Our Worcestershire Foster Carer Joy, kindly writes this regular blog for us to give you a real look into a day in the life of a carer. Updated each month, sometimes more regularly, Joy will give you an honest and heart felt view.
Day in the life of a foster carer
Been enjoying a training day at The Countryside Centre on ‘life story work’. I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to training and can’t get enough of the courses! I love learning, and it gives me a break form the ‘day job’ with our little one. I don’t like leaving her too much, but once in a while when interesting training comes up or I have meetings to go to it’s a good opportunity to step back and reflect. I always try to use the same trusted friend so our little one gets continuity of care. I feel happier leaving them when I know they are going to have a lovely time. Today, we looked at memory boxes, life story books, therapeutic parenting and tools to equip both foster carers, kinship and adopters with the job they have. It’s always great to meet other people on these training days and listen to and share experiences. As a foster carer, it’s so helpful to hear the perspectives of an adopter – especially as we are just about to be moving our little one on to their forever family. It makes sense of what I’m doing and why, when I get to meet adopters and hear their stories. What a privilege!
What a pain! Was meant to be on a training day about ‘Moving children on’. It would have been such perfect timing as we move our little one on to their forever home soon. I was hoping it would help me prepare practically, but also mentally and emotionally for their leaving. But, one of my birth children (5) was sick in the night – not a bug – just too hot. (His room is in the loft and it does get hot up there – poor thing) I was thinking I’d just send him anyway today as I know he’s not contagious, but his big sister (8)- who is the fount of all knowledge – has just informed him he needs 48 hours off school. Now he’s worried he’ll go to prison if I break the school rule. Will have to ring and send my apologies. The course organisers are so efficient, lovely and understanding. They get that we work with children and that, that throws up all kinds of unplanned eventualities. I’ll sign up for the course again, next time it comes around. A day at home with the boy bouncing off the walls and the little one. Oh joy!
Had a lovely ‘moving on’ party for our little one at the weekend. It was a gentle event for ‘D’ and their little toddler friends. We tried to pitch it for them and their pace. It began during nap time, so when our little one woke, they were ready for all the frivolity – and cake! There have been so many people I wanted to thank who have supported me and our family on this journey. So the party was a way for me to say thank you to them. It was also a celebration of our little one’s life so far and all the achievements and milestones they have reached. I also felt it was useful to help all the other little toddler friends make sense of the loss of their friend. There has been a little band of them that are thick as thieves in the playground, and at various toddler groups, and I think it helped them to understand where their friend was going and why. I was overwhelmed by people’s generosity – ‘D’ was given such lovely gifts and mementos. I have been struck by how interested and involved my friends have been in what we are doing. Couldn’t do it without them.
Feeling like I am beginning to process what is about to happen. Our first ever placement is coming to an end as they move to their forever home soon. Today has been a day of tying up loose ends and Good Byes. My lovely Health Visitor who has supported me and backed me up and vouched for me whilst I’ve been looking after our little one has just been to do her last home visit. We weighed and measured ‘D’ (they don’t like it much) and chatted about developmental milestones, progress and she was really encouraging. I love how this job is so varied and I get to work alongside so many other professionals. In the afternoon, although our little one was asleep having a nap, their guardian popped round one last time to see us both. She works for CAFCASS https://www.cafcass.gov.uk/ and has been another amazing person to work alongside. She has advocated, not only for ‘D’ but me as well, and taught me a lot about the court system and processes. There is a lot to take in, but it made me realise how important my role as foster carer is. I have the perspective of seeing all the different agencies and piecing it together to build a picture of care for our little one.
Today is the day! So, meeting at County Hall with adopters and a room full of social workers! We have a very clear plan in place. We discuss what will be happening on each of the 7 days of the introduction process. It’s nerve wracking going in to the meeting, but probably much more so for the adoptive parents. I have my first real glimpse of what is about to happen: a couple are about to become a family. And I get to be part of that process. Wowzers. This really is what it’s all about. We talk in great detail about the plan. Everyone knows what their role is. After an hour and a half, I get a quick head start home to collect ‘D’ from my lovely friend and get home to do a quick tidy round. Adopters are hot on my heels to meet their little one for the first time EVER. It’s been a good day, but emotionally charged, and I’m ready for a night with my husband. We try to make sure we have time for each other once a week. Tonight is it. It’s crisps and dips night. Aldi’s finest. Night Y’all.
I’m totally immersed in the introductions process and don’t feel I can come up for air. I thought I was doing OK, but then I watched the film ‘Australia’. Who doesn’t love Hugh Jackman? It caught me by surprise – even though I’ve watched it a thousand times – and I sat and cried and cried. My husband went up to bed, not knowing what to do with me. It’s good to cry. I think I got it all out – it’s a long film. ‘D’ has been part of our family for 14 months and in that time we have had lots of hospital admissions and sitting by a cot side wondering and waiting. Our birth kids love the little one as part of the family. We have nurtured every milestone, cheered when they have achieved it and scooped them up when they have fallen. We have loved ‘D’. We have to love these children like they’re ours and let them go like they’re not. We have to put aside our feelings of loss because these children need our love more than we need to protect ourselves from the hurt. I’d do it all again though. Now where’s Hugh Jackman…
Today is the day ‘D’ leaves. I know I won’t be able to see her go. My husband can do that bit. I’ve given the kids the choice. One wants to – the other doesn’t – so can stay with me. It’s happening swiftly and early. I hear them come to the door, and then it’s all over. We go from a family of 5 to 4 again. Now, I’m a planner, so we are off to Blooms for soft play and a breakfast (did I mention I’m a comfort eater?) After that we head to Hanbury Hall for a picnic lunch – yes, I know, more food. By the end of the day there has been a real transformation. It was a wretched day first thing, my son (5) said ‘today is the saddest day of my life’, but later, on the way home, he said it was the best day of his life. Call him fickle, but I say, all children are resilient and strong and, given the support and framework they need, can go on to do great things and be great people. Today was a day of transformation. Not only were we dealing with a loss, but a new family was born. Lives were transformed today.
Foster and kinship carers conference
Got my husband to take the kids to school so I could don my glad rags and have a grown up day… at the Foster and kinship carers conference! It’s an annual event, and this year it was well timed with Foster Care Fortnight. Did you know a child in the UK is taken into care every 20 minutes? Frightening thought, but, at the conference today, with over 100 delegates – all there to pursue a common goal – it was an encouraging place to be. It was a really positive experience to be gathered as a cohort with so many others. As most parents will find, there can be times of loneliness and isolation in our job. To be able to hang out, over a delicious lunch and share experiences and catch up with friends was truly priceless. There were different workshops to choose from too: from Children’s University to ‘theraplay’ and autism awareness. I think the highlights for me were the friends I saw, the learning opportunities and the sticky toffee pudding and chocolate brownies! It was wonderful to have so many resources all under one roof. A really invigorating and inspiring day. Well done Worcestershire Fostering – it’s a good place to work.
Sons and Daughters
I’m showing my age when I ‘fess up to the fact that when I hear the phrase ‘Sons and Daughters,’ the theme tune to the ’80’s classic Australian soap comes into my mind! Whilst I’ve now given away my age and poor taste in TV – I also want to talk about my son and daughter. The Fostering network dedicates a month every October to sons and daughters of foster carers to highlight and acknowledge the role they play in the fostering family. My two were 4 and 6 when we began fostering. James had one term of big school under his belt before the next big ‘change’ arrived. She was small and we all fell in love with her immediately. You have to think carefully about how fostering will affect your family in order that it works successfully and is sustainable. We decided to foster children younger than our youngest. I felt that would pose the least threat to the big two and the least risk also. I also thought that whilst I am in this season of soft play and happy meals why not throw one more into the mix?! Family outings are a relative success (three small kids, remember) because they are all happy doing the same sorts of things.
The love and loss of a foster carer
I have a cesarean scar that reminds me how my daughter entered the world 8 years ago. I don’t mind it as it represents not only pain but also joy, delight, love, exhilaration and immense pride.
Today as I was walking the kids to school and pushing the pram, I was idly looking at the backs of my cold hands on the pram handles and thinking how I must moisturise them! My skin is losing it’s youthful elasticity. But I noticed some faint scars where our last little one had inadvertently scratched my hand. I probably needed to cut her finger nails.
The marks from those little hands scratching mine have lasted 6 months – that’s how long she has been gone. To begin with, the loss was very raw and real and I did a lot of crying, but, much like a scar those feelings have faded into something less raw and more manageable. They will always be there – even faintly. To me, the experience of love and loss that I encounter as a foster carer is a bit like a scar. Their memory will always stay with me, but the pain and sense of loss do fade with time.
Today I spent the morning in court…
Today I spent the morning in court. I’ve never been able to say that before. In my role as a foster carer, I hear about court dates, cases and hearings but it’s not part of my role to attend.
Today was different. I had the privilege to have been invited to attend the celebration hearing for a special little person who I cared for, for the first part of his life. His forever family had allowed me the opportunity to attend and be part of the joyous occasion that it was.
The judge presented the documents which meant that he was now part of a secure family forever. That sense of permanence and security is so important for children. I loved being there, and on reflection I considered what it might have meant to J and his adoptive parents to have me there.
For J, hopefully seeing me again would have reinforced to him that he wasn’t abandoned by me. For him to watch his parents chatting comfortably with me, may have told him they trusted me and therefore he could trust me. And, as for his parents, they didn’t have to invite me, but they did. And I will be eternally grateful for their hospitality, trust and open hands towards me.
The fruits of Fostering
I’m only on placement number two. The first lasted 14 months and we are 7 months in with the second, but what I have come to learn is that the looked after child brings out the very best in all of us. With an extra child in the frame, my husband and I have had to up our parenting game and have become much more intentional about how we spend our time and who with.
We take care to spend time with all three children individually. We recently went to a firework display and I took the big two and left my husband at home with the baby. It was too cold and too loud for her. We are more aware that our birth children have to ‘share’ us. As a consequence, they probably get more dedicated time that ever before. Contrary to initial thoughts that our children would be squeezed out, their experience of family life has been enriched, been added to and their lives are the better for it.
They have been exposed to experiences, opportunities and a whole new community has opened up for them since fostering.
Most significantly, they have had opportunities to cultivate things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control and all with a sense of compassion in their hearts.
‘A device for absorbing jolts and vibrations, especially on a vehicle’.
I’m not about to talk about mechanics, rather emotions. The other day, my emotions caught me out and I just cried in the middle of the street and had to ring my husband for some tlc. I had just dropped the big two at school, and was briskly walking home pushing the little one and thinking about the next task of the day – taking him to see his parents at a venue where it could be safely supervised.
I got a call from the family support worker, saying that parents were not able to attend. I’m sure there were myriad reasons why they couldn’t attend and it’s not for me to make a judgment. People have complicated and chaotic lives. But I suddenly felt overwhelmed with protective emotions for this little one, blissfully oblivious as he chewed his fist in the pram before me.
I realised, what we do as parents acts as a shock absorber for our children – absorbing the jolts of life. Taking the hurts, the rejections and disappointments and absorbing them to protect our kids. And it’s no different as foster carers – and that’s why it’s so important to have a support network around you who you can trust and who understand. And thank goodness I do.
When I was a teacher, I used to avoid training wherever possible. A day out of the classroom meant extra work in preparation for the supply teachers and then it would take about 5 days to recover the mess and chaos from the classroom on my return. It just wasn’t worth it.
Training days run by the local authority for foster carers, adopters and kinship carers are a different matter altogether. They are all so well organised and well written – with a varied team delivering them. It is always interesting to meet the social workers who deliver training. It makes me realise we are all on the same side – where sometimes there can be a perceived ‘them and us’ culture.
One particular course I’ve been attending is all about nurturing attachments in children. It’s written by internationally renowned consultant clinical psychologist, Dr Kim Golding and I’m learning so much. Not least from the other delegates on the course. We all bring so many different experiences to share.
Whilst it feels rather converse leaving our little one with a friend once a fortnight to attend a course all about attachments, the benefits far outweigh any drawbacks. I always use the same friend to look after him which means he feels secure and they build a rapport. I get some breathing space to be more of a reflective practitioner and hopefully, all three of my kids will benefit from my training.
After all, none of them come with a handbook!
Only just coming up for air
Introductions were intrusive, stressful and intense but necessary.
J seemed to like them from the safety of my hip, but when the time came for them to take over his care it was very different. Bath times were screamy to the point I thought he would be sick! Connie (8) and I had to go out and took ourselves off to Sainsbury’s to get away from the crying. It was hard not to go up and interfere and take over but that would have been counter productive. He was picked up at 10am on Friday.
I have felt so carried, covered, prayed for, encouraged and walked with it has been unbelievable. Things will, no doubt just catch me over the coming days and weeks.
I keep thinking I can hear him crying and this afternoon James (6) asked me, ‘is J having his nap?’ We are all still shutting the stair gate. It’s surreal at the moment but OK. We’ll get there. No more baby bottles in the dishwasher, just cleared the last of the nappies from the bins, no baby clothes in the laundry basket and no baby J – but it is the right thing for J and a new family has been created where before there wasn’t one.
So that is a good thing.
My husband’s a big-hearted softy…
I was watching Paddington with the kids the other day. It’s a heartwarming film – even my husband reluctantly confessed to enjoying it.
At the end, when the dastardly Nicole Kidman is threatening to take Paddington and stuff him, Mr. Brown suddenly has a surge of paternal love for the furry brown bear, shouting,
To which, an incredulous Kidman retorts,
‘Family, you’re not even the same species.’
Mr Brown goes on to say,
‘…but my wonderful wife, she opened her heart to him, and so did my incredible children. And now I have too. And it doesn’t matter that he comes from the other side of the world or is a different species or has a rather worrying marmalade habit. We love him, and that makes him family.’
To me, this sums up beautifully how we feel in our family. Sometimes, the children in our care do feel like another species, largely due to the experiences they have had to endure. But we have opened our hearts and our home, and for as long as they are with us, they are family.’
I think it’s worth mentioning too, that when we were going through the approval process to become foster carers my husband was not dissimilar to Mr. Brown and it took him a little while longer to come ‘on board’. Now, he’s a big-hearted softy and has wept for the loss of all of our children as they have moved on to permanency.
Breathing Space or Respite
Who’s ready for a break after the Easter Holiday?!
I say this with my tongue in my cheek, as I actually love the holidays with The Big Two off school. We make plans, write to-do lists and go on adventures. Nevertheless, it is hard work and exhausting with little or no time to myself. A holiday for school age children is invariably not a holiday for the adults who care for them.
And parenting is much the same. We can’t call in sick from our job as parents. We can’t take a day off when we please, but that’s not to say we are immune to tiredness, burnout or stress. And it’s no different for foster carers. In fact, I am just coming to the session on ‘self-care’ on the Nurturing Attachments course I am on. And that is where respite might come in.
The word respite is derived from the Latin origin ‘respectus’ which means consideration, recourse or regard. Consideration means careful thought over a period of time. Recourse pertains to a source of help and regard is to give attention to something.
After our first placement came to an end, we really did need time to consider what had just come to pass. It had been an intense experience so we took time off to consider and process a whole spectrum of feelings and emotions. Our social worker actively encouraged our hiatus and supported our decision. He is there to protect our well being in order that we can care for others successfully. There should be no shame or guilt in seeking help (recourse) in order to give attention to something.
The Primal Wound
There are two things people say to me most often, in terms of fostering. I’ll write another blog on the second, but for now, it’s this:
‘At least you’ve had them since birth so they haven’t experienced any trauma or neglect.’
I understand what they mean, and of course, it would be far worse for the child had they been in a home experiencing these things – but it underestimates hugely the profound effect of being wrenched from your birth Mum, having known your Mother’s voice and being emotionally and physically connected for the duration of the pregnancy.
Nancy Verrier wrote the book, “The Primal Wound’ over 20 years ago – it’s just as relevant as ever. It looks at the “primal wound” – the wound that results when a child is separated from his mother – and the trauma that it causes. She examines the life-long consequences this can have for adopted people, as they are growing up and into adulthood, underpinning this with information about pre- and perinatal psychology, attachment, bonding, and the effects of loss.
Whilst it’s a difficult and painful topic because of the emotions it evokes in all members of the adoption triad, it can also bring relief as it can be a great help in acknowledging, understanding, and validating the wounds created by the trauma of separation between mother and child.
‘I couldn’t do what you do, I couldn’t hand them back’
Last time, I talked about one of two things people say most often say to me. This blog is about the second of those:
‘I couldn’t do what you do. I couldn’t hand them back’
It’s an interesting thought. That folk just couldn’t open their homes and their hearts because they wouldn’t be able to give them back again. That they wouldn’t be able to cope with the pain of loss. I know what they mean.
And it’s hard. Very hard. But, children who have suffered loss, trauma and neglect need me to love them more than I need to protect my own feelings. They need a commitment from me and to feel a sense of belonging. And the support and scaffolding I have experienced from my family and friends at times of loss and stress have been such a blessing. Freezer meals, babysitting, chocolate, nappies, baby clothes and equipment at the start of a placement, and cards, flowers and even a spa day at the end of a placement have all characterised their love to me.
We have to love these children like they’re ours and let them go like they’re not. We have to put aside our feelings of loss because these children need our love more than we need to protect ourselves from the hurt.
Supervision and Support
I have a Social worker. My friends still chuckle when I talk about having one.
I didn’t really understand the system before we started fostering but broadly speaking SW’s are split between two main roles – those who look after the foster carers and those who look after the children. Mine is like my line manager. He checks that best practice is being adhered to in terms of my record keeping and safer caring and supports me to do so.
I wanted to talk about my SW because they often get such bad press.
So here goes…
He visits me at home every month for a cuppa and to check in with me. He always asks about the kids and my husband and our family dynamic. He’s not just being nice (although he is really nice). It’s in order that he can discern the robustness of the placement. He is there for me. To check that I am taking sufficient breaks, that we are coping and dealing with our emotions, that we are making time for ourselves. He provides a balance of encouragement and challenge, and supports my continued professional development.
He is always at the end of the phone, supports me in meetings and has even attended a doctor’s appointment where I had concerns for the child’s safety. All in all, I have to say, I have a very good line manager.
He knows me and he gets me.
There were never such devoted sisters’
My sister and I were on the ‘phone the other day, and she reminded me of a story from nearly 20 years ago. We were at Ocean Park in Hong Kong – a massive theme park before the time of mobile phones. She was about 20 and I am 3 years older.
She lost me for a bit, and she recounted with such freshness and accuracy as if it were only yesterday how she felt so sick with worry when we became separated. For that half an hour her world was in panic and she felt wretched. And we were adults.
Imagine then, if you can, how it must feel for siblings whose worlds really are in panic. Worlds where they cannot predict what is going to happen next. Worlds where everything they knew has been taken away as they find themselves in foster care. To lose everything on top of experiencing trauma and neglect and then to become separated from your siblings just adds insult to injury.
I look at my children and I cannot think of anything worse than if they had to be separated. I know that’s how Worcestershire Fostering feels too. Let’s keep siblings together.
I was idly googling ‘fighting kids’ the other day, with the bickering of my own two darlings in the background. It would be only a matter of seconds before one or both of them would come flying into the room fuelled with anger and indignation at the actions of the other.
There were loads of articles from so-called experts about how to curtail the behaviour of your feuding warriors. But then I thought about it some more and I reckon – whether they are playing or fighting – they are doing it together and are therefore entertained. Bonus right?! Joking aside, the Big Two are forced to spend a lot of time together – much like my husband and me! And in doing so, we learn so much about ourselves and the other. The Big Two will work through skills like problem-solving, diplomacy, debating, backing down, saying sorry and many more besides.
When my eldest was at a sleepover party the other day, the youngest was totally lost. Despite getting macaroni cheese for supper (his favourite) and getting to sleep in my bed he was really pining for her.
I guess what I’m saying is that whether brothers and sisters are fighting or frolicking they will be making sense of who they are in the context of the other. Someone that reinforces their identity by being similar in looks and personality, who sounds the same and has shared experiences.
Having a brother or sister is a gift.
Where they are in care, let’s keep them together
‘Foster Care Transforms Lives’
Sound bites like the above title (to promote Foster Care Fortnight) are all well and good but they sometimes are so vast and sweeping that we miss the details of what they actually really mean.
I can remember very early on in our first placement, The Big Two were walking either side of the pram on the school run and James (then 5) held onto the pram handle and said unprompted, ‘we’re a real family now’. It was such a special moment. Our lives had been transformed from a family of 4 to 5. Our little one’s life was being transformed as she was now safe and able to thrive. And eventually, a couple wanting to adopt would have their lives transformed by this special little person.
But that’s just the start of it. There is a ripple effect when you get to do this incredible thing – the family GP who was so struck by the love and care he saw he sent me a handwritten note encouraging me. The friendly librarian at our local library who is now considering fostering, the friends who are extending their home to do so too, the paediatric nurse who wells up with every story I tell her, the mum on the playground who was compelled to gift me nappies, the other mum who gave me hand knitted cardigans, the other mum who donated a suitcase for looked after children to carry their belongings in instead of bin liners. The list really is endless.
Foster care does indeed transform lives – but it’s not just the obvious ones. I think it transforms us all.
I had a rare opportunity to have a lunch date with my husband today. I had a few minutes to spare. Baby asleep, make-up on, kids swimming bag packed and in the boot for after school – so I thought I’d take a quick look at the new short film, ‘Giants’.
In the words of Pretty Woman, ‘Big mistake. Big. Huge’.
Now I am going to be late for said lunch date as I need to re-do my makeup on my tear stained, puffy eyed face.
The film talks about the opportunities having siblings can promote. To share, to live, to love, to belong, to care and to dream. I’ve talked about the Big Two in recent blogs and their shared experience of life. I really can’t imagine how they would cope if they suddenly lost everything they ever knew AND didn’t have each other.
There is a growing need for foster carers to care for sibling groups – and adopters too.
Giants is indeed a great film but lets not just patch up our tear-stained faces and carry on as normal. Let’s do something about it. Let’s keep siblings together.
‘How to get started’
It occurred to me that I am already on the fostering journey, but what does it look like at the beginning and how do you get started? A very dear friend of mine – who does all my childcare for me when I have courses and meetings – is just embarking on the process and it has reminded me of what happens.
The first thing to do is make the call. It’s an informal chat, and they’ll probably send you some written material you can read at your leisure and leave in strategic places for your husband to read. After that, you’ll get a call back from an experienced Social Worker who will ask questions about your marital status, the ages of your children, and the home you live in. This is followed up with a home visit.
I remember getting in a flap over ‘risks’ like our open fire and the shed load of firewood in the garden, or our steep stairs and unpainted spare room. I wanted the house to look lovely, and I wanted to be approved. It was hard, as my home was being judged. Did we have smoke alarms, fire doors, stair gates? Would she find our home too cluttered and messy?
It was hard as there was no separation between work and home. The two were now merging. My home was potentially going to become my workplace.
Our home got the thumbs up. Next step, ‘Skills to Foster’ training.
‘Skills to Foster training’
This is a pre-approval course – often run over three consecutive Saturdays. The course begins by looking at what a foster carer does and why and how children need to come into care. It touches on attachment theory and how to facilitate security and promote resilience in children and young people.
Next, it looks at identity and life chances – understanding the impact of having their life – as they know it – pulled from under them and moved into a new home. Prejudice and discrimination are explored and valuing their heritage and promoting positive identities for children.
Working with others is covered. I was fascinated to learn about all the different agencies and professionals supporting a child. Foster carers are often the ones with the biggest overview, so being able to communicate and disseminate information professionally and with clarity to advocate for your child is vital. Understanding the legal framework and confidentiality is also key.
Clearly, one of the biggest areas covered is understanding and caring for the children. There is so much training to support different behaviours and complex needs. But initially, the ‘Skills to Foster’ training covers some of the difficult behaviours that may have been learned as a response to abusive or neglectful past experiences. It explores the concept of attachment and identifies the different kinds. Most crucially it explores how you can facilitate change through sensitive and therapeutic parenting.
Safer caring, safeguarding and delegated authority are all covered and are built on firm relational foundations with your supervising social worker and other professionals. Managing transitions to equip your child to move confidently back home or on to adoption or independent living are critical. This session also looks at life story work and keeping memories safe.
Have you ever asked a close friend to look after your kids while you have a hospital appointment? Or better still gone for a well-earned break with your partner overnight and left the kids? I have just booked a night away with one of those last minute websites. We’ve got a hotel & spa package for my husband and me in Shropshire. I can’t wait! Why am I telling you all this? Well, just like normal life – and fostering life is normal life – we need breaks and life happens. Just last week I looked after a 3-4 year-old so that their carers could take a break. And the week before that I had a 1-2 year old for the weekend in order that their carer could attend an appointment. It’s not unusual to help each other out with childcare when we can’t quite juggle life on our own and fostering is exactly the same. We are a ‘family’ and we support one another through respite requests.
It can be perceived as weakness or that you are failing when you ask for respite but it’s just normal life. For daycare, you are trusted to make wise judgements and you can use a friend. For overnight, you get an entire pool of foster carers!
Holidays. Should they stay or should they go?
So, we are in August. Holiday territory. When fostering, do you take your looked after children with you or not? My feeling is that when a child comes into our home, they are part of our family, so they come too. But it’s not always as simple as this. Sometimes, birth parents may not approve the break. Sometimes passports cannot be processed in time. And sometimes, there may be health implications to consider and it might be too risky to take a child too far from his consultant and the hospital where he is known.
We used respite for a little one when we thought they were returning to parents imminently, so we thought it would be best not to break the continuity of them seeing their birth parents while we were away. It had been a lengthy placement and we were in need of an opportunity to switch off. I also thought it would be an opportunity to begin getting used to them not being around. Well, it turns out they were not going to return home and so we had them for quite a few months longer. And, it turns out, I couldn’t really enjoy the holiday as I spent most of it looking at photos of them on my phone. Doh.
Children benefit immensely from the experience of holidays and we have made some really special memories that we will treasure.
Dig for Green Fingers victory!
Over the summer Green Fingers provides a full schedule of activities from outdoor cooking to bush craft, pond dipping, fishing, and pottery. This year my big two did some wonderful landscape painting on pebbles and on board. It’s great to come away with work they can treasure and that show achievement. But sometimes the sense of achievement is less tangible but just as significant. Good old fashioned hard work, toiling the land – weeding, digging, planting and harvesting can all provide a significant sense of well being and pride in the work undertaken.
I had the opportunity to join my kids for such a session. My son absolutely loved clearing bindweed from the soft fruit cages and my daughter was hard at work sanding and painting garden furniture. It might have looked like they came away with nothing, but they now have a sense of ownership of Green Fingers, they got dirty – which means hard work and loads of fun – and they made friends who worked alongside them. It’s that kind of non-threatening (no eye contact required) contact that is a relief to so many. As we worked, conversations were blossoming and friendships were being germinated.
So, here’s an invitation and an opportunity to you carers. Anytime you need some friendship and gardening tonic come along on Saturdays to help out with digging, planting, harvesting, weeding or maintenance type activities e.g. mending fences, painting, etc. Or weekdays between 9am – 3.30pm even if it is for an hour. Every little helps – them and you!
Contact Jo Frost at: JFrost1@worcestershire.gov.uk
During the holidays I had the opportunity to care for siblings – a 3 and 4 year old. They were great kids and coped really well considering they were in a strange home with people they didn’t know. I managed most of their behaviour really well but I just could not help them to cope with getting in or out of the pushchair without a full on melt down.
Once in the stroller, they were happy with snacks and chats about what we could spy en route. Once out – at a toddler group or play date – they were also fine. but the transition was a tricky one. Fast forward 40 years and I also find some transitions tricky. I suppose what I’m saying is that we all find transitions challenging to a lesser or greater extent. For our looked after children, they are having to haul all of themselves into new situations when they come into care and often experience more than one move. Their worlds have been turned up side down and everything they knew has gone. They will want familiarity and routine, so change can be really scary, throwing up emotions and triggers from extremely stressful times. So things like moving from a small nurture group to the noise of the main classroom are potentially really unsettling. Or the change in gear from lesson time to the unstructured playground or the noise of the dining room. From pre-school to reception, from KS1 to KS2, from primary to secondary school or just from a teacher they have found security with for the last year to a totally new one – these transitions are particularly hard on our looked after children.
Whether it’s a pushchair meltdown or moving home/school/class and everything in-between, transitions are challenging for most of us and are even harder for our looked after children. We need to find ways of supporting them and trying to remember what it felt like to be that age.
Sons and Daughters of Foster Carers
Many Brits are brought up to believe that public recognition is akin to egomania and anyone who either welcomes it, let alone seeks it, should be scorned. Culturally, I think we tend to bat away compliments and praise. ‘You look nice today!’ might be greeted with ‘What this old thing?’ You get the picture.
I’m happy to buck the trend and say I think my kids are great! We worry too much that if we praise one group of people, we are ignoring or worse still, undermining another group. This month is Sons and Daughters month – a Fostering Network campaign keen to recognise, acknowledge and thank the birth children in fostering families for all they bring. I often get told I’m doing an amazing job as a carer. I’m happy to take that! But, I wonder how often folk tell my kids they are amazing for what they do? How often do I tell them? They share their toys, belongings, time, parents, and so much more and have such a capacity for love and kindness, patience and self-control. They teach me so much and are great role models for the children in our care.
So, lets praise and encourage one another more. Let’s build each other up, pat each other on the back and shake off some of that British reserve. When you catch yourself thinking something nice about someone – say it out loud!
Doing endings well
Before the Summer, I completed the 11-month Nurturing Attachments course. I underestimated the impact of being with the same cohort for all that time and sharing quite personal stuff with them. As a result, we were all feeling quite bereft when the last session finally arrived. It’s like the feeling you get when ‘Strictly’ ends and you don’t know what could possibly fill your Saturday nights. The end was managed well with a really nice lunch and time to chat informally together and exchange contact details. The opportunity to mark its end with homemade cake, chocolates and lunch helped us to process it.
In the same way, we always enjoy a celebration party for our little ones when the time comes to say goodbye. We have a cake and party food and there is a real sense of honoring and reflecting on their life thus far. We invite key people who have helped us and walked with us on the journey – I know, really overused word. With babies and small children, it could be argued that they don’t understand the fuss, but I really think they do. And they make memories, receive gifts and cards and have photographs to look back on. It also helps us, our children and the friends of our looked after child to have an opportunity to say goodbye and express our emotions.
There is nothing wrong with shedding a few tears. In fact, I think that’s a sign of doing endings well.
I’ve only bought two houses in my life, but both times, I committed emotionally to virtually every house I viewed. I imagined our furniture in it, the kids running around – even pictured myself in the kitchen cooking and entertaining. Some would say you shouldn’t get attached until you exchange. But how do I know it’s the right house unless I get attached and test the feeling out? Suffice to say, I love my home and wouldn’t trade it, but I did shed lots of tears over houses, loved and lost along the way.
And so it is every time a new PRF (Placement Referral From) drops into my inbox, I have to get attached. I commit emotionally to each child and am normally in tears as I read about their case. The trauma and experiences they have encountered break my heart – the information that led them to need us in the first place. I share an edited version with the kids so that we can all make the decision together. In order to prepare ourselves and our children – 9 and 7 – we have to paint a picture of family life with X. We have to imagine them in our home, at our table, on the school run and in our lives.
And so we say ‘yes please’, to being put forward for consideration. And sometimes, we are not successful. And yes, we cry.
And then we do it all again.
High Days and Holidays
Unless you’re a hermit, you’ll have noticed Christmas is coming! People say it’s all about the kids but some children will feel totally overwhelmed by everything that is going on. Our looked after and adopted children – and actually quite a lot of birth children too – will find some of the things we put ourselves through quite difficult to cope with. Here are a few of my thoughts:
Food: I cook simple, recognisable, familiar food week in, week out. Then one day of the year I slave for hours and then get annoyed when the meal is spurned. Too rich, too many unfamiliar foods (does anyone cook sprouts the other 364 days?) and too long. If they sit for 20 minutes normally don’t expect them to suddenly sit for two hours. Keep it simple. We’re having chicken.
Routines: My kids love the rhythm of a routine where they can anticipate and therefore have a sense of control over what is happening to them. School at Christmas Time means school plays, rehearsals, church venues, different school dinners, parties, jumper days, bring a toy day, film day – the list goes on. To offer balance, keep the time at home simple without overstimulating. I have a huge piece of paper on the wall with the ‘headlines’ of what is coming up. We tick off as we go and having the visual aid on the kitchen wall as we eat our meals helps them to reflect on what has been and make sense of what is still to come.
Father Christmas: I’m in my forties and I still get a stocking. It’s one of the delights of the day – full of small and exciting things. From a satsuma to cotton wool pads and perhaps a soap and undies. I love it! But it is a bit weird that we invite a strange man into our homes and often into our bedrooms to deliver these joyous gifts. For some of our children, this could be a really unhelpful concept given their previous trauma. And for all children, it’s a paradox. It is contradictory to all our ‘stranger danger’ teaching in the rest of the year. Hang stockings downstairs or perhaps collect them from the shed or garage.
Happy Christmas Everyone!
Happy New Year!
Or is it? Anyone feeling their waistband has expanded and their bank balance has shrunk? And I’m sure many of us are embarking on healthy living and ‘new starts’ in many different areas of our lives – finance, habits, food, exercise, hobbies, how we spend out time etc.
All of which is admirable and I’m certainly no different. I’m back at ‘fat club’ with my sister and our friend. Every time I fall off the wagon – most weeks – our mutual friend is so kind and full of grace. She always says, draw a line under it, forget it and start again. Because of the safety of our group, I am not scared to bring all of my food confessions as I know she’ll tell me it’s ok and we can start over.
For our kids – looked after or otherwise – when they are struggling with behaviour or new routines, or no routines I think we need to respond with that same kindness and grace. Not exasperation, frustration and anger. Our children who have come into the care system are experiencing new everything. And not because it is their choice like us on January 1st. No, their experience of ‘new’ is frightening, challenging and disorientating. Let’s all remember to offer grace and kindness when they fall off the wagon.
What we hold in tension
After a weekend of anticipation, we were told today that baby ‘unborn’ is now here! In the world. A new life. Whilst we are delighted and excited as a family to meet this new little one, it is shrouded in overwhelming sadness for the mother who has just carried her child for 9 months and will be leaving hospital alone. I cannot imagine the grief and pain this must cause. So therein lies the dilemma – the tension we hold where our delight in receiving a brand new baby to love and cherish for as long as is needed, is in sharp relief to the pain and anguish of parents who are left empty.
But, we must celebrate this little one. And so we do. With cards, hand knits, gifts – everything any new baby deserves. And in years to come, this little one will know, as they look through their memory box that they were valued and their life was celebrated. Despite the desperate sadness surrounding the reasons they were placed with us, they were loved, anticipated and knitted for!
I was thinking about the dynamic in our family when we have a looked after child living with us. And then I thought of the world of ecology and the terms used to describe naturally occurring relationships. I think that fostering is the most natural thing we humans can do for one another.
In an ecosystem, the species will interact in different ways. These interactions may have positive, neutral or negative impacts on the other species involved.
Most commonly used is the term symbiosis, which broadly refers to these types of relationships as it directly translates to mean living together (sym: with; bio: life).
The three main symbiotic relationships are:
– Mutualism, where both organisms benefit
– Commensalism, where one organism benefits while the other organism is not harmed
– Parasitism, where one organism benefits and causes harm to the other organism
Some say we are amazing and do so much for that child. I disagree. It’s not just about us pouring into the other. This may be likened to commensalism. Others have been worried that the effects would be detrimental to our birth family – parasitism.
After several years of fostering I can categorically state this is not the case. So, I’m left with mutualism – a beneficial relationship to both partners of different species living together. For example a bee and a pollinating flower. The bee gains nectar from the flower for survival, as it uses the bee to carry its pollen to other flowers. So both organisms living together benefit from their existence.
I rather like the idea that we are like bees and flowers. Fostering life as sweet as honey.
Snow Days/Melt Downs
We had a snow day on Friday at my kids’ school – there was also an option to collect early from school the day before. Ooh, what excitement! Or not?
Children waiting in their classroom, wondering if they will be collected early or be one of the ones left until normal pick up time. This wasn’t discussed at drop-off in the morning. How can we prepare our hyper-vigilant, super sensitive children for this sudden change half way through the day? My boy loves to know what we are having for supper when I drop him at 9am. He also likes to plan what he might watch on CBeebies upon his return. How will he cope with this piece of spontaneity?
Clearly, snow is very exciting. Its rarity makes it so. But, spare a thought for the adults trying to manage expectations, emotions and the excitement of their looked after or adopted children. With sensitivities to the cold inducing fear or feelings of excitement they cannot handle; the snow will have exasperated and excited in equal measure.
For children who have experienced trauma, regulating their emotional states and their affective expression is often a lifelong learning. They have difficulty regulating positive and negative emotions. So, excitement, joy or love can cause them to experience significant anxiety. Feelings of joy at sledging in the snow may quickly be overridden by panic and then an overwhelming need to sabotage the event.
Remember, as our children meltdown in the snow and dysregulate because they cannot tolerate the excitement, they may take days to become stable again long after the snow has melted away…
They hurt, I hurt.
I took our little one to the doctors to have his last set of immunisations. All babies have three lots at 8, 12 and 16 weeks. That means that I’ve sat through over 49 injections over the time we’ve been fostering.
I really don’t like needles and can never look. I have to hold their little thighs still and then look away. You know when it has happened as you can hear the sharp intake of breath and then the silence that inevitably leads to an almighty scream. A scream of shock, pain and indignation that you would let this happen to them!
I know it’s good for them and I know the pain will not last, but in that moment I found myself sobbing uncontrollably. So much so that the nurse checked I was alright!
When they hurt, I hurt. And that level of vulnerability – that willingness to be affected and to feel pain and invest in a relationship that won’t last and is so important. Brene Brown delivered an amazing TED talk on vulnerability. An academic in social work she talked about connection which gives purpose and meaning to our lives. And in order for connection to happen, you have to be prepared for vulnerability.
We love our children wholeheartedly, holding nothing back. It’s our chosen way to live, love, work and parent.
It hurts but it brings equal measure of joy.
It’s not a season, it’s a way of life
I feel really uncomfortable right now – my waistband is tight, my clothes don’t fit and I’ve definitely eaten all the pies. As a foster carer, I’ve been in the baby stage now for 10 years. That’s including time with the big two and now with countless others.
I love it – snuggles in the sitting room watching Countdown in the afternoon, coffee and cake every day of the week on the toddler group circuit, night time feeds which require sugary sustenance – do you get the picture? The problem is, I’m not breastfeeding, which burns some of the extra calories and I’m also missing all those pregnancy hormones that kept me going when I was sleep deprived. So I’m reaching for the biscuit tin.
I know all this sounds rather flippant, but the point is that foster carers aren’t just in it for a season – we’ve chosen it as a way of life. I know a carer in her 60’s who is still in the baby stage. Similarly, I know a couple who have been in the teenage years for decades.
Of course, it’s not unusual for some to choose to become carers because they are in a particular season with their birth children, but I’d put money on that season lasting a very long time! Foster care is so rewarding and fulfilling I can see how easily it becomes a way of life.
I can also see how my waistline has expanded.
My Extraordinary, Ordinary Life
I know I’m not the first person to coin this phrase but people often say what we do as foster carers is extraordinary and that we are some sort of superhero. It’s really not like that – it’s the ordinary and the everyday. Getting up, getting children fed and watered and off to school. It’s bedtime stories and headlice, scratched knees and immunisations. It’s picnics and tantrums, toddler groups and family time, it’s meetings and food shopping. So, on the one hand, it is ordinary, but on the other, what an extraordinary privilege to be able to care for our society’s most vulnerable children and offer radical hospitality to those who need it.
As it’s Foster Care Fortnight running from 14th to 27th May, I shall be writing 7 blogs during that time – to really illustrate what happens every day with candour and honesty – I promise!
I am unapologetic about saying that ‘About Time’ is a particular favourite film of mine. I’ll leave you with a quote from the time travelling protagonist: ‘And in the end, I think I’ve learned the final lesson from my travels in time; and I’ve even gone one step further than my father did. The truth is I now don’t travel back at all, not even for the day. I just try to live every day as if I’ve deliberately come back to this one day, to enjoy it, as if it was the full final day of my extraordinary, ordinary life.
Here’s to Foster Care Fortnight where I document my extraordinary, ordinary life.
Civic Service with cake!
As I struggled to find a seat at the very back of the knave I was overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of people who were filling Worcester Cathedral. We were all there because the theme of this County Civic service was ‘looked after children’. I spotted a few around the pews but was secretly rather glad I didn’t bring mine. My three would not have sat still or appreciated having to behave and be quiet for the next hour. They were home with my husband playing or napping. The baby is five and half months old and the big two are 7 and 10.
The service was full of all the pomp and ceremony one would expect from a civic affair but there were moments of tenderness and moving emotion too. Children from Franche Community Primary school sang beautifully and care leavers were also involved in the planning and presentation of the service. I had silent tears rolling down my cheeks when the children were singing ‘Make me a Channel of your Peace’. What an amazing experience for them to perform in front of so many hundreds of people. They sang again at the end – this time with the Cathedral choristers. What I loved was the unity of voice between the two cohorts. It was a powerful reminder of all the different people working together for a common cause – our looked after children.
And then there was cake. Lots of cake.
I was at the annual Foster Care Conference today at the racecourse in Worcestershire. One of the councillor’s who opened the conference was telling us all how a guest of his was admiring the lake outside the grandstand. For the locals amongst you, you’ll appreciate that there is no lake – it’s just that the racecourse has a habit of flooding dramatically. What his guest saw that day looked like a lake, but it wasn’t. Sometime later he visited again and discovered it was actually a racecourse. Something can appear to look one way, but over time be transformed dramatically into something completely different and with another purpose.
Crudely, we see placement referral forms that document the aspects of the child in need of foster care. Often, there is little or no information to go on and we don’t always know to what extent they have been traumatised until much later. But our looked after children are more than the worst thing they have done at school or the worst thing they have had done to them. They are humans with potential waiting for someone to give them a chance to show it. To be transformed.
Today’s conference highlight for me was seeing two young people present their skills, gifts and sense of self to us. The transformation that has occurred in their lives because of foster care is remarkable. What we see on the surface of things is not always the whole truth. Let’s keep on keeping on.
Malvern Cube Afternoon Tea Party
We had such a lovely time at the invitation of Councillor Lucy Hodgson. As part of the Corporate Parenting Cross-Party Focus group, there have been events around the county for all foster carers, looked after children and care leavers.
We all felt really welcomed and looked after. There were 5 different cakes to choose from, so I agonised for ages…finally choosing a polenta cake with dried rose petals on top. It was gluten and dairy free which would normally make me want to run in the opposite direction but it was so delicious. Can I say moist? I know I’m rather labouring the cake point but when events are so thoughtfully planned with such a delicious spread it speaks value and appreciation into the lives of those who attend. The grounds were peaceful with pretty gardens and vegetables growing, there were craft activities for all ages and capabilities and plenty of cake and healthy snacks too.
The event provided us with so much more than what was on offer. It was time to chat with other foster carers, time to sit with our children and be creative without the distractions of making supper or loading the washing machine. It was time to receive and be spoilt and looked after, and I for one really valued and appreciated it. Thank you.
It’s times like this that I know why I foster and why I want to keep doing it. Today we were invited to an under 5’s celebration event at Bishops Wood.
All three children had a wonderful time – and that’s quite a feat as they range from 6 months to 10 years. It’s not always easy to find activities to engage all three but we loved it so much we stayed for two hours beyond the programmed end time. So much thought and love had gone into planning the themed event around ‘Percy the Park Keeper’. There was storytelling, bluebell walks, craft, planting and growing seeds and cake. Always cake.
We have come away with seeds growing in the top of a Mr Potato. We need to water and nurture those seeds to see results. In the same way, events like this water and nurture us as carers and our children. It’s part of who we are to be a fostering family. It’s not a 9-5 job to be switched off from at weekends. It’s our life and identity and this event reinforced all that is wonderful about the fostering family. I was so encouraged to see two children thriving in their fostering family that we had taken as an emergency at 11 pm some months before, or others we had looked after on respite. It’s like a family party, seeing cousins or Aunts you don’t get to see every day.
And it left me feeling encouraged, validated, rested, taken care of and above all reminded me that what we do as foster carers is valued, appreciated and so worthwhile.
I rarely like pictures of me, but do enjoy posting pictures of my children on social media. There are, I know, various views on this habit which I won’t go into! But, we all know we cannot post pictures of our looked after children for reasons of identity and keeping them safe. That said, we have recorded more events and milestones with our looked after children than we ever did with the big two. And that’s how it should be. The big two can ask me any time what they were like as babies, who they look like or what they wore. In fact, I’m often saying things like, ‘you wore this when you were little’ or ‘I used to blow raspberries on your tummy like this too’. It contextualises their lives and gives them a sense of their past and they can see how they were loved and cared for as they watch me do it for others. But when our looked after children move on to adoption or back to birth family, they can’t easily ask me those questions if at all.
So photographs and documenting events are so, so important. The other day, at an under 5’s event there was a professional photographer there to record the day. We have come away with some delightful pictures of all of us together (I even like the one of me) and just the children. These pictures are all we may have left when our little one moves on to adoption, and I cannot tell you how precious the photographs are. I can’t show them off on social media, but if I meet you, you’ll have to humour me while I show you!
There was a boy
I watched a short film today that moved me to tears. It mapped the life of a teenage boy struggling with the set of circumstances he was born into…culminating in him needing to be placed with a fostering family.
It made me think of a man I heard speak once at an event. He grew up in a loving family who nurtured, loved and accepted him after he had to leave his birth parents because of their addictions. He spoke candidly about what he and his brother wanted most from a home – a clean house and regular hot meals. I was blown away by the simplicity of his request and the realisation that I had that to offer. My house was clean (most of the time) and we ate a hot meal every day of the week. It was his story that put me on the road to fostering. He and his brother were young teenagers when they were moved into a fostering family. I think there is a notion in the public domain that teenagers are all delinquents – rude and aggressive – but turn that around to think about how they have been spoken to, treated or neglected. We only learn behaviour through how we have been treated.
Of course, the teenage years are challenging but the film illustrated what a difference a fostering family can make to the life of a young person. What an amazing privilege to be part of the transformative good news story for a teenager who just needs someone to believe in them.
I was pondering the role of Fathers and specifically mine today. I did an interview at BBC Hereford and Worcester talking about Father’s Day which got me thinking. As a family, Fathers/Grandfathers are pretty thin on the ground for us. My husband’s Dad died when he was young and mine is estranged since a messy divorce decades ago. I remember craning my neck at my graduation willing him to come and see me receive my degree. But he didn’t. Life goes on much the same but there have been moments in life I can look back on where I have been richly blessed by lots of Father Figures. The one that travelled to London to see my degree show, the one that walked me down the aisle, the one that taught me how to change the air and oil filters on my Morris Minor, the one that helped me build a shed, the one who teaches me how to garden and when to prune, the one that helped put up shelves and built our kitchen, the one that mentors me and the one that did our marriage preparation and has invested in our family for years.
Whatever your Father ‘status’, don’t underestimate what you give and how you influence other lives. To the foster Dads, adoptive Dads, step-Dads, honorary Dads, biological Dads and all the others – Happy Father’s Day!