Monday, May 15, 2017

GCSES 's and FOSTERING



GCSEs start today.

Exams are stressful every time, for students and teachers alike. And parents.

But they seem especially stressful for foster children and foster parents.

I'm not pulling rank here and saying our job is harder than the average parent.

Oh who am I kidding; that's exactly what I'm saying. GCSEs are harder for foster parents in almost every way except one.

The one way in which it's slightly easier for foster parents when their foster children are taking GCSEs is when the child in question isn't going to be part of your family forever, so a small voice reminds you that if they do badly and end up with poor prospects they'll be elsewhere when the stark reality of how little the world wants unqualified British labour kicks in.

But even that easing of our burden is counteracted by the fact that you worry even more about ensuring they do their best because if you're not there to help them pick up the pieces there might be nobody at all.

We get to look after other people's children for different periods of time. It might be a single night or a weekend. If it's short term you don't get a chance to focus on their exam prospects, even if they're sitting an exam the next day; the likelihood is they are up to their ears in family problems and will probably be re-scheduled to sit the exams again when things are more settled.

The big stressers, when it comes to helping foster children take their GCSEs, lie in the fact that you've got no first hand experience of their educational strengths and weaknesses down the years. So it's that much harder to get a bead on their academic potential.

And you know less than you'd like about the aspirations their real family had loaded onto them, or equally, how much they had consciously or unconsciously hampered the child's intellectual development.

How much damage had been done to the child's desire to take on the world.

We had one girl stay with us who was being readied for her GCSEs. She arrived during the school holidays so we had a couple of weeks to get to know her before school became an issue.

She was very, very bright. Bright in that sharp way that looked-after children often display. She'd have made a GREAT lawyer. She could argue her way through anything and anyone and come out the other side with bells on.

I expected, once she started back to school, to discover she was University material.

But no, you're probably ahead of me here, she was getting special help in almost every subject!

The school wanted her to sit every exam across the board even though she had years of catching up to do.

I got onto them and said that rather than her end up with low marks in twelve subjects, we should pick three or four, play to her strengths, and concentrate on getting good marks in them.

I wanted the school to excuse her from eight subjects, freeing up time for her to top up in the ones she was concentrating on.

Long story short; it didn't happen. The school said they couldn't cope and that if she was allowed to do it they'd be inundated.

The girl often told me she wanted to work with animals.

Animals rather than people, I remember thinking. People let you down in ways that animals don't, she'd already learned that.

I hope she managed it, I doubt it. You need qualifications for the job of your dreams, but foster children have often had to spend their short lives coping with so much turbulence and unsettling events that their schooling has gone by the wayside, and suddenly here they are being fed into a big hall with desks arranged just so, a silence descends and when they turn the paper over they get the first concrete shock to their system that they have struggled at home, struggled with family, struggled with school and now, as they look at the exam papers, realise that their future life itself is going to be a struggle.

Parents of their own children hopefully help all they can with revision and soothing words.

We foster carers have to do our darndest with the revision, but it's with all the other aspects of GCSEs we come into our own. 

The emotional aspects. 

You have to find a way to tell somebody else's child that on the one hand GCSEs matter, and that on the other hand they don't matter all that much. Not compared to their emotional wellbeing.

I never managed to get that message right with my own children, and try as I might I can't make it stick with other people's little ones.




Monday, May 08, 2017

WE NEED MORE CARERS



Foster Care Fortnight is under way, it's an attempt to tempt more people into fostering.

Is that you? Or, if you are already a foster parent, do you know someone who's made of the right stuff but needs a gentle urging?

One big thing I didn't realise when I first enquired (1985!) is how varied and flexible fostering is.

What got me interested was that a fostering agency had taken over a shop in our high street and every time I went past I got more and more hooked.

You may not believe this, and I have to pinch myself - you couldn't do it nowadays - but they had photos of children who needed foster homes in the shop window!

They were all aged 10-12 and looked idyllic, and the blurb talked about the average stay being 3-6 months. So I picked up the notion that fostering is a fairly standard procedure.

But standard it most definitely is not; its diversity is its strength and also one of its great attractions for would-be carers.

So if you're one of the countless people who are pondering about taking what seems like a huge step, let me borrow from The Fostering Network who've listed how many different types of fostering there are, because there's almost certain to be one or more that fits you, your life and background, and your family set-up.

EMERGENCY 
Emergency foster carers need to be prepared to take a child into their home at short notice, at any time of the day or night. Children will usually need to stay for only a few days, while longer-term plans are being considered.
SHORT TERM
This can mean anything from overnight stays to a period of several months. Short-term foster carers provide a temporary place to stay until the child can return home to their own family or a longer- term fostering or adoption arrangement can be made.
LONG TERM
Long-term fostering allows children to stay in a family where they can feel secure, while maintaining contact with their birth family. There is a particular need for this type of foster care for teenagers and sibling groups.
SHORT BREAK
This covers a variety of part-time care, including offering a break to the family of a child with disabilities or for a foster family. A child could come and stay for anything from a few hours each week to a couple of weekends each month.
SPECIALIST SCHEMES
There is a wide range of specialist schemes which focus on working with children with particular needs. These include parent and baby placements, therapeutic foster care and fostering young people on remand. Support care Offering support care to a child’s family is aimed at preventing young people from entering the care system on a full-time basis. Foster carers offer part-time care to children so they and their family can have a break, before difficulties escalate to a point where they can no longer manage. 

Actually, fostering is even more varied than those categories suggest.

It's not until the child arrives that you find yourself tailoring the placement to suit the child's individual needs. A large part of the reward is learning who they are and how you can help. Even if a child is only with you for 48 hours, they need supporting and helping.

And, just as the nature of fostering itself is many and varied, so are foster carers.

When I started it was mostly mums whose children had grown up. Nowadays, goodness, go to a Blue Sky gathering and it's chockablock with people from all sorts of backgrounds; singles, young couples, people who thought they were past their sell-by date, same-sex partnerships, different races, different nationalities.

But despite this wide catchment...

THE COUNTRY NEEDS MORE FOSTER CARERS.

Can you help???