Tuesday, April 24, 2018

SLEEPLESS IN FOSTERING

A reader named Ally asks;

"Do you have any experiences with foster kids diagnosed with PTSD that dont sleep well, and if they do sleep, are awake super early, 4-5am waking everyone in the house up to show she is awake and leaving EVERYONE exhausted".

Interesting question, due in no small measure to the fact that it got me wondering how many foster children have undiagnosed PTSD in some measure...

Probably so many it would bring down the system. So Ally's placement must be a particularly profound case.

I'm assuming here that PTSD refers to post traumatic stress disorder.* 

Poor child must have been through something seriously distressing. And is still going through something seriously distressing, namely re-living whatever the traumas were over and over.

I haven't had any experience with children who've been clinically diagnosed with PTSD, my first thought is that whichever professional made the diagnosis would be your first port of call with the sleep issue. A diagnosis of PTSD is obviously serious; you hear of firefighters and suchlike receiving counselling and medication to deal with experiences. PTSD in a child is a major thing. 

Sleeplessness for foster parents is no minor matter either.

First off I want to say to Ally that you must be held in huge esteem by your social workers if they chose you to help this child's repair and recovery. Think about it Ally, you must be one helluva foster parent, good on you.
That's no comfort to you though, especially at 4.00am, but the child wants and needs to be with you. You, your whole household, represents the love, warmth, friendship and security she craves, and she wants it all around her from the minute she wakes.

Getting children to go to sleep? Can be a devil of a job.

You can make a child up wake up, but you can't make them go to sleep. You can crowbar them into bed, but if they have distressed minds, why try? Most of the foster children I've had were dead set against bedtime, many because they dreaded the loneliness of a strange bedroom in a strange house. Many's the time I've allowed a child to stay 'up' with us on the sofa in their pyjamas and dressing gown under a blanket until they are proper drowsy. Depends what's on the TV as to whether it's on or off. If it's off I'm either in a book or on my ipad. Best of all is if I pretend I'm nodding off. Sometimes I don't have to pretend too hard. Had one child who used to synchronise their gentle breathing with mine and that was when I knew they were ready to go upstairs.

Long bike rides at the weekend helped; children don't run around in the fresh air like they used to.


Let's talk about the early waking and wanting everybody else to be awake.

Our very first foster child was a bad sleeper and an early waker-upper of myself. Partly my fault. On his first night I made a rookie mistake, I told him if he woke up in the night and felt scared he could tap on my bedroom door and I'd be there for him. So he did, at 2.30am. And a promise is a promise. It became routine, and once it got in the groove it proved really hard to undo. Turned out he had always been a poor sleeper all his life.

We did undo it in the end, it took about 3 months to start improving and another 3 before it was just a bad memory. I'm not saying Ally is in for a long haul; every foster child is unique; what happened with this child was that with time and effort he began to feel more and more secure and trusting, and as he did so he started sleeping better.

Time heals, but lacking a Tardis to fast forward we decided to try various things to speed the process up.

First off we put a clock in his room and agreed he could get up at a certain time and was rewarded every time he did. We started with 'soft targets' and gradually moved the time forward until it got to an acceptable 6.00am. We made a game of it; I bet him he couldn't stay quiet in bed until such and such a time and he kept beating me. He was the 'winner'. No matter that I had to buy a digital clock (easier to learn than one with hands). I had to teach him how to tell the time before this one began to kick in, and it was a struggle at first, but I'll never forget the first time it fully worked, we all felt good, especially the child.

We put food in his room. Many children coming into care have suffered neglect with food. Not just poor diet, but being denied food as punishment or because the adults simply can't be bothered, or forgot, or were too drunk or high to even make beans on toast. And the children are often barred from using the larder or the fridge on pain of punishment. That's if there's anything in them to be going on with...
Food is right up there on dear old Maslow's hierarchy of needs, third in fact, behind air and water. Not just the eating of it, but the comfort that it's available. So we put a bowl of apples and bananas in his room and said they were his and he could eat them whenever he wanted to. We started making a snackbox with his favourite nibbles and putting it in his bedroom every night and telling him it was his and he could snack away if he woke up. He didn't seem that fussed about the snackbox because it hardly ever got eaten, so we stopped it only for him to complain. Turned out he needed the security of available food more than he needed to eat it.

We got to the bottom of his jitters. We found out, thanks to a chance remark by a social worker, that before he came into care he used to be locked into his bedroom every night so his mother could go to the pub. We called the social worker who had overseen his coming into care. She'd been to the house, she described the scene. His bedroom door had no ordinary door-lock with a little key in it. It had a huge steel hasp screwed onto the outside of the door with a thick gunmetal staple on the door frame to take an industrial padlock. Horrific! To this child his bedroom was a dungeon. So the lesson learned is to find out everything you can about the child; ask social workers questions about everything they know about the child's experiences, ask them to dig out everything they can because it's possible that somewhere in all the awful history is a detail you can use. What did we do for this child? We took his bedroom door off. Yep. Drastic, I know, but it was just six screws. We talked to social workers first about it, it was agreed. I'll never be sure how much it helped - we had to be careful with privacy etc - but it definitely contributed.

We couldn't stop him waking up early, only peace of mind would do that. He had nightmares he didn't or couldn't recall and they were probably what woke him up. Once awake he didn't dare go back to sleep for fear of more bad dreams. We couldn't stop him waking up, couldn't stop the dreams, couldn't make him go back to sleep, but we could help him feel comfortable with just himself for company.

We put things to do in his bedroom. I lent him an ipad so he could play games with headphones on when he woke up (and I was able to monitor his usage by checking history when he was at school). It helped. He started to get used to being alone in the wee hours.

Lighting was important. We left the landing light on and a night light in his room. We kept checking to make sure the lighting didn't make any strange shapes out of shadows. We left the bathroom light on, in case he needed to go and didn't have to encounter any darkness anywhere. 

As he got to know our house better we tried something a bit daring and it worked, maybe the best thing we tried; we told him that we thought he was clever enough to creep all the way downstairs and play on the X Box with headphones on without waking anyone up. We made a game of it, a challenge. We sussed out which stairs creaked and how climb down without stepping on them. We had fun practising during the day; I'd sit at the kitchen table with my eyes closed and he'd have to start in his bedroom and get into the living room without me hearing a sound. The child was a mature ten years of age by the way (this tactic is not for younger ones, obviously). Being awake and having the run of downstairs made him feel grown-up. Was it a risk? We talked it through with social workers, the joke was that if he grew up to be the world's best cat burglar we'd go down as his accomplices. We gave it a go. He was fine. It worked until the time a spider galloped across the living room floor...

Not all the above are appropriate for all children of course. Always run ideas past your social worker. The key thing is to keep trying to find things that help. Try your own ideas out, anything that might improve things.

Naturally we didn't buy fizzy drinks or any food that might trigger 'blue sweet syndrome'.

We (my partner and I) took it in turns to be 'it', when he needed someone to be awake. As things improved we both got used to dozing in and out of sleep once he was on the move. When he was at school I had regular afternoon naps, but they never made up for a poor night's sleep.

Being awake with a demanding child when the rest of the world is fast asleep is one of the loneliest places. But...

We got there in the end, and now it's a distant memory, but many thanks to Ally for reminding me about what started out very demanding but ended up a very satisfying fostering experience.

Funny thing, one's memory with parenting. When my first baby was born I swore loudly and frequently (43 hours labour) that I would never put myself through it again. Apparently it was ten weeks after the birth that I announced I wanted another...

Fostering's a bit like that. I'd forgotten the hardships of having a sleepless foster child until Ally asked. When the lad left us I was straight on the phone to Blue Sky asking for another placement. 

Didn't take me ten minutes, never mind about ten weeks...

* ps I'm cautious with bunches of initial letters, they're everywhere. A friend visited recently, a petrol-head. He was getting into his car to go and said something spookily insightful so I said;

"Your ESP is working well."

And he replied; "Actually I've just had it tweaked."

I replied "Tweaked?"

Turns out ESP can refer to a car's Electronic Stability Programme. 
Unless, my friend went on, I was referring to his Electric Submersible Power motor which is a two-pole squirrel cage induction device...

Anyhoo from that conversation on I make sure everyone's agreed on what initials stand for.




Friday, April 13, 2018

GLIDING SERENELY ABOVE THE SURFACE...

We've had a couple of weeks of school holidays, a different type of fostering.

You could say there are two modes of fostering; when schools are up and running and when they're closed for holidays.

When schools break up your foster son or daughter is home all day, or at least in your arc, seven days a week, as distinct from when it's five days of school and two days of being around home.

Even if the child is anti-school, there's still a structure about Monday to Friday which vanishes when it's school holidays.

Our Blue Sky social worker always schedules a visit during the school holidays, just to check everything's cool. She's a great person.

So...here's what happened (it was tiny but rather good)...

Our social worker showed up at 10.00am, on the dot as usual, smiling and full of the joys. They always arrive exuding positive vibes, sometimes we need it, sometimes we don't, it's always a boost.

Always a boost.

Where else can you work with someone who comes and spends a whole morning drinking tea and helping you by giving you guidance and advice but also telling you you're fantastic.

I worked in all sorts of jobs before fostering. Nobody ever, ever came to me with kindness and support and told me how good my efforts were. No manager, no boss, no shop steward, not even colleagues. The people I worked alongside were cynical about the exercise, and often miserable about management.

Okay sometimes foster carers enjoy a good whinge. Who doesn't?

But when your Blue Sky social worker turns up at your house, as they must and do relentlessly, it's all about making sure you know you're not doing this fostering thing alone.

So.

What happened was this. And I'm sorry if it sounds like nothing, but at the time it was huge.

We have a child who is unconsciously anti-parent. This is not surprising, the vast majority of children who come into care have a problem with their parent figures. The dear child doesn't always interact with us as one would hope.

Fostering.

So. The social worker turned up at 10.00am and we drank tea at the kitchen table and laughed and stuff...but she needed to touch base with the child, to make sure the child was okay and not harbouring any secret worries.

The child, who was asleep when the SW arrived, was persuaded  to venture downstairs to say hello.

On arrival at the bottom of the stairs I said:

"Hello, you alright? What would you like for breakfast?'

Child replied, in a gloomy voice;

"I dunno do I?"

Now, the thing is, I've taught myself to get past minor infringements with this child, because the child is making good progress and I've learned that if you go zero tolerance on every little thing you can end up with a full scale wobbly, and that risks putting the child's progress back a month.

But social worker decided she couldn't stand idly by. Instead she put on a big grin and went;

"Well that's not very nice, when someone offers to make you breakfast. I think you can do better than that."

Child stopped in tracks, gave it a quick think, let out a self-conscious chuckle and went;

"Yeah, sorry...I've just woken up like..."

Social worker wasn't done, she said;

"So...what do you want for breakfast?"

"Er..we got any cereal?"

I replied;

"Yep. Co-co Pops or Weetabix. Or Porridge."

"Can I have Co-co Pops?"

Social worker went three out of three;

"Can I have Co-co Pops...WHAT?"

Child; "Can I have Co-co Pops please?"

Child took breakfast into the front room, social worker joined child for a private chat, I heard them having fun; laughing their socks off.

Child went upstairs, social worker came back into kitchen;

"Well you've got a very happy child there."

I replied; "Not every minute of every day I can tell you."

"Loves it here. Has loads of respect for you. Feels safe and cared for. Sense of belonging."

I said; "Really. Is this you reading between the lines?"

"Nope. Those were the exact words used. But if I wanted to read between the lines, I noticed the request for breakfast was 'Have WE got any cereal' not 'Have YOU got any cereal?'"

Social worker zoomed off, leaving happy child and happier foster mum. Child had a tad more respect for a while afterwards. Foster mum had a tad more respect for her own efforts. For a while.

Then we all went back to being where we were in the first place, which, as the social worker said, was a pretty good place.

Child working on survival and doing it their way.

Foster mum like the swan, paddling away like mad beneath the surface, but above the surface...

...hissing at everything that moves and flapping both wings in frenzy...

Only joking.  

My take on the serene swan thing...
















Wednesday, April 11, 2018

WE'RE AVAILABLE

A few words about how it is when you're up and waiting and hoping for your next placement. It's a wow. Heck of a buzz.

Even more of a wow when it's your first ever placement.

That's where we are now (the former), and it is what it is.

We've been there a lot of course, but it's still what it is.

First off, we have to try not to feel let down or disappointed when the phone doesn't ring at 9.00am on day one when we're available. 

We're so excited and enthusiastic we can get frustrated that they don't simply send a bus-load of kids over, hey we are up for it.

When you start up you don't go onto the system until you're ready, qualified and available.  Sometimes your social worker will have a respite case in mind for you to get you started, it's what happened to us. Our Blue Sky contacts had got to know us and also knew of a child in care whose foster parents were due a weekend break. They arranged for the child to accompany his foster mum to a support meeting they knew I'd attend. They left no stone unturned.
By the way, when I say they'd got to know us I remember taking a call from a Blue Sky senior person with regard to something or other and she finished the chat by saying "I've been reading your file every month as it grows, I feel as if I know you inside out even though we've never met."
I found that very re-assuring.

Then there's the business of getting matched. They aren't going to call unless there's a good chance of a fit. 

People come into fostering having heard that there's a massive need for carers. There is.  If you're thinking about it, I beg you to do it; make contact, begin the process of approval. 

But just because you walk out of the final meeting with your approval it doesn't mean there's a match for you out there straight away.

One of the things that happens generally is that the phone rings and a voice asks if you can take a child, and you get a few details. If you say yes you then get an email with a load of information about the child. In our case I'd phone my partner and we'd chat a bit. Then I'd go back and say we were up for the child.

Then it's the local authority's decision, they usually have several options in front of them.

Sometimes you get a phone call saying the child has gone somewhere else.

You get a whiff of rejection, but Blue Sky explain the thinking; I can remember things such as ;

"The authority went with a family whose home is near the child's school."

"They found a Muslim family for them." (We're not Muslim, but had been willing).

Even;

"The authority changed their mind and decided to keep the family together but monitor them closely."

Geography is the biggest reason, in my experience, that a child gets placed elsewhere. If a child needs schooling and Contact with their significant others, the foster parents don't really want a fifty mile round trip ten times a week.

So, that's where we are now.  Nearly. Our foster child is going home soon and we're ready to take another.

"We're available."

Can't wait!





Sunday, April 08, 2018

THE DABBING OF EYES

It's mixed feelings when a foster child who's been with you a while is gearing up to go.

Not 50/50 mixed feelings, more like 70/30.

The seventy is how pleased you are for them, the thirty is that you're sad to say goodbye.

The children are generally at peace with the world once they know that they are going home.

Yes, they have some conscious trepidations in case things go wrong again, but deep down most foster children are usually drawn home whatever happened and whatever might happen.

We did have one child who was adamant, absolutely definite, that they did not want to go 'home' or have anything more to do with 'home', ever. That wish was granted. But generally foster children view home through rose tinted glasses, mother nature or some other force gives them unfathomable hope and optimism. And a pair of rose-tinted spectacles.

One tricky thing is when you have a foster child going home and you have another foster child in your home who isn't.

As long as you're alert to the feelings of each, things stay just about on track and are smooth.  You can only imagine what goes through the head of the child who must remain in care. I try to give the child who's staying a sense that their presence in our family is special to us. Not hard, because the child is special to us.

At the same time we make sure the child who's going knows they will be missed, that we will always be there for them if they need us. They can't contact us  direct, but they will have contact with social services and we always say clearly; "If you need to come back here again for a while, as long as we have the space, you'll always be welcome."

But I'm not looking forward to the goodbyes. There's nothing like it in normal parenting. Someone once said to me that it must be like a mini-death, well it's nowhere remotely near such a catastrophe, but I got what they were driving at.

Actually the foster parents should be doing cartwheels because the job of fostering is getting the child back together with their real parents.

But I never feel like partying. 

Like every foster parent I've met, regardless of the ups and downs of the placement, once they're gone you find your bond with them strengthens. You long to share their triumphs, whether at school, in work, in life or in love.

You want to be standing between them and the cruel world every time it gangs up on them, rolling up your sleeves and saying; "You want this kid? You're going to have to come through me first!" (Metaphorically of course).

I remember a Blue Sky support meeting at which a foster carer, a mum in her fifties, not the most robust person in appearance, dabbing her eyes with a tissue when the conversation turned to everybody's niggles about fostering. It happens BTW, doesn't matter where you work, or who you work for, it can be delicious to have an office-related whinge.

We noticed she was filling up and asked if we could help.

"I'm alright...' she said, "Too alright actually. The doorbell went last Friday and when we answered it was a girl we'd had placed with us for over a year. She left us about three years ago, and we never heard anything about her. The girl stood on our step and said she just wanted to say thank you."

The foster mum asked her in and they had the inevitable cup of tea. The mum assumed the girl was local and had happened to find herself passing the end of the street. The girl replied that she lived  about ten miles away.

The girl had got on the train and walked up from the station.

To say thank you.

That's it from me on this one, filling up. Haven't got a tissue so dabbing with the hem of my T shirt. 

Talk soon...



Saturday, March 31, 2018

WAITING FOR A PLACEMENT

Even after many happy years in fostering, putting yourself forward to take a new child has its minor headaches.

By no stretch of the imagination are they the headaches of migraine proportions, just the small dull throb you get at the back of the eye-sockets first thing some mornings which either disappear or you stop noticing after your first cup of tea.

Sorry to be pedantic about headaches, Arctic circle-dwellers* are said to talk of 27 different types of snow, women like us know of 127 types of headache.

The first thing you have to get straight is the matter of what sort of child would fit for your family. A difficult one to assess, but re-assuring that it's always given consideration. We try to say yes to any child, We said yes to 3 Afghan brothers who had no English and needed a prayer room and a halal diet. We said yes to a boy who had (accidentally) allegedly been responsible for the death of another youth.

If you're a start-up in fostering don't get alarmed, placements like the above are extremes and far from the norm,. They were only offered to us because Blue Sky had, over a period of years, developed an understanding of our flexibility and our resilience.

Generally one's reservations don't become a factor, because Blue Sky and local authorities do their level best to find a foster home in which the child and the family will feel comfortable with each other.

This is no mean achievement.  Even if you hope for the Von Trapp children from Sound Of Music, never forget that the eldest daughter was seeing a Nazi...there are very few out-and-out angels out there.

Age is a big thing to consider. For example if I had a very young family of my own, or a young foster child who had settled in, I would give plenty of thought if asked to take a child several years older than them. It could be an arrangement that might work really well, but it could also confuse the younger ones as their place in the family dynamic might change and not suit them. Your social worker is going to be well ahead of you on this one, I know age differences  something they're hot on.

By the way, the process of referring a child to a new foster home isn't a matter for the Placement Team working solo; they liaise with your social worker so the process of working out a fit has begun even before your phone rings.

I guess the truth behind me finding the business of getting a good match a bit of a headache is that, like a lot of carers I know, my heart wants to say yes to all of them...

That said, the job is always to get the child ready to return to their real family, and the more smoothly the child fits into your home the easier for them to gather their wits.

I'm looking forward to telling my SW in three days that we're ready for a new placement. She may well email the Placement Team immediately, and that might result in an offer in  no time at all. A school holiday began a couple of days ago and that often means a flurry of need for foster homes.

When all is said and done; it's the most exhilarating feeling that's welling up in me, I recommend it to everyone and anyone who has the wherewithal to foster.

Here we go!

* I'm lost on what name to give the indigenous inhabitants of the northern ice wastes. I got an earful years ago from a man in a park when he overheard me use the word "Eskimo", mansplaining to me they are "Innuit". Then I recently heard someone on the radio saying that Innuit was wrong too. 


Tuesday, March 27, 2018

PADDINGTON AND FOSTERING

We've been prowling around the idea of taking one more child, it's always a big decision, in our case especially so because we've managed to arrive at a fairly happy balance in our home, and that doesn't happen every day in fostering...

Our happy(ish) home didn't happen overnight. We had a lot of things to work out. But our eldest Foster Child is now pretty much family. Youngest is settled, and set to go home when a few legal hurdles are cleared. Our own children are more than okay with fostering; they have something to moan about when the bathroom is occupied or they can't get a lift to town because someone else is getting a lift in the other direction, but on the whole; pretty contented.  In fact, I genuinely believe they are the better for it when all is added up.

So. There's a strong temptation to tootle along for a bit, all bright and breezy, no surprises. 

But life's like a game of twenty-one isn't it? Whether to stick or twist, whether to hold or bust.

I've always liked to move forward in life, not at breakneck speed, but bit by bit. That said, there are times to pitch tent and re-charge the batteries.

I must admit the temptation to stick was immense. And no-one would have blamed us. 

I suddenly saw myself getting a long lie-in on Sundays, watching my favourite TV programmes as they are transmitted instead of having to catch-up due to being needed everywhere else in the house all evening except in front of the telly.

I started daydreaming about the 'perfect' family set-up, hallucinating where us two parents are in a hot tub on a Sandals holiday knowing that all is serene and joyful back at the ranch.

But it's not going to happen, because we're committing to having another foster child. 

I'm going to tell our Blue Sky social worker when she next visits for supervision.

It feels fantastic already, and I'm really looking forward to the look on her face because the social workers get almost as excited as we foster parents. I can't wait for the phone to start ringing with the Placement Team asking us the wonder-words;

"Would you be willing to take a child who..." 

Can't wait for arrival day. Can't wait to start helping a young innocent start to fix themselves and their lives. Can't wait to start getting to know them, getting to understand them, helping them feel helped, supported...and loved.

So what happened that made up my mind?

Lots of things contributed to the decision. We'd talked about it amongst ourselves as a family, with our social worker and the Blue Sky team. I talked with my friends and my own family. Friends and family tend to put me and my welfare above everything else, so it's useful to get their views. They ended up agreeing that though they worry about me when I look tired, they know I love it.

I was hesitant though, tempted by the prospect of same-old same-old for a while.

But my heart kept reminding me that fostering is what I do best and it suits me down to the ground.

I'll tell you what gave me a big nudge...

On Saturday we downloaded Paddington 2. It turned out our eldest FC hadn't ever seen Paddington 1, so we downloaded that and had a marathon evening. We O/D'd on popcorn and the bear. 

And I cried my eyes out from start to finish.

Because, as foster parents spot straight away, Paddington isn't about a crime-solving bear. It's about fostering. 

Paddington Bear is the Universal Foster Child. The Browns are Mr and Mrs Typical Foster Parent.

So for me, every time Paddington did anything, it reminded me of one of our past foster children or another. For three hours it was one long celebration of what we foster parents do, and how our foster children are. No need for any spoiler alert, I'm not going into detail.

Except for one titbit of info; the celebrated Movie website Rotten Tomatoes gave Paddington 2 a mark of 100%, the first time ever they've given any movie the perfect score.

I think Paddington Bear, and all it stands for, touched the heart of everyone who saw it and wished they could be the Brown family.

And of course, they could become the Browns if they thought about it.

They can pick up the phone, ping off an email.

I can promise them the ride of their lives. I can't promise Hugh Grant...

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

LGBT CARERS

A reader writes;

"Hi there,
I am currently in the process of applying to be a respite carer with my local authority. Am in 'stage 1' but things seem to be going well. I've been reading your blog a while and havent noticed any thoughts on LGBT foster care (unless I missed it), that is either with LGBT parents or LGBT children or both. I am a gay woman. I put that on my form, all good there. 
Of course I am hoping to get approved. I am keen to look after older (11+) children. If it ever came up in conversation with children is it wise to be honest about such things, ie if the child asked why I dont have a husband/boyfriend (I am single, btw). 
Linked to this, my understanding is that LGBT youth can make up a higher percentage of foster care children, particularly older ones, than in the general population. Do you think it is wise, or even positive, to place LGBT youth with a LGBT carer? Is it even something I could raise with my social worker as a possible positive?
Thank you."


Welcome to fostering Anon, albeit for you currently the pre-fostering early days.


The twin topics of fostering for an LGBT person, and being in fostering for an LGBT youth aren't ones I've written dedicated blogs about to date, so thank you for the nudge.

Forgive me a couple of random meanderings before I tackle your important questions;

First, I found myself wondering why LGBT has not really come onto my radar. At Blue Sky the fostering rosta is increasingly diverse, yet I only notice this when it's pointed out to me; my instinct is to see beyond the ethnicity of carers, or their age group, nationality physical abilities or sexuality. Unless people bring their own uniquenesses to my attention I make a point of not noticing.

I look for common-sense, compassion, good humour, empathy, durability and plain good-heartedness. Those qualities are present in all good fostering people, but in different combinations; some foster carers character profiles are headed by strength and reliability (I met an ex-soldier at one Blue Sky meeting who'd seen action in Afghanistan - he was a rock). Others bring more nuanced skills as their mainstays. I'm not saying tough carers can't do gentle, or that sensitive carers can't do firm, just that we are all made up differently. Each of us has a very different life story behind us, and every one of us has a life story rich in experiences that can help children in care.

It's our unique profiles that social workers look to understand, then use to the full by matching us with children who most need the particular strengths we have at the top of our list of qualities.

We had a child stay with us who had gender issues and the local authority were fantastic. They went to work to get things as right for the child as possible and I learned as I went; the child's school got an angry visit from me because some teachers persistently got the child's gender wrong; I told them my view, which is;

It's wrong to pigeon-hole a child as a boy or a girl unless you're 100% sure it's their choice. So only when you KNOW the child for sure can you risk saying "Now, then young lady", or even things like "I need a big strong boy to help me with something heavy". As a rule, if there's ANY doubt, ask the child's name, or avoid referring to gender at all. And avoid gender stereotypes.

I phoned my social worker when I got home worried I'd been a bit cross with them and she said that if being cross with people who get things like gender preference wrong is what gets the job done, then go ahead and get cross. Not long afterwards the school proudly announced plans to convert one of its washrooms to gender neutral.

But I guess what I'm saying here Anon is that I can only take an educated guess at many of the issues that are in your mind, because my personal experience is not great, although I do know for sure that there is a growing awareness of gender issues, and more and more children are challenged. I suspect you're right in thinking a high percentage come into care. I also suspect that there's some important work to be done in this field.

And that you are in a better position than many to get that work done.

To take your questions one by one;

You mention that you hope to look after children aged 11+, and so did we, funnily enough. I expect that at first your preference will be respected. But as you develop your fostering and build confidence through competence, they might ask you to widen your brief. I always say fostering is like Forest Gump's box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get. But it's always your choice, you can say yes or no to any placement offered.

As far as explaining your situation to a foster child, Anon I imagine you have found yourself discussing your life choices with a variety of folk already and have developed a great range of skills, especially in assessing what to say and how to say it according to who the other person is. Age-appropriateness will probably be a key thing to think about. I would imagine that you are well equipped to get it right with foster children, but it's something to discuss with your social worker to get some broad guidelines in place, and keep them informed as you go along. 

It's how things work in fostering for all of us; your social worker is your best friend and ally.

Correct me if I'm wrong Anon, but I have a good feeling that you harbour the hope that your personal circumstances might help you to be of the greatest help to young persons who are seeing the world as you saw it when you were their age. Question asked, question answered Anon; you have expertise that many of us foster carers lack. Again though, your social worker will guide you, they will help in the crucial matter of deciding if a young person is right to come to you. If you get the offer and the child arrives you begin the process of helping the child in any way they need, wherever you can provide help.

I would advise you to raise this aspect of the job with your social worker straight away, yes; to put your mind at rest. It might be that the local authority you are with has existing guidelines, or is building their experiences, or has had previous cases which they can use not only to form a policy relating to your fostering, but to help guide you in doing something not many foster carers are equipped for, and is as sensitive as it is important.

Good luck Anon.

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