Monday, April 18, 2016


What's the time right now? The time on your device while you're reading these words?

Thanks for doing so, by the way.

But. Without looking, what's the time?

About ten to something? Coming up to half past?

I ask because I've noticed that timekeeping is an issue for looked-after children.

I bet you were within 5 minutes of the time of day, maybe even closer.

People who are brought up in relatively non-chaotic homes have a good relationship with time-of-day.

For most children it's a simple guide to the rhythm of a normal day. Woken at a certain time, school run, school routine, school run home, free time, teatime, homework, bedtime.

Routine at home is so good for children; logical things like dinner at six, bedtime at nine, Tuesday bath nights, Friday night takeaway. Security in knowing what's coming next and when.

Not for looked-afters. It's new. It takes work to set up routine, and routine starts with times.

But they often have no idea about time.

For example I've got my head around the simple fact that there's no point saying to a new foster child that the time is "twenty five past" and we agreed to leave at half past so they have five minutes before getting in the car.

I might as well speak Greek.

Took me a long while to cotton this, by the way. I first became aware of it when I stumbled on the simple fact that chaotic families don't live by the clock like the rest of us. So their children teach themselves some kind of measure of the day and night from their devices. Which are always set to a digital twenty-four hour clock.

So; some looked after children can deal with a "time" of 08.43, but are thrown if you tell them it's "Nearly a quarter to". I've re-trained myself to say "seven-fifty" instead of "ten to eight", which hasn't been easy.

Time is an abstract concept for many people, but especially looked after-children.

Ask a looked-after child to estimate a minute, something you can do to pass the time at traffic lights. Even if they know it's 60 seconds, and they've heard about the "One-crocodile-two-crocodile" technique, they'll be miles out.

I never say things such as "I'll bring you your toast in five minutes", because it's Greek. 

I just say: "Your toast is coming",  and I keep up the commentary, "I've just put it in the toaster" then; "I'm buttering". And I tend to say "It's time to start thinking about going to bed when I say it's nearly time for bed." 

It has broader impacts for looked-after children than being five minutes late for everything.

A sense of time helps a growing child begin to form a picture of the shape of their future life. Just as a day has 24 hours and each hour is connected to the last hour and the next one, a happy life has a form and a shape made up of a person's progress through childhood, adolescence, youth, adulthood, middle-age, old age.

One of the deals we try to strike to get our children to buckle down at school depends on their capacity to see the connection between performing to the best of their ability at school and achieving a better life. If they have poor understanding of how time progresses they will find the connection with present and future all Greek to them. All they can grasp is the concept of right now, consecutive events seem random rather than ordered, just as their life used to be.

One of the first things we did in fostering was to change the face of our  kitchen clock, it displayed Roman numerals for heaven's sake.

Which definitely was Greek, if you see what I mean.

PS. I don't tell jokes, but this one I always remember by Groucho Marx:

"Time flies like an arrow but fruit flies like a banana"


  1. It took us a while to work this out. Our kids are old enough to be able to tell the time so we have a time to be ready for, and a time we are actually leaving - usually 15-30 minute apart depenign on the trip. And that "actual leaving time" is a good 5 minutes earlier than we actually do need to leave. We then issue countdown reminders including a final 5 minute warning when everyone needs to be in the hall ready to leave - shoes on, teeth brushed, toilet visited and coat in hand. It doesn't always work but it help minimise my stress at noone being ready on time.

    1. It's one of the many little things we have to think out consciously in fostering. I went to America years ago and had no idea what he meant when a man told me the time was 'ten of two'.

  2. Hello,
    I'm a third year journalism student at Salford University - As part of my final project I'm doing a piece about how people get into fostering and start their career as a foster parent. It would be amazing if I could send you a few questions via email, you'd be able to stay completely anonymous.

    My email address is any help would be much appreciated, Thankyou!!

  3. No problem, I'll get an email address at blue Sky for you to send your question.