Grief – it’s the price we pay.

“A life without struggle, is a life without colour”. You will grieve one way or another. You will grieve sooner or later.

We didn’t hug Him.

He still didn’t like physical affection, even though he’d learnt to trust us.

We knew this day was about Him.

We didn’t exactly know what He would be feeling but we knew He’d be struggling.

We all were.

I don’t know what you’re supposed to feel and how you’re supposed to react when you go and live with a new family.

We’d fostered this Little Kid for 15 months.

He’d arrived aged 3 years 7 months and was ‘toilet trained, a good sleeper, doesn’t say much’.

His adoption has been a few months in the paperwork and the planning. He’d had two weeks of introductions to His new family, and had already had a sleep over in His new home.

Today He was moving to their home, or rather to His home, for good.

We’d got on pretty well with his adoptive parents and we thought we’d probably be able to keep some contact with them.

This ball however, was entirely in their court, and we knew we may never see the Little Kid again.

It was a Tuesday.

Our front door closed and the Social Worker drove Him away.

We watched them disappear and burst into tears.

It was like a funeral and a birth all rolled into one.

I went to work.

Our birth kids went to school.

My wife went to work.

I guess there was a spare seat in his Reception Class where He’d been sitting for a term.

‘Say hello, wave goodbye’. My favourite Soft Cell song is their cover version of Tainted Love.

I remember the next few days were ones of relief.

The transition to adoption had gone as smoothly as it can, but it’s still a tense time.

We were all physically and emotionally exhausted.

Dealing with such exhaustion is relatively easy.

We relaxed.

We slept, we went to the cinema, we ordered take away, we watched TV.

We watched whatever we wanted on TV.

This was an exciting novelty, although I did once find myself watching Peppa Pig just out of habit.

We went to bed knowing we would not be interrupted by a distressed child in the middle of the night.

When a Foster Kid moves on, you can do whatever you want, more or less.

We knew we’d done a good job, and that gave us a sense of pride.

A few weeks later, we rang our Social Worker and said that we were available to foster again.

We had redecorated the Foster Room.

We were rested and relaxed

I thought I had recovered.

6 months later the grief hit me.

A few other tricky things were going on.

There was some stress at work, I had  a couple of minor health issues, and it seemed to be constantly raining.

Normally, I’d be able to deal with all these things.

This time I couldn’t.

I couldn’t sleep, and I couldn’t eat.

I’m a middle aged, middle class man, who has bumbled through life quite happily.

I did not know what I was experiencing, and certainly did not have the vocabulary to describe it.

My wife is cleverer than me.

She got me to talk.

I talked to her and I talked to a couple of close, wise friends, who just listened.

I began  to explore what I was feeling.

I went to the parks I’d been to with the Little Kid.

I watched the programmes I’d watched with the Little Kid.

I made a Playlist of the songs that reminded me of him.

I did some crying.

I like music, any kind of music. Every kid we’ve fostered has a Playlist. The songs help me remember, help me explore my feelings, and help me grieve.

I looked at photos.

I did a bit more crying.

I began to write down a little bit about what I was feeling.

Some of those writings turned into blogs.

I write my Blogs as a way of processing my feelings. Sometimes people read them . Occasionally people tell me they like them. That’s a bonus.

You’ll grieve one way or another.

You’ll grieve sooner or you’ll grieve later.

Not every Foster Kid has impacted me like that one.

But he certainly left the biggest imprint.

That Kid is happy, healthy and thriving in a loving home.

It was worth it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fostering – is it worth it?

We’ve got a Washing Machine and a separate Dryer.

That’s how posh we are.

They are in what we call The Utility Room.

In The Utility Room, there’s a cupboard full of cleaning stuff, a fairly redundant ironing board, a sink, and a toilet.

Once, one of our Foster Kids went to the toilet.

That’s not that unusual.

What was a bit unusual was he decided  to remove the detergent dispenser from the washing machine and smear his pooh in it, around it and sort of all over it.

Smearing is not that uncommon.

You can learn about it on Foster Carer courses.

However, cleaning smearing is generally not covered, and you’re left to work it out yourself, using whatever comes to hand.

In this case, my hand was the most suitable tool.

The typical Washing Machine has many nooks and crannies.

Only human fingers can really get pooh out of a Washing Machine’s nooks and crannies.

I’d say the excrement was still warm, just below body temperature.

My other blogs will give you an insight into some of the other highs and lows we’ve experienced over the last ten years or so.

On some days, I absolutely cannot believe we have wilfully and deliberately chosen to do this.

The emotional rollercoaster can be both terrifying and exhausting.

I don’t go on Rollercoasters. I get all the adrenaline I need from doing the school run.

There can be aggression, violence, destruction and allegations.

You will be tested.

On other days, I cannot believe the difference we have made to the lives of the children we have fostered.

I once read an article written by a Palliative Nurse.

On retirement she reflected on what she’d learnt from the dying people she’d cared for.

She thought younger people tended to do things they perhaps regretted.

They got drunk, and filmed themselves kissing road cones.

They hurt people needlessly or made career or relationship mistakes.

However on people’s death beds, the Nurse noticed that people regretted the things that they hadn’t done.

They regretted the decisions they had avoided making and the risks they hadn’t taken.

I was walking to the park with a kid. He’d been in and out of care for most of his life. Our home was the most permanent he’d ever known. Out of apparently nowhere, he began to talk.

“Phil, when I am old and you are very very old, what will my kids call you?”

This was a very unusual direction of conversation.

This kid usually lived absolutely in the moment and rarely thought of anything other than ‘now’.

I considered for a moment and we began to discuss possibilities.

“Uncle Phil, Mr Phil, Old Phil….Grandad…”.

We didn’t reach a conclusion but both agreed we would raise the issue again, at a later date.

Lots of little differences add up to make very very big ones, sometimes.

Every day that child is with us he is safe.

This is an improvement on the early years of his life.

By some criteria, he is even beginning to thrive.

He can make toasted sandwiches, put on his own shoes, and find his way to Home and Bargain when he wants to buy sweets and noodles.

Without my family’s decision to foster that might never have happened.

It seems quite likely that we will always be in each other’s lives.

There’s no end to what we might teach each other.

If things follow the natural order, one day, he might go to my funeral.

He might bring his family and his kids.

Perhaps there are people not yet born, who will benefit from our decision to be a family to a kid who didn’t have one.

Heather Smalls once asked me ‘What have you done today, to make you feel proud?’ ‘I’ve looked after a kid’ was my best answer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can religious people foster?

My Mum and Dad took me and my brother to Sunday School when we were kids.

I don’t remember ever not knowing the other kids and the other families at our local church. They have always been part of my life.

I liked going to Church when I was a teenager. I was interested in metaphysical debate and girls. In the 1980s, our local Church provided both.

As kids, we sang songs.

We coloured in.

We listened to stories.

Some of us had parents in the grown up Church.

Some of us were dropped off by parents who went to play golf or to read the paper.

We learnt about Joseph, David, Goliath, Noah, Esther, Christmas and Easter, and that the answer to most questions was ‘Jesus’.

Some of us lived in the same streets, some of us went to the same schools, and most of us went to the same parties.

As we got older, we went out on our bikes and met at the park.

As we became teenagers we explored alcohol and occasionally snogged each other.

Some of us believed what we were taught and became Christians.

Some of us rejected what we were taught and then rediscovered faith at a later age.

Some of us enjoyed the social side and now have nothing to do with any organised or disorganised religion. We probably just celebrate Christmas and eat an egg at Easter.

Many of us are still friends today.

I’m in a Whattsapp group with people I first met in a Church setting. Our friendships have lasted over 50 years.

Mischpoche is a wonderful Yiddish word. It kind of means ‘your family, friends and anyone who has access to your fridge’.

Occasionally we meet up, even though we are scattered across the globe.

Our parents are all ageing now and some have passed away, but many of them provided a community of aunts and uncles for me and my pals.

As a child and a teenager, my Auntie Sue and Uncle Alan (no blood relation) always had the kettle on and always offered cake.

Uncle Guy, Auntie Di, Auntie Eva, Tim, Janice, Pete and Anne, and a lovely old bloke called Frank, all played a formative role in our young lives.

Auntie Brenda ran the tuck shop on a Friday night.

Ken and Margaret still offer us wisdom today, even though many of us are the wrong side of 50, and should probably have got life more sorted than we have.

Many of us recently went to the ‘online funeral’ of the vicar we knew as teenagers.

He supported Norwich FC, but was otherwise a kind and generous man.

My mate Mo is the Mullah at the local Mosque. I haven’t made that alliteration up!

He tells me that in his faith the closest you can get to the Prophet is when you look after an orphan.

My mate Krish, who sometimes does Thought for the Day on Radio 4, tells me that in Christianity caring for the orphan is ‘religion that is pleasing to God’.

Schmuli from the Synagogue tells me the Torah is full of encouragement to care for the orphan.

I haven’t made these people up. I genuinely know them all.

I might not have got the wording exactly right, but to the best of my knowledge, the major religions all encourage believers to look after kids who haven’t got a family.  

Sigmund Freud thought humans created God as a benevolent Father Figure because the world is scary. Believing there’s a benevolent Father Figure seems quite sensible to me.

People of faith can be Foster Carers.

Their Holy Books encourage them to invite the disadvantaged into their home and care for them.

Their place of worship can provide a community, and even an extended family for a child who has become separated from their birth family.

All Foster Carers, whether they be of a faith or no faith, need to meet the standards required to become foster carers.

Whilst you may believe in a higher power, you also need to acknowledge and follow regulations.

Whilst Social Workers are not quite as omnipotent as God, some of them do come pretty close.

All Mainstream Foster Carers need to successfully complete a Form F and pass panel.

Foster Carers can be of any colour, creed or background. Kids generally don’t care, as long as you look after them.

You need to be prepared to care for any children regardless of culture, creed, colour or any orientation.

Fostered children may be happy to attend a place of worship, explore belief, and reflect on all manner of metaphysical issues.

However, a foster child may have absolutely no interest in faith, and that is their choice.

If Birth Parents have a voice, they may not wish their child to be engaged in any religious practice.

Foster Carers need to respect this.

The children in our care are not ours.

Whatever our motivation to care, and whoever has inspired us to foster, we foster on behalf of the State.

 

 

 

EHCP, ADHD, DLA, LAC, and PLAC*

My Mum wasn’t surprised to discover me and my brother fighting over a green fruit pastel when we were kids.

These Fruit Pastels are different colours. This much I know. In fact, that is the full extent of my colour knowledge.

Her father was colour blind and she knew it ran through her DNA, and would be passed on to her kids.

The fruit pastel was in fact orange.

You do tests in Primary School to confirm it, and then you get on with your life.

Coincidentally, my wife carries the colour blind gene too.

Our birth son is colour blind.

Our adopted son isn’t.

He doesn’t share our DNA.

Being colour blind is generally a relatively minor inconvenience.

You can’t be a pilot or an electrician and you have to ask shop assistants if clothes match.

You don’t get extra time in exams or a badge that lets you park near The Asda.

I think my colour blindness is stated in my doctor’s notes.

In the 1970s it was pretty normal to dress like this whether you were colourblind or not.

Our adopted son may have perfect colour vision but he does have some other additional needs.

Numerous children we have fostered have had additional needs.

This is born out by statistics.

Kids in care, or who have been in care, are far more likely to be neurodiverse than kids who aren’t or who haven’t.

Dyslexia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia, ASD, ADHD and numerous other three letter acronyms are far far more prevalent in our LAC and PLAC communities.

I found this information on the Internet via The Department of Education website. I’m pretty sure it is true.

Whether you foster, adopt or got your kids via more traditional methods, working out that they’re neurodiverse, getting a diagnosis and the necessary support is a challenge, ‘challenge’ being a euphemism for a Herculean task of epic proportions, that will almost certainly drive you mad.

Getting the support and help for your child is no easy task. You need to be clever and doggedly determined. Find people on Social Media who have fought the same battles and get advice.

We’ve been to our wonderful local Kids’ hospital more times than I can count, and I can count quite high.

It’s newly completed, purpose built, light, airy, with TV screens showing Dr Ouch on a loop.

It has a resident magician and celebrities regularly pop in to cheer everyone up.

If you want to find out if your kid has autism, you have to go to the ‘old building’.

Navigating the old building is some sort of parental test.

Dark, dilapidated corridors with out of date signage eventually lead you to a Waiting Room, but only for those willing to persevere, for those who will not give up on their child, and who are doggedly determined.

The staff are gorgeous, but you only know that if and when you find them in Reception.

This is a good analogy for accessing help for your child.

It’s hard work.

It can be a full time job.

It’s exhausting and can be exasperating.

Our little man was taken to a separate room for his tests.

I knew this wouldn’t bode well.

At the time, his separation anxiety was particularly acute, and being with strangers in a strange place sent him straight into his ‘lizard brain’ or ‘amygdala’ if you’ve been on a course.

He basically froze, and stared.

20 minutes later, we were reunited.

I bought him a Meal Deal as a treat.

Chicken with stuffing, quavers and an orange drink.

It’s not always the same, but it usually is.

It took several appointments and lots of paper shuffling to get an autistic diagnosis.

My emotional reaction was mixed.

Practically, this diagnosis would help us access what he needs and what he’s entitled to.

The autistic diagnosis has helped us get him an EHCP (Educational Health Care Plan) and then DLA (Disability Living Allowance).

On the other hand, ‘An autistic diagnosis’ really doesn’t tell you very much.

We already knew he liked routine and felt reassured by the familiar.

If you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person.

I should also point out that my wife does the form filling in our house.

Without Mrs Watson’s tenacity, logical mind, massively high levels of literacy, and ability to understand ‘the language of bureaucracy’, our kid would be lost in a system.

I have never filled out a form successfully in my life.

Our Social Worker once asked if I had a diagnosis for ADHD and directed me to an online diagnosis tool.

I started the test, got bored, and went off to do something else.

 

I used to be an Export Sales Manager. I have loads of O’ Levels, A Levels, Degrees, and a Masters in the Administration of the European Union, but I can’t fill out forms without making a mistake.

There are some things this kid struggles to do.

Meeting and interacting with strangers is high up on the list.

But is this a rational fear based on the trauma of his early life or part of his neurodiversity?

I don’t know.

Recently I asked him to tidy his room, again.

He said he was busy.

When asked again, he said he couldn’t.

Apparently, and I quote him verbatim ‘my autism is playing up’.

* I was going to do a glossary but CBA.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What are Foster Carers like?

In 1986, I went to an Anti-Apartheid Rally on Clapham Column.

Pretty much everyone ended up thinking Nelson Mandela was great, but Apartheid was tolerated and even supported by many people, who, quite frankly, should have known better!

Our aims were to demand the release of Nelson Mandela, smash the racist, oppressive regime in South Africa and raise global issues of injustice and inequality.

At the time, these goals seemed utterly unattainable.

I was also interested in seeing The Style Council, Sade, Gil Scott-Heron, Billy Bragg and Big Audio Dynamite.

Sting was there too.

What a brilliant line up! I don’t remember all the bands. Perhaps I was busy trying not to be arrested.

It was a sunny day and a chance to hang around with my mates.

I quite enjoyed travelling up on the train from our slightly more salubrious suburb. I don’t think I’d ever been to Clapham before.

It was an adventure.

I remember carrying a placard which professed my support for the ANC, an organisation with which I was not fully familiar.

I was given a phone number of a pro bono lawyer should I be arrested.

I found the whole day exciting, inspiring and just a little bit dangerous.

I’m not sure my Mum knew where I was.

Although I didn’t have a full understanding of international politics, it was abundantly clear to me that Apartheid was an abhorrent regime.

I came back high as high as a kite, with a feeling that I’d been part of something important, possibly world changing.

I enjoyed the feeling of making a difference, even if it was minuscule.

A few family members questioned my politics deciding I was at best naïve, and at worst some sort of Communist.

The London Borough of Sutton has never been known for its radical politics.

I just thought I was, more or less, in the right.

I was 15.

35 years later, my wife and I applied to become Foster Carers.

Although she’d never been on an Anti-Apartheid March, we both shared  a similar streak of justice, and a desire to make some sort of difference to society.

She’d seen The Style Council live.

I’ve always enjoyed music that makes political or social statements. My kids have tried to get me into Dave. I do like his lyrics.

Her favourite album was ‘Our Favourite Shop’.

On the surface, Foster Carers are a mixed bunch.

We come from a variety of backgrounds, cultures and creeds.

We represent all sorts of sexual orientations and domestic set ups.

Some of us are quite tall.

My wife is quite short.

However, I think all Foster Carers share a few character traits.

Invariably, we have an acute sense of justice and a desire to make a difference.

We may not be able to change the whole world but we can change the whole world for one kid, or maybe a few kids, if we foster for long enough.

I love this story. Never underestimate the difference you can make.

Whether driven by faith, altruism or both, every Foster Carer I’ve ever met has been driven by a deep desire to help the most vulnerable in our society, namely the child in the care of the State.

It’s almost an obsession for some of us.

We’re not as cuddly as you may think, more like a lioness protecting a cub.

Would you mess with this lioness? Of course not. Foster Carers are not dissimilar in their disposition.

I think Foster Carers also tend to be highly relational.

We like being with people, and become energised from being around others, especially those with whom we share a common experience, and a common goal.

There are few more things more fun than sharing ‘stories’ with other Carers, who just get it.

The stories can be hilarious or brutally sad.

Sharing them is therapeutic in itself.

We also enjoy the adventure, and are generally quite happy to not quite know what’s going to happen next.

If a kid has just arrived, or has been with us years, we’re able to make quick assessments of what battles need to be fought and what can be left to another day.

We delight at any progress.

A kid may need to sleep with the light and TV on, but at least we’ve got them sleeping!

Some people enjoy the adrenaline of rollercoaster rides, white water rafting or climbing Everest, but a foster carer can get a buzz from convincing a child that 3.00am is a bad time to play tennis and that not all grown ups are dangerous.

Nelson Mandela got released from prison in 1990, and Apartheid eventually ended.

Mandela never sent me a thank you for helping secure his release.

Sometimes doing the right thing is its own reward.

I know all these people. We all foster for the same LA.

 

 

 

 

School – your kid’s teachers may know very little about fostering and adoption.

“In the war, people used duck pond to get what they needed.”

This wasn’t the strangest thing this particular kid had ever said, but I was still curious and asked him to elaborate.

I love this sausage. It’s undoubtedly the most famous sausage in British history.

“There was not enough food.  The Nasty Nazis blowed up the farms and the shops.  Everyone had  had a book of duck ponds.  You swapped the duck ponds for what you needed.”

I experienced a moment of enlightenment.

“Ah yes, ‘duck ponds’, I think they are also called ‘coupons.’”

The little kid nodded as I confirmed what he had learnt.

“In WW2, if you didn’t have duck ponds you’d have starved to death”. This is not the weirdest thing I’ve ever heard.

This six year old had arrived at our house on a Friday afternoon.

We’d known for a week or two that he was coming.

It wasn’t safe for him to continue attending his Primary School, and one of our tasks was to find him an appropriate educational establishment.

Evacuees! The school curriculum is full of potential triggers for a kid who doesn’t live with their birth parents.

For us, the most logical choice was the same Primary school that our birth kids attended.

The logistics made complete sense.

Instead of taking  two kids to school, we’d take three.

Instead of making two packed lunches, we’d make three.

Instead of picking up two kids, we’d pick up three.

The school was rated “Good” by Ofsted and had served our birth kids well.

We knew the teachers, the TAs and had friends scattered throughout the year groups.

We knew the Headteacher and we knew, that as a Looked After Child, our new little man had every right to attend the school.

We got him a place and he started on the next Monday, escorted into the Infant Yard  by his newly acquired older brother.

The Primary School was three form entry and is situated in a fairly densely populated area of a large Northern City.

Kids attend from a variety of backgrounds and cultures.

The staff and TA are used to dealing with kids with all sorts of histories and all sorts of aspirations.

I think for this particular Looked After Child, the diversity was very helpful.

If he could fit in anywhere, he would fit in here.

And this Mainstream Primary worked for him.

He was not the only Looked After Child.

He was not the only child with additional educational needs.

Talk to your child’s school about your child. This is the best book I’ve read about education and attachment.

The SENCO knew something about Attachment Trauma, and was very willing to learn more.

The TAs were so child centred, that he immediately felt safe with them.

I like to think we also played a role.

We, especially my wife who is very good at this sort of thing, did all we could to keep the school up to speed on what was happening at home.

We explained that whilst he may be ‘perfectly behaved at school’, we were often on the receiving end of ‘an explosion of emotion’ as soon as he walked through our front door.

His teachers nodded when we told them, and acknowledged what we were saying as true.

This validation was important to us.

Perhaps the teachers didn’t fully understand everything, but they were very willing to learn.

The teachers reflected on how and what they taught him.

We received an email from his class teacher;

‘Hi, just to let you know…we will be learning about evacuees as part of our WW2 topic. We will be learning about kids leaving their homes and their families to live with strangers. We hope this doesn’t cause you any problems at home. Please get in touch if you want to discuss further.’

What fantastic empathy.

We knew the school was the right choice.

The school curriculum is full of potential triggers for a child who doesn’t live with Birth Family.

Bring in a baby photo.

Draw your family tree.

Draw your family tree and label it in French.

Why are your eyes the colour they are…let’s learn about genetics and DNA.

Let’s read a story about some evacuees who go and live in a big old house, find a cupboard, and discover a parallel universe.

Our school production is Oliver Twist…’consider yourself one of the family’.

Schools cannot avoid these issues, but they can be aware of them, and try and deal with them sensitively.

Alongside the curriculum, schools provide pastoral support.

Schools can be full of systems to ensure order and good behaviour, but can in fact bring shame and chaos.

Charts displaying progress or poor behaviour can bring enormous deregulation to a kid who’d rather disappear.

Our birth kid taking a foster brother to school for his first day. We later discovered our son had organised a rota ‘to check in the little fella in the Infant Yard.’

The same charts can encourage a kid to play up, so desperate is their need for attention.

‘Better to be on the naughty list than no list at all.’

Very few teachers receive training in knowing the difference between Fostering, Special Guardianship Orders and Adoption.

Very few teachers receive training in Attachment Disorders and the associated issues.

In 24 years as a Mainstream Teacher I’ve never received any.

I’ve no idea how many adopted or fostered kids I’ve taught, and I’m sure I’ve made many mistakes. However, if we can all keep communication clear, open and honest, with reasonable expectations, our kids will do the best they can.

If you’re a Foster Carer or Adopter, you may well find yourself as the teacher of these teachers.

I hope your child’s teachers are happy to be taught.

Birth Parents – is what I feel helpful?

We’ve only ever fostered one baby.

He was a smiley little chap with absolutely no fear of strangers.

“I believe in life, and I believe in love, but the world in which I’m living keeps trying to prove me wrong”.

His apparent joy at being held and cuddled by absolutely anyone, whilst endearing, was in fact a sign of concern.

He had no ‘Primary Attachment’, no sense of ‘Stranger Danger’.

He’d been passed from pillar to post, or more accurately, he’d been left in the care of so many people, that he did not differentiate between adults.

He didn’t sleep for more than 40 minutes at a time.

To say this was gruelling was an understatement, especially as we had two other Primary Aged children in the house, I was a full time teacher, and my wife was working part time for the Council.

We were only ever ‘temporary’ and our Social Worker explained that I should take him to a Nursery a few miles from our home and hand him over.

The Nursery was expecting him.

My tiredness perhaps disguised the tears in my eyes as I handed him over to a Nursery Nurse.

I knew we couldn’t look after him, but I knew he’d definitely been safe with us, if only for a few days.

I didn’t know where the Care System would take him next, but I prayed and hoped he’d find a forever home.

I went to work, taught for six hours, went home, and went to bed.

We found ourselves ‘in between placements’ and thought we’d enjoy a few days calm before we got ready ‘to go again’.

I was therefore somewhat surprised to see our Social Worker’s car outside our house when I came home from work a few days later.

Our Social Worker was chatting to my wife in the kitchen.

Snuggled in her arms was the very same baby.

“Birth Mum was meant to pick him up from nursery but she hasn’t turned up and we can’t find her.

I knew you had the cot, the bottles and the other stuff….Could you just manage one more night until we sort something else out?”

It was 6.30pm. 

Clearly we were the most obvious option for this 9 month old.

However, I did express my exasperation at ‘Birth Mum’.

“What kind of an irresponsible, feckless, selfish idiot doesn’t bother to pick up their kid from nursery?”

Our Social Worker nodded, empathised, paused and then explained;

“Birth Mum is 13.”

13 is young to be a Mum.

My Maths and Biology O Levels told me she’d given birth aged 12.

Birth Mum was also in Care herself, although she’d gone missing.

We were told no more, but Mum was clearly a very vulnerable child and very much a victim herself.

It’s a vicious circle. How can you learn to care, if no one cared for you?

Some birth parents commit unbelievable acts of violence and abuse on their children.

Some are just incapable of caring to an acceptable standard, and are more incompetent than malicious.

Most are somewhere in between the two.

A vicious cycle is created as generations of poorly cared for children became poorly equipped parents.

Breaking this cycle falls to The Care System, specifically Foster Carers and Adopters.

Sometimes you feel like a Punch Bag. You’re taking the blows that are intended for a person who isn’t present.

I am in a constant emotional battle with my attitude towards Birth Parents.

We had a kid who had contact with Birth Parents twice a week and, at first, this provided a little oasis of respite for us.

However, the ‘contact book’, by which we communicated became a passive/aggressive battle about the length of his hair and why he said ‘what’ instead of ‘pardon’.

The request for him to bring a ‘Mother’s Day’ card the following week was particularly galling.

Meeting his Birth Family caused him so much emotional turmoil that the ‘post contact kick offs’ made us dread those days.

I found myself resenting the Birth Parents.

The resentment gnawed away at me.

I’d never met these people but I lived with the consequences of their behaviour.

I felt like we were  paying the price for the sins of others, and to a large extent we were.

We were absorbing the hate, the anger and the terror that we did not inflict.

I think it’s perfectly understandable and even reasonable for us to resent Birth Parents.

However, it does us no good.

‘Forgiveness eases the bitterness and the anger.’
If you want inspiration about Forgiveness, read Gee Walker’s story. Her son, Anthony, was killed in a racially motivated attack.

And it doesn’t help the kids in our care.

Behind every kid in care is an individual tale of misery.

On good days, I try to forgive these people who I have never met.

On most days, I just try not to think about them too much.

On some days, I wonder about their life story and what it must be like to lose a child to the Care System. 

Harbouring resentment and hatred is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to get ill.

Trauma begins at conception

This kid absolutely wanted a mobile phone for his birthday.

He was adamant.

He’d researched and selected absolutely, definitely the one he wanted and would keep forever.

It would make his life complete and he’d never ask for anything ever again.

Fostering and Adoption can be a bit like playing Snakes and Ladders, only there’s no ladders, no dice and the board goes up to 1000.

He was 8, and a phone with minimal operations and features seemed like a reasonable gift.

Feel free to disagree.

Grandad was the designated giver.

Birthdays are fraught with emotion, expectation  and adrenaline but we’d learnt through trial and disaster that it was best to keep the whole thing low key.

The phone was handed over and unwrapped.

In spite of the build up, the response from the kid was underwhelming.

We’d anticipated this.

Traditionally, recalcitrant children are forced to mumble a Thank-you to their grandparents on receipt of a present.

I’m sure we have all witnessed this traditional rite of passage.

True to form, the kid took the phone, dropped the age appropriate wrapping paper on the floor and wandered off as if none of us were there.

We all shrugged.

Grandad stayed for a cup of tea, a slice of cake and then said he had to get back to watch Countdown.

Countdown is an old, familiar and reliable friend. It never lets you down.

So far, so good.

Later that afternoon, the Little Kid had taken himself into the garden.

He’d become quite adept at entertaining himself, and we were grateful for this.

He came in without his phone.

He had the look of someone who was not in the mood for either small talk or a deep discussion.

He’d smashed the phone to sh*t, and it lay in pieces on the patio.

Why?

He wanted the phone and he liked phones.

The answer makes sense when you understand his journey.

The Little Kid did not believe he was worthy of a gift, any gift.

His internal narrative went something like this:-

‘My Mum and Dad didn’t love me enough to look after me.

They chose alcohol, drugs, abusive partners and chaos over me.

Therefore, I am not worthy of love.

I am, quite literally, unloveable.

If anyone does something lovely for me it goes against my very core belief, and it simply doesn’t make sense.

Therefore, I will reject love’.

Love is an action, that must be carried out repeatedly.

This would explain why he would invariably destroy anything that suggested he had worth or value.

The furniture in his room, his books, his photos, his toys and his phones all had a limited life expectancy.

Any award certificates from school were ripped to shreds.

This behaviour is not universal amongst kids in care, but I think it’s not uncommon.

Self esteem is invariably low.

This kid was taken into care when he was three.

I think we’d naively thought that the impact of abuse was lessened if a child has no memories of it.

I think it’s a common belief that the earlier a child is removed from a toxic home the better.

I think generally this is true.

But just because something can’t be remembered doesn’t mean it doesn’t have an effect.

In the world of fostering and adoption there’s a view that the first 1000 days of life are crucial.

Contrary to what you may be thinking, this does not take a child up to the age of three.

The 1000 days begins at conception.

The damage that some kids experience starts in their mother’s womb.

I’ve read that the impact of alcohol is worse than the impact of heroin on an unborn child. The body keeps the score.

If she drinks or take drugs, the unborn child is impacted.

The child may be born addicted to alcohol or drugs.

If the mother is the victim of domestic abuse and violence and lives in a toxic world of chaos, her cortisol and adrenaline shoots up, and passes in to her unborn child.

I’m not a scientist (Biology O Level Grade C) but I think my understanding is more or less founded in fact.

The child may emerge from the womb already predisposed to fight or flight with far more adrenaline at their disposal than you or I will ever have.

The idea that the kid won’t remember the abuse because they were too young may be true, but it doesn’t mean that their body hasn’t kept the score.

It’s wishful thinking to believe the child has escaped unscathed.

Couple this damage done in the womb with intense feelings of rejection and low self esteem, and you potentially have a very, very unhappy child.

My understanding is that some of these things can be managed but never fully resolved.

The damage caused by alcohol (foetal alcohol syndrome) is particularly vicious for example.

However, I think you can help a child believe they are worthy of love, and worthy of a phone.

It just takes time, and possibly more patience than you ever thought existed.

In the 1990s somebody noticed that if a pregnant women listened to Mozart whilst eating grapes on the sofa, her baby would be clever and cultured. If this is true, imagine the effect of booze, drugs and violence?

You’ll have to accept destruction, anger and very possibly some violence.

You’ll take a couple of steps forward only for some trigger to send you hurtling back down the Snakes and Ladders Board.

Although glacial, you will make progress.

This last birthday the same kid, now five years older, received a phone for his birthday.

He’s still got it.

It’s six months until his next birthday.

Now, that’s progress.

Control – the seemingly endless battle.

We were going thorough a truly terrible few days.
Relentless anger, door slamming and swearing, and the endless obsession with a need for an expensive IPhone.
Anxiety peaked on the return home from school and lasted well into the evening.
We’d had similar before, but this was worse than usual.
Normally, a different activity, change of scene or even a night’s sleep would ‘reset the clock’ and help us all regulate.
It was gruelling, and rather like The Battle of Britain in World War II, we had no idea if we were at the beginning of the end, or the end of the beginning.
We dreaded the weekend, as the lack of structure just looked like an endless 48 hours of anger management and destruction control.

Wars are exhausting, You never know when they’re going to end.

On Friday evening, the IPhone issue was raised, again.
We’d said ‘no’ for, what we considered to be a very reasonable set of reasons.
In no particular order, these were:

  1. He already had a phone.
  2. He broke everything, absolutely everything, either wilfully or absentmindedly.
  3. He was 11 and too young.
  4. We didn’t have the £853.
  5. You can’t give in to a kid’s tantrums. If you give an inch, they’ll take a mile, and as adults, we were in control. We considered this to be a sacrosanct pillar of parenting.

On Friday evening at 11pm, the battle was still raging.
I’d not been able to watch Gardener’s World or the Snooker.
Things were serious.

In a moment of quiet reflection, whilst hiding in the toilet, I considered the situation.
What we were doing, was not working.
This kid’s stamina and resilience was greater than ours. He had limitless amounts of adrenaline on his side. We were spent.

“I have an idea.” I posited, in the most casual of manners.
“There may be a phone at The Cash Converter. Would anyone like to come with me and have a look?”
The Little Man’s ears pricked up.
“Yes, this may be a solution. We should drive there, this very moment.” ( These weren’t his actual words).
I had banked on this reaction.
“Great. Get your coat and shoes on. We will go now. However, we can’t drive as I’ve had a beer and that is illegal. We will walk, but we must go now.”
The order of what I said was planned and considered.
I knew the urgency would appeal to him.

As long as you aren’t actually after anything specific, there aren’t many shops more exciting than a Cash Converter.

We set off.
I hadn’t had a beer. Drinking and managing anger never ever go well together.
I wanted us to walk and I took the longest route possible.
I knew exercise would dissipate some of the adrenaline in his body.
I’d learnt that on a course.

An hour later, we arrived at The Cash Converter.
It was shut.
I had anticipated this too.
After all, it was 1.00am.
The Little Man kicked the shutter.

“I’ve got another idea. We can make a phone. We have everything we need at home. We can print out a photo of the phone we want. We can use Amazon packaging from the recycling bin. We can measure it all out and cover it in sellotape. Will you help me?”

There are three ways to determine someone’s age; Carbon dating, cut them in half and count the rings, or ask them to name their favourite Blue Peter Presenter.

The use of “we” was important and deliberate.
By 2.00am, we were back home, printing, cutting, sticking and gluing.
I’m no Blue Peter presenter, but what we created was pronounced ‘good enough’.
Every parent of any type needs to know that ‘good enough’ is the only real measure of success.
By 2.30am, we were all tucked up and asleep.

“I don’t know why I’m so obsessed with phones. Maybe there was nothing else to play with when I was with my birth Mum. Or maybe she was always on her phone and ignored me. I’ll never know. There’s no one to ask.” For a kid with an autistic diagnosis, The Little Man can be remarkable astute.

On the following day, Saturday, The Little Man was going to a party.
He’d had an invitation from a kid in his class.
The Penny dropped.
He was scared.
He was scared that there would be strangers at the party.
He was scared that he wouldn’t recognise the food and that he wouldn’t know where the toilet was.
He was scared there might be a dog.
He was scared we would leave him, and he would be alone.

We think certain obsessions, such as phones, are merely subconscious strategies to keep us close during times of anxiety.


The week’s battles had been his attempt to keep us close.
Who had control in this situation?
Me? Us? Him?
No, Fear was in control, fear masquerading as anger.

If you can deal with the fear, the rest, is relatively easy.

Social Workers are (mostly) great

‘I sold my hoover. It was just gathering dust’ Tim Vine doesn’t make fun of his audience, but he’s a fan of fostering!

My wife and I went on a night out.

If you’ve got a good support network you can occasionally do that sort of thing.

We went to see a comedian.

He was pretty funny, but towards the end of his set, he’d clearly run out of material and begun to make fun of the crowd.

He’d picked on a couple of people and done a good job in making them looking silly in front of the 200 strong crowd.

Inevitably, he picked on me.

‘Alright mate, what’s your name and what do you do?’

There’s a temptation to try and be smart when you’re in this situation, but then you’d only look more stupid and you haven’t got a microphone anyway.

It’s best just to suffer being the butt of the joke and smile graciously.

‘I’m called Phil and I’m a Foster Carer.’

The comedian rolled his eyes and looked around the room.

He paused, to build the tension.

‘Typical, just typical. I’m here to make people laugh. People have paid good money to hear some jokes and what happens?…What happens? I pick on a Foster Carer. A Foster Carer. How can I make fun of you? You’re bullet proof. Thanks for all you do.’

I got a round of applause.

I’m a massive show off as you’ll gather from these blogs, and I generally love attention.

Foster Carers, in our experience, are generally highly regarded by society as a whole.

We’re not quite Saints, but if anyone has an insight into what we do, they generally admire us.

We do something that is probably difficult and society benefits.

It’s different for Social Workers.

They appear to be ‘damned’ whatever they do.

They’re either accused of interfering too much and too soon, or not getting involved quickly enough.

If you foster, you’ll meet lots of  Social Workers.

You’ll have one, and any child you foster will have one.

As in all professions, they’ll have time off on holiday, time off sick and sometimes they’ll leave for pastures new.

They’ll be managing a case load.

One Foster Kid called Social Workers ‘ladies with lanyards’. Some of these ladies are men.

A case load means lots of kids, lots of Foster Carers, lots of paperwork and lots of deadlines.

They’ll have gone through pretty rigorous training, and they’ll be supervised by Senior Social Workers.

They’ll also be managing their own relationships, kids, and all the usual domestic stuff that everyone does. 

Sometimes their cars break down and their phone screens smash.

Some are brilliant.

And some are not brilliant.

In our experience, most are good enough most of the time.

If you can, invest in your relationship with the Social Workers.

It’ll be easier for you, easier for them and easier for the kids.

Give them tea and biscuits.

One of our favourite Social Workers was Elaine, although Gerry is a close second.

Elaine spoke in a way I understood.

She didn’t use too much jargon.

She explained things clearly and coherently.

She answered our emails and messages as quickly as she could.

She was patient with me when I didn’t understand what was going on.

Without patronising us, Elaine helped us be better Foster Carers.

She advised us on daily records, training, safeguarding and all sorts of childcare tips.

She recognised that we knew the kids better than she did.

However, she helped us recognise that we are looking after the kids on behalf of the State.

Social Workers, Solicitors, Panels populated by Independent Members, Judges and possibly all sorts of other people would ultimately have the final say about what happens to the kids.

All these people are working within regulations, standards and laws.

No big decision is made by one single person.

The Foster Carer is an important part of the system, but you have to understand that you are just part of the system.

Gerry must also get a nod.

Gerry liked his tea with a splash of milk and would eat any biscuit he was offered. I respected his low maintenance approach.

He was one of our Foster Kid’s Social Workers.

He’d developed a pretty good relationship with the kid which was no mean feat.

Gerry and I were chatting in the posh lounge about progress and care plans.

It’s always tricky to chat about a kid when they’re in the house, and they’ve worked out that they’re the focus of the discussion.

The lounge door flew open, and a kid appeared, brandishing a potato masher in a threatening manner.

I don’t know how much damage you can do with a potato masher, and quite frankly I don’t want to find out.

‘What are you saying about me?’

Gerry looked at me, and I looked at him.

According to the chain of command, Gerry was in charge, but Gerry knew I was far more likely to be able to deescalate the situation than he could.

Gerry took control, but gave me authority.

‘It’s not a secret. Would you like Phil to explain? He will probably do a better job than me.’

Within a few minutes, the utensil was back in the kitchen and the kid was satisfied with our answers.

Gerry and I had worked together well.

Gerry respected me and I respected him.

That’s when fostering works best.