Tuesday, January 31, 2017


It took an item on the Victoria Derbyshire programme to get the crisis in adoption onto the agenda.

They interviewed the dad in a family who'd sent an adopted child back into care, he said it was the worst decision he'd ever had to make.

The scale of the problem isn't revealed by numbers because, shockingly, there aren't any. There are estimates, they vary wildly; the BBC website reports that 3.2% to 9% of adoptions fail.

The charity Adoption UK thinks 25% of all adoptions are in crisis.

I'm thinking about this in its own right but also because adoption overlaps with fostering in many ways.

The majority of failed adoptions will be placed with us foster parents. We'll have to try where the adoption has failed. I use the word 'failed' reluctantly, because we all know what some children in care can be like. Indeed there are times when some are too much for fostering and children for whom that's the case end up in special care such as a unit.

But I wonder if the government are simply cutting too many corners with adoption. It appears to me that once the adoption goes through the family are pretty much on their own. In fostering we get support, ongoing training and supervision. If the child isn't settling there's expertise available, whether it works is another matter, but the point is we're not alone. I don't know more than the next person about adoption, but it looks pretty lonely compared to what we do.

If an adopted child is struggling there is government money available for therapy etc, but it's capped at £5000 per year, much less than the cost of fostering.

Money isn't everything, but it helps. Why can't there be bands of care for children?

Ultra Fostering - the most challenging cases; full-on-suppport and backup.

Fostering Regular - what we have now.

Fostering Light - for those children and young adults who are relatively maintenance-free.

Adoption Plus - for children who are wanted as full family members but have issues to iron out; intervention and support available.

Adoption Regular - for children who have settled as family.

I haven't done the sums, but with good management the system could get better results on the existing budget. 

Thursday, January 26, 2017


Waiting for the phone to ring when you're up for a new placement is definitely one of the most exciting things in fostering.

We're up for welcoming a new child into our home, in fact we're ready to welcome maybe two; a parent and child might be needing one of our beds - and a cot. Speaking of which we picked up a nice cot from a local charity furniture shop, it's pristine (but we gave it a good scrub anyway) and comes apart easily so it stores flat in the loft.

ho hum ...

Come on phone!

...do de do de dum...

...I know what I was going to say; phones don't ring as often as they used to do they? Not with all the texting we do instead.

When the landline does ring it's more often than not a cold call. I always try to be polite, what I say now is;

"I'm sorry but I'm expecting an important call, I hope you don't mind but I have to hang up."

It helps my performance now that it's true.

Blue Sky's placement team could call any minute of the day or night with the magic question;

"Would you be willing to take a child who..." followed by a sprinkling of details. I have always replied;

"Yes, but I'll double check with my partner". So I ring him at work, he's always said yes, so far, to any request, and I go back to the team with our yes.

After you've agreed they throw your hat into the ring with whichever local authority are taking the child into care, they usually get more than one offer either from different agencies or else their own team of foster carers.

Blue Sky send an email with every scrap of information they can get about the child.

I've found it generally takes about an hour before you get a second call. People are surprised how quick local authorities can be in choosing, but when you think about it they want that child fixed up asap.

Sometimes it's a "Thanks but no thanks". In other words the LA has placed the child with someone else. You get given a reason, usually it's to do with geography. Maybe the child needs to stay at the same school and the distance between your house and the school is a bit much.

I always feel a tiny pang when it's a "No". I'll be honest here, although I'm naturally disappointed having got to know the child slightly from their details and got to looking forward to being able to help them, I also can't help feel a bit hurt. Shouldn't do, I know, it's not a rejection of me at all, but I'm only human.

I'm the same when out driving and a car hoots. I always assume it must be me they're hooting at...

Come on phone...

I never, ever, EVER fail to be moved by the moment when a new child arrives. They get out of the social worker's car looking so frail and vulnerable, I want to sweep them up in my arms and promise that everything will be alright.

But I don't because a) sweeping up other people's children in your arms is not what foster parent do and b) you don't know everything will be alright. So instead you smile, introduce yourself and do little things that are hopefully comforting.

For example I always say; "Slip your shoes off in the hall, we'll sort out some slippers for you later, for the time being you're okay in your socks."

This might make me sound like a stickler, but actually it's a good trick to begin the process of the child feeling that this is a home for them, for however long they need it. Try it. Walk around you own home in your shoes or trainers; it doesn't feel quite so much like home.

I find in fostering you pick up all sorts of little dodges like that...


I'll shut up for the moment.

Oh and BTW everything is cool with the rest of the family. Speaking of whom I must remember to make sure they know they are just as important to me as ever.

But they know when I'm on my toes for a new placement.

Monday, January 23, 2017


I'm hopping mad.

It's a Monday morning and foster child came downstairs dressed for school and said;

"Did you know that toast can give you cancer?"

I'd seen it on the BBC news site on my ipad so I knew what she was talking about.

She saw it on her phone.

Christmas, don't our children have enough to worry about?

Who the heck thought it would be in the public interest to scare the bejesus out of them?

The foods identified are breakfast cereals, toast, pizza, chips crisps and cakes.

Thanks very much, thank you very very much indeed.

Oh and roast parsnips.

Information like this, unproven as it turns out, might be of use to some adults who overcook these items. I knew a mum once whose children had been relieved of her, who only ever cooked in a deep fat fryer. Didn't matter what she was knocking out for the kids tea apparently. Chips fair enough, but also; pies (savoury and sweet), fish-fingers, chicken, sausages, pork rashers, bacon...

Look, guys, cancer is a scary word to children, my foster kids are terrified of it, I suspect it was bandied about a lot as a boogie thing in homes where everyone smoked.

Our internet has filters for stuff we don't want our children to see. This sort of 'news' story should be filtered out.

It's not much of a news story anyway, I had an uncle Jim who was a journalist, he told me that anything that's not much of a news story gets shuffled so it's released on a Monday morning because there's not much news about on a Monday morning so your 'story' is more likely to get picked up.

I'm not saying the information shouldn't be got out there, but in a thoughtful way.

Scare kids off chips, crisps, pizza and cake and it might do them good in lots of ways, but what ARE we going to give them to eat without a battle?

Friday, January 20, 2017


We're going back into offering Parent and Child. Shows how long we've been off the list for that, when we did it it was called Mother and Baby. It's not called that any more because a) sometimes (admittedly rarely) it's the father who is bringing up the child alone and b) the child is sometimes older than a baby.

But usually it's the mother and her baby, often virtually newborn; in fact our last one was allocated to us before the baby was born and we got to say hello to the little girl the day she was born.

I say; 'We're going back into Parent and Child' because we opted out of it a while ago because it didn't fit the household we had at the time..and because it's hard.

There are foster parents who specialise in it, I know of one who does nothing else and I say maximum respect to them. It is HARD.

But very worthwhile if you can do it.

It's hard in the physical sense; hard work. The parent is needy; otherwise they could cope without being looked after. The very fact the parent is being fostered is an indication that they are likely to fall short, not just in how to look after their child, but in other respects. Maybe they make bad choices about friends and lifestyle, maybe their own family is a bad influence. So the adult half of the parent and child often needs more than just guidance in looking after the child, but guidance in looking after themselves.

Mostly the parents are very young. Too young to be encumbered with parenthood, but they went and did it. Whilst they always declare they want to bring the child up brilliantly, they also want to be out on the town on a Saturday night. Actually they want to be out on the town morning noon and night, keeping up with their friends, having a youthful blast.

Then there's the child. Usually a baby.

I sometimes get talking to young mums in the supermarket, I always ask how the baby is sleeping. Every so often one of them replies; "Oh he's great, he's asleep at seven every night and sleeps for twelve hours." I always whisper "Keep that to yourself sister, most mums would be so envious I'd fear for your safety".

Babies are the original HARD WORK.

There's only one thing in a house that's harder work than a baby, and that's somebody else's baby. Which is what you take on with Parent and Child.

Even if the parent can deal with the child's needs at 2.00am and 4.00am, it's unlikely you'll be able to sleep through a baby crying, or someone creeping downstairs with a nappy bag.

But we're going in again. Why? We were asked by Blue Sky. We've had some re-training (blimey I thought one thing that stayed the same the last 200,000 years was human babies, but Nooooo!)

For example, bottles may no longer be warmed in the micro. I used to shake it about after its 30 seconds warming because the hot spot thing was obvious, but some young mum didn't know and fed her baby a bottle that was half too hot and half too cold, so now we're all stuck with a micro ban, fair enough.

We used to be worried about a baby being warm enough, now the chief worry is the baby being cool enough, all good thinking. We've done the re-training.

None of this is the REALLY HARD stuff.

The REALLY hard stuff is that as the foster carer we have to make judgements and keep records on whether we think the parent is going to be able to keep the child or whether the child is better off being adopted, and I always found this bit of the job harrowing.

Thank God the final decision is taken by the professionals which is a relief. But we provide a large portion of the evidence. And while a lot of it is simple fact: "Parent continues to fail to recognise baby's different crying as a need for food/changing/cuddle. Often continues to finish a text conversation before responding to baby ". A lot of it is also gut. How do you explain in mere words that a mother is broadly not up to the world's most important job, namely mothering? Well, you don't, you simply record the facts, and they mount up.

And someone else makes the decision. Mind, you play your part, and if you're anything like me you're always hanging out for a happy ending. Maybe the parent losing the child to adoption is a happy ending. You never find out one way or the other.

Parent and Child fostering attracts an allowance of 150% the usual per placement recompense, which is welcome.

The carers I know who specialise in it tell me they appreciate the fact that each placement usually lasts a few months and they take a break, say a month off, to re-charge the batteries.

We won't be that lucky as we have ongoing ordinary placements in our homer as well.

Wish me luck.

Sunday, January 08, 2017


Had a fascinating conversation over Christmas with my niece Trish who is a Primary School teacher.

In her class this year are two children who live under the same roof. One is Sam, the family's real son. The other is Kellie, their foster daughter. The family have another child of their own, a daughter called Jasmine who attends the same school and is in the year above the other two.

Interesting three-way dynamic. They rub along like any ordinary set of three siblings, which means they sometimes are best friends, sometimes they have tiffs.

Every so often something happens which gives the children something to cope with. This is what happened just before the school broke up for Christmas;

The older pupils put on a play, well a show more like. Several little acts; a bit of dancing, a boy who plays the tuba (honestly!) a couple of sketches and some singing. The top act is Jasmine, the older sister of the two pupils in Trish's class. Jasmine can really sing, apparently, a bit of a star.

So for the whole of the week leading up to the show, Kellie the foster daughter and Jasmine the older daughter didn't get on well, there were all sorts of emotions. Nothing mega, just a bit of sister rivalry, what could be more normal?

This could;

On the morning of the show Kellie (the foster daughter) began telling everyone that HER sister was the star of the show. It was all "MY sister this" and "MY sister that" and Trish thought to herself "How lovely and cute and warm..."


During the show Kellie could be heard still giving the "MY sister" thing large, shouting "Go on Sis! You show 'em!"

As Jasmine was getting a big round of applause Trish noticed Sam the brother stand up under cover of darkness and sneak out. She found him in the corridor. He was crying. Big tears.

Trish said that Sam was incensed;

"Kellie keeps going on about Jasmine being HER sister, but she's not HER sister. She's MY sister."

Trish had a discreet word with the foster carer who was grateful for the information, and I bet helped smooth things down as best one can, not that it would be a piece of cake.

It was one of those situations where you are pleased that your foster child feels part of the family, but unsettled that it's given your own child something to deal with.

BTW, the other thing Trish told me about is how quickly the numbers of Primary schoolchildren with difficulties are increasing.

She has 11 out of her 31 pupils on the books of the school's intervention staff.

Her Head Teacher is on the phone more to Social Services than parents, the local authority and the supply teachers office etc., put together.

I think the country is going to suddenly wake up to a crisis for children not unlike the way the rapid arrival of the dementia crisis took many by surprise, even though it had been rumbling for years.

And I doubt that schools will be better supported, just as the social care services have been left to deal with their crisis. Mind, they have the Red Cross pitching in.

Who's going to pitch in and help education?