‘All my pre-conceived ideas disappeared and it was a lesson that stood me in good stead for the future.’
Col has been fostering for two-and-a-half years. He has had a variety of fostering placements and shares his experiences of fostering as a single male carer.
Week 3 – Into the Unknown…
In 1878, the then Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli described his arch rival William Gladstone as being, ‘…inebriated with the exuberance of his own verbosity…’, and looking back at the length of my first two blogs I figured he could almost have been talking about me! Consequently, this blog will be a bit shorter. Also, the youngster I’m fostering is on respite this weekend, and so it seemed appropriate that anyone who reads my blogs should enjoy a little respite as well.
In the first two weeks I discussed why I chose to become a foster carer and the process involved in getting there. This week I’m going to start – and it is only a start – to get into the nitty-gritty of fostering, and what it’s like for me.
Although I’d been accepted in July 2012, I needed some time to sort out various work and family issues, and so my first placement was some four months later.
It was almost nine on a typical late November night and the day was getting worse by the minute.
A couple of days earlier, my supervising social worker (G) had told me about a possible placement, a 12 year-old lad (R) whose current placement had broken down. She didn’t know too much about him other than that the move had to be completed quickly, and so she’d arranged for his Local Authority social worker (P) to meet us both at my home the next day. At the meeting P explained that R had significant behavioural problems, and was associated with a notorious local gang. I thought, ‘In for a penny…’ and decided to take the placement which would start the following day.
Because of his various problems, R was on a half-day timetable at school. P had arranged to collect him on the Friday lunchtime so she could bring him to me and introduce us. Before she did, she brought a carload of his belongings and we put them in his room. Unfortunately, when she arrived at school to pick him up, R had absconded. As the hours passed, and P conceded defeat and went home, I realised there’d be no introduction and I’d just have to ‘wing it’ if and when he did appear. P’s attempt to reassure me with, ‘Don’t worry, the police will find him and bring him to you,’ had about the same effect as falling down the stairs, and I just remember thinking, ‘Welcome to fostering.’
In the intervening hours, I did a number of things, all of them pointless. I checked his room was clean and tidy twenty times, practised what I’d say to him even more than that, and as I had no idea what he looked like, formed a picture in my mind based on what I knew about him. ‘Significant behavioural problems: gang association: has so far evaded ‘capture’ for hours so undoubtedly streetwise.’ By the time I’d finished, R, despite his tender years, had become a six-feet-plus bruiser in a bandana.
The knock finally came just after nine that night. When I opened the door I was confronted by two huge policemen. My initial reaction was that R was safely locked in their car pending them telling me a bit about what had happened, where they’d found him and so on. One of the policemen then pointed towards the ground, ‘Here he is at last. Sorry it took so long.’
All my pre-conceived ideas disappeared and it was a lesson that stood me in good stead for the future – i.e. don’t make assumptions. Here was R, five-feet-zilch and nothing of him, looking like a rabbit trapped in a car’s headlights; a cliché, I know, but no less appropriate for being so. His eyes were like saucers just staring at me, terrified.
Now I’m a product of supposedly tough Northern coal-mining stock, but I just melted when I saw him. He came in with the police who gave him a friendly little pep talk and I asked him if he’d eaten (always a good place to start). He quietly and politely replied that he had (although where remained a mystery), and the police left. I showed him to his room which he said he really liked, but before we’d even reached the top of the stairs, I discovered he was into football. We had some banter about the teams we supported, I checked again that he wasn’t hungry or thirsty then left him to settle into his room. About ten minutes later he came downstairs and asked me if I would help him sort out his stuff. To me this felt like an immediate breakthrough, and for the next half hour or so we chatted about this and that while we put away his clothes and toys.
Something I found a little disconcerting while we did was that he separated a number of items of clothing and put them in a pile. ‘I don’t want these anymore,’ he said. I asked him if they didn’t fit, to which he replied, ‘Yes, they fit, but I just don’t want them anymore.’ I didn’t push it, put the items in black bags, then put them away in another part of the house just in case he changed his mind. I was later told this could have been an attempt to draw a line under his immediate past.
That first night, it seemed R wanted to talk and I certainly wasn’t about to stop him by imposing a deadline. There’d be plenty of time for all that stuff the next day. We chatted about all sorts: football, cooking, and his mum whom he loved very much in spite of everything and was determined to go back to as soon as possible. He explained that whilst he’d become very unhappy in his previous placement (which carers far more seasoned than me would, I’m sure, confirm is an ‘occupational hazard’ for all sorts of reasons), he’d run away from school because he was scared of moving. To add to his fear, he knew he was moving to a single male carer and had no idea what to expect. I felt for him so much when he told me this. What a terrible dilemma for a child so young to confront, and how awful for him that running away seemed to be the best option. During our chat it became evident that R was a very bright (although this wasn’t reflected in his school work), engaging child with a great sense of humour and the trials and tribulations of the day quickly evaporated.
At 1am he finally went to bed.
In later blogs I’ll go into how the placement developed in the lead up to Christmas and beyond, but for now I’ll keep my promise to give you a little respite and bring this week’s blog to a close.
Just before I do, however, I started with a quote from Benjamin Disraeli and I’d like to end with another one that seems to me to perfectly encapsulate what fostering is really all about. I hope it gives you food for thought. It certainly did me…
‘The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches but to reveal to him his own.’
See you next week.
Next week… ‘A new world record?’