Wednesday, January 28, 2015


When you're bringing up children you need carrots and sticks to encourage good behaviour.

In the past parents used actual sticks. Violence. Some still do. Shouting, threatening, berating, it all happens.

A man has just been convicted in Italy, a wealthy man, for forcing his daughters to go ski-ing and eat a macrobiotic diet because he thought they were overweight. 

Until recently the best fallback for most parents was grounding.

The latest research, out this week, says that computer time is the new grounding. Instead of telling children they can't go out, modern parents are switching off the internet or confiscating the tablet.

We foster parents were way ahead of the pack on this one.

Because of the potential for misadventure on the internet, foster carers are duty bound to monitor internet activity, and this has been the case as long as I can remember.

There was once a rule in fostering that laptops weren't allowed upstairs; it was a law unto fostering. 

But lately we carers have to keep social workers up to speed on how it is out there with the changing technology. It's not that we are more hip than them, we find out from our foster children what the latest thing is, and the children find out because the information is swapped among themselves.

On the internet.

Back in the medieval period of social media (2005-2008) there were no tablets, and mobile phones just supported conversations and text. Texts cost money. In those days the internet and mobiles gave us headaches as foster parents, but things were much simpler.

Remember when the only PC in the house was a giant desktop tower?  It stayed rooted to the same spot and people took turns. Monitoring activity was a cinch.

Now a child with a mobile phone can do anything a computer can do. Anywhere they want.

I would guess that the number one universal challenge facing almost every foster carer in Britain today is how to approach the whole business of internet/cellnet communication. It's right up there with Contact and the school.

Our problems are greater than ordinary parents. For a start we may not own the technology; the phones are often given to the child by their real parents, and they often pick up the tab for the top ups too. So what rights do we have to make them switch it off? The thing isn't even connected to our router.

The survey rightly says that modern kids regard connection to the net as a right.

The dangers that foster children may be talking to people they shouldn't talk to are greater than for ordinary children. All children might be got at by people who may be grooming them. Foster children might also be got at by members of their own family telling them unhelpful things, making contact outside agreed contact times, unsupervised.

The technology is only going to get better, the hardware will get slicker, the software will get more clever, social media will become more important in people's lives.

Parents need some means of blocking cellnet activity, a device they can throw the switch. Until then it's down to our savvy and determination to care.

Foster carers have to be very alive to all the issues the technology can raise in their home, and we've been clued up for years on using the following to mediate behaviour "Any more of that and the net is going off and it won't be back on until I say"

As with any threat, it only works if you've acted on it once; actually pulled the plug.

Wait, who am I telling? You knew that, be honest. 

I suppose you could always threaten them with ski-ing and macrobiotic food.

Come to think of it, that threat would sharpen my behaviour never mind about kids.

Monday, January 26, 2015


People outside fostering, especially people thinking about taking it up, often ask what foster children are like. They want to find out about the children you find yourself inviting into your family, albeit temporarily. 

The next question they ask is usually about the foster child's parents.

The people who ask are usually adults with experience of the adult world. They usually have knowledge about being parents. You can work out a lot about the child from their parents.

As a carer you have to exercise discretion and respect about foster children and their parents, but it's also important to spread knowledge around, especially to newcomers to fostering.

I often think about one particular dad of a child we looked after.

He was a huge man, about 6' 8". He had split up from the woman who gave birth to the child, although 'split up' may not be the right way of putting it, it would be a stretch of imagination to imagine they were ever together. They had five children, though. So far.

The mother was living on benefits, had been since leaving school. Before we get aerated about that one, I'd rather she was on benefits than living and dying in a shop doorway, which is what happened before we cared as a nation.

But it is a problem we have to tackle that she has money and a roof over her head and has five babies and chaos and no apparent route out of chaos.

Anyway, this dad.

He was docile. But can you imagine how huge he seemed to infants? I often watched him from my car when he was attending Contact, they used to play football him and the son in the yard outside the Contact centre, he seemed so sad, the saddest man I've ever seen score a goal against his son.

Children playing football against parents can be the most uplifting thing. Not this dad.

The saddest thing I saw him do was when they had Contact indoors and the supervisor brough out a trunk of toys. Battered dolls, eyeless teddies, plastic builds that Einstein couldn't have worked out what they once used to be.

The dad got down to playing. Unfortunatley, not with his child. By himself. Playing with damaged toy cranes and forts.

You get a start-up picture of the child's problems from the parents.

This dad had not had a childhood himself, or else he woudn't have needed the toys. He'd had no dad himself or else he'd have grasped how to play the delicate game of encouragement v realism of football with his son.

The dad was living on benefits too. He needed enough weekly money to sustain his lifestyle, which consisted of the pub (7 nights a week), token efforts to satisfy the benefit office that he was looking for work, handling some sort of backstreet retail goods (probably substances) and following his team.

He was a football fan. He watched every game his team played, home and away. Sometimes he'd have to find the cash to travel 200 miles with his mates, buy a terrace ticket, buy seven pints, maybe fourteen, maybe get in a punch-up and get home about midnight and find someone's sofa to sleep it off. He loved his team (and I do mean 'love'), knew everything about them, was apparently accurate and pedantic about all their individuals and quirks. The football team and his group of travelling supporters, they were his family.

We worked hard with our Blue Sky social worker to get a picture of the world as the child saw it.

A child's world consists of his parents and his home, followed by school and friends.

This child's problem with his parents was that they were both absent. the mother devoted all her time to herself, doting excessively on each baby while it was a baby, then when the baby began to become a person, having another one so that there was always a baby for her to dote over.

The dad, despite being 6' 8", was microscopic, almost non-existent. He had set up his own parallel family; football.

So the child had no concept of parenting. Which meant we had to start from scratch, explaining and demonstrating that; we were a couple, dedicated to each other and the needs of our children, which, while he was placed with us, included him.

There was no quick fix for the child.

But I do know he's happier now than he woud have been if he hadn't been fostered.

However it won't surprise me in ten years time to hear he's courting trouble at football matches.

And is having trouble looking after his five kids.

Just like his dad.

Probably just like his dad's dad too. And his dad before him maybe...

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


The giant US financial organisation Forbes report that a "Stay-at-home Mom" would earn $115,000 a year if you paid 'her' the hourly rate. They split the role of 'Mom' into 10 duties. They get to the big final salary thanks to the fact they estimate 'Mom' works 97 hours a week, rather than that she's on a highflyer salary for each 'job'.

Yawn. A tired old PR exercise this one. Gets trotted out every so often, the media usually pick it up. It's hokum. For a start, these 'Moms' are amateurs, no training or qualifications. Ordinary parents need no professional requirements. No way would they earn a single penny as, say, a psychologist (7.6 hours a week). Forbes are charging laundry at the going rate by calling mom a "Laundry machine operator". Mom also earns as an "IT Operator "(yeah, watch out Bill Gates, here comes someone who knows which batteries go in the Xbox handset). If this sort of 'pay' is valid you'd knock a hundred dollars off 'Mom's' salary every time their child brushed their own teeth by charging 'Mom' the call-out rate for a 'dental hygienist'.

We foster carers would be billing at way more than that sum, because we are applying a higher range of skills than the average mum, and we are available with all those skills all the time the child is in our care (about 130 hours per school week, 186 hours during the holidays). We have qualifications, albeit only a wee certificate proving we attended a 3 hour session on IT safety, Play, De-escalation and the rest. But we got them, files of them. Bet none of them 'Stay-at-home Moms' got one. Betcha.

Think of the skills we deploy on a professional basis; we've been approved, are trained, and have qualifications. We're paid to do these things, therefore we're professional.

But if you did the same silly 'proper salary' thing for a typical foster carer (I got the salaries from a couple of salary comparison websites, one UK one USA);

Consultant Child Psychologist - £47,679 pa (43 hr week)  @  70hrs pw                       

Playleader/Occupational Therapist -£38,562   @  70 hrs pw

IT Consultant-  £38,567   Constant invigilation. 35hrs pw

Dietician/Nutritionalist (every day per week, half a day) - $52,000 pa  20hrs pw

Educationalist - £35,699 20 hrs pw

Personal Life Coach - (every day half a day)   $29.00 per hr 35hrs pw

Children's Entertainer - (every day per week, half a day) $450 per day

Chauffer - (average every day half a day) £24,860 15 hrs pw

Then there's the things we're not trained in, but have to do, so we'll charge the trainee/appentice rate:

Sports/Fitness Trainer £11,259 10hrs pw

Lawyer (Family) £17,693 10 hrs pw

Personal Secretary £13,371 10 hrs pw 

Let's not forget: First Aid Nurse, Relationship Councillor, Homemaker, Art Critic, Literary Critic, Personal Hygienist,
Dental Consultant Hair Stylist. 

The salary for a foster carer, charging a part-time fee of 135% of the salaried per hour rate on an hourly/half day rate is;

£1.21 million per annum.

If you used the same hokum Forbes did.

Mind, as someone in the Blue Sky office just emailed me, we're worth a lot more than £1.2m a year.

Sunday, January 18, 2015


Not enough is known about how it feels to be fostered.

So a book that starts like this:

"I wrote this book to repay a debt. Not a financial debt, although money does come into the story, but an emotional debt to two groups of people. Those who helped me survive 18 years of living in foster care or in a Children's Home and those who subsequently helped me to recover from those difficult times."

Is gold.

The author is Eve Higgins. She was abandoned as a baby and went through a series of foster placements before ending up in a Children's Home as being impossible to place. 

If you don't know, the word "place" means be put into a foster home. 

The book contains a number of carefully observed home truths. For example, the author notes that;

"The average quality of foster care declines as the age of the child increases"

You could probably write a book about that observation alone, it gives you an idea of how sharply some foster children see what's happening around them.

The book isn't structured like a conventional book, it's built along the lines of how the world must seem to children whose lives are fractured. That's the genius.

You get to read the conscious musings of a young lady who has been somewhere we foster carers need to know about, as well as a sense of her swirling emotions and the clutching at relationships to make up for the massive absences of good parenting and a solid home. Clutching at relationships with other young people who have also endured.

These young people come and go, people called Angel, Queen of the World, Twinkle, Goodie Two Shoes, Miss Peanut and Tiger Tim. The author uses the psuedonyms partly to protect people who, she says, don't want anyone from their past to be able to track them down.

I think the names she has for them speak volumes of lost childhoods.

A big gist of Eve's book is tied up in the fact that all the attempts to bind her into a foster family didn't work, and she was moved to a Home. To read her words is a great chance to up your game as a foster carer. 

She had plenty of good fostering experiences, but always felt different. I think, it seems to me, she wanted to build a piece of her own family rather than be given a strange one on a plate, one which had already formed before she arrived. She wanted to create a piece of family for herself.

In the Children's Home she clicked with the girl in the next door room, Ella.

There's stuff every foster carer should know, just for background. Do you know where a foster child might hide contraband in their room? I do now.

But the book offers much much more than tips and hints. It's a precious insight into how coming into care is for the child, and how we carers have to be at the top of our game, with all our love and strength and powers of understanding and intuition, kindness and humanity. 

Having read the book the new thing I have to bring to my future fostering is that the child wants and needs to build her corner of family. She needs and deserves to be the creator, the constructor, the developer of relationships that she finds rewarding because they help the other person. She, or he, wants to be useful, like we all do.


It's called "How I survived in and out of Care" by Eve Higgins. 

It's not available on Kindle, at least I couldn't find it, but Amazon had a copy.

I'm of a mind to ask Blue Sky to invite her to give a lecture to us carers on the things she knows that we should know, that only someone who has been in care would know.

I'll plug it here if it happens.

Meantime, I'd like to thank Eve for her book and for all she has done for the people she cares about, and has helped in so many ways.

And I'd like to let her know it wasn't fair or just that someone with so much to offer had to start from such a bad place that she would have been a success if she'd simply got by, never mind about becoming a university graduate and now a school teacher. Best wishes to your husband and child Eve.

And I'd like to say to Ella what a great stroke of luck for Eve to find someone wonderful like you in the next door room, and how much respect you too deserve. I hope your marriage is flourishing, as is your child, and your work at a Law centre.

The book should be a movie, by the way. Seriously.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015


Now that Christmas is back in its box it always seems like it never happened. It's such a standout Bank Holiday. That's all it is really, a Bank Holiday. The Christians big day. But we all go to town, especially the athiests and agnostics. 

It lasts ten days, ten days away from your normal life.

Things happen differently. Family is right to the fore. If you foster it's a very special stretch.

This Christmas in our house a foster child came of age.

We had a mini-crisis. An elderly family member fell very ill a few days before Christmas, and things looked bleak. A younger family member took the news badly and struggled to cope. Christmas in our house this year was all ambulances and worrying hosptial visits. The younger family member was staying with us, and became inconsolable.

We all felt bad, but rallied round. Life is about the living, and if one of us isn't going to be around much longer we make things as good as they can be for them, but also look out for the ones who still have lives to make something of.

We had a good Christmas Day, but we were all feeling sad, and one family member was showing it. It's hard to stop going downwards when you're cooped up in a house with no shops or work to go to. Weeping gently, staying in the dressing gown, not joining in.

We'd have phoned the doctor but, well, you don't like to bother people over Christmas.

Here's what happened. I still have to pinch myself, it's all true.

The foster child stepped in.

Maybe it was down to the fact that our family was in some kind of mild chaos and foster children usually have more experience of chaos. Our problems were no more than a '2' on the Richter Scale, I'd have called Blue Sky if we had any concerns on the fostering front.

Blue Sky always point out that a foster family is exactly that, a family, and things happen in families. It's how you deal with those things. If they wanted an even ride for chidren in care they'd put them in a Travel Lodge.

Maybe the foster child was more used to chaos than us. By 'chaos' I mean strong emotions, good ones, but nonetheless over-riding and intrusive. 

The foster child I'm talking about had it bad from birth, from what we've been told barely a day went by without deep anguish, anger and fear. The child was a challenge to us all from day one. With help from all sides we've seen good progress. 

The one thing you can't change in your home is that the foster child is the foster child, everyone else is not. It's almost impossible to promote the child to full family status for obvious reasons. So the child has to live with the fact that they are the ones with the biggest problems, the one everyone feels they ought to help, the one who's entitled to blow a fuse from time to time.

There's a syndrome called "Learned Helplessness", it's next to impossible not to imbue your foster children with a smidgen of it, because they are always the ones  being helped.

But then a situation, God given in this case, can free them up from that status.

The child grew. With everybody else in the house in various states of care and woe, the child ascended to a height of calm equilibrium never before seen. Exuded empathy (kindness is a gold star quality to nurture in foster chidren isn't it?), wise thoughts, words and behaviour. 

Not a squeak of the "Me me me" that looked after chidren can understandably have as their normal mode.

I actually said to the child at one point; "What's it like being the rock of the house?" and I got back nothing but a gentle nod.

Everything in the family is fine now. The older family member is back from hospital good as ever, the younger one has bounced back, as people do, and we are getting on with 2015. 

Some families get themselves a Dyson for Christmas, or a Moulinex.  

In fostering, your family can get themselves a revelation. Which is what Christmas is supposed to be all about.

Isn't life grand?

Sunday, January 11, 2015


Truth or Lie?

The business of lying/telling the truth presents foster parents with more problems than most people, with the obvious exception of the police. Only just, mind.

Until I started fostering I think I believed that something someone said was either a lie or it wasn't.

But for children from a chaotic home lying is a special issue.

Try watching any Jeremy Kyle and if a lie-detector isn't wheeled out every ten minutes you're watching Fake Britain by mistake.

Don't tell me you never watch Jeremy Kyle. That's a lie.

Or when you watch Prime Minister's Questions. You can't tell which one isn't lying. There's that maxim they use in poker, if you can't spot the mug in ten minutes, it's you. 

Don't tell me you ever watch Prime Minister's Questions, that's a lie.

As a foster parent I'm sometimes flattered when some parents think I know a bit more about children than the average parent. The truth is the more I learn about parenting the more I realise I don't know.

So a mum comes up to me in the playground and says that her daughter has started lying.

So I say "Like what?"

She says "Things like who spilled a drink".

So I finds myself saying " Does she say 'It wasn't me' or 'It was my sister'?"

And the mum says "What's the difference?"

The difference is because the two types of lying are poles apart; a bald lie is either defensive or aggressive. I only got this perception sharpened up by being in fostering.

"Mum! someone's spilled drink on the carpet!" is defensive. "It was my sister" is aggressive.

There's a huge stretch of territory in between which is the tricky bit in fostering.

The reason is that when your own children try it on (I can't bring myself to say one's own children "lie", it's such a fierce word), you know them inside out. You know all about the circumstances, the likely truth, the giveaways.

At one Blue Sky training session I was tickled to learn that when a child tells their first fib it's cause for celebration because they've reached a level of mental development where they understand that other people have brains like theirs and take in information in a similar way to how they do.

A foster child though, even if they've been with you for some time, is still a comparative stranger.

A comparative stranger who may have had to learn how to lie to survive. 

I think it boils down to how much they trust you not to over-react and go ballistic. There are few better moments in fostering than the first time they volunteer that they've done something wrong. I find it's important to tell the truth oneself, especially if you screw something up.

Lying can even be quite creative, I like this old story:

        Two monks were arguing about whether it's okay to smoke and pray at the same time. They agreed to let the abbot settle the dispute. The first monk goes in to see him and comes out with his tail between his legs "The abbot said I was a disgrace to the order and I'm on kitchen duty for a month." The second monk went in and came out beaming "The abbot praised my devotion and has asked me to take the evening service every night this week". The second monk said "Tell me, what exactly did you ask the abbot?" The first monk replied "Why, I asked him if it is acceptable to smoke while praying, what did you ask him?" The second monk smiled and said "I asked him if it was acceptable to pray while smoking".

Saturday, January 10, 2015


It's easy to get the wrong view about foster children. It's easy to assume that they are different from children who aren't in care.

Yes, they can try your patience at times, no question.

But they're not a separate breed. They are normal kids, dealing with life as best they can.

If you ever think they are somehow unusual, then do what I did the other day and help out at a local school and see what today's 'normal' kids are like.

When I say 'normal' I mean kids who live at home with their own parent(s).

I have often talked about children I have fostered, being careful to protect their privacy, let me have a word about just one of the half a dozen children I was asked to look after on a recent school trip.

One to six is roughly the ratio of adult-to-schoolchild they have to have nowadays when they go out and about, so the trip is dependent on enough parents being available to wear a fluorescent bib and chant "Stop that. Come here. Be quiet. Leave him alone. Get off that".

This lad was aged ten, undersized and over-energised. He wore a smart sky blue v neck pullover over a clean white shirt, pressed grey trousers and scuff-free shoes. His hair was blond and trimmed in an old-fashioned style with almost a parting. In fostering you notice all these things, they are clues.

His parents were probably house-proud types, paid attention to outward appearances. I'm thinking a smart semi-detached with a gleaming two-year old Toyota on the driveway. Lots of dust-free porcelain ornaments on the window sill, and nothing out of place.

The boy had a spare frame and clear complexion, was fed properly and not indulged with biscuits crisps and coke. Three square meals a day, clean plate please, and no extra helpings.

But boy, was he starved of loving attention. 

Everything he said and did was driven by his urgent need to be noticed, and, as is often the case with youngsters, they learn the only surefire way to get an adult's attention is to misbehave.

So, knowing that he is required to walk along the pavement side by side with a partner he breaks rank continually to tweak other boys two or three ahead of him which meant overtaking, which is a problem because of traffic.

He knows this means an adult has to walk next to him for safety which is what he wants. Proximity. An adult who is devoted to him. Let your attention wander from him onto other children and he is off.   

When we arrive at the museum he immediately climbs onto a sofa in reception and puts his feet up on the cushion. This probably apes something he does at home either to be noticed or as an act of rebellion when he's alone. I have no option but to fuel his attention-seeking because the museum staff are agitated about feet-on-furniture. In the 45 minutes we are in the building he returns to the sofa to put his feet up at least a dozen times. 

His eyes, wide and unblinking, followed me everywhere, only darting away to identify the next piece of behaviour which would pull me into his orbit to say "Don't do that". 

I tried being fierce to get a quick result. No chance.

I tried my fallback practice of rewarding the children who were focussed on what the museum had to offer (not a lot, by the way), but one of the museum staff would draw my attention to the fact that I shouldn't allow children to run/shout/wrestle/touch the exhibits/climb on the exhibits. 

The boy's friends had learned that they could get me to notice them by putting their feet on the furniture, running, wrestling and the rest. This meant he had to escalate his 'misbehaviour' to higher levels to be the winner (the winner of my attention). This meant doing something dangerous, so he climbed over the bannisters and began going up the wrong side.

So he won. I left the children who wanted to learn and the half a dozen who wanted the corrupt love of scolding to give my devotion to this boy, who needed coaxing down from a perilous position. And all the while I was policing him, he felt that he existed.

He existed. He meant more to an adult than porcelain ornaments, or museum pieces.

Poor lonely boy from a 'normal' home.

I often think that private boarding schools are a necessity because any parent who wants to send their child away to be parented by a paid stranger isn't fit to be a parent, so the children are probably better off than in their own home.

It's a pity that some parents keep their child at home but think that as long as their child is well turned out he'll turn out well.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015


People from all walks of life are perfectly able to foster, and it's not for anyone to know if they have the right background until they apply. It's a shame, for example, there aren't more teachers and nurses in fostering.

The process is friendly, there are no exams or interviews. A single social worker turns up at your house once a month about eight or ten times, you chat things through over a cuppa, things such as your own experience of childhood, your relationship with your partner. It's more about getting you thinking in the right way about your strengths than putting you to the test.

If fostering isn't right for someone they're let down gently but quickly, nobody wants to make a  big deal.

When I say people from all walks of life, that's probably not true then. I've never met a merchant banker, or a homeless person, obviously.

I've met a former soldier, a taxi driver, a baggage handler, a professional footballer, an  architect, a woman who worked behind the counter at Nat West.

I've met plenty of home-makers, or housewives, or whatever the term is nowadays for people, mainly still women, whose partners are the main bread winner and who cook and clean. They've often had part-time jobs which they didn't enjoy. Fostering often suits them down to the ground.

But it's an obvious fact that some types of work background are an advantage in fostering, and people who have worked in education or health should have a bunch of skills that help.

I worked in a toyshop for a year after leaving school. Children were everywhere. Okay it didn't make me the world's leading educationalist, but I picked up some things that are useful to know.

For example. Every Saturday the big spenders came in, nobody spent more than a tenner Monday to Friday, Christmas apart. Half the big spenders came in at 8.30am. The other half came in about 2.30pm. When I say 'big spenders' I mean men wanting bikes or big Meccano or Scalextric sets. They were alone, the toys were surprise presents. The men who came in at 8.30am on Saturdays asked questions about the toys and were careful with their money. They paid by American Express. There seemed something heavy-hearted about them in their suit jackets and trendy jeans. I enjoyed trying to work out why they were buying big toys. I chatted to them, sometimes it was birthday presents.  One guy was buying 'welcome home' gifts for a child coming home from boarding school (I figured to apologise). I often got the vibe that the expensive toys were to make up for something.

The 2.30pm Saturday dads,T shirt and work jeans, seemed straight from the pub or the bookie. Also heavy-hearted, they paid cash and chose the most expensive bike. For many of them the  toys seemed like peace offerings. Apologies.

Being a good dad is a mystery to many men.

I learned quite a few insights into childhood in the toy shop. The main thing I learned was how to work out what might be going on behind what was going on.

Teachers, working daily with different youngsters will have picked up lots of insights. Nurses are the number one caring profession. Both these jobs are challenging. The physical, mental and emotional workload is huge and in my view, it's poorly paid.

Can someone do both? The answer is obviously yes they can. For a teacher the school holidays will more or less match, whatever the age of the child. There are more and more teachers going part time, teaching two or three days per week.

Part time nursing seems to be a coming thing, with a range of nursing opportunities being advertised around 15 hours per week; staff nurses, community nurses, even specialist roles such as occupational nurses.

I meet a nurse who walks her dog up at the meadow I use, she's flat to the boards, is looking to go part-time to get her life back, but will have to make ends meet. She's giving fostering some thought.

Fostering is hard, make no bones. But it does offer an opportunity to some people to actually improve the quality of their life. It can improve the work/life balance.

If teaching or nursing is what someone does, maybe the grind is beginning to get in the way.  Not just in the way of their own lifestyle and happiness but the way they carry out their work. Then they should look at their options, and fostering may be one of the best options.

I doubt a few teachers and nurses reducing their workload will cause Education or Health too many problems, and in any case, fostering has a bigger need for good people at the moment than any other profession.

There's even a real possibility they'll be better teachers and nurses for it.

Thursday, January 01, 2015


I don't suppose anyone who has never fostered could possibly understand how it is through Christmas week if you are in fostering.

There's big and little stuff they won't get, can't ever get, to be fair.

So if you've done it, or have been doing it, or might do it next time, I hope the following few thoughts help you along.

The regular weekly pattern of fostering is tied to the rhythm of the week: Saturday/Sunday, which is home time, versus weekday; school time. There's a rhythm, it gets jolted about, but we have a week consisting of two full-on days, and then five half days, with time during the daytime to think and chill. 

Every foster child is different, of course. Our time with them is precious, it's when we do our job. The style and substance of our time with them is delivered to us by the universal world calendar, not by a thought-out schedule aimed at the child's needs. Or our needs.

Half term school holidays last for a week, people think, but they don't. They last nine days, ten if the school tacks a damned Inset day on the Monday, which they tend to.

Foster parents have three half terms per year, blocks of 9/10 days full-on fostering per academic year. We do it. It usually involves setting up an event on the Thursday, a trip or a cinema visit. Bowling. 

The Easter break is like an extended half-term. There's no highlight unless you or the child is madly Christian. The weather is turning, outdoors is an option.

Summer holiday is a lulu. 6 weeks. 45 days back-to-back. Long enough for a whole new routine to settle in. Long haul, with a few trips and specials to keep interest, maybe even a week away. Outdoors is a full-on option, even just the garden. Play groups and sports fiends put on things.

But Christmas is all out on its own. 

No outdoors. No play groups, no nothing. Hollywood releases its Christmas blockbusters in the weeks before the holidays, or else January 1st. Thanks. 

Pantomime? For foster children? Least said the better.


Right, here's how it goes.

They break up from school full of Nativity and hymns and cake and Christmas Fayres, pumped up like all the other children.


They aren't like all the other children. Of all the events in the life of any child, there is no greater chasm of difference between foster children and other children than Christmas. The whole massive event, and let's be clear it is a MASSIVE, MASSIVE event, is all about FAMILY.

And nothing, absolutely NOTHING could blindside a child more than being forced to spend Christmas with some other family, no matter how loving and generous they are.

Christmas fuels their sense of loss, anger towards their life-story, confusion about their feelings, grief, anger towards the incompetence of people who say they are trying to help, frustration, envy, inferiority. I could go on.

There are endless minute details, specific to each foster child, as to why each foster child endures a greater hell at Christmas than any other time. There will be exceptions to the rule, it's just that I've never met a carer who had such a story.

People who haven't fostered actually need to believe that Christmas is...the most wonderful time of the year... especially for foster children. They want to believe it's a magical time for foster children, who usually have had pretty miserable Christmases before. For once there is no chaos, there are presents under the tree, a chance to stay up until midnight on New Years Eve.

In reality Christmas for foster children, which begins with the media/school build-up starting around December 1st, through until first day back - around January 3rd, is one of the greatest challenges they face while in care.

The low point can be December 27-30th. The empty bit in the middle which challenges any family. Our job, which you only grasp if you actually do it, is to make lemonade from the lemons the world wraps up and gives these kids at Christmas.

If there is a God I'd like to ask 'Hi Fella, next time, could you arrange a low profile birth for your second. No 'Wise Men', no 'Kings', no 'Wandering Star'. Instead, start him (or her) off with an elected Caesarian, no voodoo, no turning it into a JK Rowling.'

And , God, if you can't resist the "I"m a Celebrity and So Is My Kid" hype, can you schedule it away from the artificials of 'New Year' and the introspective soul-searching and resolution-making that points everyone inward, because foster children do enough inward without the Jules Holland countdown.


ps I had a normal, typical fostering Christmas yet again, and yes in spite of everything, it was the best Christmas ever. Shame I can't be specific, but the basics are as above.