Sunday, November 27, 2016


It's taken a while to realise why our house likes watching "Four In A Bed".

Four In a Bed is a British TV series about a very British thing called Bed N' Breakfast.

At least I thought it was very British until I heard about an internet success called something like "Air B and B" (hope I spelled it right), which gives people the chance to pitch up anywhere in the world and get a bed for the night in someone's home.

With Bed and Breakfast the customer arrives at a strange house and gets shown a room in a strange house where they will sleep until it's time to cautiously creep down for breakfast and meet the family.

So it's obvious now why a foster-home like ours enjoys the programme isn't it?

We sit there and giggle because the main thing that makes the programme fun is that each of the guests run a rival B and B and are itching to find fault with their competitor's rooms and breakfasts.

Everyone in fostering should watch some Four In A Bed in the company of foster children; their comments are so amazing and valuable.

One programme; some guests went on and on about the fact they disagreed with a toilet brush in the bathroom. They said it was a disgusting thing and found its presence down behind the toilet bowl unnerving. The counter argument was ...if the pan is a bit grubby after you've

It kicked off a great discussion in our house about toilet brushes, then the conversation moved on to whether you should flush the loo after doing a mere wee to what you should say if someone turns the bathroom door handle and it's locked...this came out best;

"Won't be long.."

I think foster children love Four In A Bed because it's all about people turning up in someone else's house and having to deal with not knowing how the bathroom works, what the plan is for eating, and having to sleep in a new bed with new noises through the night.

The foster child has the additional nightmare of not knowing who to call out for in the night if their nightmares overwhelm them.

On Four In A Bed you watch intelligent adults lying in bed worrying about what they are allowed to do in someone else's house. They discuss their confusion about what they've been told is going to happen in the morning.

I now watch out for twits on the programme. Sometimes the adult contestants are anxious, fault-finding, thin-skinned and bitchy. Often nasty to each other, partly because the experience of being in someone else's house is unnerving. Spoiled adult twits who own a home big enough to rent out rooms. So different from our foster children torn from their parents after a life of turmoil and suddenly driven off in a social worker's car and stuck somewhere they have had no choice in choosing.

Yet when the Four In A Bed contestants arrive at the place where they're going to spend just ONE NIGHT you can smell their anxiety. It's hilarious. Of course part of their anxiety is that their competitor's Bed and Breakfast might be better than theirs, and they are self-aware of that and acknowledge it by fault-finding as hard as they can.

But when you look at them, uncomfortable in a room because they don't know where the light switch is, are petrified of a rogue hair in the sink, worried about where to store their realise that these half-wits don't know they've been born lucky.

They should close their eyes and imagine they are entering a strange house aged six or seven. Strange adults, new bedroom, new bathroom, new eating.

What questions spiral around in their minds?

"What if there are ghosts here?"

"Does the dad smash the mum about?"

"Is my mummy alright?"

Oh, goodness, and worse; things I'm not for forming into sentences here...

Anyway, like I say, our (mostly) happy fostering house enjoys Four In A Bed. Don't get us started on Come Dine With Me...

Saturday, November 26, 2016


I've got two theories of my own, I've never seen them written down in a magazine or a book, I've never even heard anybody mention them, I don't know why - they seem obvious to me. More to the point they are (I think) important, and definitely useful, if they are correct.

One of the theories is about fostering, the other isn't, but they are linked.

I'll start with the other, it's about the menstrual cycle.

The male doesn't have a cycle, or if they do it's almost invisible compared to a woman's. Men believe their bodies - and their emotions - stay in a level and constant state.

It's become common belief that at one point during the menstrual cycle women's emotions are jiggered about. Not long ago it was subject of all sorts of 'jokes' which don't bear repeating, jokes about moodiness, unreliability and the rest. I'm not going to pretend these things never happen, I'm grateful that attitudes are improving a bit, and instead of disapproval women sometimes get a bit of sympathy. Not enough, but it's a start.

But nature is all about cycles and compensations, and here's my theory which like I said is my own - maybe it's out there somewhere but I've not come across it and I think it deserves airing.

Yes, many women experience a point during the cycle when they are not at their best.


Women also experience a high point at the opposite end of the cycle.

Women enjoy a week where they are ultra calm, deeply thoughtful, amazingly quick witted, stupendously outgoing, loving, name it.

Women, in the high part of the cycle are Superwomen.

Surprise surprise; no jokes about that. No mention even. No mutterings from other halves over a pint about how glorious her indoors is at the moment.

No-one ever notices when other family members are flying.

That's one theory, the other is fostering related, it's this:

Children in care have to deal with horrendous emotions, really awful feelings. Fear, anger, longing, frustration, confusion and many more.

How they manage to regulate themselves to get through the day is beyond me, but bless them they do.

Most of the time.

But occasionally, and there's no denying it happens, they go off pop.

I've never been happy with any of the terms available for when a child finds it all too much for them.

An episode

A tantrum

A wobbly

They are rare, but worth thinking about. We foster parents have to be there for them with whatever safe care practices are right for the child.

But afterwards, I find, something magical happens.

And if you're not vigilant, you miss it.

They have peace.

The letting off steam might last 5 minutes, there might be stamping of feet and words.

But afterwards, for hours, sometimes even days, they are purged. They exude calm contentment - it's a joy to see.

The trick is to look out for it because good behaviour doesn't ping on the radar.

They'll talk to you more evenly and more openly than the norm. They'll sit quietly, eat their food carefully - they almost have that smile in the mind's eye they tell us you get after meditating.

The phenomenon helps me through the letting off of steam, because I know it's a) necessary and b) going to lead to an extended holiday of happy, measured behaviour.

Nature tries to give us highs after the lows, it's a shame we are always on the lookout for the lows and not the lovely highs.

Sunday, November 20, 2016


We're in that limbo state where one of our foster children is going home and nobody is quite sure how to play things.

Romeo, who's been with us nearly a year - blimey, time flies - is returning to his birth mother and things are speeding up because Christmas is always an issue, not just because families need to plan, but because social services and fostering agencies are pretty much on hold for a fortnight so they need to nail things down in advance.

So he now knows. And he's chuffed. Chuffed because, much as he's come to like us, the foster family is no contest for the birth family, and quite right too.

If I'm brutally honest it always hurts a tiny bit that they prefer someone who has abused them such that they are removed into care over a family that has gone round the houses to provide them with everything, make them feel welcome, fit in, and benefit from a peace and harmony which actually from time to time they were the main threat to. But I don't show it in any way or let it get between me and the fostering. It's a human piece of me, this slight sadness, but I try to sideline it because fostering is a profession and the human in me has to come second.

The job is to get them ready to go home, and every child who goes home is a job well done. I had one child, a teenager, I was the only voice who said the time had come for her to go home. I'd met her family, they were up to having her back, and I knew her better than anyone at the time (she'd been with us 6 months, I'd seen her grow up). I got my way, she went home, and the last I heard she was happy as a pig in you-know-what.

The tricky thing is our other looked-after children, who aren't going home.

How must this look to them? How must they feel?

We can't act too pleased for Romeo, that might cause hurt to the others, yet we can't pretend that Romeo going home isn't a result for him.

My headache is how to foster them all through this period; Romeo and the ones who are staying.

Look at it from the stayers point of view; they've been in care longer than Romeo. They know their parents are no worse at parenting than Romeo's. How do they know this? Foster children compare backgrounds with each other. In my experience it's a wholly good thing, not that you could stop it happening. They're curious about each other, and find comfort in talking about what's happened to them with someone who has experienced similar things.

Romeo is going home, they aren't. I had to take as much care explaining this to them as I took explaining things to Romeo. His social worker broke him the news, a proper way of doing it as a) they're trained up to the hilt b) they are the ones ultimately responsible for a child in care c) they like giving children good news - most of their job entails being bearer of sad tidings.

The question that comes up most often in fostering, or at least causes most consternation is;

"When am I going home?"

You sometimes get it the same afternoon they arrive at your home. The social worker sits them down in your house and explains a bunch of stuff and asks if they have any questions, and up comes;

"When am I going home?"

From time to time during general chats, say at the table eating tea, you find yourself talking about their circumstances - their Contact arrangements, their school problems, whatever - and you find yourself asking; "Is there anything else you want to know?"

"When am I going home?"

You want to know how I answer this question? So do I. I struggle, but I try.

"Everyone is working on getting you home as soon as it's right for you"

"There are discussions happening all the time, we're hopeful but don't have a date yet".

"I haven't heard anything new since we last asked, I'll speak to your social worker tomorrow."

You have to tell the truth, stick to facts, but always as kindly as you can.

One thing we can do, and I've decided to do it, is say we don't want to be up for another placement for a bit. Don't want the children who remain to think the arrival of a new child (whether birth or a foster child) is evidence they aren't enough.

When Romeo goes, I'll almost certainly never see him or hear anything about him again.


But until my last day on earth I'll wonder about him, hope he's okay, hope his time with us helped.

But his bed will probably be filled again soon, and the best job in the world goes onwards and upwards.

Sunday, November 13, 2016


The kitchen belongs to me.

Not very politically correct I know, and I would love to afford a housekeeper but that ain't going to happen anytime soon so in the meantime the kitchen is mine.

I got precious yesterday when I discovered  someone had thrown away a J cloth and started a new one before decided it had reached its sell-by date.

I mention this because I was reminded by the J cloth that in a family not everything belongs to any one person; a home is part personal space and part hippy-commune.

We've all got our own clothes, bathroom kit, personal effects.  

Other stuff is everybody's: the sofa is first-come-first-served, the stairs are owned by whoever is on them at the time. No special plates in our house.

Territory is divided up; everyone has their own space, the rest belongs to one and all. Some territory is multi-purpose; for example the bathroom belongs to everybody, but when someone is in there it's personal space.

I mention this because it's a matter that also applies to something much more difficult to divvy up than stuff and space.

I'm talking about family decisions.

Big things like who gets to decide holiday choices (same resort as last year or an adventure?) Or Christmas things (real tree or artificial?).

Little things like what to have for tea tomorrow.

In all ordinary (for want of a better phrase) families, the decision-making process is a semi-democracy. When the children are young they have no real vote but as they grow up consultation starts which grows and their vote ends up counting as much as the parents, sometimes more. 

Right, so you can see where I'm going with this one; because fostering is different. 

Suppose you have an ten-year-old of your own and a twelve-year-old foster child who's been with you a year. Do they have equal say in deciding whether we're going bowling or to the cinema?

Right here and now I'll tell you straight I don't have a formula or an answer, there isn't one. You make it up of the hoof in fostering, just like ordinary families do.

The difference is that while organising family decisions for an ordinary family is a game of chess, organising family decisions in fostering is three-dimensional chess.

So good luck. You need wisdom, psychology, diplomacy, justice, knowledge, cunning, tact...the list is endless. You need strength, singleminded-ness, the courage to stick to decisions and the PR spin to see them out even when they turn out wrong. 

Mostly you need good instincts because you don't often have much time.

And luck, never underestimate your need for luck.

If there is a formula, it's pretty obvious; to put your own views first (you DO know best), followed by your own children's views and needs, followed  by your foster children's input depending on their age, ability, how long they've been with you and how long they are likely to be with you.

I sometimes think that the best person for bringing together a divided UK and a divided USA, reconcile a ravaged Middle East and a warring North and South Korea would be a typical foster parent, but you know what?

We've got something just as important to do.


Been thinking about an aspect of fostering which is huge but while we get excellent training on lots of skills is something that's best sorted between ourselves, namely getting our fostering children to eat well.

A small example is that I've discovered that red peppers (which have plenty of good vitamins) go down well in lots of guises for the simple reason of their colour, which matches pizzas and pasta. 

Thursday, November 10, 2016


Fostering takes it out of you, no bones about it.

Yesterday I was making one of mine their school lunchbox.

The Holy Grail of the lunchbox is one which comes home empty.

Never happens, not with this particular child. Took me ages to work out why; it's because he was starved at home, used to raid the kitchen bin and hide scraps in his bedroom,  so for security needs to keep some food available for emergencies.

So here I am making a sandwich, that's all - I could knock up a sarnie in my sleep, blindfolded. In ten seconds.

Not for my foster son's sandwich, oh no.

First up is the bread, it must be white. But I cheat slightly in the name of healthy eating and use the off-white 50/50. 

I spread the Flora with ridiculous care. Not too much to make it sloppy and top heavy with dairy - I scrape the margarine evenly into the perforations in each slice and use any excess on the knife to spread it right up to the crust edge. 

Then a slice of ham. It's cheap supermarket packet ham, but it mustn't have any honeyroast edge to it, that's disliked.

Then a sprinkling of cheese. Grated cheese, not sliced or cut. I buy packs of ready-grated (mild)  cheddar rather than grate it myself, their machines do it so neatly and it saves washing up the cheese grater which is always a pfaff.

I press down the other slice on top, now comes the tricky bit.

Trimming off the crust.

Bread has an annoying contour of curves, so there's an annoying amount of waste. Annoying because I usually snack the trimmings which doesn't do the waistline any good but it's easier than carrying the bits over to the pedal bin and anyway I don't like wasting food.

That done I have to manipulate the two halves into a sandwich bag which calls for care or else the assembly falls apart.

Next; make another one. Because foster child said he liked the sandwich yesterday (he's been mainly on shop-bought sausage rolls all year but I forgot to buy some and it was too late to get to the shop so I made him a sarnie instead which he said he liked but it wasn't filling enough so he asked for double). 

Repeat the procedure all over again.

Sandwich took ten times longer than normal. 

Does all that attention to detail matter? 

Yes, yes and yes again.

If you know why, either you're a foster parent yourself or you would make a great foster parent.

When I take this child to Contact with his mother she complies with the requirement to bring her child something to eat. She buys the cheapest plastic-wrapped sandwich from the corner shop near the Contact centre and gives it to him in the carrier bag. 

No love in that, in fact it's an insult to him in my eyes. I want to tell her but it's not what you do at Contact, your job is to promote the parent to the child, or at least protect the relationship from deterioration.

Whether he knows or knows not the pains I go to to make his lunchtime food by hand - and with love - I know not, but giving love in as many ways as possible is what it's all about.

I think of him around midday and wonder what he thinks when he opens his lunchbox. And when he gets home one of my treats is to open it and see how each day's menu went down.

The Holy Grail, an empty box, will one day be mine.

Words can't express how much it will mean, not merely his appreciation of the food, but the arrival of a sense of security in the child that he will always be properly fed, in my house at least. And that someone cares.

But like I say, fostering is taxing because you're trying that hard all the time to help in every tiny way.

And like they say, nothing worth having is easily come by.

Sunday, November 06, 2016


We haven't got a conservatory, but I have a liking for rain on the roof when it's dark outside. So some wet evenings I take a glass of wine and sit in the car on the drive with the radio on.

I'm "chilling".

We used to simply "put our feet up". Then we "took time out".

Now we "chillax".

So here I am, rain pattering on the car's tin roof, laptop propped on knees, glass of Sainsbury's red precarious in the little cup holder, Classic FM on.

BTW It's legal because a) the car isn't on the road it's on our driveway b) the engine is off; the keys aren't even in the ignition.

I always make the mistake of sitting in the driver's seat for this treat even though there'd be more room if I sat in the passenger seat.

A psychiatrist would say I do this because I like being in the driver's seat. We all like to be in the driver's seat don't we, in life?

The trouble is we're not.

Like the Beatle said; Life is what happens to you while you're making other plans.

This couldn't be more true of anybody than foster children.

How can we help them make plans for the future when we have no idea what the future holds?

In or out of Europe? How big a dodge-pot in the White House?  What next from terrorists? These big things affect their future and they're all up in the air.

Then there are uncertainties closer to home and part of our comparatively smaller lives; what sort of employment will be available? Will health care cost? Will schools be any good - will schools exist as we know them? Will there be social security? How will they afford a flat never mind a house? What will happen to them if they start a family?

There have been huge changes in everything in our own short lifetimes, and the pace of change is accelerating.

When did cars stop having "Running In Please Pass" signs on the back window? It was an excellent way of showing off that you'd bought a new car instead if a used one.

When did gravy stop being gravy and start being jus?

My grandad told me that the phrase "Hip Hip Hooray!" used to be "Hip Hip Hip Hooray!" when it was used by the upper classes and the change to 2 Hips instead of 3 was used as a social distinction.

That was when we only had 2 classes; Lower and Upper. Then we had 3; Upper, Middle and Working. Now we have any amount of classes and groups of people, including the awfully entitled Underclass. I read that farmers are now regarded as a separate class.

My own take on the Brexit vote is that the country is evenly divided into 2 halves; 51% of the population are broadly dissatisfied with their lives and 49% are broadly satisfied.

Looked-after children are a class apart in so many ways.

What more unexpected bad news must these poor little mites fear the world is waiting to inflict on them as they try to make a life for themselves?

And the worst of it for us is...we carers can't advise them much, because we haven't the foggiest.

The deal used to go like this; work hard at school and get some good grades and you'll get a good job and be a lot  happier than if you flunk out...

Does that deal stand any more? Did it ever?

I sometimes use Waitrose for a quick shop as it's on my way. The customers in there ought to be reasonably happy; they are mostly middle-aged-to-elderly and well-heeled. They have done alright, went to a good school most of them, got their exams, got a good job.

But they are mostly a damn site more miserable than the average joe. So even when the deal was on offer, it bit them on the bum, because they aren't happy the way things worked out for them.

Down at the other end of town is the park bench where  a group of people, mostly men but a couple of women too, meet in the morning and sit and chat. Some drink lager openly, I expect some of the others are doing other stuff. They aren't happier than the Waitrose customers. They're not unhappier either.

Mind, the morning drinkers laugh a lot more, though that's probably just the booze.

Children who go through care don't often end up with good qualifications.

They often end up with below average social skills, and a low work ethic - especially if they have to work for someone else because they frequently have issues with authority.

In my experience a great many cared-for children end up in driving jobs or shop work, and those are the very jobs which are threatened most by new technology. Driverless cars and trucks are on the way. The internet is killing the High Street.

The future isn't lurking out of sight a hundred years up the road; it's not even a generation away.

It's 2017. Which will be very different from 2016.

I suppose you could tell yourself it's not the foster parent's role to fire them up with hopes and dreams, and to be fair the last time I looked at Maslo's hierarchy of needs I didn't see any mention of strategies for finding fulfilment in an unknown future.

But he does talk about a higher need to be a member of a close bunch of humans who all need each other, so that when you need help they give it, and when they need help you give it, and actually that last bit is the most profound need. To help others.

So back I go into the house having reminded myself that however uncertain the future of employment, state aid and housing the big thing we can teach/advise our foster children is this; find or build yourself some kind of a loving family and/or a tight groups of loyal decent friends.

Which I suppose is how we try to organise our foster family.