opt for weekend respite (you get a child to foster from Friday afternoon to the next Sunday evening)."

Q:"Are you on your own?"

A: "No! Each foster carer has their own designated social worker whose job is to help, advise and support the foster carer. Mine visit at least once per month, for a whole morning. They are always there at the end of the phone. Plus I can attend support groups with other carers to chew things over. Your foster child has their own designated social worker who also visits regularly, and works with your own social worker to keep things on track. Frankly, in all my years and so many different jobs, I've never felt better supported.

Q: "What happens if things aren't working out?"

A: "Good question. You know, I sometimes wonder if they ever seem to be working as I'd like! But if a carer is having frustrations that's when you pick up the phone for support.  And of it gets too much for you, you can always end the placement. 

Q: "If I end a placement will that be the end of my fostering career?"

A: " No, (unless that's what you want). The UK needs all the foster carers we can get. Your qualifications and credentials are valuable, it's up to the system to play to your strengths. I found that things got easier the more fostering I did, I got familiar with the stresses and strains and learned better to identify the joys."

Q: "What's the hardest thing about fostering?"

A: "For me, and this is only my personal view, the biggest bugbear is Contact. This is where foster children have to be taken to see their real parents (or 'significant others') frequently as often as once a week. It can be very upsetting and often disrupts your efforts to get the child on an even keel. They don't get much from it, nothing they couldn't get from a phone call or even a text message session. In my experience the children just want to know their parents are alive and okay. The idea that it paves the way for the children to return to their real home is basically misguided, especially at first.
The other thing you have to live with is that foster children don't fall on their knees in gratitude when they walk through the door that their foster carers are offering them a much better home life. They don't see it that way because they're frightened, mixed-up or angry. Or all three. But as time goes by they warm and mellow, always. Then the real fostering begins, up until then it's about basic needs, but once they get it, you can do a bit of healing.

Q: "How does the Allowance work?"

A: "Fostering is a profession. We are all professionals. Our remittance is termed an 'allowance' rather than a salary or a wage because i) we are only in receipt when we have a child or children in place ii) If it were called a wage then the fact that we are basically on call 24/7 would mean we'd fall below the National Minimum  hourly wage. The basic payment varies according to your local authority or your agency.  Last year I received £31,000 in allowances (there are 35,000 hours in a year so if I was paid hourly it would be less than £1 an hour). I paid a tiny amount of income tax. I get credits for my NI contributions. Fostering allowances are taxed very sensibly by the Inland Revenue because the foster carer's overheads are hard to calculate so they're very sympathetic. And it's all above board, don't worry about that, it's official; we are special cases.

Q: "Is there anything else I should know?"

A: "Sweet Jericho, yes! Lorry loads. But the bulk of it is stuff you have to find it out for yourself as you go along, and so you do. Each child is so utterly unique you have to make tailored arrangements to help their specific needs, and that means making your fostering up as you go along. There's paperwork; not much. Blue Sky ask you to fill in a report every so often on the child. There's training, and social events. But mostly you're just finding out how to be a good mum or dad to a particular poor lonely child who's done nothing wrong to end up sad, worried and frightened. 

Any other questions, you can post a comment or send me a private email via Blue Sky.

Friday, March 24, 2017

FOSTERING FEELGOOD



Something we're not very good at in this world is giving ourselves a boost.

There are so many terrible things happening around us it almost seems selfish to make ourselves feel good.

But I worked with a kind man way back, I always remember once somebody saying to him;

"Have you had a good day?"

and he replied;

"Of course. No point having a bad day."

So here I sit at the kitchen table, I've got no more worries than anyone else, probably no fewer either and if I wanted to I could drum up no end of problems I have to tackle and end up working my way down to feeling thoroughly glum.

Instead I'm going to cheer myself right up.

This blog is about fostering, so;

Here are my some of my top hundred golden moments in fostering.

Watching a 15 year old boy who'd never known his dad, following my other half around the house and imitating all his little blokey mannerisms. It was devotional.

The way a girl who was desperate for a hamburger after having a panic attack at midnight and we found a place still open and drove there and got her one, the way she said, from the back of the car; "Fank you", and really really meant it. (And it worked, the fast food medicine).

Seeing the blissful look on a girl's face when we took her back to her real mum. The place was in absolute chaos, no offence it was a tip. But it was her tip, her mum was there, sitting on the sofa putting Swarfega on the boil of a one-eyed cat. The look on her face was because she was HOME. Never seen anyone so overcome with peace.

Every time you get one home. It hurts; you'll never see them again. But it's the job. A great job.

The young mum and her baby, the mum was frightened of everybody especially any mother-figure, I met her real mum once, I could tell straight away why. After a few weeks she started venturing out of her room and sitting next to me at the kitchen table in the mornings; we'd chat over tea and biscuits. One day, after her social worker had visited her, the social worker said to me "She told me she didn't know before that there are kind people in the world, and now she wants to be one." I actually cried. Good tears.

The morning I took a troubled lad aged 10 up to the meadows near our house. There's a spot where you can't see a single sign of civilisation. He spread his arms wide and started spinning round and round with a silly grin shouting "I'm Freeeeeee!!! Freeeeeeeeeeeee!!!"

One Christmas morning a child who had never had a Christmas (so we were told :"Too expensive") looked up from unwrapping everything that had been on Santa's list and said, in all seriousness: "I'm dreaming, right? PLEASE don't wake me up."

A difficult child who had been with us for respite and needed another weekend with us to give his carers a well-deserved break. The look on his face when I opened the front door, he was deeply relieved. He'd been taken somewhere he knew, so no surprises or unfamiliarity. There was something else. He saw that we wanted him back, we welcomed him (knowing he would be a handful). He was tasting acceptance, maybe something even sweeter.

The boy who asked if he could try to fix our broken downstairs toilet. He had an hour in there with the toolbox, can't remember if he made it better or worse, but I did the whole workman thing, gave him a radio (tuned to Radio Two, like all workmen), even made him a cup of builders' tea.

Every time; the first time they ever choose to use the word 'mum'.

Sitting up all night one night, squatting on the floor with my back against the wall, next to the half-open bedroom door of a little fellow who'd only just arrived and was getting night terrors. Every ten or twenty minutes he'd say quietly; "You still there?" and I'd just go; "Still here darling." I checked myself in the mirror later that day, expecting to look a wreck, but actually not bad. Maybe fostering keeps you young, maybe it doesn't. Makes you feel fine.

Could go on.

I don't normally go back and read my posts much, but I reckon I'll return to this one from time to time, not to puff myself up but because fostering can knock you around a bit too, and it's important to remember the glorious moments.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

THE PEANUT BUTTER KNIFE



You learn something new every day in fostering.

That's if you have enough of your wits about you, what with putting into practice all the little things you've already taught yourself. Not to mention if you've got enough energy left to keep your eyes and ears peeled and your brain in gear.

The small matter of the peanut butter knife it was, yesterday, that pulled me up sharp and got me thinking.

The peanut butter knife issue.

See, at the moment in our house everyone is able to make themselves a slice of toast whenever they want as long as it's not just before mealtime. Children, especially foster children, love the sense of grown-up-ness from being able to make themselves a cooked snack.

They learn where the small plates are stored, how to raid the bread bin, how to put the slice of bread into the toaster and how to slide down the lever that lowers the bread and gets the toaster grills warming up.

You teach them about the dangers of electricity and heat, not to poke around in a recently hot toaster, not to mess with plugs.

They learn where the marmite and peanut butter is kept (we aren't a jam household and I've always had my doubts about Nutella).

They learn time management; if you get the bread toasting first of all you get 2 minutes to get out a plate, the Flora, the spread, and the knife for the spreading.

These are all bog standard toast-making things.

But what hit me hard yesterday is that there's a bunch of little things which we all do in our house when it comes to toast that are specific to us, they've evolved in our house, and which are so second-nature to us we don't think to point them out. Then when we do point them out, we suddenly seem petty and a tad OCD.

For example; the Flora isn't always in the fridge. Sometimes it gets put in the larder. There's no rhyme or reason to this, except possibly when a person puts the Flora away after making peanut butter toast it's easier to put the Flora back in the larder along with the jar of peanut butter.

The point about the Flora is that it's a family quirk; if it's not in the fridge it's in the larder. But if you're new to our home, it could cause a problem.

Then there's the almost-empty jar problem. When the marmite or peanut butter jar is almost empty we try to remember to leave it out on the kitchen work surface so whoever is going shopping next knows we are out of whatever it is. The empty jar shouldn't go back in the larder because the next person wanting some will have the annoying job of scraping around the contours of the glass.

Ideally, whoever uses up the last of a jar washes it out and inverts it on the draining board so it's ready for the recycling wheelie. Bill and I both try to do this and hope our example rubs off.

Then there's the crumbs. When you make toast there are crumbs. Ideally they should be swept off the work surface into the palm of your hand and chucked in the bin, not wiped into the J cloth. And definitely not left for someone else to discover.

Then there's the peanut butter/marmite knife. Try as you might you can't get the knife completely clean by wiping it on the toast, so it's got a smear. It needs to be run under a tap, dried and put back in the drawer, or maybe put in the cutlery compartment in the dishwasher. It doesn't need to be licked clean. Nor does it need to be left out on the work surface. But, by the time a young mind has got itself a slice of toast all done and dusted it's easy to walk off and leave the crumbs and the smeary knife.

Then there's the plate, which after the toast has been eaten needs to be brought out into the kitchen and dealt with. Not dumped in the sink.

That's merely the making of a slice of toast. A simple enough business. But then again it's anything but simple.

I bet every household has their own variation on the toast thing, and indeed all life's other family activities such as bathroom/toilet practices, use of other people's stuff, whether it's ok to take batteries out of the backup remote to put in the X Box controller...

etc etc etc etc etc etc.......

Difficult enough for a child who has lived all her life in the same household. Nightmare for the new arrival, and funnily enough, a problem for them that gets more difficult before it gets easier.

What do we carers do about this one?

I guess we manage our expectations, stay patient and understanding. While at the same time remembering that it's ok to have our own house rules and practices, and try to teach them as time goes by. And stay flexible and open to new ideas;

After all, it was a foster child who pointed out to me that there's no point cutting a piece of toast in two;

"It just makes more crumbs"

Saturday, March 11, 2017

FOSTERING AN OLDER CHILD


NO-ONE EXPECTS THE SPANISH INQUISITION

I have to keep this one short, because it's just an inkling.

Our new placement, Glenn, has been with us a couple of weeks and is settling in.

And then again he isn't.

And the ways in which he isn't settling in leads me to an unsettling thought.

In fostering, usually, the child finds it difficult to fit into the foster family and that's no surprise, what with what they've been through.

One of their fears is that the break-up of their real family was their fault. It's heartbreaking when you find out, for example, that a six-year-old child whose family fell to pieces thinks that it was his fault because he didn't keep himself clean enough.

The above case actually happened with us; the poor boy blurted out that he'd tried everything he could to make the family work; washed his hands 'til they were red before every meal, cleaned his teeth for five minutes after every meal, washed his face and combed his hair with water, you name it. But still the arguments, the drinking, the different people in his mother's bed.

All his fault for not keeping himself tidy enough.

Back to Glenn. He has depression, but it's low-level and manageable, if it wasn't he'd be in specialist care. He is an older foster child, more fully-formed than the average, stronger, less likely to be accepting of new ways of thinking and being.

We (other half and me) are learning his ways and sit up in bed most nights discussing what to do to help.

We know we have to be on our toes with Glenn because we are learning the little things that unsettle him.

We are wondering how much he requires unsettledness.

It's difficult asking him abut himself. Fostered children often clam up when you ask anything about their past or the way they feel. They can make you feel like you're the Spanish Inquisition.

The thing that's in our mind is that maybe, just maybe, in Glenn's case, he did contribute somehow to the deterioration of things in his real home.

Having your own children is not plain sailing by any stretch of the imagination, especially nowadays in that we don't have extended families round the corner, mums have to go out to work, childminding can be expensive, and childhood seems to end around the time children reach double figures, or sooner.

I imagine the burden of bringing up children is sometimes a nail in the coffin of some people's attempts at happy families. After all it's the hardest job and the one with most responsibility that any of us ever do, and yet it's the one thing nobody gets trained or taught how to do.

The job at hand for us right now is to be alert to Glenn trying to unconsciously re-create the home life he was used to, one of trouble and strife.

So we've got two things in our mind now that Glenn is here;

One; did he play a part in the breakdown of his real family?

Two; is he unconsciously trying to lead us towards similar chaos?

And Three, three things, (God I'm starting the Spanish Inquisition sketch from Monty Python), the Third thing is; Do we let him be or try to turn him round?

No one expects the Spanish Inquisition.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

SUPERMARKET SURPRISES


Fostering is great, but anything that offers opportunity comes with challenges.

For me, and most other carers I speak to, the biggest bane is the thing called Contact. Which can take many forms.

Contact (If you're a reader who doesn't foster) is an arrangement whereby the real parents (or 'significant others') of children in care are given contact with the children. It's the law, a law passed by politicians who meant well, but frankly didn't know what they were doing, not with this one. Contact does way more damage than good, in almost all cases.

The reason I'm writing about it (again) is that I met a carer who is with his local authority and we talked and compared thoughts.

He and his wife look after a family of three sisters; the eldest has just moved into secure accommodation, the middle one being prepared for the same thing, the youngest only just old enough for secondary school.

They bump along fine. The children all have their emotional problems from their experiences before they were removed, but their foster parents - who have two children of their own - have been working hard and are making progress with them.

The hardest part of their job, and he was quick to get there, is Contact. And not only the robotically designated Contacts (once a week, for an hour, generally), which is disruptive enough, but the apparently accidental contacts.

It's happened to me with previous children. You decide to do a supermarket run and the children have to tag along. Boring enough for them, but then you push the trolley round the corner of the pasta shelves and BOOM, there she is.

Mum.

As I remember in this case, she would be standing there with just a basket because she's just only shopping for herself these days, and she sees what she thinks is a stranger playing happy families with her children and, so she thinks, getting paid a fortune to do it, and she gets the knife out.

She didn't know it, the particular mum I have in mind, because she didn't have any mindfulness, it never occurred to her to examine her own thinking.

If anyone had quizzed her afterwards as to why she left us all feeling bad, she would have replied that she was only being a good mother and trying to do the best for her children.

But the chance meetings, in the street or the supermarket, between foster children and their real relatives is always an emotional disaster. Even if it's no more than a wave across a busy road.

When you think about it, a wave across a busy road can be even worse because the only thing most foster children want to do is get back to the parents they are in denial over.

So by the time we get home after the encounter there are a lot of pieces to pick up and mend.

For me, establishing where the real family live and what their haunts are is really useful.

You can get information either from the social workers, or (carefully) from the children yourself. For example, most people use the same supermarket, so if you find out that the children know their way around the local Aldi, don't take them to Aldi. Go to Sainsburys or Lidl. If their family has a dog you can ask where it gets walked and avoid.

Where it gets really tricky is when real parents want to 'check up' on their children.

This is discouraged by the authorities, often its an offence for parents to even park their car outside school and watch you collect them. And thankfully it's very rare. But it's something we professional foster carer make ourselves aware of. I rely heavily on our social workers to alert us if any such possibility exists, and the proper procedures.

It's only happened to me once, it wasn't any problem, the mum just wanted to watch. She sat discreetly in her car with a baseball cap on and sunglasses. And y'know what, my heart went out to her.

It's what I'd want to do.

But wouldn't, because for me, and all foster parents, the children come first.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

LANGUAGE BARRIERS


In fostering we frequently encounter language barriers with our foster children, well, not barriers really, maybe just speed bumps.

Not because they don't speak English - although come to think of it I once accepted three Afghan brothers who'd hitch-hiked across Europe and made it to Dover in the back of a lorry, they didn't have a word of English.

But no, the problem comes with the new English spoken by da kids.

I first ran into this when the word 'Wicked' arrived. It was used by kids to mean something being good in a devilish way, in other words the exact opposite of its dictionary definition. Around the same time the kids started using 'Gay' differently from how I had learned to use it - as an acceptable term for homosexual. They would say something or somebody was "Well gay", and I had to respond with slight confusion, which was part of the game. Hearing them describe a flashy sports car as "Well gay" left me bemused. I still don't know for sure what their use of the term means, not with any precision.

The game being played is to stake out ownership of a portion of the English language which not only belongs to them but is denied their elders. When I ask for an explanation of their different usage of words they roll their eyes as if I'm a dinosaur who not only doesn't speak the modern way, but probably NEVER ENCOUNTERED THE CONCEPT THEY ARE USING THE WORD FOR.

Apparently in California there was a species of teenage girl whose language was totally impenetrable. They didn't merely hi-jack existing words, they made words up and changed sentence construction. Something wasn't 'Bad' it was "Grodie'. If it was very bad it was "Grodie to the max."

The discussion about the mysterious uses of the 'N' word is very important, because it has so many unpleasant connotations. So much unpleasantness that the word is under new ownership where it is a sign of mutual respect and brother/sisterhood for the very section of humanity it once was used to abuse.

The language barrier between us foster parents and our foster children isn't a big deal, but it's there.

I'm sort of fighting back actually.

I've started using words differently from their technical meaning. Preferably biggish words, words that get used formally. Extended vocabulary.

The one that's catching on around the house is "Intangible".

I had been reading the report which preceded our new placement, Glen. His ambitions, to be a rock star and a film star were described by a social worker as "Intangible". And seeing his hopes and dreams, which I want to respect, even maybe encourage, get a slight dissing ('Diss" is another bit of teenspeak), made me mutter the word under my breathe a few times and not long afterwards my Blue Sky social worker asked me how Glen was shaping and I just replied;

"INTANGIBLE!"

And she smiled, not knowing scientifically what I meant but getting my meaning; brilliant.

So now anything that is brilliant, mesmerising, delicious or otherwise welcome gets called "Intangible". By me. And it's catching on.

Try it yourself. Give it a bit of extra emphasis on the "IN".

Glen's depressed.

Depression, I have read, can benefit from the person focusing on the future and the positive things they intend to do, so that even if those things don't happen some solid good comes from them being thought about at the time of thinking.

So 'Intangible' is the right word, because Glen's positive daydreams are tangible while they're in his head, and therefore the opposite of the dictionary definition.

INTANGIBLE!!!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

TREADING ON EGGSHELLS

Beginning to see how very very hard it is for families who have someone who has mental health issues.

For one thing, everyone else gets neglected. Bill (my other half) and I talk about nothing else. We seem to think that somewhere, hidden away in all young Glen's pain, is a solution to his huge sadness. And if we can only find the problem he'll be on the way to peace.

Glen came to us a week ago, a teenage man with depression. Mild to middling probably, and very passive.

I've been reading everything I can on what can go wrong with a young person's state of mind.

Psychiatrists are just like any other bunch of professionals, they want to promote the idea that the latest thinking is the best and if you're not up with it you're yesterday's shrink.

So; once there was dementia praecox, then there was manic depression, now there's 'Bi-Polar disorder' and it looks like they're moving on again so that the trailblazers can lord it over the left-behinders whose thinking is old hat.

It's the same with Sigmund Freud (Above - although the sketch looks more like David Baddiel to me); I bought Freud's "Interpretation Of Dreams" and found it brilliant, only to discover that every other Californian 'practitioner' with a surefire quick-fix "How to Mend an Angry Child" ($9.99 hurry, only a few in stock) begins their book by saying "Of course, now that Freud has been disproved..."

Actually all Freud said is: "Many problems are bound up in people's childhood when their development through the stages was thrown off course. There's not a lot you can do, but getting them talking about themselves seems to help." This seems about the mark whatever the diagnosis, talking + medication.

I reckon half the pop-psychiatrists with their "5 Stages To a Happy Teenager" haven't read a word of Sigmund, I was quite taken with him. Plus I feel proud of myself for sticking at it.

Like I was saying, we talk about it disproportionately. But then; a) Glen is new and new placements always hog your attention don't they? b) he is vulnerable, needs help and support and it has to be right.

That last point is the hard one, getting everything 'right'. We seem to be treading on eggshells all the time worrying about whether to say something and if so what. What should the exact wording be?

For example, one piece of advice we've been given in no uncertain terms is that this is our house and our rules apply.

Glen is always getting up and walking off and leaving his empty teacup, orange peel and crisp packet dotted around where he sat. He seems to be settling in okay and getting tuned into us, so the time has come to risk saying; "Glen, in this house we clear up after ourselves."

But then we tie ourselves in knots saying to each other;

We tolerated this behaviour for the first week because we didn't want to tip him over, now it'll look as though he was getting special consideration because...he's vulnerable.

Then again, is he 'vulnerable'? or 'depressed'? or 'dealing with mental health issues'?

Is he 'upset'? or 'going through a bad time'?

We know we're in it for the long haul, young people his age in foster care are probably in care until they reach adulthood, and these days that can mean age 21. Maybe beyond.

I suppose if I was someone advising me I'd say; 'Take the long view. Instead of worrying about his mind in the present, start planning where it would be good for him to be in three months.'

Good trick imagining you're your own counsellor.

Which reminds me I need to find a way of finding out what his counsellor is doing with him, but I know in advance that's not allowed.

And I'm scrupulous not to ask Glen when I pick him up from the Centre, even though I'm aching to ask.

The other children, our own and our other 2 placements, are fine by the way, lest I forget.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

MENTAL HEALTH AND FOSTERING


We've been awaiting a new placement since Romeo went back to his disorganised mother.

We worried about him for some time, his mum is all over the place, but it's so what he wanted. He's a tough nut, he'll be ok.

The phone rang.

"Would you consider taking a child who...?"

The child isn't a child actually, he's older than that. Mind you, most foster children are somehow older than their years. However this young fellow shaves.

His story is this;

He's the offspring of what used to be called a mixed marriage. I believe the current preferred term is British African. A child could be British Indian or British Asian and so on, I imagine there are any number of variants. I remember my grand-dad used to be against what he called mixed marriages. He was a kind man, he said "It's not fair on the children". That was back in the sixties, and I knew what he meant. Things, you would think, have changed, but apparently not enough; the child isn't sure who he is. He found it hard to make friends round his way. He feels he doesn't belong.

I remember thirty years ago visiting a special unit for disturbed teenagers and was struck by the high percentage of youngsters who were as described above.

Our new boy, I'm going to call him Glen, is one such.

Glen has depression.

That simple fact was clear from the information we were emailed about him before I said yes.

We've worked with plenty of children who found the circumstances of going into care upsetting. Many others had complicated feelings which were more entrenched since they'd experienced difficulties in their real home over a period of time.

Glen is the first foster child we've had who deserved the diagnosis that he is more than sad and upset, he's depressed.

As a society we are afraid of mental illness as if it means danger, or maybe is contagious. A lot of people still think there's shame attached, not just to the person who has the illness, but to those around them who might have been part of the cause. Parents of children with mental illness suffer a lot of unnecessary guilt and suspicion, as if they don't have enough on their plate.

Are we worried that Glen might represent any kind of danger? No.

We went through his profile with a fine tooth comb with our social worker. Glen has no anger issues, quite the reverse; he has difficulty exerting himself in any way, perhaps because he has very low self esteem.

He does not appear to be a danger even to himself; there has been no self-harm. Definitely no talk of taking his own life.

He stays in his room as much as possible, so to begin with we're letting him eat up there. He ventures out when the family are all at school and at work, and so long as it's just me. I keep off his case, don't barrage him with questions and stuff. I try not to put my foot in it. He gets more comfortable each day.

My job is to keep him on his medication; mild, but always under review, and to get him to therapy twice a week; one is a one-on-one with his counsellor, the second session is group. We'll get him into education if and when it's right for him.

I've been Googling like crazy (sorry, I'll re-phrase that - see how easy it is to put your foot in it...)

Try again;

I've been Googling day and night; all the latest thinking about mental illness in young people. The apparent increase, especially in teenage men, is shocking. Whatever the reasons, even if one of those reasons is that we are only just learning to identify those who are affected, it's soon going to be as big an issue as the surge in dementias among our older citizens.

Centuries ago the human race was almost wiped out by diseases of the body. Nowadays we are so much better at tackling what used to be called plagues.

In a century's time we might be on top of the causes and proper treatments of the mental illnesses that are now starting to overwhelm our young.

The thing I'm starting to believe is that while most physical ailments fit into a neat category, with an equally neat prescribed treatment; the fact is that I think every mental illness is as unique as the person. And as if that's not complicating things enough; I believe the illness changes not just from day to day, but almost in the blink of an eye. I'm talking about more than mere mood swings here.

What to do then, for Glen and other looked after-children like him?

I don't know. Keep up the love. Be patient and understanding. Look after my own happiness (being at home all day with no-one to talk to but someone whose take on reality is askew can be a bit gruelling).

Look after my family's happiness.

Friday, February 10, 2017

FOSTER KIDS AND THE TIDINESS CHALLENGE


There's plenty of things that fostered children do that can upset you if you lapse and make the same expectations you make of your own children.

We have to remember that we are professionals, dealing with someone else's child on a professional basis.

Take tidiness.

We think of tidiness as a simple function and expect certain standards from our loved ones, and they rise to our requests, up to a point.

But when it's a fostered child, their standards are different.

Foster children usually have so much on their mind, so much turmoil and inner tumult that they are often not in the now. They're not conscious of the present moment half the time unless you pull them into the moment by engaging them. We all have day dreams, we are all guilty of being off with the fairies sometimes, but with foster children it's not day-dreams, it's daytime-nightmares - which are both disturbing and distracting.

That's why the young ones absently slip an apple core under the sofa cushion, meaning to dispose of it properly but forgetting.

One young mother we had as a mother and baby placement, we found out months after she'd gone that every time she'd prepared to bathe the baby she'd remove the dirty nappy and put it at the back of the airing cupboard in the bathroom. I don't remember what one of us was doing to go looking behind the hot water tank one day, but we pulled out maybe ten or twenty neatly taped up nappies. The girl had no malice or even bad intent, she was consumed with the raucous detail of her life and probably forgot each and every time to fetch out the nappy when the baby was safely in her cot. Oh I'm not blind to the fact that the girl was what people term lazy, that was a part of it, but she was so knackered with being up all night feeding and cuddling the wee one, she was well forgivable on that score.

Another lad, a teenager, got up and left the toilet every time he used it for number two with mighty skid marks down the back. I reminded him about the use of the brush. I say I 'reminded' him, in truth I'm not sure he'd ever seen one before, but anyway, I asked him to clean the loo after use. But he did it again and again. I tried praising him for using it whenever I noticed he'd been in there, even if it was probably for a pee, just trying to drum it in. I tried scolding - for want of a better word - to no avail. He was a lovely lad, kind and gentle and, when his mind was in the present, capable of great acts of thoughtfulness. But when he locked himself in the loo he was transported back to when he used the bathroom in his old home. It was the one time in his old home he could lock the door and therefore lock out the world. For ten precious minutes he was free from the negative chaos that was in every other room in his house. The arguing, the fighting, the drugs, the booze, the shouting, the malice, the despair. Then he had to wash his hands and go back out there and his mind filled as he'd brace himself to face his life again. So of course he didn't think to check the state of the bowl.

Then there was the child with a short fuse. So used was she to being chastised and derided that if you said something like "Is that your crisp packet on the floor?" you'd be in for an episode of aggressive defensiveness as she re-lived old repercussions. Consequently I got into the practice of simply picking up the crisp packet and saying nothing.

It's absolutely vital to develop a set of tidiness standards for each foster child according to their needs.

And equally important to try to make sure your other children, if they are around, understand why your foster child is apparently being treated with special leniency when it comes to tidiness.

I don't give up on trying to improve standards though. One of the joys of fostering is watching children progress, but we have the bar set at one height for our own children and lower in certain aspects for the foster child. Nevertheless everyone can be expected to eventually clear their height and have the bar re-set a bit higher.

I've got my own bar currently set to try not to get irritated at stuff left lying around for me to tidy up or clean, not to take it as a snub, not to feel walked all over.

I have only cleared my new height a few times, but I'm getting there...

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

WHEN A FOSTER CHILD GOES...


A foster parent called Jojo posted a comment on Come On Phone, Ring!

I'm guessing Jojo is a foster mum not a foster dad, forgive me if I'm wrong. I'm also guessing that 'Jojo' is a pseudonym so we are ok to talk.

Jojo touches on the pleasant anxiety of waiting for a call about your next placement.

But mostly Jojo is having a difficult time dealing with the departure of her last placement.

Her family looked after a 6 month-old boy for two years. They'd all developed mutual attachments to each other, Jojo mentions how close he'd become to their own child.

Then a few weeks ago the child was removed and placed with his extended family. Jojo has concerns about the child's new carers and is trying to get to see the boy, partly to help him along, partly to be sure things are going fine. The authorities are in her way.

I've talked before on the blog about my sense that sometimes when a placement ends and the child goes it's something of a bereavement. In Jojo's case it seems to me to be only just short of a full bereavement.

She knew him almost from birth. Two years is a long time.

I'm going to cut to the chase and suggest Jojo considers getting bereavement counselling.

The loss through death of a child is the worst thing that can happen to a parent, I think the whole of society recognises that. My mum and dad lost a two-year-old (I was seven at the time), and I watched what the loss did to them. This was back in the days when I don't think there were counsellors.

We are very close to a lovely couple who lost a child to death last summer and they are still reeling, probably will never recover much.

People who are not foster carers will struggle to know what it is like for us when a child we have grown attached to is removed. The longer they are with us the harder it is.

It's never as hard as losing your own child, we know that.

But it's a small-scale version of that, and in our case it's made worse by fearing that the child may not be as happy where they are going than they were when they were with you.

I expect and hope that Jojo's SWs are working with her to get over the departure of the child.

I hope they aren't overstating the suggestion that she'll have a new placement arriving soon which will help her get over her loss.

My dad told me many years after his daughter died that the only help he got was from the family doctor, who collared my dad after visiting my mum. Dad was underneath his old Morris distracting himself from his grief by tinkering with the car. The doctor told him "Best thing you can do is have another one, and quick".

It didn't help, my dad said.

What he needed, and never got, was a good ear.

Good luck Jojo. Thank you on behalf of the child for the great start you've given him in life, thank you for everything you've done and are going to do in fostering.

Thinking of you.

xxx

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

FOSTERING AND ADOPTION


It took an item on the Victoria Derbyshire programme to get the crisis in adoption onto the agenda.

They interviewed the dad in a family who'd sent an adopted child back into care, he said it was the worst decision he'd ever had to make.

The scale of the problem isn't revealed by numbers because, shockingly, there aren't any. There are estimates, they vary wildly; the BBC website reports that 3.2% to 9% of adoptions fail.

The charity Adoption UK thinks 25% of all adoptions are in crisis.

I'm thinking about this in its own right but also because adoption overlaps with fostering in many ways.

The majority of failed adoptions will be placed with us foster parents. We'll have to try where the adoption has failed. I use the word 'failed' reluctantly, because we all know what some children in care can be like. Indeed there are times when some are too much for fostering and children for whom that's the case end up in special care such as a unit.

But I wonder if the government are simply cutting too many corners with adoption. It appears to me that once the adoption goes through the family are pretty much on their own. In fostering we get support, ongoing training and supervision. If the child isn't settling there's expertise available, whether it works is another matter, but the point is we're not alone. I don't know more than the next person about adoption, but it looks pretty lonely compared to what we do.

If an adopted child is struggling there is government money available for therapy etc, but it's capped at £5000 per year, much less than the cost of fostering.

Money isn't everything, but it helps. Why can't there be bands of care for children?

Ultra Fostering - the most challenging cases; full-on-suppport and backup.

Fostering Regular - what we have now.

Fostering Light - for those children and young adults who are relatively maintenance-free.

Adoption Plus - for children who are wanted as full family members but have issues to iron out; intervention and support available.

Adoption Regular - for children who have settled as family.

I haven't done the sums, but with good management the system could get better results on the existing budget. 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

COME ON PHONE! RING!



Waiting for the phone to ring when you're up for a new placement is definitely one of the most exciting things in fostering.

We're up for welcoming a new child into our home, in fact we're ready to welcome maybe two; a parent and child might be needing one of our beds - and a cot. Speaking of which we picked up a nice cot from a local charity furniture shop, it's pristine (but we gave it a good scrub anyway) and comes apart easily so it stores flat in the loft.

ho hum ...

Come on phone!

...do de do de dum...

...I know what I was going to say; phones don't ring as often as they used to do they? Not with all the texting we do instead.

When the landline does ring it's more often than not a cold call. I always try to be polite, what I say now is;

"I'm sorry but I'm expecting an important call, I hope you don't mind but I have to hang up."

It helps my performance now that it's true.

Blue Sky's placement team could call any minute of the day or night with the magic question;

"Would you be willing to take a child who..." followed by a sprinkling of details. I have always replied;

"Yes, but I'll double check with my partner". So I ring him at work, he's always said yes, so far, to any request, and I go back to the team with our yes.

After you've agreed they throw your hat into the ring with whichever local authority are taking the child into care, they usually get more than one offer either from different agencies or else their own team of foster carers.

Blue Sky send an email with every scrap of information they can get about the child.

I've found it generally takes about an hour before you get a second call. People are surprised how quick local authorities can be in choosing, but when you think about it they want that child fixed up asap.

Sometimes it's a "Thanks but no thanks". In other words the LA has placed the child with someone else. You get given a reason, usually it's to do with geography. Maybe the child needs to stay at the same school and the distance between your house and the school is a bit much.

I always feel a tiny pang when it's a "No". I'll be honest here, although I'm naturally disappointed having got to know the child slightly from their details and got to looking forward to being able to help them, I also can't help feel a bit hurt. Shouldn't do, I know, it's not a rejection of me at all, but I'm only human.

I'm the same when out driving and a car hoots. I always assume it must be me they're hooting at...

Come on phone...

I never, ever, EVER fail to be moved by the moment when a new child arrives. They get out of the social worker's car looking so frail and vulnerable, I want to sweep them up in my arms and promise that everything will be alright.

But I don't because a) sweeping up other people's children in your arms is not what foster parent do and b) you don't know everything will be alright. So instead you smile, introduce yourself and do little things that are hopefully comforting.

For example I always say; "Slip your shoes off in the hall, we'll sort out some slippers for you later, for the time being you're okay in your socks."

This might make me sound like a stickler, but actually it's a good trick to begin the process of the child feeling that this is a home for them, for however long they need it. Try it. Walk around you own home in your shoes or trainers; it doesn't feel quite so much like home.

I find in fostering you pick up all sorts of little dodges like that...

COME ON PHONE....

I'll shut up for the moment.

Oh and BTW everything is cool with the rest of the family. Speaking of whom I must remember to make sure they know they are just as important to me as ever.

But they know when I'm on my toes for a new placement.

Monday, January 23, 2017

SCARING KIDS



I'm hopping mad.

It's a Monday morning and foster child came downstairs dressed for school and said;

"Did you know that toast can give you cancer?"

I'd seen it on the BBC news site on my ipad so I knew what she was talking about.

She saw it on her phone.

Christmas, don't our children have enough to worry about?

Who the heck thought it would be in the public interest to scare the bejesus out of them?

The foods identified are breakfast cereals, toast, pizza, chips crisps and cakes.

Thanks very much, thank you very very much indeed.

Oh and roast parsnips.

Information like this, unproven as it turns out, might be of use to some adults who overcook these items. I knew a mum once whose children had been relieved of her, who only ever cooked in a deep fat fryer. Didn't matter what she was knocking out for the kids tea apparently. Chips fair enough, but also; pies (savoury and sweet), fish-fingers, chicken, sausages, pork rashers, bacon...

Look, guys, cancer is a scary word to children, my foster kids are terrified of it, I suspect it was bandied about a lot as a boogie thing in homes where everyone smoked.

Our internet has filters for stuff we don't want our children to see. This sort of 'news' story should be filtered out.

It's not much of a news story anyway, I had an uncle Jim who was a journalist, he told me that anything that's not much of a news story gets shuffled so it's released on a Monday morning because there's not much news about on a Monday morning so your 'story' is more likely to get picked up.

I'm not saying the information shouldn't be got out there, but in a thoughtful way.

Scare kids off chips, crisps, pizza and cake and it might do them good in lots of ways, but what ARE we going to give them to eat without a battle?

Friday, January 20, 2017

PARENT AND CHILD - FOSTERING'S FIVE STAR


We're going back into offering Parent and Child. Shows how long we've been off the list for that, when we did it it was called Mother and Baby. It's not called that any more because a) sometimes (admittedly rarely) it's the father who is bringing up the child alone and b) the child is sometimes older than a baby.

But usually it's the mother and her baby, often virtually newborn; in fact our last one was allocated to us before the baby was born and we got to say hello to the little girl the day she was born.

I say; 'We're going back into Parent and Child' because we opted out of it a while ago because it didn't fit the household we had at the time..and because it's hard.

There are foster parents who specialise in it, I know of one who does nothing else and I say maximum respect to them. It is HARD.

But very worthwhile if you can do it.

It's hard in the physical sense; hard work. The parent is needy; otherwise they could cope without being looked after. The very fact the parent is being fostered is an indication that they are likely to fall short, not just in how to look after their child, but in other respects. Maybe they make bad choices about friends and lifestyle, maybe their own family is a bad influence. So the adult half of the parent and child often needs more than just guidance in looking after the child, but guidance in looking after themselves.

Mostly the parents are very young. Too young to be encumbered with parenthood, but they went and did it. Whilst they always declare they want to bring the child up brilliantly, they also want to be out on the town on a Saturday night. Actually they want to be out on the town morning noon and night, keeping up with their friends, having a youthful blast.

Then there's the child. Usually a baby.

I sometimes get talking to young mums in the supermarket, I always ask how the baby is sleeping. Every so often one of them replies; "Oh he's great, he's asleep at seven every night and sleeps for twelve hours." I always whisper "Keep that to yourself sister, most mums would be so envious I'd fear for your safety".

Babies are the original HARD WORK.

There's only one thing in a house that's harder work than a baby, and that's somebody else's baby. Which is what you take on with Parent and Child.

Even if the parent can deal with the child's needs at 2.00am and 4.00am, it's unlikely you'll be able to sleep through a baby crying, or someone creeping downstairs with a nappy bag.

But we're going in again. Why? We were asked by Blue Sky. We've had some re-training (blimey I thought one thing that stayed the same the last 200,000 years was human babies, but Nooooo!)

For example, bottles may no longer be warmed in the micro. I used to shake it about after its 30 seconds warming because the hot spot thing was obvious, but some young mum didn't know and fed her baby a bottle that was half too hot and half too cold, so now we're all stuck with a micro ban, fair enough.

We used to be worried about a baby being warm enough, now the chief worry is the baby being cool enough, all good thinking. We've done the re-training.

None of this is the REALLY HARD stuff.

The REALLY hard stuff is that as the foster carer we have to make judgements and keep records on whether we think the parent is going to be able to keep the child or whether the child is better off being adopted, and I always found this bit of the job harrowing.

Thank God the final decision is taken by the professionals which is a relief. But we provide a large portion of the evidence. And while a lot of it is simple fact: "Parent continues to fail to recognise baby's different crying as a need for food/changing/cuddle. Often continues to finish a text conversation before responding to baby ". A lot of it is also gut. How do you explain in mere words that a mother is broadly not up to the world's most important job, namely mothering? Well, you don't, you simply record the facts, and they mount up.

And someone else makes the decision. Mind, you play your part, and if you're anything like me you're always hanging out for a happy ending. Maybe the parent losing the child to adoption is a happy ending. You never find out one way or the other.

Parent and Child fostering attracts an allowance of 150% the usual per placement recompense, which is welcome.

The carers I know who specialise in it tell me they appreciate the fact that each placement usually lasts a few months and they take a break, say a month off, to re-charge the batteries.

We won't be that lucky as we have ongoing ordinary placements in our homer as well.

Wish me luck.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

CRISIS COMING


Had a fascinating conversation over Christmas with my niece Trish who is a Primary School teacher.

In her class this year are two children who live under the same roof. One is Sam, the family's real son. The other is Kellie, their foster daughter. The family have another child of their own, a daughter called Jasmine who attends the same school and is in the year above the other two.

Interesting three-way dynamic. They rub along like any ordinary set of three siblings, which means they sometimes are best friends, sometimes they have tiffs.

Every so often something happens which gives the children something to cope with. This is what happened just before the school broke up for Christmas;

The older pupils put on a play, well a show more like. Several little acts; a bit of dancing, a boy who plays the tuba (honestly!) a couple of sketches and some singing. The top act is Jasmine, the older sister of the two pupils in Trish's class. Jasmine can really sing, apparently, a bit of a star.

So for the whole of the week leading up to the show, Kellie the foster daughter and Jasmine the older daughter didn't get on well, there were all sorts of emotions. Nothing mega, just a bit of sister rivalry, what could be more normal?

This could;

On the morning of the show Kellie (the foster daughter) began telling everyone that HER sister was the star of the show. It was all "MY sister this" and "MY sister that" and Trish thought to herself "How lovely and cute and warm..."

However.

During the show Kellie could be heard still giving the "MY sister" thing large, shouting "Go on Sis! You show 'em!"

As Jasmine was getting a big round of applause Trish noticed Sam the brother stand up under cover of darkness and sneak out. She found him in the corridor. He was crying. Big tears.

Trish said that Sam was incensed;

"Kellie keeps going on about Jasmine being HER sister, but she's not HER sister. She's MY sister."

Trish had a discreet word with the foster carer who was grateful for the information, and I bet helped smooth things down as best one can, not that it would be a piece of cake.

It was one of those situations where you are pleased that your foster child feels part of the family, but unsettled that it's given your own child something to deal with.

BTW, the other thing Trish told me about is how quickly the numbers of Primary schoolchildren with difficulties are increasing.

She has 11 out of her 31 pupils on the books of the school's intervention staff.

Her Head Teacher is on the phone more to Social Services than parents, the local authority and the supply teachers office etc., put together.

I think the country is going to suddenly wake up to a crisis for children not unlike the way the rapid arrival of the dementia crisis took many by surprise, even though it had been rumbling for years.

And I doubt that schools will be better supported, just as the social care services have been left to deal with their crisis. Mind, they have the Red Cross pitching in.

Who's going to pitch in and help education?