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A Single Male Foster Carer’s Blog – Week 7: ‘Trouble on the horizon…’

‘Happily, however, in terms of how others perceived me, I have rarely had the sense that I was a square peg in a round hole.’

 

Background
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 7 – Trouble on the horizon…

I’m afraid I’m rather late with this edition of my blog and so wish to apologise to anyone who is inclined to read it.
Consequently, of course, it means that my wishes for a happy, healthy and prosperous 2015 are also somewhat belated, but are no less sincere for all that.
As it is my first post of the New Year, and before I continue with my story of R, I thought I would take stock of what I had written before, and why I had written it in the way that I had.
When I started out, my intention was firstly to try to highlight what I’d discovered about fostering that was specific to a single male carer, and secondly to do it in a way that provided the occasional snippet of information which anyone thinking about fostering might find useful. I can’t really say whether I’ve succeeded with the latter, but I’ve come to an interesting conclusion as regards the former.
The thing is, I’d expected to be in a position to describe a myriad of differences between the impact of fostering on me as a single male carer, and that encountered by others such as couples – where either was the main carer – and single female carers. Unfortunately for the brief I’d given myself, what I expected and what is actually the case, turned out to be different. Happily, however, in terms of how others perceived me, I have rarely had the sense that I was a square peg in a round hole. You’ll note I said, ‘rarely’, because there have been a couple of notable exceptions. The first you may already know about from a previous blog, where my best friend described me as being, ‘a strawberry short of a punnet’ and suggested ‘you should see someone about your problem’. The second, which I’m going to tell you about now, came from a rather unlikely source…

Before I start, however, I should warn the politically correct and those without a sense of humour to switch off now. I also thought about the best way of telling the story, and decided the easiest way to write it was in the form of a script. But first, a little background.
I had a new placement whom I shall call ‘P’. After ‘P’ had been with me a couple of weeks, the Local Authority social worker, whom I shall call ‘K’, decided to pay us a visit. I picked her up from the railway station and the three of us were in my car driving home. This is how it went:

K – So, P, what did you have for dinner last night?
P – Chicken casserole.
K (Looking at me) – Oh, do you cook?
Me (Having heard perfectly what K had said) – Sorry, I didn’t quite catch that.
K – Do you cook?
Me – I thought that’s what you said. Is that like Masterchef or Saturday Kitchen?
K – Uh? No, I mean do you cook?
Me – Sorry, it’s the noise of the traffic. I thought you were talking about a new cookery programme on telly called, ‘Oh do you cook.’
K – No, I was wondering if you cooked.
Me – Yes
K (Turning to speak to P) – What was it like?
P – Really nice
K (To me) – Can I have the recipe?

We arrive home. P disappears upstairs, K goes into the dining room followed by me…

K – What a lovely room. Nice furniture. Very tasteful. You can tell you were married.
Me – Thank you. I vaguely remember having some input.
K – Oh, really?…
Me (Smiling, exits the room)…

In my previous posts I’d been telling you about my experiences with my first placement, R.
Aside from him never being at the appointed place at the arranged time when I tried to pick him up after a day out with his friends, things were ticking along quite nicely at home although school presented major problems for him. He was, you may recall, on a half day timetable, but even this proved to be too much and I claimed a new world record on his behalf after being contacted by the school one day to collect him fifteen minutes after dropping him off because he’d got into a fight.
I mentioned in passing that the Deputy Head had spoken of his ‘last chance’ because of his behaviour, which meant the school were considering excluding him. This was to be a temporary arrangement at first, during which time the plan was that he should attend another school for children with behavioural problems, with a view to him returning to mainstream education after a few weeks.

I shall say more about that shortly, but in the meantime, I want to mention something that happened at home which underlines a paradox common amongst children in care.
One evening, I was in the kitchen and I heard R on his way upstairs. He called me so I went into the hallway. He said, ‘If I tell you something, would you have to tell anybody else?’
I explained to him that it would depend what it was he told me. I went on to say that if it was something to do with his health, well-being, safety and so forth then yes, I would have to tell my supervising social worker and his Local Authority social worker would have to be told as well. He replied, ‘I don’t think I’d better tell you then.’
He continued to the top of the stairs, then came back down and said, ‘I think I’ll tell you anyway.’
He went on to describe how his mum had a leather belt with metal studs which she used to hit him with when he misbehaved. He told me how much it hurt but, ‘It was my fault because I used to run away.’ I reassured him that it wasn’t his fault, and explained that I knew his mum loved him but she had some problems which had made her do unpleasant things. I also knew his mum was trying very hard to deal with the problems she had.

As it was, the information was already in R’s file but the paradox I referred to earlier was that his one great aim – in spite of what he’d been through – was to return to his mum as she was the only person he really trusted.
This in itself had caused problems in the past because during their monthly telephone contacts, she would apparently often influence him in his behaviour. It was also extremely difficult to monitor because although the calls were supervised, they would speak to each other using a form of ‘back slang’ which his mum had taught him with the sole purpose of making their conversations unintelligible to anyone ‘in authority’ who was listening. I have to admit to being unaware of this ‘language’ before R came on the scene, but I was encouraged by the fact that he told me about it before the first time he phoned his mum after coming to me. I reasoned that in spite of what he had said about only trusting his mum, he must have had a degree of trust in me by telling me about it. Consequently – and at the risk of getting a severe ticking off – I decided that as he had shown what to him was probably a huge amount of trust in me, I would reciprocate.
The first time he was scheduled to call his mum after coming to me, I gave him the phone and said he could go to his room to speak to her so they had some privacy. It seemed to me that if they were going to speak in a language I didn’t understand anyway, it was worth the risk on this occasion to see what the reaction was; and it told him I trusted him.
A few minutes later I heard R coming down the stairs. He came back into the lounge and happily continued the conversation with his mum in normal English. Not only that, but he said she wanted to say hello and would I say hello to her? To be frank, I was a little hesitant because I’d been told that she had a history of being abusive to carers and anyone else involved with looking after R, and once she had made contact would bombard them with calls and/or texts. I decided to risk it, however, and was pleased I did.
From then on it was actually quite odd because whenever he phoned his mum, R made a point of making the call from whichever room in the house I happened to be in. He also put it on loudspeaker as if he wanted me to be involved as well. I have to say his mum was totally supportive and would always tell him he must try hard at school and behave for me, and the bombardment of calls and texts I’d been warned about never materialised.

Returning now to the problems at school, as the warnings about his behaviour continued, so the prospect of him being excluded and attending the other school mentioned earlier increased. Unfortunately, R was adamant that if he was excluded, he would not go to the other school and the threat of it seemed to adversely impact on his behaviour at home. There was, however, another explanation and one that is familiar to all foster carers. It’s the famous ‘honeymoon period’.
Often, when the child first arrives, they can be relatively subdued and this is mirrored in their calmer behaviour. Once they settle in and find their feet, however, this can change, particularly if some other influence – such as the new school threat with R – comes into play.
It was now round about the middle of January, and R’s behaviour at home was deteriorating. This manifested itself in displays of open defiance, swearing and so forth. I won’t go into specific examples now, I’ll leave that for another time. Suffice it to say that there was a sense of foreboding in the air, culminating in some bizarre and destructive behaviour which I’ll tell you more about in my next post.

Next week… ‘Over the hill and far away’