“Hello, my name’s Pam. Put the kettle on and let’s have a chat. I want to know everything about you. Leave nothing out”.
Pam, our Assessing Social Worker, was nosey for a living.
She poked around our house advising on what was potentially dangerous and making predictions about what would almost certainly be broken should we be allowed to foster.
‘I can just imagine a four year old with ADHD sending these ornament flying’ she said, almost gleefully. These ornaments were in fact Napoleonic figurines, but any balance of power was yet to be established and my wife had advised me to ‘be as quiet as possible’.
Pam was impressed with our house.
‘It’s a home. It’s warm. It’s clean, You’ve got a spare room. Any child will feel safe here and be safe here.’
Pam wanted a variety of smoke detectors to be dotted about the house, and had meticulously toured our modest garden looking for ponds, and any other ‘bodies of potentially hazardous water’.
We needed to put a lock on our bathroom cabinet and make sure all cleaning products were out of harm’s way.
House inspection over, Pam settled down at our kitchen table.
‘We need to fill out a Form F. It’s not really a Form, more of a book actually. A book about you. I’ll then advise a Panel of people as to whether I think you can foster’.
Pam really did want to know all about us.
Her first questions were about our upbringing and our families.
My Mum and Dad moved into a house in 1975, and they still live there.
If I visit my Mum and Dad’s I sleep in the same bedroom I had when I was in Infant School.
The wallpaper is different and the radiator now works, but a lot is still the same.
They still have a VHS video recorder in the ‘posh lounge’.
Our kids have played hide and seek in the same cupboards as I did when I was their age.
Our kids climb the very same trees I used to climb in the 1970s.
I’m from a very very stable background, teetering perhaps, on boring.
‘So why do you want to foster?’ asked Pam
‘Altruism’, I answered. ‘I just think it’s a good thing to do. I’ve always known stability and I want to share it. I believe helping other people is good’.
Pam nodded and wrote it all down.
There is no right reason to foster, but you do need to have a reason.
You may have been in care, have worked in education, have grown up in a family that fosters, or you may have very little experience of the Care System.
You may be motivated by faith and have a history of charitable good works. Or you may not.
The main thing is, you need to have thought about it.
You need to have thought about how you’ll practically fit looking after a kid into your life. There are numerous practical and emotional considerations.
Could you get a kid to a Primary School in the morning?
Could you cope with a kid who is so traumatised that they’ll wet the bed again and again again?
How might you react to a four year old getting in your face and telling you to F*ck off?
How would you react if he did the same to your wife?
You cannot possibly be prepared for every scenario.
Fostering is an enormous test of character.
You won’t really know how you’ll react until it happens.
And ‘it’ will happen, probably at 4.00am, when you’re exhausted.
In my experience, and there’s some research about this, most foster carers have an acute sense of justice. We are flexible in our approach to problem solving and are generally very relational. We are all ever so slightly crazy, but in a good way.
Pam wanted to know we were safe, we’d do our best, we’d listen to advice, we weren’t stupid, and we weren’t naïve.
I think Pam visited us about 8 times in total.
She liked her tea with milk, no sugar, and was partial to a hobnob, plain, no chocolate or anything fancy.
Our Form F was eventually packed with information.
Pam learnt that we had gay, deaf and BAME relatives.
She knew we’d never been married and had no serious previous partners.
She raised an eyebrow when we told her we’d already paid off our mortgage, but was happy to tick the ‘financially stable’ box.
She interviewed our kids to make sure they had at least some idea of what was going on.
She had references from employers, friends and relatives.
She knew we had clean criminal records, didn’t smoke, and she didn’t seem too bothered that my Medical said my BMI was one point off ‘obese’.
There were only a few things left to do.
One of them was to go on a Skills to Foster Course.
‘What’s one of them I said?’
‘Well, I’ve booked you in to the next one, so you’ll soon find out’ said Pam.
I like to think I got on pretty well with Pam.
Other than my wife, I think she knows more about me than anyone else.