Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Fostering. My partner was asked today; "Why on earth do you do it?"

Partner attended a Christmas card "party" that somebody they worked with threw. You know, you buy some charity cards and you've done a bit for the world.

Don't get me wrong, bully for people who raise money for charities, better than doing nothing.

But when the fact that we fostered came up with one lady she was incredulous; "Why do you do it?"

So why do we do it?

Hang on though. Do people ask RNLI life boat people why they do it? I bet not.

A few years ago I attended a charity firework display where the money raised was going to a local school for disabled children. I said to the organiser; "You must be looking forward to presenting the money to the school" He replied "God, no. I couldn't face those children, too shocking."

I guess there are lots of people who can't face the fear of doing something good on the front line. The firework guy couldn't even meet the children he was raising money for.

So why do we foster carers do it?

Because it's exhilarating, rewarding, empowering  to see some kid go better than they would have done with anybody but you, because it makes the world a better place, because it's a risk to one's otherwise dull lifestyle, because you're in a team that's with you, behind you, leading you. 

Most of all because it's a real live experience that gives a young person, drowning in life, someone to pull them out. Someone who'll tug them to dry land. But not in one night; over months and years. 

Same rescue though.

The Secret Foster Carer

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Lying and foster caring.

How can you not lie sometimes? 

One of the regular bits of advice from the professionals is to be truthful with looked-after children. 

And yes, if they ask "When am I going home?" you start on a lengthy, truthful, explanation:

(1)"It depends on the next review of your parents, and by "review" I mean that the people who are helping them sort out their problems are trying to make sure that they will be happy and able to look after you and the rest of your family, and this may take a few weeks or it may be more than that, I will ask again when our Social Worker visits because I know it's important to you, and we want you to be happy, but I don't know at the moment when you'll be going home."

But you've probably lost the child with all that detail; they only want to hear a date.

Is it truthful though? The real truth might be:

(2) "You can't go home until your mother learns to treat you with some love and care, and she quits drugs and sleeping with the last man to leave the pub. And your father stops turning up at your house when he's been thrown out by whichever girlfriend he's shacked up with in the hope your mother will be "nice" to him, but she kicks off instead and someone ends up calling the police again. Oh, and when he accepts that your brother is actually his son, not his brother's son, and accepts that just because he can't read and write is no reason to tear up all three of the children's books in the house, and trash all the toys. Oh, and when your mother learns not to attack the police when she called them in the first place."

Actually, now I've written that, you know what?

There are times when  (2) might be the right answer.

Mind, the child, hearing (2) will probably kick off citing "Aw I ain't never going home then!" Cue broken heart. Broken plates, whatever.

Sometimes, you just lie lie lie. Little ones, but lies. The lies you used with your own children, but were spared worrying about psychotherapists and Sigmund Freud whispering; "Ze Truth. Tell zem ze truth always!"

Why am I banging on about this one at 10.30 on a Saturday night? 

Today we had, well, a bad day. A rainy Saturday. Everyone got a bit stir crazy. We tried a bit of Christmas shopping but the whole Christmas thing is radioactive to looked-after children, it's an amplification of their losses.

Long story short: Tantrum, just before bedtime, driving back from watching the turning on of Christmas lights. 

So; early bedtime for child - mainly for safety, but also to reinforce "Please don't try to hit me when I'm driving or it's bedtime when we get home". Was whiffed at again, no contact, no safety issue at all, but blimey I'm driving here!

Child is put to bed, with big dish of food, including double chips. The food thing is not a reward, child has previously been starved. Mazlo Mazlo Mazlo. Right enough.

Child always gets apple juice with bedroom food.

We are out of apple juice, take up a glass of water instead.

Promise child: will get apple juice next time in shop.

Partner and I chill. Glass of Jacobs Creek has been earned. Have to nip to One Stop.

Forget apple juice.

Child is at landing when I get back.

"Where's my apple juice?"

I went to say; "Unfortunately the pressures and stresses of nurturing and guiding a looked-after child such as yourself through the difficult circumstances of your life, which are not your fault, have taken a toll on my powers of concentration and recollection. Although I failed to remember your carton of apple juice, this doesn't mean I don't care deeply for you, in fact I hope you can see by my remorse the depth and warmth of my care."

What I said was "They're out of apple juice."

Big lie.

Child looked at me, I know the look was "They're never out of apple juice down the One Stop. Hang on though. There was the time they only had one bag of prawn cocktail crisps, and I was torn between smokey bacon and prawn cocktail and you said if I wanted prawn cocktail to be quick, so maybe your story hangs up. I can't prove anything. But this is one I can put in my back pocket."

I got away with it.

Jeez, living with looked after children is like living with lawyers.

The Secret Foster Carer, Your Honour.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

People always ask you, when you bump into them,  "How are you?". Sometimes you reply "Fine thanks" or "Alright thanks".

Since I started fostering I often reply, "Pleasantly tired, thanks." 

It's a phrase I used before I fostered when I'd  had an afternoon in the garden or a day painting the spare room. I'd put in a slog, I'm flat out on the sofa, and it felt good; stuff had got done, and progress had been made.

Fostering isn't all that tiring in a physical sense. There's sleeplessness, especially if you're doing a Parent and Child (where you take in what is usually a mother and a newborn baby, and the job is largely making a judgement about if the parent can cope with a baby) and it's a baby that's waking the house up half the night. Or maybe you find yourself waking at 4.00am, can't go back to sleep for worrying about your fostering.

Even when you have a nine year old with some kind of hyperactivity who wants a game of football followed by scooting round the block twenty times (with you trotting along behind), then a visit to the climbing playground, and more and more, you know how to keep inside your limit of physical stamina.

No, when I say to friends that I'm "Pleasantly tired" I'm talking about mental fatigue.

We have one child at the moment who needs constant de-escalating. We attended a Blue Sky training session about de-escalation and got a lot of good ideas about good practice.

Things such as trying to avoid saying "Don't do that.". Much better to say "How about doing this?"

Things like when your child is getting angry inside about all the cruddy stuff they've got bottled up, and is starting to look for an argument or stir things up by doing something they know you don't like, you suddenly suggest a trip down to the One Stop to spend the coppers they have outstanding from that week's pocket money.

When you're fostering you're often on permanent red alert. You radar is scanning the house, you're always thinking "Where is he/she, what are they doing, what are they thinking, what are they feeling?" And it's kind of a covert operation, because they'll probably kick off if they think you're scrutinising.

I find weekends a long haul. Now that I've got my head around the fact that many fostered children benefit from being stimulated with activities and distractions I hit the ground running on Saturday morning with ways of making breakfast more interesting, with choices and involvement in the cooking. The eating is coupled with plan-making about how the day will be structured, working out what we can do, agreeing a timetable of stuff, maybe even throwing ahead to Sunday and getting a bead on how we can break up the most boring day in the week.

But then it goes wrong because the child, trawling around Poundland at 10.30am spots a woman who looks a bit like their mum, and because you've let them wander around the aisle, you catch up to find them tearing open an unpaid for Curly Wurly, and you don't have any idea why, and you're instinct is to say don't be so stupid you haven't paid for it yet, but you concentrate and instead go "Ok, that's £1 of your pocket money, good choice, do you want to check out the toy shelves as well because I saw a Dr Who monster, but I don't recognise  who he is and you're the expert."

And sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. 

But you're burning up the brain cells. Knackering the grey matter.

And at the end of the day, whenever that is, you're cream crackered.


Pleasantly tired, because even if the day has gone mostly badly, you've done something much more than clear the garden of leaves or changed the spare bedroom from Magnolia to Biscuit.

Pleasantly Tired.

The Secret Foster Carer

Saturday, November 17, 2012

They say that  one of the drawbacks about the prison system is that prisoners find out from other prisoners about new ways of behaving anti-socially.

The same thing can crop up, on a much smaller scale, in fostering.

We had a foster child, been with us about six months, aged 6, I'll use the name "A" for anonymous.  The poor child had had such a terrible life. Knew it too, and was somehow dealing with it. Matter of fact, whenever I'm feeling sorry for myself, I don't ask myself "What would Jesus do?" or anything like that. I say to myself "What would little "A" make of my "problems" and "worries"?" The answer in my head is always "A" saying to me, like Crocodile Dundee in that knife scene; "Aw, that's not a problem. These are problems.

"A" learns faster than anybody I've ever seen, but not always in a good way. What I mean is "A's" capacity to absorb and remember is huge, but there's sometimes a lack of understanding about what's important and right. I remember the nurse asking "A" many questions during a routine health check  including "Do you feel tired in the morning". "A" replied "No" and didn't get a "That's great!" from the nurse.

Next morning, and for quite a few afterwards "A" wouldn't get out of bed, lay forlornly on the sofa, walked to the car at a snail's pace. We worked out that "A" had assumed wrongly that the question implied that it was good be tired in the morning, that answering "No" was the wrong answer, and to prove that "A" was a normal kid, why, better act tired. We sorted that by explaining.

Anyway, a second child arrives with us, "B". A mature teenager, weighs around 14 stone, loads of attitude and occasional anger. We'd read up on the history and the behaviour was nothing more or less than you'd expect. I'd go so far as to say that "B" deserved opportunities to be angry.

But when "B" blew a gasket, everyone sat up and noticed. "B" was never violent, or in any way a danger to anybody, not even "B". Like many looked-after children, "B" could switch it on, and was in control. But there was noise; bellowing, bad language, and doors slamming.

The first time "B" had a wobbly it was downstairs in the kitchen, and "A" was there too. We'd been asked to tell "B" there'd be no Contact with mum that weekend and "B" flipped. "I AM going to see mum, and you can't (expletive) stop me!" "B" stomped up the stairs, went into the bedroom and slammed the door.

Foster Carers are expert at analysing door slamming. This was an 8.

A 9 or a 10 is damage. A huffy slam, where the hand remains on the door handle, and the noise can be heard around the house if it's quiet, is a 4 or a 5.

"B" came back out of the bedroom, shouted down the stairs, and went back into the bedroom and slammed again with another 8.

"A" was watching all this. I find that troubled children feel a security when another child is behaving badly. They know the focus is not on them but someone else, and that they are going to be regarded as "good", because they're not sounding off.

However, just as we expected, "A"'s next episode rang with the sound of slamming doors. It was a new behaviour, and because we'd not over-reacted when "B" did it, we stayed cool when "A" experimented with it. Finding out what it felt like. Testing to get a similar 8. "A" slammed a 5 first, then a 6, then a 7. Then an 8 followed by another 8, getting the timing and the swing exactly. No 9 or 10. About half a dozen slams in all. Always from within the room.They never slam the door as they exit back towards us, I find. The slam is to close the door behind them, and close them off from us. From the world.

We didn't even mention it back at "A" when we were going through de-escalating. And "A" never did it again.

"A" also aped the bad language. Having witnessed another child get away with using the F word, but to no-one in particular, "A" asked me in the car on the way to school if the F word was the worst you could use. I said it was bad, very risky to use to stranger or a teacher, and not right use to a foster carer. 

I didn't tell "A" that in my opinion there is one particular word that's worse.

Couple of days later "A" had another episode, and standing at the top of the stairs whispered the F word three times. Got no reaction from us.

And never used it again.

"B" was also very kind to "A", and I heard them talking a lot about fostering, comparing their stories. "B" told "A" that fostering was often the best thing, one time, in the car, and somehow, coming from "B", it was official.

"B" left us after a while, is now doing fine I gather. "A" is still here, still kicks off from time to time, doesn't slam doors or swear. 

Thing is, you can't wrap a foster child in cotton wool. Having more than one foster child in the home, if you stay alert to the good transactions, and manage the bad ones, can be a really healthy thing.

Maybe other carers have different experiences.

The Secret Foster Carer

Sunday, November 11, 2012


I found them on an American website and tweaked a bit.
Makes you wonder to what extent Attachment disorders and other conditions were known and understood by story-tellers way before psychologists came along.

Answers at the bottom.

Case 1

Diagnosis: Adolescent narcissism: 
P’s grandiose ways and lack of care and empathy make him a danger to himself and to others.
Physical presentation: P appears healthy, although he is small. It is difficult to judge his age from his appearance.
Diet: There is evidence of an eating disorder. P can eat if it is part of a game, but not just to “feel full”. We believe this eating disorder, like many, can stem from a desire to avoid growing up.
Family background: P was born in London. Little is known of his parents. He ran away from home having overheard his parents discussing his future. This distressed P greatly since he felt threatened by change.
Social Worker notes:  P is unwilling to grow up and take on age-appropriate responsibilities. However he wants total control. He refused to tell a female friend W his age when asked, suggesting that he feels uncomfortable confronting the whole issue of maturation. 

He also finds it difficult to admit that he might have any weakness. When W met him for the first time, sobbing, he denied that he had been crying, soon persuading himself that he had never cried. P uses “splitting” – dealing with emotional conflict by seeing things either as all good or all bad and not recognising the grey areas in between – as a defence mechanism. 

On meeting W, for example, he declared that mothers are “very overrated” and that he had “not the slightest desire to have one”, although his vulnerability was all too apparent. While denying his need for a mother, he appears on a deeper level to realise he and his male friends need some kind of nurturing relationship, one that traditionally a mother would provide. He manipulates W into playing this role by suggesting that girls “are much too clever to fall out of their prams” and that “one girl is more use than 20 boys”. It is interesting to note that in making such comments he was appealing to her vanity – a trait that is strong in him – to persuade her to be compliant. P requires a lot of attention and is easily bored, causing those around him to become exhausted by his demands. Evidence suggests that when P is not present, everyday life functions much more normally. P dislikes routine and can be quite contrary; something he would find amusing one day becomes tedious the next. This is common in individuals with destructive narcissistic traits. It leaves those around him feeling confused, as what will please him one day may enrage him the next. 

P did once attempt to return to his family home, but found the window locked and barred and a boy in his place. While he doesn’t admit it, it’s likely he found this very hurtful. Often, when there are strong narcissistic traits in a person, there has been a disturbance in their early care.

Case 2

Diagnosis: Attention deficit hyperactive disorder: 
T’s continual hyperactivity and irresponsible attitude cause problems for him and those with whom he lives, as well as those he interacts with in the wider community.
Physical presentation: Rarely sits still. He’s always running, climbing, or fidgeting.
Diet: T has settled on extract of malt as his food of choice. While this particular substance is unlikely to exacerbate his condition, a more balanced diet would almost certainly benefit him and perhaps contribute to an improvement in his behaviour.
Family background: No information is available on T’s life before his arrival at acquaintance P’s house. Nothing is known of his previous address or his family of origin, although it has been said that he is an only.
Social Worker notes: T’s arrival at P’s house in the middle of the night is evidence of his inability to control his impulses. A less disordered individual would have known that it is more appropriate to visit people during the day. Impulsive behaviour, interrupting and intruding are at the heart of T’s problems. Soon after their first meeting, for example, T suddenly interrupted P, climbed on to the table, wrapped himself in his host’s tablecloth and brought everything crashing to the floor. When questioned by P about his behaviour, rather than accepting responsibility for his actions, T accused the tablecloth of trying to bite him. T makes bold statements, such as declaring that he is only bouncy before breakfast. He proclaims impulsively that whatever food he is offered is what T likes best, then gulps down large mouthfuls of the food in question, only to find he dislikes it very much. More evidence of T’s recklessness and poor impulse control is displayed by his belief that he can do anything. He has no sense of fear or responsibility. This was apparent when he climbed up a high tree with R on his back before he had ascertained whether he was able to climb a tree in the first place. Inevitably, they then got stuck when he realised he had no idea of how to get down. On one occasion, T grabbed R’s medication  from K, which he proceeded to swallow, almost devouring the spoon as well. Obviously the medicine might have proved dangerous to him. T never learns from his mishaps, bouncing back almost immediately after a frightening and potentially hazardous incident. As a result, T’s behaviour causes concern to those around him. Living with someone suffering from ADHD can be trying. Perhaps this is why R suggested the rather extreme measure of taking T into the forest and losing him in the mist. R and his friends believed the shock of being lost might cause T to calm down a little on his return, a strategy that backfired, however.

Case 3

Diagnosis: Attachment issue generated antisocial personality traits: 
G behaves in a reckless and destructive way that violates the rights of others.
Physical presentation: G appears physically healthy. Her most notable feature is her long, blonde hair, worn in ringlets and neatly tied with ribbons.
Diet: Other than an obsessive concern about the temperature of her food, nothing else is known of her dietary needs.
Family background: There is little information on G’s background, although evidence points to a family unit within a widespread rural community in which the younger members have considerable freedom to roam.
Social Worker notes. G behaves in a selfish and reckless manner. She shows a disregard for the law and refuses to face the consequences of her actions. For example, she broke into the secluded woodland home of a family, ate their food, although there is no evidence that she’s denied sustenance at home, broke their furniture and tried out their beds. In doing so she was guilty of trespassing, theft and vandalism. Such disregard for other people’s property indicates that G lacks empathy. She treated the  house as if it were her own and when she broke a chair – even one clearly designed for a child and therefore likely to cause greater distress if it were damaged – she made no attempt to repair it but simply moved on to wreak further havoc in the upper floor of the house. This insensitivity towards others is also evidenced by the way she then tried out all the beds, a particularly gross invasion of the owner's privacy. G will not acknowledge quite how violating her actions were. Moreover, not only was the act of “violation” committed once in each case but repeated, seemingly out of a sense of perfectionism that something should be neither too hot nor too cold, neither too hard nor too soft, but “just right”. On finding that the youngest child's bed met her criteria, G fell asleep in it, demonstrating a remarkable ability to relax in circumstances that most people would have found intensely stressful, as the owners could have returned at any minute. It also provides further evidence of her lack of concern for the family’s feelings. When the owners finally appeared, she didn’t stay to explain her actions or apologise for her behaviour. Instead, rather than facing their possible anger and any punishment that might follow, she ran away.

Answers below and upside down

Tuesday, November 06, 2012


Well it's not perfect. Getting them into the car on time is a trial. I usually start saying "It's time to go" about ten minutes before it's time to go. I keep the kitchen clock, the one we all use, about 7 minutes fast.

I do an independence check before we set off. What I mean is, children can get dependent on us for basics, and because it's easier for us to check they've got everything, they can end up a bit reliant on us. It's called "learned helplessness". I learned that at a Blue Sky training session.

So I say "Right, everybody, check you've got everything, we're not going back once we're going."

And soon as you're driving, it can be a great time for fostering.

You're together, in a pleasant enclosed space that's intimate, but not artificial. You're all facing the same way, going in the same direction. The end is in sight, it's not controlled by yourself; when you get where you're going, they are off and out. But in the meantime they can't get up and scarper, and if you play it softly softly, they sometimes open up, just a little.

I try not to lead the conversation, or at least not obviously.

I asked a child yesterday who they wanted to buy Christmas presents for this year, and the revelation that the child deliberately omitted one member of its family pretty much confirmed something about that family member we'd all been wondering about but didn't know how to elicit.

One time I had two children in the back, a teenager and an infant. (Yes, the car seating plan had been approved...) The teenager had railed and ranted about every aspect of being fostered from the moment they arrived. Shouted that they shouldn't be in care, that fostering sucked, was all wrong, they should go home for ever on the next bus.

I'm concentrating on the roundabout, but I hear this - and these are the exact words, I recorded them verbatim.

Infant: (very whispered) "How long have you been in fostering?"

Teenager: (also whispering) "About three years."

Infant: "Why are you in fostering?

Teenager: "Well, it's complicated. My dad did something with one of my family that was wrong, and I suppose they were worried I might get hurt."

This was priceless. The teenager was doing great parenting, supporting the concept of fostering, caring about the infant.

Infant: "Are you going home?"

Teenager: "I wanna, but they have to think about if it's gonna work, and if everybody's gonna be happy."

I felt like whooping, because this was what we'd been on about with the teenager from day one. But more than that, this young person, damaged almost beyond belief, was showing a tender support to the infant, a type of care that was doubling up both of their chances of moving forward.

In the days that followed the infant experimented with many of the teenager's negative behaviours. Used language best confined to football stadiums, became a dab hand at slamming doors and throwing luggage  downstairs so it landed in the hall without any deceleration from the stairs.

The infant also learned, for sure, from a source much more reliable than any Foster Carer or Social Worker, Police Officer, Guardian... (the list is endless), that fostering is, though the child may hate it, pretty much the best thing for them at the time in question.

All thanks to the school run, so help me. We should have our own lane.

The Secret Foster Carer

Saturday, November 03, 2012

This comment came in after my last post

"Thank you for those comments all of which are true. I held on to the placement eleven months after the assault, and the accusations of me attempting to throttle them, the permanent exclusions from school for violence, etc etc etc. I had intended to keep the child until 18, but it became unsafe for me to do it - child is no longer in a family placement but in a therapeutic community. The damage by birth parents compounded by multiple placements and changes in social workers. 

I haven't given up, several very successful placements before this one and just in process of going through panel to be a full time fosterer!!

When the failed placement grows up and reflects on their time in care - they will at least know that I did all I could to keep the placement intact - and even now I still think of that child almost every day

Oh by the way - I am female!!"

I've read this comment again and again, ten or twenty times,

"I still think of that child almost every day"

Enough said. 

Thank you for your comment and your great work. Thank you for your humanity, courage and damn dogged determination to do something good and valuable. You are about the very best a person can get to be. Ditto to every foster carer. It's one of the highest challenges now available on earth.

I remember a training session, many years ago,  when the lecturer said "You have a problem with young people; every mountain has been climbed, every ocean has been crossed, what is there for people who want to make a mark to do?"

There are lots of people who yearn to do something that makes a difference. In the past it was men who wanted to discover new countries or kill big animals.

Today it's different.

There are now people, mainly women, but men also, who will take into their homes and lives a bunch of children who are heading downwards at speed, and those men and women use their basics - love and love and some more love to fix it for them.

Could the heroes from history do this job? No. The Gurkha's, the SAS, the Dam Busters, the heroes of old did wonderful self-sacrificing deeds that made the world a better place.

They helped us get the world we have now, where world war is no more. But battles are now being fought against hideous forces: cruel and unjust homes and families.

No medals in this war for us foster carers. No headlines in the news; even though we've climbed  a mountain, or jumped  out of a balloon at 20 miles.

We don't do it for medals, just like the Gurkha's, the SAS the Dam Busters didn't. 

It;s just the right thing to do.

The Secret Foster Carer

ps, to Carer, it wasn't  a "failed placement". It was a good job, done well. Stay in touch.