Making a kid‘s world that little bit bigger

These are the Seven Wonders of the World. I’ve never been to any of them.

How big is your world?

One of the first children we cared for was nearly four years old when he arrived.

On his second day with us he dutifully held my hand as we headed off to the local park.

It seemed like a fairly ordinary yet potentially fun activity. I tend to think out loud and I wittered on about the size of the park, the swings in the park, parks I’d visited, and began to sing Blur‘s Parklife, even though I didn’t know the words.

The kid offered no opinion on parks when asked. In fact, he was yet to utter a word. Unperturbed, I led him across the final road. This kid was not the first person to ignore my wittering and I thought nothing of it.

As we left the pavement and walked on the grass, he stopped, pointed, and muttered something barely audible.

I looked to see what had caught his attention. I assumed there’d be something remarkable. Perhaps someone was flying a kite, or there was a funfair. I scanned the scene but could see nothing of any particular interest.

It was just a park, a nice park, but just a park, like loads of other parks.

“What dat?”

I followed his eye line and outstretched arm.

The little boy was pointing at a tree.

“It’s a tree.” I touched the tree. I rubbed the bark.

Tentatively he held out his hand and rubbed the rough bark just as I had done.

“Tree…tree…tree…”

It was fairly evident that he’d never seen a tree before, and certainly never touched one.

A couple of birth kids and a foster kid, or as we tend to call them ‘the kids’.

We spent 20 minutes with that tree. We stared at it, we walked around it, we looked up at its height and we felt its bark.

We learnt the word ‘tree’ and then we learnt ‘leaf’ and ‘twig’.

We spent many wonderful hours exploring that park.

We worked out, purely by observation, that he’d never experienced the wonder of television, knew nothing of swimming pools, cinemas, shops, ball pools, or bath time. Quite what he’d been doing for the years before he came to live with us remained a mystery, but we guessed that his world had been very very small.

Over the 15 months he lived with us, we introduced him to all that normal stuff.

We also showed him a world where there was always enough to eat, you’d always be warm, and where people would not hurt you.

Foreign Travel was limited in the 1970s, although most of our Grandfathers had been abroad to fight WWII. Luckily Blue Peter was on hand to take us to exotic places on their summer expedition. Play School’s windows took us to factories, the seaside, and occasionally Wales.

Sometimes fostering is about doing the most simple of things.

Maybe we’ll travel further abroad when we’re older.

But for now, there’s a whole new world at the end of our street, and it’s just waiting to be discovered.

 

Self care…look after yourself!

Middle Class parents in the 1980s thought Grange Hill would be a bad influence on their kids. It wasn’t. Tucker Jenkins and his mates were the only kids in Britain who never actually swore. Name me a more famous sausage!

You can watch Sky TV in every room in our house.

We have The Full Package, including all the kids stuff, Sky Atlantic, Cinema and Sport.

I think we found a way of hiding ‘the grown up channels’, and have Sky Shield to help protect us from any more of that sort of mischief. 

But apart from that, there’s nothing we can’t watch.

We have BT sports, for the Champions League, Bundesliga and some sort of erotic tickling that happens in a cage.

I think it’s called UFC or MMA.

We have Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Disney+.

My iPad and phone has the Sky Sports Go App and the BT Sports App.

I also use my devices to watch the cricket when it’s on Channel 4.

We briefly had what is known locally as a ‘Jaarg Box’, a small device that ‘legitimately’ allowed us to access every TV network in the world.

We decided that whilst not technically illegal, this couldn’t possibly be right so we ditched it.

The picture quality was generally crap too.

All this means, that for just several hundred pounds per month, I can go anywhere I want, and still watch sport.

All sport, and any sport.

To some people, particularly if you’re Middle Class and weren’t allowed to watch Grange Hill as a kid, this will seem extravagantly indulgent and reflect some sort of moral failing on our part.

In Fostering and Adoption, it’s called ‘self care’, and the quicker you find out what works for you the better.

My wife likes reading Maeve Binchy books.

Hiding in the toilet to watch 10 minutes of Test Cricket, or even the IPL, can mean the difference between ‘keeping it together’ and walking away.

Should you be in a plane that is crashing, you, the adult, should put your oxygen mask on before you attend to a child. It is sort of counterintuitive but makes sense.

Be under absolutely no illusion that caring for traumatised children is easy. You will be tested and challenged and provoked. You will meet what appears to be the most illogical of behaviours as a child destroys their possessions, hurts them self or hurts you. This destruction may be verbal or physical, but is almost certainly inevitable.

You have to find a way of looking after yourself .

If you do not, you will at best give up, or at worst retaliate.

Whether it’s TV, reading, making and drinking a cup of tea or eating a large piece of chocolate cake, you need to find what calms you down, restores your soul, and refills your tank. Other metaphors are available. I’d avoid alcohol or anything else deemed ‘recreational’.

And rather like a super fast charger, you need to find something that works quickly. Trauma does not work 9-5, Monday to Friday with 20 days of annual leave.

You have to learn to grab minutes or seconds of ‘self care’ whenever they present themselves.

The Foster Carer or Adopter equivalent of a two week cruise is sitting on the wall outside, and having a ‘quiet stare’, or just having a cry in the toilet.

I have learnt to regulate my heart rate when my adrenaline is sky high. In my imagination, I visit historical battlefields and reenact The Battle of a Waterloo. Imagining a violent battle has become a displacement activity for the violence we have occasionally experienced in our home.

This might not work for you, but please find something that does.

I also try to remember that I didn’t cause the trauma.

If I’d been in charge at The Battle of Waterloo, I’d have kept The Scott’s Greys in reserve, glorious though their charge against The Polish Lancers was. This somewhat irrelevant fantasy helps refresh my mind.

Secondary Trauma, PTSD and generally exhaustion are real.

Writing these blogs helps me.

If they help you, that’s just an added bonus.

Keeping calm in a sea of chaos

I’m waiting for the Van…we’re never early, we’re always late, the first thing you learn is you just have to wait. I hope at least one reader gets this reference.

The Van, that takes The Little Fella to school, arrives between 8.12am and 8.19am.

My wife, or me, or both of us, stand, staring out of the lounge window, scanning the road for its arrival.

It’s an important job.

When the Van arrives, there is a palpable surge in adrenaline throughout our household.

However, no matter how ready we are, no matter what tone we use, no matter what we have spent the morning preparing, we are never quite ready enough to leave the house, with everything that is needed.

Leaving the house is still scary, and needs to be postponed, delayed, or at least turned into a drama.

This daily drama is in fact part of the routine.

Terry, the Van Escort used to be a butcher and has an infinite and encyclopaedic knowledge on sausages. He holds supermarket sausages in very low regard.

We don’t know the name of the driver, but we know he has a penchant for Smooth FM. Once, there was a different driver. He listend to Capital. This caused some consternation.

This short window is one of the most stressful parts of the day.

It’s usually over in minutes.

Today was different.

“Different” rarely bodes well.

Today the Van had not arrived by 8.19am.

It still wasn’t here by 8.29am.

My wife and I began to consider the implications to our own schedules.

We have very very deliberately built “margins” into our life for just an occurrence as this.

We have learnt that we must be flexible und unflappable, at least externally, because The Little Fella can’t.

Corporal Jones would be a rubbish Foster Carer.

I’m an ‘out loud processor’ and my natural inclination is to articulate my thoughts.

Have we missed the Van? Is the Van simply running late? Will the Van be coming at all? Has Terry, on realising that offal rarely swears at you, gone back to being a butcher?

However, I’ve learnt to be quieter and reflect internally.

Sargent Wilson would probably have been a good Foster Carer. His calm insouciance would have been reassuring to a deregulating kid.

If the Little Fella thought we did not know what was going on and expressed this audibly, a tricky situation would be made much worse.

His hyper vigilance was already kicking in as he sensed the normal pattern of events was not being played out.

He began to castrophise. The other ‘Van kids’ popped up on a variety of Social Media Feeds, each adding just a little bit of fuel to the bonfire of uncertainty.

No one had been picked up. Theories began to circulate. Crashes, fires, government shut downs, the fuel crisis, Brexit, COVID, Bojo and rumours of ‘it’s nearly Christmas’ were all put in the mix.

You’ve got to have a Plan. And you’ve got to have a back up plan. In fact, you need several back up plans, and you need to make it look as if whichever plan you go for, was the first plan all along.

“Today, I will drive you to school. You can be in charge of the radio.”

We have found that offering some control helps with regulation.

We got in the car and we drove to school.

We listened to Radio 4.

We listened to a discussion on Wind Turbines.

Who’d have thought that the dulcet tones of The Today Programme would have had a calming effect?

We arrived at school a bit late.

I arrived at work a bit late.

I’m not sure how he’ll get home, but that’s not until this afternoon.

There’s plenty to worry about before then.

Making a difference – one kid at a time

Pretty much every single statistic you read about Looked after Children is miserable and depressing.

According to Google there are 107,163 Looked after Children in the UK.

That’s a few thousand more than last year.

Wembley has an official capacity of 90,000. The remaining 17,163 Looked after Children would have to stand in the stairwells, bar areas, Corporate Boxes and toilet areas.

They’d fill every seat at Wembley and still thousands would be left standing outside.

These kids are more likely to be boys than girls, more likely to be teenagers than little, and disproportionately more likely to be black than white. More importantly none of them have chosen to be in care and I have never met any who wanted to be in care.

The kids don’t go into care, they are sent.

“You’ve no idea what I’ve had to do to get where I am”. Stringer Bell from The Wire is a formidable man. I’d love to know his backstory.

Statistically, a Looked after Child is much more likely to have a Special Educational Need than the rest of us.

A Looked after Child is more likely to be excluded from school, either temporarily or permanently, than the rest of us.

Looked after Children are less likely to pass Maths and English GCSE than the rest of us. I don’t know about Latin. I couldn’t find any statistics but I’m guessing the number is low.

Just like Boris Johnson and David Cameron, I have Latin O’Level. People who don’t understand context, causation and correlation, will assume I will soon be Prime Minister. This is unlikely. Perhaps they’ll foster.

Looked after Children are less likely to do A-Levels, less likely to get good grades, but more likely to complete a prison sentence than graduate with a degree.

Looked after Children invariably leave care at a much younger age than the rest of us leave our family home.

It’s not that they actually choose to leave care, more that ‘Care’ leaves them.

Looked after Children grow up to become something called ‘Care Experienced Adults’.

A disproportionate number of our prison population are Care Experienced.

The people you see sleeping in the street, in doorways and on benches, are more likely to have been in care than not.

Physical health, mental health and life expectancy statistics are all equally grim.

If this all seems a bit anecdotal and emotive for you, please feel free to google some statistics.

If you get confused over Causation and Correlation, have a little think about why the data outcomes are so poor. If you think I’m ‘stigmatising’, have a word with http://www.gov.uk.

Here’s the Good News.

Although I have a very creditable grade in Maths O’Level, I’ve always preferred an anecdote to a statistic.

My personal story beats your theory, your thesis and your theology.

So what about our boy?

We can’t pretend that statistics aren’t real, but we can be the exception.

He’s ‘care experienced’.

He’s lived in several homes.

If he were to play ‘ACEs’ bingo, he’d beat me and I’m pretty sure he’d beat you. He’s a World Champion in sh*t starts at life.

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) is an overly simplistic diagnostic tool to say how rubbish someone’s life is.

But for the last 8 years, he’s only lived with us.

He calls our house his home, and he calls our family his family.

He knows he’ll be living with us for as long as he wants. It may well be that he’ll choose our Care Home. Now wouldn’t that be an irony.

We don’t think he will go to University but we are putting ideas for careers into his brain. Something to do with phones, or nails, or cooking or childcare are all in the mix.

We are saving money to one day help him get a place of his own.

We’ve planted trees and plants and explained that when he’s older they’ll be bigger than him. We talk very casually and very normally about a future that includes him.

We’ve discussed what his kids, should he have any, will call me. Will I be their Granddad or will they call me ‘Phil’ like he does. Who knows and who cares, but these chats tell us that he knows his future is as secure as anyone else’s.

Our boy will be ok.

Whilst there’s breath in our bodies, our boy will be ok.

That leaves 107,162 others.

What are you going to do about them?

The old man in this story comes across as a bit cynical. You have to be over 21 to foster. There’s no top age.

Men can foster

These men drink beer and like football. They also have both taught French, part-time.

“Phil, you come across as very male.”

These were the words of our Social Worker, when she summed me up in our Assessment Form to become Foster Carers.

I wasn’t sure what she meant but as my wife nodded, sagely, I decided to adopt a similar facial expression and nod along too.

I wasn’t sure whether she meant it in a positive or a negative light.

Quite frankly, I didn’t care.

I was just glad our assessment was positive, and we were on our way to becoming Foster Carers.

Back when I was a kid, gender roles were simple, rigid and fairly restrictive.

I’m not exactly sure when gender equality became enshrined in law, but the men and women in my early life all, more or less, fulfilled similar functions.

As a baby, your Mum looked after you, often helped by her Mum, her sisters, and a whole load of other women that you called ‘Auntie’, even though they weren’t.

The teachers at Primary School were mostly women, except for the Headmaster.

Dinner Ladies were women and the caretaker was an old man, usually in dungarees, who smelled of pipe tobacco.

At Secondary School, the teachers were a mix, but there was a pattern.

Science and Maths were usually men.

French teachers were women, and often worked part time.

On the TV, people in charge were mostly men, except for Margaret Thatcher.

“The feminists hate me…and I don’t blame them, for I hate Feminism”. Mrs T was never one for sitting on the fence.

Dads knew about cars, football and barbecues.

Men read the paper and drank pints.

Women did the cooking and drank Gin and Tonic.

Does TV imitate life, or does life imitate TV? Margot and Jerry were from Surbiton, but could have been from anywhere in the Home Counties.

To generalise outrageously, if a job involved caring for people, and wasn’t terribly well paid or well regarded, invariably it was done by a woman.

I think, though we live in more enlightened times, much of this is still true today.

There is still an assumption that a nurse will be female, a mechanic will be male, and a French teacher will be a woman.

Here is Shirley Valentine cooking fried eggs. That means it must be Tuesday.

There is an assumption that a woman will take Maternity Leave.

The clue is in the title.

Shared Parental Leave is catching on, but only slowly.

Society is changing, but The Patriarchy is far from dead.

I’ve done some research and I’ve done some observing and I would say that Foster Carers are more likely to be female than male.

If a married or cohabiting couple foster, it is the woman who is more likely to be the ‘main carer’.

If a single person fosters, they are more likely to be female than male.

There are exceptions, but these are exceptions.

If you are a man who fosters, you may repeatedly find yourself in the minority.

For the first time in your life, you may be ‘the diversity’.

Men, I really wouldn’t let it bother you.

The kids we’ve fostered have not been at all interested in how we have identified ourselves.

They’ve just wanted to feel safe, feel warm, and feel loved.

They’ve not cared that I drink beer and my wife prefers gin.

They have not cared that I’m both a Foster Carer and a French Teacher (part time).

Their only care has been that we have cared for them.

Gender, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, background and ethnicity are all secondary to  character.

We need Foster Carers who reflect every single section of our society.

This is my family with a Foster Kid in the park. What a lovely lovely day.

Collect the Golden Moments

Collect the golden moments, guard them as the precious things they are, write them down, speak of them often, and remember them. Hold them tightly.

I react very badly to inspirational quotes. They make me want to commit grievous acts.

This is not quite a biblical quote, nor is it an inspirational poster or piece of artwork from any modern day equivalent of Athena.

It’s a bit of advice that I got from a friend.

Remembering the golden moments is an act of self-care and survival.

It’s also fun.

Some people count their children’s achievements in terms of GCSES, A Levels, goals scored, ballet moves mastered, and whether they’ve had offers from both Oxford and Cambridge.

We use a different system.

Our system is called ‘Did anything good happen?’.

‘Anything at all?’

The whole day doesn’t have to be better.

In fact, you may have lurched from unmitigated disaster to unmitigated disaster.

But if one tiny tiny positive happened, grab it, and focus on it.

The positive may even be ‘the absence of complete and utter chaos’.

Our house has a porch. We used to use it for prams, buggies, scooters and wellington boots. It is now used almost exclusively to store Amazon parcels.

For example, on this very day, in fact, just now, The Little Man answered the door to The Amazon Delivery Person.

He took the package and said thank you.

He didn’t hold eye contact, or shake hands or become life long friends, but this was undeniably an interaction with a ‘stranger’.

And perhaps of even greater significance, he told me and my wife, individually, with undoubted pride in his voice, and a small grin on his face, what he’d just done.

What a great moment.

He’s been with us exactly 8 years.

He’s 14.

We went to the same sweet shop every Friday after school. It only took about 5 years for The Little Man to feel confident enough to buy his own crisps ‘from the lady‘. He chose Pickled Onion Space Raiders. We were so proud.

First day at a new school for a fostered or adopted kid

We took our ‘first day at school photo’ on day 23. Quite frankly, we didn’t need any extra fuss and emotion.

“I’m not going”.

My wife and I were not surprised that The Little Man didn’t want to go to a new school.

Anything new, anything different, anything out of the ordinary would set his ‘Lizard Brain’ into overdrive.

We’d learnt his preferred response to ‘anything new’ if he was in public was ‘to freeze’ or ‘to flop’.

If a stranger spoke to him, for example in a shop, he’d simply stare until they went away.

It’s quite effective, even if it appears a bit rude.

If the stranger continued to probe, he’d put his hooded anorak over his head.

Anxiety and fear causes The Lizard Brain to go into action. The Lizard Brain keeps you alive when lions and stuff are attacking you.

If he was with us, in our home, he’d fight.

‘Fighting’ could involve biting, kicking, swearing and smashing stuff up.

‘Throwing things’ was pretty popular too.

He had never resorted to ‘flight’.

‘Flight’ would mean he’d be on his own and he was too scared for that.

My wife and I began to hatch a little plan about how we’d handle the first day of term at his new school.

We’d worry about the second day later. There was little point in getting ahead of ourselves!

The first part of the plan had been to casually introduce familiarity.

We’d taken him to his new school for an open day. We’d shown him the school website. We had engaged in as much of the school’s transition activities as possible.

His new school was a couple of miles away and we drove that way a few times over the summer. We didn’t say we were visiting his new school, rather the pub opposite. We popped in for coke and crisps. We played on the slide. We hoped that the area would appear less threatening. We hoped that we would make his ‘first day journey’ less terrifying.

If you’ve experienced massive amounts of trauma and fear, particularly at a young age, your amygdala will kick in very quickly, often when it’s not warranted.

We hardly mentioned school at all over the summer holiday.

We knew there’d be questions we couldn’t answer, and we knew that would add to the anxiety.

We bought school uniform and equipment via the internet.

We had decided that  his new school bag would in fact be his brother’s old school bag.

We’d negotiated with his school, that contrary to some regulations, he’d be packing a variety of fidget toys and favourite phone cases.

The Little Man knew this was happening but we made as little a deal out of it as possible.

We hid our own fears and anxieties.

We only discussed what we’d do in whispered tones when he was busy watching YouTube clips with his headphones on.

He had some trust in us.

He didn’t need to know that we didn’t know everything, although he probably had his suspicions.

On the ‘big day’, we divided the tasks.

We decided I’d be responsible for getting him ‘there’ on the first morning.

If that went successfully, I’d be responsible for bringing him ‘back’.

We knew he’d respond best if only one person was in charge.

We knew we’d respond best if only one of us had to make the decisions.

Everyone else’s task was to keep out of the way.

We kept everything as low key and as unemotional as possible.

As our birth kids and my wife left the house on that September morning, we avoided any overt show of emotion or goodbyes.

We did not take a ‘first day photo’ on the ‘first day’.

With just the two of us in the house, we got dressed, we ate breakfast, and we watched Paw Patrol.

“We are going now. You can sit in the front or in the back of the car. It’s your choice.”

I knew that giving him some autonomy may help calm him.

“I’m not going”.

His response was the one I’d dreaded but I didn’t let my face show it.

I got the car keys, opened the front door and turned the alarm on.

I left the house and got in the car.

My face was still impassive.

As the 30 second beep countdown urged us to leave the house, he appeared at the front door, walked to the car and got in beside me.

“Please be in charge of the radio”.

He chose the familiarity of Radio 2.

Astute readers will have noticed that whilst our house alarm was on, our front door was still open.

This was a risk I was willing to take.

The seven minute journey to school passed without incident.

I chose not to speak.

I let Chris Evans and Coldplay fill the silence.

On arrival, there was another minor stand off.

He didn’t want to get out of the car, so I just got out and walked away.

I was pretty sure he’d follow me and I was right.

As we reached his classroom door I handed him my phone.

“I will meet you here when school ends. You can give me my phone back then”.

A few hours later I met him at the appointed time and place.

He returned my phone with a nod.

When he wasn’t looking, I took the SIM card out of my ‘back up phone’ and slid it back into the phone that he’d been minding for me all day.

I’m not completely daft!

Sowing a cross onto a child’s jumper and your own jumper is a good way of giving them a visual connection to you, and a reminder that you are thinking of them

 

 

 

 

 

 

Going on holiday with foster kids and adopted kids

We were going on holiday.

The sun doesn’t always shine brightly and the sea isn’t necessarily blue. Get excited, but keep your expectations realistic!

The evidence was clear.

Sun cream, swimming goggles and phones chargers were being piled up on the kitchen table.

Flip flops, buckets and spades, and a snapped body board had made their annual migration from the shed to the hallway.

The Little Man had been to the phone shop four times, and was keen to go again.

We’d learnt that repeated demands to visit Dr Mobile, a 10 minute walk away, was a clear sign of stress.

Four trips, with another on the horizon, suggested we were peaking at ‘maximum anxiety’.

Whilst my wife and our birth kids made preparations for a week at a well known seaside caravan park, I patiently made the journey to look at phone cases again, and again, and again, and again.

The Little Man loved the seaside.

He loved the sea, and the slot machines, and the shows, and the battered sausages.

But he didn’t like change.

In the world of fostering and adoption, change of any type is known as a ‘transition’.

We’ve stayed in static caravans all over the UK and the continent. We have needed special permission to take foster kids abroad. One foster kid hated the extra scrutiny at the airport. He just wanted to be treated like everyone else.

Any transition, or change from the routine and ‘norm’, even to do something nice, can lead to deregulation and absolute chaos.

Adults are also likely to be somewhat on edge and this can be picked up by a kid and magnified.

I’m yet to meet a Foster Carer or Adopter who hasn’t thought that the whole ‘holiday experience’  is not worth the bother.

We firmly believe our kids deserve the same experiences as every other kid, and this means leaving where you live and visiting somewhere else.

We’ve been on holiday all over the UK, and when legally possible, taken foster kids to Spain and France.

We’ve learnt to do what works and swerve what doesn’t.

We explain roughly where we’re going and what we will be doing.

We avoid giving too many details, as this can be held as evidence against us if plans change.

The Little Man, like so many others who have experienced significant trauma, can rarely be described as ‘flexible’.

If we say we’re going to the beach, then that’s what he expects to do.

No mitigating factors still be accepted if the advertised plan changes.

We take familiar things with us.

France is known for its Haute Cuisine but we still pack several parks of noodles from Poundland.

We load iPads with favourite programmes.

We pack as many teddies, phone cases, and other familiar toys as are desired.

We walk a fine line between trying to broaden horizons and doing what works.

Caravan parks are generally very similar. The familiarity brings a sense of calm. We’ve found that booking  a similar caravan, whether in Yorkshire, Wales or Brittany makes everything that little bit easier.

We often go on holiday with friends who are also Foster Carers or Adopters.

It’s great to be with people who have the same expectations as we do.

It’s great to be with people whose eyes are full of sympathy rather than judgement, whilst you’re managing a meltdown in the queue at a Pay and Display Car Park.

Our expectations may be modest by some standards.

We eat out, but generally avoid your Michelin Star Restaurants, and anything else that may be referred to as ‘fine dining’.

We preferr ‘Eat all you can buffets’ or Burger King.

Buffets provide you with a legitimate reason to wander about and the service tends to be quicker.

At Burger King you also get a free hat.

I also think there’s a beauty in simplicity.

We are unlikely to go white water rafting or exploring the Serengeti anytime soon.

We will not be contributing to the wealth of The Casino owners in Vegas.

The Great Barrier Reef will have to cope without my family poking about it’s nether regions.

Contrary to what the Holiday Industry would have you believe, you don’t have to travel far or spend a lot of money to find beauty.

However, we have built a system of sea defences and sand castles that briefly defied the waves of The North Sea before being washed away.

We have spent a very pleasant hour looking for lost coins under the slot machines in Rhyl, and then a further hour reinvesting our hard found cash in the Penny Falls, providing a cost neutral activity.

A smart kid with small hands can easily make £5 finding coins under slot machines! They may also find chewing gum, hair bobbles and bits of fluff.

We have spent an entire afternoon exploring a solitary rock pool just south of Filey, armed only with a bucket, spade and a net sellotaped on to a piece of bamboo.

Our best find was a ‘hermit crab’.

I explained to the Little Man that such crabs have no shell of their own.

They have to find an empty shell.

They adapt and squish their body shape to fit inside.

Then, they are safe.

He looked at me and I looked at him and we had one of those golden moments.

Hermit crabs must occupy shelter produced by other organisms or risk being defenceless. That’s a bit like being a foster kid. Obvs!

He’s not one for metaphors, but we both knew what the other was thinking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How many kids have you fostered?

I miss Granstand’s Viddy Printer. If a score was ridiculously improbable, the BBC would confirm by writing it out in full:- Crystal Palace 0 Brighton 9 (nine).

I often sense disappointment when I tell people we’ve fostered the grand total of 7 (seven) children.

Large numbers sound so much more impressive.

I’ve stopped giving the number of kids.

Instead I give the following data:-

4 days and nights

2 days and nights

4 hours

465 days and nights

6 days and nights

186 days and nights

2860 days and nights, plus how ever many days and nights it’s been since I wrote this blog.

There are lots of different types of fostering:-Emergency

Short Term (also known as Part Time)

Respite

Short Break

Long Term

Our Little Man is in the ‘More or Less Forever Category’

The kid on the left came on a Short Term basis ‘to see how it goes’. Nearly 8 years later, he’s still here and not going anywhere, anytime soon.

Celebrate everything! Self Esteem needs to be built, brick by brick.

“He’s doing very well. He’s genial and has a great sense of humour”. I knew all those hours watching Porridge wouldn’t be wasted.

My own school reports were not always entirely positive.

Back in the 1970s, ‘praise’ was a rare commodity and the great British understatement reigned supreme.

“Not bad” was about as good as it ever got, although ‘not as annoying as your brother’ came a close second.

It was our Little Man’s Parent’s Evening.

Perhaps because he’s autistic, and definitely because he’s 14, the Little Man does not tell us much about what happens at school.

We know the names of some of his classmates and we know that ‘Sir’ is generally regarded as the source of all wisdom and knowledge.

We know he’s highly unlikely to do GCSES anytime soon, and we’re currently not saving up for him to go to University.*

More importantly for us, he goes to school willingly and fairly cheerfully.

We occasionally get some grumpiness and a smidgen of swearing in the morning, but it’s usually aimed at the unaccountable disappearance of his school shoes or his school bag, rather than us.

He’s neither at the top, nor at the bottom of his class in any particular subject or area.

In 1980, Kool and the Gang encouraged us to celebrate. We take their advice whenever we can.

He’s at his happiest doing Design and Technology or completing a project on an iPad.

His teachers don’t ignore what he can’t do easily.

He knows a little bit about the correct placement of apostrophes, and is aware that triangles, circles and squares all have an ‘area’.

Praising a traumatised kid is like chucking bricks into Loch Ness. It can look like absolutely nothing is happening for ages and ages, but eventually you’ll break the surface tension.

More importantly, his teachers find the things he’s good at.

They know the key to learning is building his self esteem.

They know he struggles with public praise, or in fact anything that brings him attention, but with a quiet word, a facial expression or an understated thumbs up, they tell him ‘well done’.

Self esteem is rarely, if ever, innate.

It must be built, brick by brick.

If a child has experienced trauma, and being removed from birth parents is trauma regardless of any other Adverse Childhood Experiences, self esteem is likely to be low or non-existent.

Naches: A Yiddish word meaning you’re happy and proud, especially of someone’s accomplishments.

Academic qualifications are useful, but believing yourself to be ‘valuable’ is vital if you are to successfully negotiate life.

Everyone is valuable, because they are.

*I think Looked after Children are exempt from University fees. I don’t think this is true for adopted kids.