Letterbox Contact: Just because you haven’t got a family, doesn’t mean you haven’t got a family.

Pretty much every male in our family is colour blind. It’s in our DNA. Our adopted son has perfect colour vision. This is akin to a super power and we are in awe of him.

Fostered and adopted kids have a relationship with their birth family.

They may have been ‘removed at birth’.

They may have no recollection of ever meeting them.

They may hate them.

They may eulogise their memory.

They may never mention them and resist any attempt to revisit their past.

However, birth family exist, even if they’ve passed away.

Birth family exists for Foster Carers and adopters too.

Once or twice a year, we receive Letterbox Contact Letters from Birth Family.

The Birth Family send their cards to a Social Services Office.

A Social Worker opens the cards, checks them, and then repackages them in special Council envelopes.

The cards are sent on to us.

We recognise the cards when they arrive, and tend to open them when the relevant child is not in the vicinity.

We are meant to get one at Christmas and one at Birthday.

They tend to arrive not quite on time.

Some of what is written is redacted, which basically means scribbled out and made illegible.

The card or letter can give no clue as to how birth family could be contacted.

First names rather than ‘Mum and Dad’ are used.

There are declarations of love.

I’ve no idea what Birth Family are meant to write and how they’re meant to write it.

It must be awful for them.

Apples don’t fall far from trees. However, occasionally the soil is not quite right, and the apple must be taken away and planted somewhere else.

It may be easier for us to demonise the Birth Parents and consider them as evil.

But they’re clearly not.

A judge, representing us all, decided they could not look after their child, so he came to live with us. We have decided to trust the system and look after him as best we can.

I’ve no idea how a child in care or one who has been adopted is meant to respond to these cards.

We write occasional return letters giving the most cursory of information.

‘He’s happy and he is safe and he likes school.’

Even this simple, innocuous statement, seems loaded with judgement and condemnation.

There is no social etiquette for this scenario.

Occasionally, the Little Man will turn the information about his past into a collage on his wall. 

He has turned a photo of his Birth Mother into a screensaver.

He has turned a photo of his Birth Parents into a screen case.

He has also ripped every photo to shreds and set them on fire.

We’ve learnt to make a digital copy of absolutely everything.

At the moment, there is nothing in his room or in our home to tell a visitor that he has another family.

This may change tomorrow, or next month or next year, or maybe never.

On one occasion, we got a much larger package than usual.

The package was from Social Services, and contained a large amount of ‘life story work’.

There were photos, reports and letters.

I assume this information had been languishing in a filing cabinet, in a store room, in an office, in a Council Building for some time.

My wife and I  learnt many of the details of the Little Man’s early life.

We suddenly had a couple of baby photos, and some slightly sharper photos of birth family.

The resemblances were clear, and we could see he had his mother’s eyes and father’s hair.

In another scenario we’d have cooed about the likeness and similarities.

We’d have celebrated the strength of DNA and said something about ‘apples not falling far from the tree’.

We learnt he was named after a contestant on a Reality TV Show.

Fly casual! It’s very hard to know when it’s a good time to introduce information about a child’s past. Predicting the response is even harder.

We learnt we’d been pronouncing his name correctly.

This was something of a relief.

The decision to show Letterbox Contact materials to a child is not straightforward.

Birth parents have sent this information.

Does a child not have a right to see it and know it?

But what if it triggers a deep visceral reaction? What if the reaction is so angry that rooms are destroyed, adults are assaulted, and self harm is attempted?

In whose interests are we acting?

It was in the middle of the summer holiday when we received this Lifestory Package.

We decided it was a good time to show The Little Man.

There was no school run in the morning and no routine restricting the time we could spend with him, as we considered what his reactions may be.

This was as good a time as any.

‘We’ve had a letter from Social Workers. It is about you. Would you like to see?’

There was definitely curiosity, but no excitement.

No tears.

Just dry eyes as the information was processed.

Most of us want to be like the rest of us.

The Little Man turned the photos into a little shrine in our bedroom.

That night, he decided he wanted to sleep in our room, and built himself a nest of duvets, blankets and pillows.

This was new behaviour, but we went with it.

As we drifted off to sleep, he began one of his monologues.

To no one in particular, he said;

‘I am here, in my bed, between all my parents.’

Can Foster Carers have a job?

Kid: “Phil, where do you keep going?”

Me: “What do you mean? When?”

Kid: “In the morning, you put on a yellow coat, and you go out of the house.  Where are you going?”

Me: “I am going to work.”

Kid: “And when you come back to the house, where have you been?”

Me: “I am coming back from work.  I go every day from Monday to Friday.”

Kid: “Why?”

Me: “I go to work to earn money to pay for the food, and the WiFi, and the electricity.  I go to work because I said I would, and I go to work because, on most days, I quite like going.”

Long thoughtful pause.

Kid: “What if you don’t feel like going?”

Me: “Sometimes I don’t feel like going, and if I am ill, I wouldn’t go in, but if I don’t go, I’ll be letting people down. Who will teach the kids if I don’t turn up?”

Getting up, getting dressed, and managing a morning routine is an important life skill. I cycle to work, whatever the weather, because I’m too tight to buy a car.

This kid only stayed with us for a few weeks.

He had been in care all his life and had come to stay with us while his regular carer was undergoing some medical procedures.

Inevitably, he had encountered working people before he lived with us.

He was taught by teachers and Learning Support Assistants, and was cared for by Lunchtime Staff.

Cleaners cleaned up after him.

He’d seen people empty the bins in the street where he lived.

He’d been in buses driven by bus drivers.

He had a Social Worker, in fact he had probably had several, and had inevitably encountered a variety of medical staff for routine or specific medical issues.

However, he’d never lived in a home where adults left to go to work, did a shift, and then returned home.

His Foster Carer was of course working because she was being paid to look after him.

However, she was so integral to his life, more like a grandmother than a highly experienced, trained professional, that he had not made the connection.

He’d never considered that the staff at his school, did more or less what I do.

He’d never watched someone leave the house, go to work, and then return several hours later.

Behind every front door in Britain, there is a unique domestic situation.

I think our Foster Households should reflect this diversity.

Foster Households can be working couples with children, single parents, same sex couples, widows, black, white, rich, poor, religious, atheists, and almost certainly Everton fans.

Every household is different. We need our Foster Carers to reflect this diversity. Speedo Mick is a local celebrity where we live.

No one should be discounted, as long as they meet the Assessment Criteria.

And one of the most important criteria must be that a potential carer can meet the needs of the Foster Child as and when they arrive.

If a child needs to go to hospital, you need to be available to take them.

If a child has the opportunity to spend time with their Birth Mum, their Foster Carer needs to be able to make that happen.

If a child’s sleep is disrupted by nightmares or bed wetting, their Foster Carer needs to have the flexibility in their schedule to manage the subsequent emotions and practicalities.

When we started fostering, I was a full time teacher.

My wife worked Part-time for our Council and worked ‘family friendly hours’.

We had two Primary aged children.

Could we manage the needs of a Foster Child?

The answer was yes.

We are a Mum, Dad, two kids, and the occasional pet, all stuffed into a semidetached house. It’s pebble dashed. We converted the garage into a bedroom so that we could foster.

As a teacher I could deal with the 12 weeks that any Foster Child would not be in school.

The flexibility of my wife’s job meant she could take a child to any medical or Foster related appointment.

However, our Social Worker knew we could not care for a preschool child at home all day, every day.

Our Social Worker knew our domestic set-up meant we would not be able to transport a child to school on the other side of the city every morning.

We have had to be flexible to meet the needs of the children who have been placed in our care, but the success of the ‘placements’ has also been due to being ‘matched’ with the right kid.

Matching is crucial to a kid fitting in with a Foster Household.

Our Little Man, who has been with us 9 years, loves phones and devices. When he’s older he wants to run his own phone shop. Employment is good for us and good for society.

Teaching isn’t easy, but it’s been great for my mental and physical health to leave the home every day and go to work.

It’s also been a good role model for the children we’ve fostered.

Regression: Loss will bite you on the bum if you don’t deal with it.

We fostered a little boy who loved watching the ‘baby videos’ of our birth children.

Although technically inferior to the Betamax, the VHS recorder was a solid piece of technology that everyone aspired to owning in the 1980s. We’ve still got ours.

He learnt to use the old VHS recorder and spent hours absorbed in the traditional upbringing of his foster siblings.

He’d watch the grainy images of bath time, walks in the park, first birthdays and Christmases, Christenings, and visits from Grandparents again and again and again.

It was all pretty mundane and would be familiar to most families.

But to him, it was a magical world.

‘I would like a baby.’

We were quite used to random requests, but were initially unsure how to respond to this.

Did he mean he wanted a sibling?

That’s was going to be beyond our remit and abilities.

A short discussion ensued and we began to understood that he wanted some sort of doll.

This we could achieve.

We put a few requests out onto our Facebook Support groups and were fairly soon inundated with offers of Barbies, Cindys, the entire cast from Frozen, and a couple of Asda own brands.

Apparently, none of them were good enough.

The interest continued but neither Toys ‘R’ Us, Smyths or even B&M had what he wanted.

Meanwhile, this ‘want’ was becoming a ‘need’, and fast developing into an obsession.

Amazon came to the rescue.

Hours of scrolling led us to what he wanted; ‘A baby newborn silicone doll £65.99. Next day delivery’.

This isn’t John, but he looks pretty similar. Playing and make believe is therapeutic. Never underestimate the healing power of using your imagination.

This was not an inconsiderable sum, but the desperation convinced us that we should buy it.

He then announced his new baby needed a buggy, clothes, nappies, bottles, sterilisers and all the other relevant newborn paraphernalia.

Toy versions would not suffice.

Further appeals to the Facebook Massive secured us everything ‘new baby’ needed.

Primark’s 6-12 month range supplied anything that was missing.

‘New Baby’ was named John.

He absolutely had to be treated like a real baby.

He had to be sat up, cuddled, fed, changed and put to bed.

If he cried, he had to be settled with cooing and appreciative noises.

John’s favourite nursery rhyme was ‘Row row the boat, gently down the stream…’.

On sunny days, John was taken to the park in the Maclaren’s buggy we had been lent.

Occasionally, on the journey, John was sniffed, to see if his nappy needed changing.

If all was well, he was given a reassuring cuddle, and  had his blanket tucked back in.

It’s a friendly community where we live, and passers by would smile and nod at the sight of a big brother taking his newborn sibling for a walk, with a proud dad walking behind.

How little did they know.

John became one of the family.

It soon became quite natural for me to balance John on my knee or ‘mind him’, whilst our foster son had to ‘nip to the loo’ or carry out any other unavoidable task.

We chatted to more experienced Foster Carers and did some googling.

Without any help from us, our Foster Son had discovered something called ‘regression’.

If you do a Google image search of ‘Regression’, you get this graph. I have no idea what it means.

One day, whilst taking John to the swings, the Little Man asked;

If the sugar rich diet of the 1970s didn’t knacker your teeth up, there was a fairly good chance that the infamous ‘Witch’s Hat’ down the Swings and Slides would do the job. Viciously exciting!

 “Did my Mum and Dad take me to the park?  Did my Mum and Dad sing to me? Are there videos of me as a baby?”

These were questions to which we had no definite answers, but in all likelihood the responses were an emphatic ‘no’ on all counts.

When he arrived at our house it was fairly clear he’d never experienced a trip to the park, could barely talk, and was unfamiliar with birthdays, Christmas or any other rites of passage.

Through Baby John, our little man was living the life that had been denied him.

It was both incredible and beautiful to watch.

I don’t know how he knew that this would restore the years that were characterised by neglect rather than care, but somehow he knew.

He just knew.

All we had to do was help.

Then, one day, We discovered John shoved under the bed.

Later he was relegated to the loft.

The final ignominy came when he was given away to Charity.

‘I don’t need that anymore. It’s for babies.’

The healing had been done.

Will my house get trashed?

Have you ever seen Shirley Valentine? The film about a bored housewife from Liverpool, who has a midlife crisis and goes on holiday to Greece

She begins a relationship with a local lothario, played by Tom Conti, but is ashamed of her body.

Tom tries to reassure her. He says her stretch marks and other natural ravages of time are beautiful, and make her who she is.

Shirley Valentine could foster. She has a spare room and a deep desire to make a difference. Her angry, inflexible husband would be a barrier to a ‘positive assessment’.

You don’t get stretch marks from fostering.

But your home and your property may get ravaged.

Our woodwork is chipped, and in some places gouged.

We have rubber bumpers glued to the walls to protect them when doors are slammed.

The kitchen door needs rehanging, again.

Phones and iPads have been launched in both anger and frustration.

Some damage has proved to be prompted by naivety rather than malice.

On one accession, our birth son could not find his iPhone.

We assumed it was somewhere in the house, and would turn up.

As my wife was rummaging through the freezer looking for tea, she discovered a Tupperware container containing frozen water.

Deep in the frozen water was our son’s iPhone.

We knew it had been placed there by our foster child.

Had he done this to spite our son? Was he jealous? What was he trying to tell us?

We asked him, but as anticipated, he ran off to his room, denying any knowledge of any phone, the freezer, Tupperware or water.

Our daughter solved the mystery.

It was plain to see in the Foster Child’s YouTube history.

He had recently searched ‘What to do when your iPhone freezes’

Yes, that’s right, he’d given this question a very literal interpretation, and frozen the first iPhone that came to hand.

‘Attachment Disorder’ can look very similar to autism. There can often be a very literal interpretation of situations.

He was not being naughty, he was being curious!

We thought the phone was ruined but at least the motivation was not as serious as we’d first thought.

Remarkably, the phone thawed out and worked perfectly until the end of contract.

On another occasion, the same foster kid received a ‘pay as you go mobile’ from Grandad for his birthday.

He had an obsession with phones and we’d thought he’d be delighted.

And he was.

For a couple of hours.

The phone was in his hands by 10.00am.

By 2.00pm he was smashing it to crap with a hammer.

Did he hate the phone? Did he hate Grandad? Did he hate birthdays?

No, he hated himself.

I’ve talked about self-esteem in other blogs. If you can convince a child that they’re worthy of love, you’re doing brilliantly.

We worked out that the ‘gift’ just did not fit with his self image.

As his parents had rejected him, so he had to reject anyone or anything that suggested ‘love’.

He could not cope with anyone or anything that suggested he was loveable.

It took us a while to work that out, but it’s helped us cope with Christmas, birthdays and any other occasion when we might show obvious love and affection.

It has got better.

When the red mist comes down, which could be triggered by absolutely anything, we have learnt to move as much as possible out of harm’s way, and let the anger burn out.

A good meltdown would involve the throwing of cushions and pillows.

If there were no soft furnishings to hand, anything that could be trashed would be trashed.

On one occasion, after a fraught day at school, he was ‘proper fuming’ to use the local vernacular.

Kitchen chairs were being knocked over with a satisfying crash and his Primary aged fists were pummelling the table, the floor and the walls.

My wife and I were standing back and would only intervene if he was in danger of hurting himself.

But we’d made an error.

In the middle of the table was a bottle of juice, or ‘squash’, if you’re southern.

It was Apple and Blackcurrant, a colour combination that is known to stain.

And the lid had been left off.

‘This will take some cleaning’ was the thought in both our heads.

As our Little Man’s anger raged on, he spotted the bottle.

We actually shop at Asda and Tesco’s or Aldi. Sainsbury’s is miles away. Foster Carers can shop anywhere they like.

But then he stopped, and still seething with rage, he found the lid, and screwed it on as tight as he could.

Back on the table, rather like a rugby ball waiting to be converted, the bottle was then launched across the kitchen by a well aimed punched.

We were amazed.

This was the first time the Little Man had ‘self regulated’ during a meltdown.

As was often the case, he then calmed, and within minutes was watching Tracey Beaker, as if absolutely nothing had happened.

Stopping, and pausing, and minimising the damage was a massive step.

Meltdowns didn’t end.

There is still damage.

But every day that kid feels a bit safer and is a little bit calmer.

In my mind, what you see as a Carer for a traumatised child is ‘fear masquerading as anger’.

And, let’s face it, some kids have got a lot to be scared of and have a a lot to be angry about.

If you’re precious about stuff, and live in a show home, you probably want to give fostering a big swerve. If you want to make a difference, contact me or your Local Council.

What’s fostering and what’s adoption?

“Being adopted will be good. There’ll be no more Social Workers wanting to know my business. I can be in all the photos at school, and I can be on Snapchat and Tik Tok like normal kids. And when we go on holiday, I won’t need a special letter to say who I am.”

Most kids who get adopted are pretty young.

I’m not big on statistics, but 75% of kids who get adopted are yet to start Reception.

This kid was 9, so significantly older than a typical adoptee.

He’d been in and out of the Care System all his life and had a pretty good understanding of what adoption meant.

We had been fostering him for about three years.

He arrived as a Short Term Placement (0-2 years), and then had become Long Term (2 years +).

I think this status was more or less irrelevant to him, when he made it clear he wanted to be a more permanent member of our family.

He’d discovered a Sharpie (other permanent markers are available) and had added a picture of himself to a family photo. 

A very moving conversation ensued.

It was a rookie error on my part. Left unattended a foster kid found a Sharpie permanent pen, smashed the glass out of a family photo, pulled the frame off and draw a picture of himself.

Explaining that you want to join someone else’s family is a very difficult thing to do.

You’re making yourself very vulnerable to rejection.

Adding himself to a family photo was how he chose to show his feelings.

The implications for us were also not insignificant.

As Foster Carers, there is always an element of ‘temporary’, and a feeling that you don’t have ‘full responsibility’.

Even if a child is with you on a permanent basis, Social Workers will still play some sort of role.

Day to day, or even month to month, you may well make all the decisions, but ultimately The State has the final say.

The child will still have their own surname, and will almost inevitably become a ‘Care Leaver’ sometime in the future.

They may stay in touch but they may not.

There are also significant financial implications.

Foster Carers have to do mandatory training, meet various standards and are expected to provide a level of care that is arguably above and beyond that of a birth parent.

I would advise parents generally, and Foster Carers in particular, to own absolutely no Permanent Felt Tips.

No one is quite comfortable discussing this but Foster Carers get paid. They don’t earn a fortune, but they get a income for looking after a vulnerable child.

Foster Carers work in close conjunction with Social Workers.

Typically, adopters are on their own.

Lemn Sissay is a great Poet. He had a horrific time in the Care System. ‘Family is the privilege everyone should be able to take for granted’.

Adopters are not paid.

Legally, their adopted child is as much their child as a birth child.

Many adopters have experienced infertility, have visited medical specialists, have possibly had unsuccessful IVF, have considered whether to pay to have more IVF, have decided against it, and then reached the conclusion that they are not going to have children naturally.

They grieve.

They then begin to explore adoption.

Some adopters are same sex couples, and some are single people.

They will have contacted an Adoption Agency, been repeatedly visited by a Social Worker, and gone through a rigorous assessment process.

Eventually, a group of independent experts will decide whether they are fit to be parents.

They will then be matched with a child or children.

What can take some people 9 months and very little thought, can end up taking years of high emotion and anguish.

Reaching the point of bringing your children home can be a long and arduous journey.

And then you have to start parenting!

I think it’s quite unusual for Mainstream Foster Carers to adopt.

We are aware that our journey has been very different from many other adopters.

We knew our son had had a very difficult time whilst in care.

We knew that he had absolutely no family who could care for him.

We knew he wanted to be adopted into our family.

Kids in care are surrounded by numerous professionals, including Social Workers, Teachers, Teaching Assistants, Sencos and Foster Carers. This kid is surrounded by his family.

We knew we were relieving the State of a significant financial and bureaucratic burden, and we knew that no one would want to describe a child in such a way.

But we wanted this to work.

Whilst being fully committed to our son, we knew we’d need help and we were going for Permanent with a very big ‘P’.

We told our Local Authority that we would need some financial support, some Post Adoption Support, some therapy, some help with Speech and Language, some Life Story work and that possibly, he would never be able to live independently.

A few emails later, they agreed.

We resigned as Foster Carers, got approved as Adopters, got matched with our son, who had been living with us for some years, and then he became legally ours.

We went to Pizza Express and ate as much as we could as a celebration.

I don’t know if there are success criteria for an adoption.

I do know that adoption does not solve issues of attachment and abandonment.

Neglect and all varieties of abuse leave a legacy that generally last well into adulthood.

I think there are about 80,000 kids in the Care System in England. Some will live with family members and some will live with Mainstream Foster Carers.

Our adopted son has recently begun to ask when we will foster again.

He thinks we’d be good at it, and he doesn’t want to be the youngest.

There are worse reasons for looking after a kid.

Food issues and traumatised kids

Rather naively, we thought knowledge of Peppa Pig was universal.

We had advanced warning from our Social Worker that a three year old would be arriving later that day.

Perfect skin, confident eye contact, nicely coiffured hair, good teeth and a generally healthy complexion are all things that many of the kids we’ve fostered have not had.

We felt a little bit smug about our preparations.

His room was ready, my wife and I had had plenty of sleep, and our birth kids (then 6 and 8) were buzzing with excitement.

We’d set a place at the table, we’d bought a Peppa Pig cutlery set, and my wife, a very good cook, had prepared ‘kid friendly’ spaghetti bolognese – lots of meat, not too many obvious vegetables, grated cheese and lots of pasta.

Our birth kids had already remarked that the Little Fella didn’t seem to recognise any of the TV programmes they’d shown him.  We supposed that there was no TV where he lived.

We called everyone for tea and the Little Fella dutifully followed the big kids into our extended kitchen.

This was a familiar routine for our birth children.

A rectangle table, the right number of bowls or plates, knives, forks, spoons, a jug of water, juice (squash if you’re Southern), unwritten rules about who sat where, serving bowls full of food dotted around the table, and everyone encouraged to take the food they needed, and possibly a little bit more.

If you were near the jug, you were in charge of drinks.

It was hard to tell whether the Little Fella was confused or simply overwhelmed.

He stood rooted to the spot, staring at the floor.

We asked him where he wanted to sit.

We asked him if he liked Spag Bol.

Did he like Peppa Pig?

We got no answers, or even any eye contact.

The Little Fella just stared at the floor.

We searched our cupboards, fridge and freezer.

Tinned beans, bread, peanut butter, cereal, frozen chips and any other fairly ordinary foods were all greeted with the same wide eyed indifference.

We even used the ‘sing song voices’ we had learned about on our P.A.C.E. Training.*

Unsure what to do, we just carried on eating our tea, occasionally trying to engage the ‘kid in the room’.

Family Teas are fairly quick affairs in our house, and our big kids soon finished and then disappeared back to screens and homework.

My wife and I began to clear up, and were loading the dish washer in that choreographed manner of an established couple.

With our backs turned, we sensed movement.

The Little Fella had moved.

He’d moved quickly.

He’d opened the fridge, seized an unopened Four Pint of Milk in a plastic bottle, bit the plastic lid off, ripped the foil off with his teeth and was glugging away.

The milk was pouring down his top, down his trousers and making a puddle on the floor.

But some of it was going down his throat.

My wife and I were unsure about what to do.

I get sent this picture every couple of weeks. I don’t like Fosters but I do like dogs. As long as they are kid friendly, Foster Carers can have pets.

Our six year old, who had reentered the kitchen on hearing the commotion, was the quickest to react.

‘In our house we have cups’, he said quite matter of factly.

He fetched a cup from the cupboard, poured the remains of the milk, mimicked drinking, and handed the cup to the Little Fella, with an encouraging nod.

The Little Fella drank from the cup.

Yeah, he wasn’t an expert, and lots of the milk dribbled out the sides, but it wasn’t bad for a first go.

And I really think it was his first go.

Everything about our domestic set up was completely and utterly alien to this kid.

We learnt by trial, error, and observation, that he had survived without encountering mealtimes, tables, chairs, cups, cutlery, or Peppa Pig.

I found this photo on the internet. The reality was much messier, but there’s no point in crying over spilt milk when we should be crying over neglected children.

But, he knew about milk, and he knew it kept you alive.

We discovered over the next few days that he also knew about takeaway chips, as opposed to frozen ones that you cooked.

In fact, if it came in a paper bag and was greasy, he seemed far more comfortable.

We worked out that he’d lived off milk and the occasional bounty of chips, pasties and sausages.

And so, to begin with, that’s what we fed him.

We decided we’d tackle the ‘5 fruit and vegetable portions a day’ sometime in the distant future.

Our first goal was to convince him that in this house, he’d never be hungry again.

We let him pile his plate as high as he liked.

He would sometimes go to bed with ‘Noodles, no sauce, Nutella on white bread and a cup of milk please Bill’.

Who would have thought that a combination of carbohydrates and E-numbers would be so irresistible.

Within a month, his favourite food had become ‘that beans and sausages’ from a tin, with a load of broccoli.

When the microwave pinged he’d go delirious with excitement.

Within a few years, the noodles, white bread and Nutella were often left untouched, and we threw them away each morning.

After a few more years, he went to bed without any food at all, confident that the kitchen and its full cupboards, would be there in the morning.

I’ve learnt that Holocaust survivors and POWs often never recover from the starvation they’ve suffered, and always have an uneasy relationship with food. I think it’s similar with some kids who have been neglected.

*P.A.C.E training is a form of therapeutic parenting. You learn to manage the tone and rhythm of your voice to avoid sounding confrontational.

Mother’s Day: Which Mum do I need to send a card to?

The Card Industry doesn’t deliberately set out to make our life difficult, but it does.

I’m sure there’s some deep and wonderful meaning behind the original Mother’s Day, but it’s a bit of a minefield if you foster or adopt.

Being curious is all part of growing up

Whether it’s adverts in shops or a simple craft activity at a Playgroup or school, making a card for someone called ‘Mum’ is tricky if you don’t live with your Mum, you don’t know your Mum, or you only see her for supervised contact once a week or once a year.

How are you supposed to feel about a Mum who may have mistreated you?

It’s also tricky for your ‘current maternal scenario’.

What is the card etiquette with regard to the person who is ‘currently mothering’ you?

Do you make a card but address it to ‘My Foster Mum’ or ‘My SGO Mum’ or ‘Helen’?

Do you make breakfast in bed for the lady who looks after you, when your safeguarding plan states: ‘You should not be in each other’s bedrooms, and should be appropriately dressed at all times’.

And how does it feel to be a Mum separated from your children?

I know I’m drifting away from Mother’s Day, but here are a couple of anecdotes about me, a male, that may put a bit more meat on this particular bone.

‘No one loves me but my mother, and she could be lying too’. I like the Blues and I love BB King.

We have an adopted son.

He calls me Phil in the house.

He calls me Dad when we’re out and about.

For a long time he called me ‘Bill’, because he couldn’t say ‘Phil’.

We went to France and he called me Philippe.

He found this hilarious and still calls me Philippe if we ever have croissants for breakfast.

The same child also said to me one Father’s Day:

‘You’re the best Dad I’ve ever had.  The others have been shit’.

The same son always calls my wife ‘Mum’.

Hurrah for the endless opportunities offered by computer software.

Sometimes he will refer to his ‘Tummy Mummy’ or his ‘other Mummy’ or will use her ‘first name’.

He’s had other mother figures too.

Like many kids, he bounced around in care for some years before he ended up with us.

Occasionally, he will talk about ‘a woman where I lived…I don’t know her name’.

I’d love to end this blog with a pithy, wise, statement that will make us all feel better.

But I can’t.

The truth is, for each kid and each family, we’re making it up as we go along, managing a wild and erratic range of emotions and doing our best, each day.

I love my Mum. She adopted me into her family. She loves me like her birth child, and she is the best Mum.

However you got your mother, and whoever you’re mothering, enjoy today.

How much do you earn for looking after me?

Could the The two Couples in The Good Life foster? Theoretically yes, but I’m not sure Margot would have the resilience or patience.

We fostered a kid who had night terrors.

Not every night, but enough nights to make your adrenaline run high when you went to bed.

Would this be a night when you’d all get to sleep through until the morning, or would one of us have to do the ‘night shift’?

We’d worked out via trial and error, and by doing a search on Mumsnet, that the best response to this little boy screaming at 3.00AM, was to wake him up get him up, do an activity, and then do the whole bedtime routine again. If you were lucky, you’d be back in bed within an hour.

When it was my turn, me and the Little Fella would go downstairs, get a drink and watch TV.

The TV choice was critical.

If it was too exciting, you’d never get him back up to bed.

3.00AM is also a dangerous time to flick through channels.

I invariably aimed for UK Gold, and in particular The Good Life’, the ‘70s sitcom about Middle Class pomposity!

The irony of watching Margot Ledbetter berate her husband for eating a takeaway curry in the lounge with a kid who’d lived by finding food in bins was not lost on me, and the suburban eccentricity and animal husbandry seemed to engage and calm him.

On one occasion my mind drifted to Maths.

How much was I earning to do this random one hour night shift?

I divided the number of hours in the month by the amount we were paid.

I think it was about £1.73 for the hour, split between me and my wife.

When we first looked into Fostering, I had no idea how complicated and competitive the whole ‘industry’ was.

I saw an advert for fostering on the back of a bus suggesting we were earning a small fortune. The foster kid in the passenger seat saw the advert too. The reality was less than £2 per hour spilt between the two of us.

I thought fostering was about looking after kids, who had no one else to look after them.

To a large extent, I was right, and that’s what Foster Carers do.

What I didn’t know is that you can foster for your Local Council, an Independent Fostering Agency or a Charity.

I’m bound to get some of the legalities and nuances wrong, but this is my blog, not a legal document so you’ll just have to bare with me and my generalisations.

All the kids in care are fundamentally in the care of the Council.

Only recognised authorities can remove a child from its family. Only recognised authorities can manage the care of a child with no family to look after them.

When a child comes into care, Social Workers will first try and find a family member or friend to look after them.

When no suitable aunt, uncle or grandparent can be found, the child will go into Mainstream Care.

We became Mainstream Foster Carers in 2010.

Social workers will try and match the child with the ‘most suitable carer.’ As much as they can, they’ll look at age, ethnicity, gender and any other information to find a Carer where the child will feel safe and thrive.

This is an inexact science, and often has to be done with enormous time pressures.

Everyone wants it to work out, but sometimes it doesn’t and ‘good enough’ sometimes has to suffice. Sometimes even the ‘good enough’ standard isn’t met.

Council Social Workers will usually first try to place a child with their own Council Foster Carers.

They’re more likely to know these Carers, they will be local, and it’s often the most cost effective.

If the Social Worker can’t find a Council Foster Carer, they’ll ask Independent Foster Agencies to use one of their Foster Carers.

Some IFAs are small companies with just a few employees and a relatively small pool of Carers.

Others are massive.

Some IFAs are part of a portfolio of companies, owned by Hedge Fund Companies, which are based in Tax Free Havens, I think.

But their Foster Carers and Social Workers do the same job as Council Foster Carers; look after kids.

I think Foster Carers are great, regardless of who they foster for.

Some Agencies, pay more than some Councils. Some Councils offer better training than some Agencies. Council Foster Carers are more likely to be ‘full’ and some IFAs insist that you give up your job, as you work for them. Some Agencies answer the phone quicker than some Councils.

Generalisations are irrelevant if you like your Social Worker, feel supported, and the kid you’re caring for is happy.

Independent Fostering Agencies like to name themselves after trees, flowers or other bits of nature. Fostering is a competitive industry, with highly vulnerable children as its primary asset.

And this Little Fella was happy.

Although he liked watching The Good Life, he eventually grew out of the Night Terrors and began to sleep through.

We didn’t mind earning £1.73 per hour because what we were doing was a good thing.

But we’d have struggled if someone, somewhere, had been making a profit out of that boy’s situation.

And that’s why, we signed up with the Council, not an Agency.

Fostered and adopted kids are everywhere!

I wonder if someone in your household dresses up for World Book Day?

‘Paddington is like me, but I haven’t got a hat’. One of our Foster Kids was quick to see how his own life resembled that of Paddington.

I have to confess, that literacy does not always feature very highly in our house.

We have had a crack at Biff, Kipper and Chip, but when your reading age is low, and your chronological age is high, you quickly spot that what you able to read is not actually what you’d choose to read.

To ridiculously mix my metaphors, we have other fish to fry, and more than enough on our plate to worry about ploughing through government prescribed texts.

However, we do like a good story and regularly watch films.

Paddington, Harry Potter, Peter Pan, Mowgli, Huckleberry Finn, and all the usual Fairy Tales and Marvel characters have spent time on ‘continuous play’ in our house.

All over the world, kids climb into cupboards, looking for snow. Evacuees and refugee children feature heavily in literature.

Until we started fostering, I’d never realised how many of our literary and film heroes don’t live with their Mum and Dad.

Harry Potter is one of the most famous orphans in history.

We all despise his aunt, uncle and cousin for making him sleep under the stairs. They are just so mean. There is no love at 4 Privet Drive.

When James inadvertently finds accommodation in a giant peach and ends up living with a load of insects, we celebrate his escape from his tyrannical aunts.

With imagination you can go anywhere and be anyone. With imagination you can empathise and sympathise.

Poor old Oliver Twist, alone in a terrifying and malevolent world, seeks community with Fagin, the Artful Dodger, and a gang of lost boys.

Consider yourself one of the family! Oliver Twist has become a cockney sing-along, but the horrors of Dickensian England exists in a street near you.

Peter Pan starts his own gang of lost boys, whilst Tarzan is raised rather well by a family of apes.  William wins the heart of the grumpy widower in Mr Tom, and finds a safe and permanent home.  Did you tear up in the last scene? I know I did.

For some fictitious characters, trauma is made to look like a very reasonable life choice.

If you want a super power, like Spider-Man, Superman or Batman, you first need to lose your parents.

If you want to marry a Prince, like Cinderella or Snow White, you must first be orphaned.

Whether bereaved, evacuated to escape the Blitz, or on the run, the orphan has a special place in our culture, and in our heart.

Whilst removing adults can sometimes be a mere plot device, I think most authors know an orphan or disadvantaged child will immediately awake a nurturing instinct.

We love an underdog.

We love it when injustice is overcome and a child finds safety, security and unconditional love.

We love a Happy Ending.

Everyone loves Harry Potter, and one of our foster kids was absolutely obsessed with him.

You don’t have to be a psychologist to understand why he chose to identify with a child alone in the world.

That kid isn’t Harry Potter, even if he does own a variety of wands, capes and big round glasses.

And we are not The Weasleys. 

We are not magical, and we don’t have red hair.

But, if I had to dress up for World Book Day, I’d wear an old cardigan, put on some weight and change my name to Arthur.

You can’t be Harry Potter, but you could be The Weasleys. England has 80,000 kids in care. They all need looking after. Arthur Weasley, you’re my hero!

Milestones: Celebrate everything!

If cheese hasn’t oozed out of the sides of your Toastie, you’re doing it wrong.

Some parents are quick to tell you how their child is meeting their milestones.

Whether by public proclamation or quiet acknowledgment, most of us note our children’s progress.

Some parents even enjoy talking confidently about percentiles, as if they understand what they are. 

Our child’s ability to sleep through, sit up, walk, talk, know their letters, defecate in a potty, and demonstrate a prodigious knowledge of dinosaurs are cause for pride in many of us.

Feel free to compare yourself to this Graph Thing I found on the internet. You will feel either smug or a massive failure.

Talking about your child and being proud of them is an important feature of parenting.

A good parent should be proud of their child and every child needs someone to be proud of them.

Our view of milestones as birth parents was perhaps a little more pragmatic than most.

I was only really interested in our kids meeting milestones when they benefitted me.

Can my kid find an iPad, turn it on and find CBeebies allowing me to get on with sleeping?

Can my kid operate a microwave safely and make themselves something that looks like breakfast?

Can they make me something that I’m prepared to eat?

As I have notoriously low nutritional standards, my kids have been feeding me since they were very young, mostly with an assortment of toasties.

Most kids meet most milestones, eventually.

They learn to get up, get washed and get dressed.

Most kids meet enough milestones to do OK.

Fostering, which is essentially looking after someone else’s kid because they can’t, puts everything on a different footing.

Chronological age can often be absolutely meaningless. Periods of neglect, and all sorts of trauma can delay ‘expected progress’.

One boy we fostered needed help to get dressed every morning.

Part of the routine was helping him put his shoes on.

The shoes were Velcro and he was actually quite capable of putting them on himself.

We realised the routine of asking us to help was to meet an emotional need rather than a practical one.

He was scared.

Putting your shoes on means leaving the house, the house which represents safety and security.

Many parents kiss their child as they send them into the classroom, or into the schoolyard, or as they leave the house. As they get older we only kiss them on special occasions, like when they leave for University or are getting married.

Some kids need to be kissed and held, and reassured a little longer than others.

Whilst we are proud of their growing independence, we may also lament the fact that they no longer cling to us as they once did.

These milestones creep up on you and are rarely celebrated, but they are just as important as any other.

For this little foster child, the shoe routine was his way of having one last moment of safety with adults whom he’d learnt to trust.

Then, one day he stopped.

He put his shoes on himself, tightened the Velcro, and left the house to go to school.

That kid was gaining confidence and learning that what ever the day threw at him, he would be able to handle it.

Velcro – what a rip off! This is a Tim Vine joke.

He knew he would return to our house, his home, at the end of the day.

It had taken him a while, but he’d reached another milestone.

He was 10.

We’ve learnt to celebrate every little bit of progress.