Monday, September 16, 2013


I try to be frugal with advice. People don’t really want advice, unless they ask. Even then they probably know what they want you to say, and the best thing is to advise them to do whatever they intend to do anyway as at least they’ll do it with the enthusiasm you have for something that’s your own idea.
When our first baby was in the pushchair I had a T shirt made up that said “No More Advice Please”. I was tired, working hard to get everything right for the kid, and couldn’t get down the high street without a queue of ex-mothers-of-babies with their advice.
“Is she going to be warm enough like that?”
“She should be taking some solids by now”
My all time favourite:
“You need to keep the bottom of the pushchair clean or you get rats”
I’ll say one thing for fostering, it shuts up the stream of advice. Doesn’t matter how many children of your own you’ve had, you haven’t fostered until you’ve fostered. Not that you draw attention to your fostering, in fact you never mention it, except to family and good friends.
We sometimes do “Parent and Child”. If you don’t know, this is where the parent, usually the mother, stays with her child, usually a baby.
Going back to the advice thing, I do try to talk to the mother about contraception in cases where the reason she had a baby was because contraception failed. Or wasn’t even considered.
Often the mother is a young girl, and quietly determined to have more children. You ask them why they want lots of kids, and they shrug and say “I like kids”, or “My mum had six” or “Better than going to work”.
Like good social workers, foster carers don’t judge, just stand ready with support and information about alternatives.
I watch these young mums out and about with their pushchair. When their baby is a few weeks old passers-by go weak at the knees, a crowd gathers. You sit on a park bench and other women can’t resist coming over “Oooo isn’t he lovely!” “Aaaaah how old is he? Isn’t he georgeous.”
Around six months, when the babies are starting to get some wherewithal, the billing and cooing starts to dry up.
We had one mother who had a newborn and a three year old. When she was out and about people did the whole gushing thing about the baby, never even noticed the toddler.
Everyone wants to be somebody, maybe some girls only get to be somebody when they’ve got a tiny baby.
Maybe it’s one reason why they want to keep doing it.
I mention the advice thing because a couple of would-be foster carers have asked Blue  Sky if an experienced foster carer could chat with them and…
…offer some advice.
I have my advice ready, should I be asked.
My advice is: When a foster child first arrives, let them choose a mug in a shop which is theirs to keep and gets stored with everyone else’s.
That’s it. Apart from that, trust your heart.
The Secret Foster Carer

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Fostering and the Return to School

This time, when it was first morning back at school, I brought up Christmas during the school run.

The school summer holiday is a long haul, everyone knows that. I notice that in spite of all the various squabbles and splits, they are around you to such an extent that there's a deepening of the bond.

It's not a chocolate box bonding between foster parent and child. It's not a love thing, more a trust thing. 

So there's a bit of a mutual sadness when they clump down the stairs in their school clothes for the first morning.

When it comes to talking about Christmas, you obviously have to keep the conversation away from the matter of where they will be for Christmas and who they'll be spending it with. If that stuff comes up, you have to deal with it honestly, and move the chat to somewhere positive, and it worked.

"If you're here for Christmas, have you thought about what you'd like? It's never too early to start thinking about presents."

Daydreaming about laptops, mobile phones, electric pianos and puppies always takes the curse off almost anything.

It can backfire financially. We had a teenager in the build-up to Christmas, they couldn't say if she was going to be with us for Christmas itself, or go home. So we did the whole build-up thing, the gift list, the crossing out of things that were too expensive or inappropriate, and the antenna twitching for casual mentions of things for the stocking such as favourite band or singer, and nail colour dreams.

Then she went home on Christmas Eve. Laden down with our pressies in a sack. Brilliant. Although we never got to know what happened to the Blackberry because we rang it in January to say Hi and the line was dead.

We'd run all the gift ideas past Blue Sky, who have well-thought-out guidelines on mobile phones for young people.

It never came up, but I reckon Blue Sky sussed that the child asked us and her real parents for a Blackberry, ended up with 2 and flogged ours off. 

The conversation in the car worked and we all cheered up.

It cheered me up until I got home and went to work on the house. 

1. At least half a dozen opened envelopes with the letter put back inside having checked to see it's nothing too urgent but something that must be dealt with eventually scattered around the kitchen dating back to mid-August.
2. A smell somewhere towards the back of the fridge, not made by the glass of apple juice that did not get drunk at the time so got put in the fridge for next time someone asked and has been there since mid-August.
3. A child's vest that has sat on the landing outside a bedroom door in a semi-folded state so it's unknown if it's clean or needs a wash. Since mid-August.

The list goes on.

But before I got the hoover out, I made a cup of tea and turned the TV on. The house felt huge and empty. Like a Cathedral. A Cathedral that needed a good hoovering.

I turned on the Shopping Channel. QVC were doing Christmas. 

Who are these people that wish our lives away, thinking about Christmas in September?

The Secret Foster Carer

Sunday, September 01, 2013


I absolutely did not think I'd get a spare 10 minutes this weekend to write a blog, but guess what.

What it is at our house this weekend, is that one of our 3 foster children is having a sister and brother, who are also in care, over for a Sleepover. Or a "Stayawakeover" as I call them.

So that's 5 then, which we've never had under one roof before.

You know fostering is always surprising you? 

Well as things stand, it turns out 5 are easier than 3, which is easier than 1.

Right now, early Saturday evening, nobody is arguing about what to watch on TV, or whose turn it is on the laptop. In fact no-one is bothering about technology, toys or snacks at all. Why? They've got much more interesting gizmos to hand. People. People they share the big thing with. 

They've all given their early warning system the weekend off. The radar that alerts them when there's an incoming reminder they are different. 

Couple of weeks ago I was in the mini-supermarket with one of mine, a child of ethnic background. She was trying to reach down a mini-Toblerone from a high shelf, and a lady shopper helped her, I was watching. The lady is a neighbour, about ten doors along. The lady knows me, and has met the child several times. But she's 83, and I don't blame her for what happened next.

The lady looked around at the customers in the shop and saw a woman aged about mid-thirties. And ethnic. The lady called out to her "Do you mind if I help her get a Toblerone down?" The woman looked understandably confused. The child shot me a glance, one of those pictures that paints a thousand words. Then the lady asked the woman "Sorry, is she yours?" 

On the way home, I'd bought the child the Toblerone plus a lolly, and I apologised for the lady.

The child said "Shut up!"

Which I did.

Fostered children are permanently on Red Alert for little nuances that single them out, aren't they?

So it should be no surprise they relax to the end of their toes when the situation is top heavy with people who have the same backstory.

I had to visit a school for disabled children way back, and I'd always been a believer that children in wheelchairs should be in regular schools. But the Head said to me "Here they are normal." And we all need to feel normal.

Blue Sky crank up a bunch of social events during school holidays where carers bring their foster children and stuff happens. The ones I've been too have been brilliant. 

All these unique, vulnerable individuals with loads of problems, relaxing and sharing and supporting each other. That's just the foster parents.

The children really bubble, drop their exhausting guard, get stuck in because from start to finish it's a day where they are normal.

And that's what's going in our home this weekend. 5 young people sharing being normal early on a Saturday evening first time in a long time.

2 older people sharing a contented house early on a Saturday evening, first time in a very long time.

The Secret Foster Carer