Tuesday, January 23, 2018

GOOD THINGS COME IN LITTLE BUNDLES

A neighbour came round last night, a parcel addressed to me had been left with her as I was out when it came.

The parcel was intriguing, I couldn't work out what it was. I'd recently bought a few things on Amazon; a draining rack, some jeans and a pop poster for one of the children. The parcel was a box about the size of an old-fashioned suitcase. It contained masses of screwed up brown paper and...a poster, furled into a thin cylinder.

Packaging has gone mad.

I offered her a cup of tea and we chatted, then after about ten minutes she plucked up courage;

"Actually there is something I wanted to talk to you about..."

Fostering. She was thinking about become a foster parent!

Yippee! She'll be great, provided she is prepared to take the plunge.

Turned out it was her youngest son's idea, or at least he was the first to speak up and suggest it. She thinks her boy is a kind lad who doesn't have anyone to look after being the youngest.

I'm very practiced in people asking about fostering, I can usually tell if they are giving it some thought. I try to be absolutely neutral and objective.

Basically I tell them it's fantastically rewarding, but at the same time it's no picnic. I don't tell them they should foster, that's for them. Equally I don't tell anyone not to, even if there might be practical or personal reasons why they might not take to it. Those considerations are the business of the professionals who do the assessments.

But I always tell them how much the country needs foster carers and how wonderful that they are thinking about it. Then I ALWAYS tell them to find out more by contacting an agency or local authority.

Always, always. I always tell them to visit a website, send an email or best of all make a phone call.

The reason is a lot of people waste part of their lives thinking about doing things. Thinking about dieting, giving up smoking, doing an Open University degree, you name it...

They talk a good game, telling friends and family they have a plan, they're intending to do X Y and Z. Waste mental energy ruminating, never getting round to it.

What I tell them is that they should get the ball rolling. It's a long drawn out process becoming accredited (6-9 months). It's also a fun process; rewarding and revealing. My point is you can pull out any time, no cost to you and no-one will judge. Plus it's up to them to decide if you've got what it takes, so there's no pressure on you.

The process helps get you in shape for the job too. It packages you properly, if you like.

Monday, January 15, 2018

2018 IN FOSTERING

Now that the dust has settled on the Christmas/New Year thing...

People make Resolutions, apparently 60% of them are abandoned come January 15th.

I do find, I really do, that in fostering every year, I look at the year to come and make up my mind to;

1. Get better organised for Christmas next year.
2. Arrange with Blue Sky to have a respite break (eg Lanzarote) sometime around Spring to re-charge the batteries.
3. Sort out a decent holiday in the sun for all the family somewhere warm and nice (ie Lanzarote) but not too expensive or far away.
4. Not allow Contact to bother me.*
5. Stay abreast of all the changes in social media and new technology.
6. Drop 10lbs so I my lectures about snacking and fast food are more authoritative.
7. Yoga.
8. Work closer with the schools.

* Contact; foster children are required to meet with significant family (maybe mum, maybe dad, maybe step-parents, brothers, sisters etc) usually once a week. It's a concept that means well but tests the child's emotions and many of us foster parents find that much of the time we have to apply the sticking plaster.

The best Contact I've ever experienced was a bit weird. The child, a teenage boy, had to meet once a week his... foster mum. Yep, his foster mum. She wasn't a Blue Sky carer; local authority.

What had happened was that the child, a teenager, was at home when the carer's sister and daughter visited. In the car on their way home the daughter told her mum that the lad had done something inappropriate when no-one else was around. The sister told the foster mum who decided to inform the authorities so that the allegation could be properly investigated. She was right to do that too. 

It meant the child was removed from her care and brought to me.

He was a truly great young man. I was certain from the off he'd be going back in no time.

But the lad had no family of his own; nobody related to him could be found, but he was entitled to Contact. So his foster mum turned up. The authorities said that under the circumstances it was okay for it to happen at our house.  Just another extraordinary episode in the extraordinary world of fostering.

Their Contact was a delight. The boy was so fond of his carer, she so devout towards him. Gladdened the heart. The whole thing was sorted out in a matter of weeks, the girl admitted she invented her story and I believe the boy is still with the woman, he'd be nearly eighteen now.

But back to my clear and undivided vision for 2018, I'd got to number 9.

9. Always remember that fostering is 10% proactive, 90% reactive. Meaning; our job is to react to things we couldn't predict or anticipate, and do our best to right things once we learn what needs to be righted. Day in, day out; that's the job.

Best job in the world too. In fact, that's my number 10;

10. Remember how much I love fostering.


Wednesday, January 03, 2018

WHY CAN'T KIDS CLEAR UP THEIR THINGS?

Is it me or are today's youngsters incapable of clearing their own eating debris away?

When I was a child neither I nor any friends would have got up from an armchair in the living room and walked away from;
  • A crisp packet, crisp bits in the chair.
  • Empty mug, the bottom of which is going brown from the dregs.
  • A pile of orange peel, the largest piece forming the base and the smaller pieces balanced in ascending order.
  • Empty can of Diet Pepsi.
  • A dinner plate with cheese crumbs, uneaten crusts on a dollop of drying Branston.
You ferry the refuse into the kitchen and there on the table is phase two; a bread knife with crumbs in the teeth, breadcrumbs all over the table. A Flora-covered knife and a Branston-covered knife. A jar of Branston, lid off, a tub of Flora lid off (lid face down on the table) and a plastic pack of cheese ripped open with cheese bits around it, and a cheese covered knife.

And, just as your frustration reaches the point where you feel like shouting at the DJ on the radio to shaddup with his chirpy cheer, there, lurking in the dry sink is every washer-upper's most hated; 

The cheese grater, solid with cheese.

I managed an evening out with a bunch of good fostering female friends recently and  the subject came up. Turned out everyone had tales of brown apple cores under sofas, pies and pasties with one bite hardening under the bed, sweet wrappers between the sofa cushions.

The winning story was...are you ready for this?

An entire ham sandwich slid into the slot of the VHS.

It's not just food. Trainers get worn into the house from the front door to the sofa where they'll be removed, dropped and abandoned. Socks will also be left. Coats, pullovers, hats...same treatment. 

We foster parents have a big job with children who have these things wrong.

The poor mites usually haven't been parented in practicalities.

But it's mostly a food thing.

Why? Why with the leaving plates and cups and stuff?

It's new, and as far as I can tell the experts are oblivious. I Googled it. The results;

Nothing. So we're on our own. I'll have a go, I've only got one idea; maybe others can add thoughts.

My recollection is my generation didn't have a snack culture. The larder didn't have crisps or biscuits, fruit was rare, we didn't get offered tea of coffee until we got the key of the door, and I don't think I was allowed to make myself a sandwich until I moved into my own place. 
We didn't snack! There was a chocolate bar called Milky Way that was advertised as "The snack you can eat between meals without spoiling your appetite". That's how rare it was for people to eat anything other than main meals.
Now snacks are the order of the day. 
My generation were not only excused casual food, we got little or no training in how to prepare it and how to clear up afterwards. Yes we were expected to wash-up and dry, but that's different.

Maybe we as adults lack our own childhood experience of having to clear up behind us. Therefore have no reference of how to tell our new children to go about it.

And...Maybe the whole subject is another pointer towards the fact that our children eat too much. 

With that in mind I've just resolved never to mind clearing up someone else's fruit peel, but to get bolshie about the crisp packets.

You never get bored with trying to get it right in fostering...








Friday, December 29, 2017

FOSTERING; YOU MAKE YOUR OWN LUCK

We're hoping for a new placement in the New Year, with a bit of luck. Who knows if a child who needs a home will get us and it turns out to be lucky for them? One can but hope.

We have one spare bedroom. It's small to be honest, but some foster children like compact rooms, they feel safe, snug, cosy. 

Our house is hectic but I've often found that foster children like the company of other foster children. They don't feel quite so stand-out. They can melt into the house a bit more easily, sneak away from what they otherwise might think of as claustrophobic attention.

One time we had two girls staying with us, they'd never met before, and there was a big age difference; one was 7 the other 16.  The eldest was big, the youngest tiny. You wouldn't think they had anything in common, and were incompatible. About the only exchange  that happened in the first few weeks was that the older one slammed her bedroom door one night, and the next evening the little one could be heard practising her door slam. Luckily for all she gave up on the idea.

To get these two to school I had to combine two school runs into one, not unusual in many families, but with foster children you sometimes get one school ten miles east of your home, the other ten miles west. As with Blue Sky guidelines, I sat them both in the rear seats, and every morning off we set. First port of call was the little one's school (their gates opened at 8.15am and the playground was supervised). Then I'd drive across to older one's college, she had to be there by 9.00am.

They'd usually sit in silence, but one morning the level crossing gates were stuck down, so we had to do a huge diversion and the traffic was gridlocked. I pulled in and phoned both their schools to say they'd be legitimately late and both offices said that loads of other pupils were in the same boat, so I passed this onto the girls and they relaxed. They relaxed so much they started talking to each other, as if I wasn't there;

"So how come you're in fostering?" asked the 16 year old.

"My mum used to lock me in my bedroom and go to the pub." the 7 year old replied.

The older girl didn't do sympathy. None of your "Oh how awful for you" stuff that we adults habitually chirp up with. Instead she just went; "That all?"

Little one replied; "My social worker said we wasn't getting fed properly."

Silence. Then the big one said;

"Y'know what? My mum don't even know how to use an oven. All we had was takeaways and ding meals."

Another silence; they were plotting their way into each other's confidence. Little one said;

"Have you ever had McDonalds?"

Big one scoffed;

"Wot? Yeah! Love it! You ain't ever had one?"

"We weren't allowed." replied little one.

"So what was you given?' asked big one.

"Cereal. Toast. Crisps and that."

Big one summed it up; "Eeeeuurgh."

The little one asked;

"How long you been fostered?"

"About...a year." said the 16 year-old.  Then she realised this news would be a bit daunting for the little one, who'd only been with us eight weeks and was still in denial that she'd be going home any day, so she added; "Goin' home soon though".

"When?" asked the little one.

"That's what I keep askin' 'em." 

They were bonding, two waifs gaining strength from sharing with another child in care. The older one passing on her experience and wisdom of fostering; the conversation ranging from the general quality of fostering (I came out not too shabby, phew, compared to the two homes she'd been in previously. Mind, their perceptions can be skewed...). They talked about what social workers are like. I remember the comment that they are easily persuaded if you; 

"Go on and on and on, that's how come I gets to go home every other weekend".

To how the system works; 

"They've said I ain't goin' home for good until my dad's appeal, 'cos if he gets off he'll come round our house and they don't want me and him in the same room and nor do I."

The younger girl held her own, then asked me;

"Can we have McDonalds for tea tonight?"

And we did. It became a weekly treat, the big girl indebted to the little girl for having had the courage and the canny to ask for it. Little one knew I was all ears. Actually they both did, but bared their souls anyway.

So.

Like I say, the more the merrier.

We're a bit harder to match in our house than most homes because it's a busy house.

'Matching' is the process of finding the foster home that's best suited to the child and the family.

The house/flat/caravan/whatever is a big part and parcel, especially the location. It's best if the child can attend the same school they did before they came into care (assuming they went to school at all), so the greater the distance to their school the more difficult.

I work on the basis that if the Blue Sky Placement team think we are a good enough match, that's good enough for me. 

We've a 100% record so far, maybe that's down to them, maybe us, maybe just good luck.

Although I find in fostering you make your own luck, not that I'm superstitious.

Touch wood.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

ENJOY WHAT YOU WISH FOR

We're entering a couple of weeks of a special time in fostering, namely Christmas.

I'm told that more children come into care over Christmas than at any other period.

Blue Sky social workers tell me (and some would say their observations are merely anecdotal, but I like anecdotal, it means it's what someone has seen with their own eyes, and that's my kind of evidence) that chaotic families come under the greatest pressure over Christmas.

Look, in part I'm flagging this up because if you flip back at a bunch of recent comments on the blog from new carers, a couple are wondering where their placements are.

My response to them has been; 'Hang in there, it takes more than a few days, more than a few weeks, can be a month or two.'

The prospective carers, who've got their accreditation and are on standby, have posted comments about this during the first weeks of December.

Here's why these folks are invaluable to fostering;

You'd think that Christmas is the ten days that glues even the most fractious family together. In fact it's the period that can test the happiest of homes.

Some author once wrote that every happy family is identical in their happiness, every unhappy family is unique in their misery.

Well, mate, (Dostoevsky or some Russian), not quite, not over here in England anyway.

Every family experiences unhappinesses over Christmas and their unhappiness is about the same.

First there's the blue nostalgia for Christmases past where adults remember better Christmases than they really had.

That makes them browned off about the Christmas they're enduring. In these parents mind, when they were age nine, they got a train set and an Action Man or a Barbie Doll and a Tressie (Her Hair Grows). They didn't, Or if they did their elder brother/sister or 'uncle" or "cousin'" trashed them before the Queen's speech, but no-one remembers that stuff. Doesn't stop the poor parents lamenting inside that they ain't getting a box-fresh Audi or a years supply of Joe Malone, like they think they remember.

When we were little we looked out on a world that was set to welcome us and make us all happy heroes. Doesn't work out like that for most of us does it? Christmas can bring that all back. And extra;

Booze has become a central feature of Christmas, There was no Buck's Fizz for Christmas breakfast in my childhood. My mum and dad never had to attend liquid works do's. Port? Sherry? Egg freaking Nog? Dubonnet? We lay all these particular poisons in for one fortnight only; Christmas.

Alcohol and nostalgia are a bad mix.

An even more toxic component is a fractured family unit where dad is with another woman, mum with another man, alcohol and nostalgia comes together with other substances and the heady suspicion that your ex is having a better time than you...and bongo!

Children in need of a home away from the rubbish nonsense.

They need you.

Imagine the scene. You're a foster carer, it's half-past three on Christmas Day. Your phone rings. Some kids need a roof.

Hasn't happened to me yet, not like that; it happened to one of the many friends I've made at out monthly support sessions.

She got the phone call out of the blue having lulled herself into thinking that fostering went into some kind of hibernation over Christmas. Blue Sky have people on the go 24/7, respect to them and their families...

So her phone went. The crackers were being laid out, people were being told "Ten minutes or so" to dinner.

"Would you be prepared to take...?"

This friend has the same policy as us: say 'Yes" ask questions later. There's a kid needs a roof.

She got a teenager and an infant (two different dads). The build-up had been coming, it involved about ten or twelve family members with grudges/issues/grievances etc, and Armageddon  was Christmas Day.

The police came out and said hello, it's us again, (I sometimes feel like an auxiliary copper myself, the way they greet me like a colleague!)

She said the police dropped the kids off and declined a glass of mulled wine, professional.

I asked her if it kicked the teeth out of their normal Christmas, she said no.

She said their Christmas starts to taper off about 11.00am anyway. When the phone rang it was better than a Bond film or Two Ronnies repeats.

Apparently the eldest went to live with an aunt once the paperwork clicked ( about 8 weeks) and The little one is still pending after a year.

Point is it was a Christmas-driven event that made it all happen.

One thing I've noticed on this blog is that carers who are waiting for a placement have time to comment. Soon as they get a child they go quiet. Quite rightly so. It's only because I'm a bit of a grizzled old hand that I can find time (just) to write.

So, to those folks who are champing at the bit; you know the phrase "Be careful what you wish for".

It does NOT apply in fostering.

What you wish for is much more fantastic than you could imagine!








Tuesday, December 12, 2017

HAPPY HOLIDAYS

When I was a kid there was nothing on the roads on Christmas Day, just other kids on Christmas bikes.

Well, the times, as we all know, are a'changing. Christmas Day is now almost like any other on the roads. Thanks to the breakdown of the nuclear family.

It's not that long ago there was almost no such thing as divorce, breakups or single parents.

Everyone stayed in on Christmas Day and went for a walk after the turkey.

Not nowadays. The roads are busy. And not just with non-believers.

The roads are buzzing with complicated families trying to fulfil their responsibilities to every last member. Step-parents, separated dads, single mums, brothers and sisters who are spending Christmas all over with maternal grandparents and uncles and aunts because their dad doesn't get on with mum's new girlfriend...

Complicated. But if you think family life could hardly get more complicated, try fostering. Especially at Christmas.

We have a fair old situation on our own plate, since you ask. A great foster child.

The child in question wants to be with real mum and dad for Christmas. Wants to be back with them full-time, of course, that's normal in fostering. Mind it takes some getting used to that a child you're fending for day and night would rather be somewhere else...but we get it.

This child's real parents are going at social services to have the child spend Christmas with them, except they aren't together. Haven't been together for a long time, but still spend the occasional night together (which gave the poor children cause for false hope).

The stand-in father (perhaps to his credit) wants the child but can't because;

a) He has a conviction for something relevant.

b) He's not the child's real father, he's the stand-in father. This alone wouldn't stop him having a claim on the child under most circumstances, especially as the child regards him as 'dad'.

However the clincher is;

c) The real father is a member of the stand-in father's family. And the real father has 'issues' with the stand-in father and there is a danger he may show up at the Christmas dinner which the stand-in father has asked to have the child attend.

And also...

The child's mother is in dispute with the child's stand-in father and wants to have the child (for Christmas, but not for life). She has petitioned social services claiming that she's bought a sackful of presents, put up a tree etc etc etc. But there are reasons why she can't have the child;

a) The child has been allegedly assaulted by his mother and a case is pending.

b) The child's mother is believed to be seeing a man who is believed to have drug problems. The man has a warrant out for his arrest and Christmas Day would be a cover for a quick conjugal visit to the mother's house, with the home apparently doing a "normal" Christmas. The mother has sworn to social services that the man will not turn up at all over Christmas, but they cannot afford to believe her. 

c) Social services have reason to believe the mother actually wants to be denied access to the child on Christmas Day to further her case that she is being discriminated against because she lodged a formal complaint against a social worker which is pending.

In other words the mother is demanding the child is delivered to her for Christmas Day but is intentionally or subconsciously loading the case against herself because she doesn't really want the child.

Keeping up...? I have trouble keeping up myself, but on a needs to know basis I need to know. When you're the foster parent you need to know everything so you can do the best for the child.

Of course, all of the above is background noise to our job, which is to filter out what the child needs (and needs to know) to help the child through the period.

And so far so good. The child is getting nicely Christmassy; looking for where we hide presents, joining in discussions such as real tree v fake, budgeting with the money we've made available so the child can buy presents for other family members and members of the child's foster family (us).

It'll be an okay Christmas for the foster children in our house, and that's as fantastic as it gets.

No matter how towering the magic, the poor mites are never far away from remembering where they are and why. It's part of our job to keep up the fun and distractions, from morning to bedtime.

It's also part of our job to enjoy the rewards. 

If you can escort a child through a few days that ought to be the happiest of their lives, but might be the worst if it weren't for their foster parent's efforts, you sleep well that night.

Actually, come to mention it, I've never slept better than since we started fostering.

I'd like to think it's down to a happy conscience, but as I always say when people ask me how I am;

"I'm pleasantly tired."







Friday, December 08, 2017

CHRISTMAS AND FOSTERING

I've been fostering long enough to know that I'll never know what my head makes of Christmas and fostering. 

But my heart loves it.

A lot depends on the specifics of who you have staying with you and their story.

We had a lad who had 14 stepdads. Incredibly, his mother had 15 children by 15 different men so he had a real dad and 14 stepdads.

And he was cool about this because somehow the whole lot were in touch and he got a dozen or so massive guilt presents from a dozen blokes. The boy was one of those foster children who was on top of his situation. Such foster children aren't always the rule but they are out there.

Another child we had, a teenage girl, was very up for Christmas, wanted a shed-load of;
"make-up, an' smellies an' fings fer goin' aht in". 

I hesitated about making her sound like that, but that is how she talked and it was her way of talking, as good as any other, and translating it into Queen's English deprives her of her wonderful character. 

She was asking about stepping up into the world of being a woman (as in what she'd been brought up to regard as womanhood).

So I took the plunge and bought her perfume, eye stuff, nail stuff, oh you know... that stuff.

The poor dear girl was due to go back to her real home on Christmas Eve, we were down to drive her, so we presented her with a bag of gifts with the car engine running. But she said for us to wait, she wanted to open her presents with us!

It was as lovely a half hour as I've spent in fostering.

The girl milked every present, opened them full of childlike speculation and melted with every discovery.

Then off we took her to goodness knows what sort of Christmas morning, but it was what she wanted; foster children almost always want to go home, for almost all of them it's everything.

And goodness, I could go on for pages about the younger ones.

Okay. Just one;

Calvin was six years old. He didn't know if the woman from whose house he had been taken was his mother; he was a passed-around prop for benefit payments. He didn't know if the man of the house he lived in mostly was his father, but the gist he'd picked up was that he might be.

Calvin came to us one November and stayed through a Christmas. 

We found out that although Calvin didn't have much faith in hope, the rumours he'd heard about Father Christmas hadn't been trashed by science. He believed.

Foster carers are ever mindful that the need to avoid giving foster children a Christmas which will spoil future Christmases is balanced by the fact that they are deprived of their real families and deserve our best efforts if only to make up for everything.

We attended his school's Nativity where he was third King,  he knocked out a decent performance. But he was the only child on stage who wasn't searching with their eyes for family and loved ones in the audience.

That did it for me.

We had to bring our car round to the door of the High Street toyshop, we did our brains on pressies for him. Each gift was thought-out and meaningful. It meant we had to up the ante for our own children, so it was an expensive Christmas.

Worth every penny. The highlight of the morning was when he unwrapped his main present which was a massive fortress, the major prop in some sort of game he admired. He looked dazed, didn't know how to deal with his fortune, didn't know how to feel about it. Then he muttered;

"This isn't real. I don't deserve this." He actually said, out loud, that it was more than he deserved!

For an awful moment I feared we'd overdone it. He was feeling the misplaced guilt many foster children experience; they actually believe that the breakdown of their real home was their fault.

I had a card up my sleeve;

"Well, Santa thinks you do, and he's been keeping an eye out for you all year. He thinks you've been good, and deserve nice presents."

Bingo. He was back in the right spirit, maybe even a tad ahead; Santa had pronounced that the family break-up wasn't his fault.

They're always telling us in training that the truth is very important when talking to foster children.

But we're allowed Santa. 

And when I got to thinking that Calvin had actually been somewhat and justly compensated for his hardship, and we'd been rewarded with a happy camper, who's to say there isn't a Santa who looks out for children.

And maybe foster parents too...