Thursday, 13 February 2014

Teach them a lesson

Whilst having a reflective 5 minutes with a cuppa (everyone else is still asleep) I got to thinking about all the things we teach our children (birth and foster) just by our actions and behaviours. 'Do as I say, not as I do' is a bit of a cop out really. Surely we should model the behaviour, lifestyle and attitude we want our children to adopt too. Giving instruction to children is of course important, living out those instructions for children to see and experience is much more powerful. For our birth children, this will be something they have experienced from the beginning. With fostered children, they will probably have been learning a totally different lesson before they came into our care - if someone hits you, hit them back twice as hard; if you don't like it, leave it; lie for an easy life; steal for an easy life; take drugs/drink for an easy life etc etc are all things we have heard. 

Lessons in forgiveness, reconciliation, empathy, working hard, staying calm, loving, caring ..... the list goes on and on, may be alien to a foster child. The best way to help them learn is to live them out in front of them. Show them that the lessons work, that they make life better and strengthen relationships. 

The 'care cycle' is a hard one to break, unfortunately. Children in care are at far higher risk of having their children taken into care. Maybe this is because their parents, by their actions, have not taught them how to be good (or even good enough) parents. So us foster carers need to be the ones to show them how. Whether it's how we parent and care for them, or how we are parenting other children in our household.  

Our foster child finds it very difficult when our little one has a tantrum, but finds it even harder when I don't 'give in' to it. This approach is not something they have ever experienced, they think to show love means to give a child everything they want. Hopefully by me teaching my little one that tantrums don't work, but still being a loving and caring parent, will teach my foster child a new lesson which will help them when they become a parent. 

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Through the fog

I have wanted to be a foster Carer for years, decades even. My chosen career path was totally influenced by this, so that when I finally was in a situation where I was able to start fostering I had as much experience and skills under my belt as possible.

I saw a quote on the fostering network website the other day from someone who had been a foster carer for over 20 years saying 'fostering is the best and worst job, it's a vocation.' I understand this lady's perspective because when thing are going well (they are attending school, not getting in trouble, smiling, talking positively about the future etc), all the hard work is worth it, you have the best job in the world. Unfortunately you can also have your difficult days where you feel you are running through tar, where you need to be trouble shooter, fire fighter, counselor, mediator, diplomat etc etc

I feel extremely privileged to be given the opportunity to foster, it is an honour to be thought good enough to be able to help and support a child on their journey to adulthood, however small the influence. But it can also be extremely draining. 

When your day job is to work with vulnerable and damaged children you still find that they can get under your skin, take over your thoughts, give you sleepless nights etc etc but that physical act of going home and leaving the office/classroom/youth club/clinic helps give you some separation and space. 

When things have been tough recently with our foster child (Christmas is always a tricky time) I have had moments where I have felt trapped in my own house, needing somewhere else to go to retreat and  get some space. Looking after foster children full time can be full on. 

This is why foster carers need good support networks and It is really important to access them as much as you can. So, a little message to all supporters out there - your role is vital and necessary, thank you!

As well as a support network Supervision, coffee mornings, training, out of hour helplines, social events and respite are just some of the other things foster carers are offered. 

Well I think I'm coming through the thick fog now and I'm still smiling! I also still want to be a foster carer (which is the most important thing!) so all is well. I'm going to book in some respite soon though, just so that I'm recharged and ready for anything.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Liar liar

Our foster child has been lying to us and it has disappointed us very much. It has been happening for a while but the lies were caught out incidentally. We've had to talk to our child and so far no harm has been done, but who knows how far it could go? It hasn't been personal, but it feels personal. It's disappointing, it's been trust-breaking and it's something we really should have expected.

Sadly there are patterns of behaviour that seem to affect quite a lot of looked after children and lying is one of them. For our foster child they learnt to lie to survive before they came into care. Ok, now they are happy, safe and secure - they have no reason to lie, but how do you switch off a behaviour that has been established over years, just like that? 

We had to think carefully how we dealt with the situation - for their own well being it couldn't be ignored, and we needed to teach them that their behaviour affects us, that we felt hurt and betrayed, but we also needed to show forgiveness, compassion and love too. The things that had been lacking from their previous existence. 

So a fresh start has been set, the air has been cleared, sorrys have been said and so off we go again.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Carry on as 'normal'

So it's been a while since our new housemate arrived, I feel I can start reflecting back on what it's actually like being a foster carer. I've become a pretty good juggler of time (but what parent isn't?) but I suppose the biggest challenge has been establishing 'normality'

Our foster child has moved in with completely different ideas about eating, sleeping, education, communication, celebration, boundaries etc etc. Their whole identity has been formed and moulded by their previous existence - not all of which has been bad or negative, but it has been their 'normal.'  

At first I tried really hard to make sure that we did things all together, so it felt normal for everyone,  I cooked things from their limited diet that I knew the rest of the family liked, but everyone got bored of having chicken and rice 7 days a week. I've now gone back to my normal cooking repertoire but have back up frozen favourites for our foster child when needed - everyone is more than happy. 

We also have started being a lot more flexible about family trips and visits. To begin with I felt awkward about accepting  invitations from friends and family, not wanting to put our foster child through uncomfortable situations - meeting new people, answering difficult questions and possibly having to eat food they don't like (that is the biggest issue.) Our new, 'relaxed' approach is to not turn people down but to invite them to our house, this way our foster child always has their room to retreat to (definitely their safe place) or when hosting isn't appropriate (parties etc) we try and be super organised and schedule things alongside them like their contact with family, play dates or activities/clubs that they are already doing. No one misses out, no one feels uncomfortable - win win!

There have also been things that as a family we have had to embrace for the sake of our foster child. We have celebrated with our foster child traditions not normal to us, but so important to them. This has been an eye opening and enriching experience (exhausting at times too I've had a lot to learn!) The whole family have benefited from it and our foster child has felt loved, cared for, important and listened to. That's got to be worth the effort. 

So normality - does it exist in a foster family? Probably not, but who wants normal anyway?

Monday, 7 October 2013

It's all happening!

So we are foster carers! Yes, the wait is over, the house is full, there is never a dull moment and it's great! We have had our ups and downs already but actually our newest member has settled into their new home surprisingly well considering where they've come from. 

Their arrival was quite sudden in the end. I was walking over to a friends house for afternoon coffee when my phone rang; the agency with a referral - nothing unusual! I phoned my husband and we agreed to put ourselves forward - also nothing unusual! I phoned the agency back and gave our answer, excellent (and not unusual!) they'll call the social worker and let them know. By this time I was at my friends house and the kettle was on. 5 mins later I get a phone call from the placing authority. 'thanks so much, we'll be with you in about an hour' Panic stations!!! I left my coffee and ran, literally. First to the local shop to get an easy dinner and more bread and milk, then home to quickly clean and tidy their room, make the bed and give the house a once over. I also managed to feed the kids and fill them in on our news.  My hot and sweaty, flustered state had to be well and truly hidden when they arrived, and instead I composed myself to be the most calm and collected Carer around! It was tough, but I managed it, reminding myself that they would be feeling a lot more flustered and anxious than I could ever imagine. 

That evening there was a lot of talking, and that hasn't stopped really. But amongst all the off loading we have done quite a lot already. We've managed to organise education, after school activities, health checks and they even have a social life too. Its all rather good. 

Saturday, 29 June 2013

When Thursday comes...

 We are still waiting for a placement and it seems quite a while since we were approved now. I can remember telling an older, wiser friend (who is a retired social worker) that we'd been successful at panel and her response was “a placement by the summer then”. At the time I almost scoffed at the suggestion that we'd be waiting that long - but here we are!

We've had a couple of near misses over the last couple of months though. Our agency receives referrals from local authorities, they screen them then pass on the 'suitable' ones to us (taking into account our family dynamics, location etc) then we can decide whether to put ourselves forward as prospective foster carers. At this point the danger is to start imagining them living with us; sleeping in Edward's room, playing with our children, making friends in the community and being a part of the family BUT the process hasn't yet finished. The agency then sends our profile to the placing local authority and they make the final call on whether we are the right home for the child. On a couple of occasions we have been the contingency plan, just in case a family member couldn't take the child. That is not so disappointing as it is a much better solution for them. Another time it was a child who was going to be split from their other siblings, I never felt comfortable about this. Fortunately they found a placement that could take them all, what a relief. Unfortunately we have had others where there seemed no reason why the children wouldn’t have suited living with us and yet we were still turned down. Of course they don’t have to give an explanation for why, but it is quite hard to swallow the rejection not knowing.

However, it is also fair to say that I have had to turn down a referral too. I find this harder to do than being rejected. I have to think about not only what is best for the foster child but what is best for us too. If there is anything that I feel may make family life too difficult or unsettled I have to say no, but that doesn't stop me praying fervently that they go to a wonderful, perfectly matched home instead.

I have noticed that a pattern has emerged with the new referrals. All the phone calls from our social worker tend to happen on a Thursday or Friday! Maybe more children come into care nearer the weekend than any other time of the week? Who knows? So having sussed out this pattern I have started keeping my phone close to me on these two days, just in case that’s the day we all say YES!


So it wasn't this week, but it might be next week - I just have 5 days to wait and see.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Fostering Fortnight

So the previous two weeks have been Foster Carer fortnight, lots of things on the TV about fostering and being in foster care – all really great and positive ways to raise the profile of fostering and the need for more foster carers in the UK.  Also a very appropriate time for us to have our first placement!

We were able to give respite care for Jay* while their regular foster carer was away. OK it was only for a couple of nights but for the time they were with us we were their foster carers, officially!

It was a good first placement for us, our children had fun with an extra young face in the house and Jay seemed to enjoy staying with us too. It wasn’t without its hiccups though and there was a lot to learn (very quickly!)!

I realised just how routined we are as a family unit, doing things in a certain way at certain times. Routine isn’t a bad thing – it can bring a sense of security and safety, but Jay came into our house with their own routines and ways of doing things – not having them in place may have made them feel unsettled and unhappy in our house. All it took was a chat about their normal day and I got a sense of what routines were important to them.

It was also interesting to discover how quirky we can be – silly little jokes or phrases have become codes for different things and though this puts a smile on our faces it can ostracise a new person in the fold. I found myself explaining things to Jay so that they understood the conversation and could join in. I’m sure with a foster child that stays longer than a weekend they will bring their own quirks as well as adding to ours, but in the early days in-jokes are something to watch.

Another thing learned during our first placement is just how important foster dads are. Even though I am named as the primary carer and do most the ‘caring’ and ‘parenting’ on a day to day basis, my husband had such a positive impact on our young visitor. They listened intently to his instructions, they didn’t question his authority and actively sought him to ‘hang out’ with (it wasn’t always the same for me!) With such a short stay I am not to know what other male role models they have had before and who they have now – but it was clear that they benefited tremendously from having my husband around. You men are so much more important than you realise!

So all in all, our first placement left me smiling, exhausted but smiling! I wonder what we have in store for us next?

[*Jay is not their real name]