Saturday, June 29, 2013

They say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. Judging by the number of  XXXL supersizers plodding round my Mall, there's a lot of love out there.

If there's one thing that helps me most as a foster carer it's food.

Foster children, especially newly-arrived, deserve the food of their dreams. Served right.

I'm not talking about giving in to McDonalds every night. They've eaten enough takeaways on the floor anyway. I'm talking about finding out what they like, how they like it cooked, how they want it arranged on the plate, where they want to sit, who they want to sit next to. Finding out  whether they've ever sat at a table or eaten off plates before. Whether they need a discreet cushion on their chair so they aren't looking up at everybody. Whether they need junior knives and forks (top tip). Whether they want their plate made up for them or whether they want to compile their own plate from bowls of chips, beans broccoli or whatever placed on the table (topper tip, they relax when they can choose components and amount).

Of course I promote salad and fruit, but I believe they'll eat a better diet once they've overcome. 

Usually we carers get good information about a child's eating habits before they arrive, but it's always down to us in the kitchen to nuance the list of likes and dislikes. Blue Sky make it a priority to get a full menu over to us even before a placement is agreed, but we have to go deeper. Of course they like chips, but crinkle, steak cut or skinny fries?

Sometimes you're floored. We got the call from Blue Sky to take 3 boys who had hitch-hiked from Afghanistan allegedly in fear of the Taliban.  They were coming later that night. Google told us the nearest Halal grocer was forty miles away. However, though McDonalds is non-Halal, good old fish and chips is okay. These were boys who would literally rather face a loaded Kalashnikov than a bacon sandwich. And our job is to make sure we let them know we respect and celebrate their preferences.

Yeah yeah, that was a particular case. But the principle is true for all foster children, I think.

Actually it's true for us all. Suppose you pitch up at someone's house for a Come Dine With Me experience and you get served raw fish heads and sheeps eyes. Well shepherds pie and peas can seem just as revolting to some looked afters.

Below is a picture I took of the biggest single plate of food I've ever dished up. He was a 17 year old staying with us on respite. He liked to stay out late, it was all agreed with his Social Workers. We'd get a call from the last train home "What's for tea?" This particular night I said "You can have pork chops or pizza." There was a long pause, which I understood. "Or you can have both". So he did. If I'd applied for planning permission it would have been refused.

It's not a plate, by the way, it's a salad platter it's on. If you want a perspective, that's an entire full size tin of baked beans on there.

Anyhow, why did I start on this one? Because I've just taken our 8 year old her bedtime snack, and as a treat, for no particular reason, I took her up not the usual slice of toast and half an apple, but her favourite English: omelette cut in strips, 4 rashers of crisp streaky bacon, and 4 baby new potatoes cut in half. 

She looked up at me and said "Love you". First time she's ever said it first. A very big deal, to me. It wasn't the food, it was the affection that went into it. She got it.

Then she asked where the ice cream was.

The Secret Foster Carer

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Something happened  today that reminded me of a good story. I heard it from a teacher at a school of "challenged" children.

A lad who was frequently absent and never brought an explanatory note turned up in class after a week away and without a note.

"May I ask why you were away all last week?"

"I got VD miss"

The teacher took the pupil out into the corridor.


"Yes miss. I got it from my mum."

(Aghast, but outwardly calm) "I think we'd better go and speak to the Head"

"It's no big deal miss. Everyone where she works has got it.  Vomiting and diarrhea."

There's a bug going round the school where my youngest is year three. They sent an e-letter out saying if your child has vomiting and diarrhea (american spelling back there I think, thanks spellchecker, we had diarrhea in the UK long before you Yanks did) keep them at home for at least two days after it clears up because they are infectious for that long after the symptoms are gone.

Whenever this particularly nasty bug turns up (and of course one takes no chances with these symptoms these days) I manage a gentle chuckle, and you can't get too many of those when you're fostering.

Secret Foster Carer

Friday, June 21, 2013

I wonder how much money McDonalds and the other fast food joints make out of Contact? 

When my children were young I often noticed early on Sunday mornings, lone men with a toddler in tow. In playgrounds, arriving at the swimming pool, or just mooching around in the newsagents. I remember seeing a football match on TV and a young man who'd brought an infant aged about 2 and was holding him aloft while cheering a goal.
I even remember a while back being in the pub on a Saturday evening and a young man rushed in with a toddler inside his mac and begged to be served a swift pint. He was refused thankfully.

Those situations are usually the result of access arrangements, where a separated parent gets time with the child, usually at weekends. Someone with a bit of nous could make a tidy business provided premises and appropriate activities for these poor dads to share time with their little ones.

Contact is similar in one way, both are an artificial meeting between a broken family.

Contact is different in most ways, not least because looked after children can't go to the pub, or a football match. Swimming is possible, but what if a supervisor has to tag along? Even the playground doesn't work in many cases. 

So, if Contact isn't scheduled for a Contact Centre, the foster carer gets drawn into regular brain-storming sessions with the child's Social Worker:

A museum? They'd hate the idea.
A film? They wouldn't be engaging with each other.
Paintballing? Do me a favour.
Tenpin bowling? She tried it once, spent all her pocket money on the fruit machine.

Eventually there's a short silence followed by;

Looks like McDonalds again then...

On the plus side, almost every child alive enjoys the McDonalds experience, and the distraction of food eases the situation. Parking is usually a doddle. 

The world of business knows the value of the business lunch, the pleasantness of eating and chatting helping to get agreement.

But. The food is not what our looked after children are meant to eat. And the cost, no matter how cheap the hamburger joints knock it out, is another tab for the taxpayer to pick up.

And. Even if you yourself manage to avoid ordering one for yourself, it's hard to resist snaffling a few of those annoyingly tasty fries which the children always seem to leave.

The Secret Foster Carer

Sunday, June 16, 2013


Fostering is hard, no argument. Mother's Day and Father's Day, which were no doubt dreamed up with the best will in the world, back in the good old days, when almost every child had a birth mother and father around, are yet another test of our skills.

I seem to remember them as a bit of a test when it was just our own children. 

One of my current children has been rejected by her mother, her father has run off. She told me her biggest fear is ever meeting him again, thereby hangs a tale, and a court case. She has two children of her own, by different fathers. The father of the youngest has vanished, the other father refuses to have anything to do with the mother, but looks after their child because she wasn't able to. He brought that child to her for Contact, on Father's Day. The two of them don't speak, she says she's tried to be polite but he won't have it. The child is obviously aware of their hostility, and was treated to another show of it today. On Father's Day.

My other foster child has no father. At least, nobody knows who it is.

When I say it's a test of our skills, what we do is judge whether we can brush it under the carpet, and if we can, we do. We tell our own children not to bother, or even mention it.

I'm sure they notice the TV ads though.

If a child wants to do something we help them , no problem.

The last school we had a child at, they made the class make "Mother's Day" cards on the Friday before. I don't know the in and out of what happened with our child, but the upshot was she came home with a Mother's Day card on which she'd drawn a picture of our dog, who she loved, and wrote underneath it "Happy Mother's Day", and said to me as I looked at it, "It's because she loves me. And I don't love my mummy. Obviously."

So for her "Mother's Day" is a reminder that a dog gives her more than the woman she calls her mother.

Hallmark and Moonpig do lots of cards don't they? I've never seen one for "Happy Foster Carer's Day".

Wouldn't want one actually.

Every day is Foster Carer's Day, as long as you have a sense of humour.

And every day should be Foster Child's Day too, until their book balances out, if that's ever possible.

The Secret Foster Carer

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

I often forget how enormously important food is to foster children.

And then something happens and it hits you right between the eyes.

Last Bank Holiday we took ours to the seaside, and it was a great day. The weather was on our side, there was a sandy beach, and enough wind to buy kites and fly them. Sandcastles were built, followed by trampolining, then paddling. Then we went round the local interactive dinosaur museum. Snatched a bite of lunch at a beach-side cafe, then on to the playground (flying fox, excellent.) From there they had a go on the go-karts, before going on the Pier and spending a few pennies on the amusements.

On the train home, I wrote out one of those tick-box survey things like you get wherever you go, and asked them, just for fun, to mark the day.

I did one too, as did partner. You had to mark in order of what was best (1) down to what was least best (10)

Dinosaur Museum
Flying Fox
Walking up the hill back to the Station

My partner and I both had the Go-Karts at number One, followed by the Kites and the Dinosaur Museum.

They all had "Lunch" at number One or number Two. They all had "Walking up the hill" at number Ten, so there'd been no misunderstandings.

It wasn't a fancy lunch. One child ordered children's sausage and chips, another a grilled cheese sandwich. I didn't order anything because I'd guessed there'd be plenty left over for me to pick at. There was.

I wasn't a fancy place. If you wanted a pee you had to get the key from behind the counter.

For a meal like that to beat Go-Karting Trampolining and Dinosaurs...well, you get some idea don't you.

I can hear Mazlow* going "I told you so" from beyond the grave.

The Secret Foster Carer

*Abraham Harold Maslow, as any foster carer who has been to almost any training session knows, was an American psychologist who was best known for creating Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Basically he said you need to make sure people (especially children, I think) have their physiological needs first: air, water, food. Shelter, warmth, sleep. 
Go Karts probably somewhere near the top, "Self-Actualisation" maybe. 

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Tweeting, they've asked me to give it a go. I already have a Twitter account of my own, set up for me ages ago by someone I knew who said it was going to be the next big thing. It's a bit like the pasta making machine which came as a Christmas present one year, I owned it but didn't really know what to do with it. Until a foster child found it and had enormous fun squirting bits of dough through the rollers and out the other end. And left me with an almighty mess. 
End of metaphor.

So I'll give it a go. The idea seems to be you can buzz a quick thought out to everyone who knows you, when it comes into your head.

Here's something about Twitter that's just come into my head.

None of my foster children have ever used it.

Am I alone in that? If you're a carer, has any of your children been an avid Tweeter?

I bet not. Wonder why?

They text alright, boy can they text. Beat this: one girl arrived to stay with us, her mobile was always in  her hand. She never spoke into it. Just tap tap tap. She had a deal where £7.99 per month bought her limitless texts. On the third day I asked her how many texts she'd sent since she'd arrived. Answer: 11,200.

They like the messaging services, once they get to middle teens, but we've had to keep an eye on those, because you don't know who they might bump into roaming around the various boards.

The internet, generally, they like, of course, and anything that has wires coming out and/or a screen, foster children love it. Thinking about it, they generally don't do email either; they seem to think it's had its day.

But definitely they don't do Twitter. Maybe it's something to do with the fact you need to have to be a bit of show-off to do Twitter, because you're kind of performing to a kind of audience. You have to be concise too (147 characters or something like that), and they'd rather ramble on. Actually no, their texts are very spare, so that's not it.

Ah, maybe it's that Twitter is public. It has no intimacy, no sense of one-on-one, not in its mainstream form.

Not clandestine, not secret. Quite the opposite.

And like I say, Twitter is for people who think they are a bit important. Not a thing for kids with low-self esteem, and who maybe have learned the safest thing in life is to be seen and not heard. Well, probably to be not even seen.

Anyway, it's 3.00am, and the sleepover in the next bedroom is still going on. 

"Sleepovers" that's a laugh. "Stayawakeovers" I call them in our house.

Right, that's it, I'm going in there and saying "Time to be quiet now, and no more turning on the light."

I'll Tweet it too, it's less than 147 characters.

The Secret Foster Carer

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Little Fostering Moment

One of our foster children is a permanent placement.

Poor child, she can never go home. Has no home to go to, no family. Nobody.

She's facing up to being alone in this world, yet she's barely tall enough to be allowed on the flume slide at the swimming pool.

Alone and angry.

Probably terrified beyond imagination, but she bottles up the fear.

Doesn't bottle up the anger, lets it out, mainly at me, for some reason.

Been with us nearly two years now. 

Always given me the cold shoulder. Routinely rude. Bit cruel sometimes. Only to me, not the rest of the family, charming to them. Won't hold my hand even to cross the road, gives me the brush off if I rest a hand on her shoulder. I've shed the occasional tear about it.

I've managed to keep the kindness going; it's my job.

The child likes to be watched doing things.

Little things such as sitting on the table and hopping off  "Look at me, watch, watch"

One evening this week she was on the sofa playing a game called Minecraft on the Kindle, and I was required to watch.

Sit next to her and watch, watch, watch.

Try to get the comments right; I mustn't show too much knowledge about Minecraft, she doesn't like that. 

"You're on good form tonight" Is fine.

"It was brilliant the way you climbed up there".

But here's the thing, it's late and I'm tired.

So tired that I'm drifting in and out of sleep, and my comments are starting to get weird and dreamlike.

"You're great at Minecraft... but we're out of milk for the Spanish holiday, bananas and Jeremy Paxman...."

I rambled a few times and she dug me in the ribs to keep me from napping.

Then it happened.

She snapped off the Kindle and leaned towards me. 

"You're tired" she said.

"You should have a nap"

Then she leaned over and gave me a peck. A mini-kiss on my forehead.

On the hairline, where my widows peak is getting noticeable.

I felt like the whole of the great outdoors had been wrapped up and squeezed into a moment, and given to me, to keep.

And I'm filling up, a little bit, tapping at my laptop keys at 5.30am this morning, remembering.

Isn't life grand?

Is there any better way of feeling grand than these little fostering moments?

The Secret Foster Carer