What training is there? ‘I’ve got skills, they’re multiplying’

When you become a Foster Carer you go on a course called Skills to Foster.

It can last two or three days and is often held in some sort of inhospitable Council Building.

‘I’ve got skills, they’re multiplying’ I decided to entertain my wife by singing this at every opportunity. All foster carers go on a Skills to Foster course.

We had found childcare for our Primary aged children and it felt like we were going on an adventure, perhaps even a hot date!

I’m a massive extrovert.

I’m invariably the loudest in the room.

My wife held my hand as we sat in a circle of strangers. This was not so much a loving gesture, more a recognised control mechanism. I knew a gentle squeeze meant ‘Perhaps you should consider talking less’. It’s a simple system and it works for us.

Our course was made up of an eclectic mix of potential foster carers. If you did not know the context, you would have no idea what we had in common.

There were three couples, and a handful of single women.

I’ve only ever met one single, male Foster Carer.

We represented a range of ethnicities, cultures and backgrounds.

I’m guessing we were mostly middle aged or older.

The course was run by Social Workers and Pete.

Pete was a Foster Carer. He’d been a taxi driver and had had numerous contracts driving children in care or children with additional needs to and from schools. He’d enjoyed being with the young people so much, that he and his wife decided to foster.

The Social Workers spoke the most, but Pete’s interjections showed a dry sense of humour, a deep understanding of kids, and a relentless desire to help people. We all liked Pete.

I was concerned that the course would be a bit like school.

I’m not very good at sitting on a chair and listening to presentations or monologues.

I start mucking about. This is somewhat ironic, because I’m a teacher.

I’ll let someone else decide if I’m a good teacher, but I’m pretty sure I’m not a boring one.

If one of my classes is settled and working, I’m the one who causes a disruption.

In some lessons, I think I should be the one who is asked to leave the room and take some time out.

The course was much better than school and I still think back to what I learnt.

We were encouraged to think, to reflect and to empathise.

If your house were burning down, what one thing would you take? Your pet, your photos, something of sentimental value? For me, it would be my Grandfather’s ring, that I will one day bequeath to my son.

I think my Grandfather had this ring made in World War 2. It has his initials on it. One day, it will be my son’s. I am available as a ‘hand model’.

But what if the fire were so intense that I had to leave the ring behind too?

I’d be devastated. It’s irreplaceable.

How did you get your name? My middle name is the same as my Grandfather’s. My son also has this name, even though he was born 25 years after my Grandfather died. I have explained this to my son.

These questions and discussions helped us consider issues of identity, and issues of loss.

How would it feel to lose everything? Absolutely everything.

How would it feel to not know your own history, to be navigating life without a grown up who was totally and utterly on your side?

I know who I am and where I’m from. If I want to know more, I ring my brother or my Mum.

For kids in care, identity and family history are far more fragile.

I’m white, I’m male, I’m 6 foot tall, I’m heterosexual and I went to University, twice.

There are examples of people who look like me on the TV, in the government, and more or less  in any profession you care to mention.

Our Council provided as many Time Out bars as you could eat on our Skills to Foster Course. We also learnt a lot about identity, empathy and how to handle loss.

I have rarely had to fear for my safety, and expect to be treated reasonably and courteously by anyone in authority.

It’s hard to be aware of the privileges you enjoy, unless you think long and hard.

The activity that has stuck longest in my mind is when I had to pretend I was 15, black and a lesbian.

If this were my identity, could I kiss my partner in public?

Could I get on a bus and go anywhere in the city where we lived?

How would I be received if I joined a new school or applied for a job?

Others on the course had to pretend to be disabled, suffering from depression, be a different ethnicity or background.

We also had to consider how it would be if we were a child in the Care System.

The film ‘Instant Family’ gives some good insights into how difficult it is for kids in care to maintain a relationships.

There are no definite right or wrong answers to these questions.

It’s amazing what some humans can overcome, and achieve.

But we don’t all have the same starting point.

The child in care is more disadvantaged than most.

You can’t learn all you need to know on a Three Day Course.

But it’s a good place to start.

Don’t foster for the money or the biscuits!

We went to a ‘Foster Information Session’ run by the Council. You could eat as many Custard Creams as you liked.

I’m only here because of my wife!

She suggested we go to a Council Event about fostering.

As a typical middle aged man, I was prone to taking the path of least resistance, and thought ‘why not’.

I’d been on worse nights out.

The event was run in a local Community Centre.

There was tea, coffee and as many Custard Creams as you could eat.

I wouldn’t say the evening began particularly well.

A Social Worker was giving us a lecture about how you become a Foster Carer.

As an enormous extrovert, and invariably one of the loudest in any room, I was quick to put my hand up.

‘What’s a LAC?’, ‘What’s an I.V.? What do you mean by ‘Panel’?

These were just some of the terms that had confused me within the first five minutes.

The Social Worker was surprisingly patient as she explained that we would be caring for Looked After Children (L.A.C.) but would need an Initial Visit (I.V.) before we went through an assessment process and hopefully, eventually, be ‘approved to foster’ by an Independent Panel of people (Panel!).

The next guest speaker was one of the most remarkable people I’ve ever met, but did even less to encourage me to foster.

She was a single woman of an indeterminate age, and probably exactly how I imagined a foster carer to be. That is to say, she was nothing like me.

She explained that she was particularly tired today.

She’d spent the early hours of the morning looking for a 14 year old in her care who had done a runner. With the help of the Police, she’d tracked him down, coaxed him back into her car and taken him home.

She’d then had to call upon the Police for a second time because the 16 year old she was fostering had invited her boyfriend over.

As a convicted drug dealer, this boyfriend was banned from her home and had to be ejected.

I was very glad someone was looking after these teenagers, but I was probably more glad that it wasn’t me.

We had a nice life.

I was a teacher, my wife worked for the Council, and our two kids were doing well in Primary School.

We had two Guinea Pigs, a compost bin, and a pebble dashed, extended, semi-detached home.

Did we really want to risk all that by inviting the unknown into our home?

The third speaker of the evening was a ‘Care experienced young adult’ or ‘Ex-LAC’ or, as she introduced herself, Lucy.

I’m guessing she was about 20.

She changed my mind.

She stared at her audience, who were all significantly older than her.

‘If I told you, that you had to come to stay at my house for reasons that I’m not going to fully explain, would you come?’

‘If I said, that you had to leave everything you knew, all your stuff, all your family, all your friends, all the smells, all the noises behind, would you come?’

‘Even if your home was dangerous and chaotic, would you gladly go and live with complete strangers, with their funny ways in their funny home? Would you?’

‘When you’re a kid in care, especially when you’re very young, like Primary age, you don’t understand what’s best for you, you’re just scared.  Could you make a scared kid feel safe?’

Sometimes, if we go on holiday it takes me time to adjust to new surroundings.

The first day at a new job can be the hardest day, and we are glad to get through it and get home.

When kids go for sleepovers with their friends or family they sometimes feel homesick or anxious.

I’m an extrovert, but even I like to be on my sofa, in my home with my own TV remote, on my own.

My wife and I spent the next few days considering the pros of cons of fostering.

We decided to apply.

In my experience you get much better biscuits when you are about to ‘go to Panel’. It’s not as scary as it seems. My wife’s top tip was ‘try not to be too funny’.

We knew it would take about 6 months to be assessed and approved to foster.

It was possible that the Council’s Social Workers would decide we weren’t suitable to foster.

It was also possible that during this time we’d decide that fostering wasn’t for us and withdraw our application.

In fact, we were approved to foster ‘one child between the ages of 0-18, with a preference for an under 5’.

And that’s when the adventure really began.