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 8: Over The Hill and Far Away…
…or, to be more accurate, over the fence and just around the corner. At first sight this may seem like an odd way to begin this week’s blog, but please bear with me and I promise it will make sense by the time I’ve finished.
If you’ve read my previous posts, you’ll remember I’ve been telling you about my first placement R, and how things started off well at home but, from day one, school was a major issue for him. As time progressed, however, his behaviour at home began to deteriorate as well, and this coincided with the possibility that he might be excluded from the mainstream school he attended and placed in a school for children with behavioural problems.
From the very moment the idea was first mooted, R was adamant that he wouldn’t go to the school proposed. As it turned out, it wasn’t because of the type of school per se, but because it was that particular school, although no one was ever able to find out why. The story surrounding the whole school ‘thing’ is, I think, interesting for a number of reasons, and is why this week I’m going to pretty much exclusively focus on it.
Firstly, it will give you an idea of the various professionals you will come across as a foster carer. Secondly, seeing the differing views of those professionals will give you an insight into how difficult it can be to determine what is in the best interests of the child. Thirdly, how attempting to do what is in the child’s best interests can lead to something of a dilemma depending on your viewpoint.
In the case of R, as the story unfolds, you might find it an interesting exercise to make up your own mind about what you would have done if the final decision about his school had been left to you.
A Change in School…
We know that mainstream school was difficult for R to cope with. He was constantly disruptive and despite only being on a half day timetable, it was not unusual for the school to contact me three times in a week to collect him early because of his behaviour. It might be worth mentioning at this point that because R was my first placement, I had nothing to compare the actions of the school with.
Like the majority of us with children of our own I suppose, there were never serious behavioural issues at school, and so I was in unchartered territory as far as R’s problems were concerned. Since then, however, I’ve had other experiences where a different mainstream school has dealt far more effectively with similar issues with another placement, although I accept that every child is different and you are never comparing like with like.
There have, however, been occasions when I was called to collect R early despite the fact he finished at lunchtime anyway, when I know the behaviour that prompted the call was nowhere near as bad as the behaviour of another placement (on a full day’s timetable), but where the different school dealt with it without resorting to asking me to pick him up early.
R had been excluded for a couple of days before Christmas 2012, and as we moved into the new year and through January 2013 he was again excluded for a few days. As a new foster carer I kept asking myself whether there was anything I could do differently to prevent R’s rebelliousness at school. What was even more worrying was whether something I was doing wrong at home was actually contributing to what was happening at school.
As a carer with Compass Fostering you are allocated a supervising social worker (SSW) who is your first port of call when problems arise, or doubts begin to creep in as described in the previous paragraph. My SSW was very supportive and reassured me that there was nothing I could do differently.
As with most other aspects of life, one of the key things is communication and that’s something I’ve always put at the top of my list when dealing with the professionals involved with me in the care of my placements. They may not always reciprocate, but as long as you fulfil your obligations in that regard that’s as much as you can do and no one can ever accuse you of not doing your best.
Coming back to R and his exclusions, it was becoming more and more likely that he would have to leave his mainstream school – albeit temporarily perhaps – and attend the ‘special provisions’ school which you’ll remember he was adamant he wouldn’t go to.
An Incident and a Meeting…
In early February the situation came to a head. It was a Thursday and I’d been called by the school to collect R early yet again because he had punched another student. When I arrived, R was with the Deputy Head Teacher who explained what had happened. For the purposes of this post the details of the incident are irrelevant, suffice it to say that I was asked to attend a meeting the following day with R.
When I arrived at the school with R on the Friday, we were shown into a meeting room close to the school’s reception. I was surprised to see not only the Deputy Head Teacher waiting for us but also the Head Teacher. I was equally surprised that the Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCO) was not there as it was his responsibility to look after the needs of children like R (at a subsequent meeting attended by the SENCO, he told me he had not been told about the meeting and was extremely angry when he found out it had taken place without him).
The Deputy Head opened the meeting by saying that he had spoken to everyone involved in the previous day’s incident, and what they’d said was at odds with R’s recollection of events. I was expecting him to elaborate but instead he said, ‘so we’ve decided to exclude you until the half-term break, and because I have a friend at [the school R was adamant he didn’t want to attend], after half-term you’ll be going there until Easter and then we’ll see whether you can come back here.’
R stood up, shouted, ‘I’m not effing going there’, picked up his chair, threw it in the general direction of the Deputy Head and Head and stormed out of the room. I hurried after him as he rushed through reception and out of the building. There was a row of cars parked outside the reception area and next to the one on the end a rather large motorbike. As R passed it, he pushed it as hard as he could into the car on the end of the row.
He ran off the school grounds with me in pursuit. I eventually caught up with him and asked him whether he’d like to go home and talk about what had just happened. He said, ‘I’m not effing coming back with you, I’m going to a friend’s.’ I told him that was fine, but suggested he let me drive him to wherever he was planning to go because I was worried about him given how upset he was. He wanted to be left alone so I said I was going back into school to speak to the Deputy Head, and that if he changed his mind about a lift, to meet me outside the school gates.
In my opinion the situation was handled appallingly and I told the Deputy Head in no uncertain terms when I returned to the school. He was well aware of R’s feelings about the proposed new school, and to break the news to him in the way he did was asking for trouble. At the very least the school’s SENCO should have been present but in truth even that wouldn’t have been the correct way to deal with it. Imparting news of such significance to R should have been planned in advance with his social worker present.
After my ‘discussion’ with the Deputy Head, I left the school and found R waiting for me at the school gates. By the time we got home he had calmed right down.
A Possible Breakthrough…
Long before he came to me, R had received help from the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS), and it was felt that he might benefit from further assistance, particularly as his behaviour seemed to be deteriorating at home and we’d now had this major incident at school.
CAMHS, like many public services today, is under-resourced (I should point out that this is in no way a political comment; it’s just that there never will be sufficient money to go round), and the waiting list very long but, as luck would have it, R had been climbing the list and had reached the top.
Initially, myself, my SSW, and the mainstream school SENCO met with the psychotherapist who would be seeing R. R’s Local Authority social worker should have been there but for reasons I’ve now forgotten couldn’t attend, which was unfortunate given what subsequently transpired.
During the meeting, the school issue was raised and I explained R’s reticence about going to the school suggested. To my surprise the psychotherapist simply said, ‘So why is he being made to go there? There are other similar schools.’ He came up with a couple of suggestions and asked me if I would look into them and if appropriate, arrange a visit. I was thrilled with this new approach and very happy to do as he asked.
That evening I began my research by looking at the website of one of the schools suggested by the psychotherapist. While I was looking at the home page, R came up to me, pointed at the screen of my laptop and said, in a totally matter-of-fact a way, ‘I’ll go there.’
Eureka! I was so pleased I could have done cartwheels around the room, although why he was happy with that particular school I’d no idea.
Unfortunately, my unfettered joy was short-lived. When I told R’s Local Authority social worker about this major breakthrough she said, ‘he’s not going there. We can’t have the kids dictating to us where they go to school.’
And therein lies the dilemma I referred to earlier. When do we bite the bullet and allow the child to dictate terms and when do we dig our heels in? By now, I think it’s obvious what I thought about it, but I wonder what you’d have done if the decision was yours to make?
Back to The Drawing Board…
So we were back to square one and the process began for getting R to attend the school he didn’t want to go to. First of all I visited the school. R should have come with me but refused. I happen to think he would have liked it there but what I thought was of no consequence although I did try to convince him.
The next stage was a full-on attendance meeting with the Head Teacher, my SSW, R’s LA social worker, R, the SENCO from his mainstream school and uncle Tom Cobbly and all. R refused point blank to attend the meeting but I did manage to get him to come with me to the school, but had to agree to let him sit outside in the car whilst I went in. He told me that if anyone came out to try to persuade him to go in he would tell them to ‘f’ off.
I explained the situation to everyone there but one of the PE teachers said she would go outside and try to tempt him in. She returned five minutes later and said, ‘You were right. He told me to ‘f’ off but he was quite polite when he said it’! The meeting ended and the Head Teacher suggested he come to my house to speak to R because he would be on familiar territory. I told him he was welcome but not to expect any softening of R’s position.
Unlike Julius Caesar when he invaded Britain in 55BC, the Head Teacher came, saw but, unfortunately, didn’t conquer. R went out before he arrived, but his natural curiosity got the better of him and he did return whilst the Head Teacher was still there. He refused, however, to engage with him at all.
The next suggestion was to meet on the local golf driving range where R liked to go. I told him I felt he was now clutching at straws but was happy to try. He decided against it and said that the school attendance officer would turn up out of the blue at some point and try to speak to R.
A Great Escape…
It’s now that I get to fulfil my promise made at the beginning to explain the title (as amended in line one) of this week’s post.
I remember we’d had heavy snow around this time. R was at home because, you’ll recall, he’d been excluded. There was a knock on the front door. I went to answer it with R hot on my heels, curious as ever.
The woman on the doorstep announced herself as Mrs X, the attendance officer from the school, at which point R turned tail, hurtled along the hallway, through the kitchen and out into the garden. If I didn’t know better, I could have sworn at the time that his feet and legs spun like a circular saw in a blurry circle, just as one of those cartoon characters gathers momentum before zooming off into the distance at warp speed 6.
I reached the backdoor just in time to see five-feet-nothing R scale an eight feet tall wooden fence as though it wasn’t there and disappear into the rough track that ran along the back of my house. He didn’t even bother to put anything on his feet, speed being the key in this moment of crisis!
I returned to the front door to find Mrs X rooted to the spot, mouth agape. She asked what was beyond the garden and said she would try to catch him as he exited the track, but I knew her high heels were no match for R’s bare feet in the snowy conditions. I watched her hurry as best she could the thirty metres or so to the end of the road and around the corner. After a minute or so, R reappeared at the bottom of the garden after vaulting the fence with graceful aplomb from the other side. This time he flew through the back door into the kitchen, along the hallway and out through the front door with me calling after him, ‘put some shoes on!’ It wasn’t that I meant to encourage him, it was just that, well, I couldn’t think of anything else to say.
And that, as they say, was that. Mrs X gave up her quest, and after a while R returned.
It had been my intention to mention a particularly bizarre piece of behaviour but that will have to wait until next week as I’ve already more than overstayed my welcome. I’ll also leave you guessing whether I and the powers-that-be managed to convince R to go to the school which, for whatever reason, he hated so much.
Next week… ‘The end is nigh’
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…
An Interesting Car Ride…
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).
R’s School Challenges Continue…
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.
A Difficult Relationship…
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.
A Sense of Foreboding…
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’
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 6: A Magical Time…
First of all I’d just like to say to every single one of my loyal readers that I hope you both had a wonderful Christmas, and that knowing you’re sticking with me makes writing this all the more worthwhile.
Secondly, I was going to say a special thank you to my supervising social worker, G, who bought me a brilliant book for Christmas entitled ‘The Horologicon’ which, in a nutshell, is about words no longer used today that have a relevance to different times of the day. For example, ‘Philogrobolized’ relates to first thing in the morning and means ‘hung over’.
You’ll note I said, ‘was going to say a special thank you’ because there was a card attached to the book which read, ‘I saw this book and thought of you,’ which I thought was a reference to my liking for words. However, as with many books, before the actual beginning there was one of those little sayings which in this case was, ‘Therefore doth Job open his mouth in vain; he multiplieth words without knowledge.’ I now know that what G meant by, ‘I saw this book and thought of you,’ was ‘you rabbit on too much about nothing in particular’ and I’ve a horrible feeling that what’s currently going through my head to write this week is going to reinforce that sentiment.
You’ll remember that my last blog ended with the story of R’s genuine concern for one particular member of Her Majesty’s Constabulary – George – who unfortunately had to work on Christmas Eve.
Before I continue with R’s progress, however, I’d like to tell you about something that happened this Christmas Eve which was equally amusing but a bit, well, surreal I suppose. I should warn you it has little or nothing to do with fostering, but it was one of those events you can’t wait to share with anyone and everyone who’ll listen.
A Strange Surprise…
It was 10.30pm and my current placement (we’ll call him ‘M’) and I were quietly minding our own business watching a film on TV. Now, it’s fair to say that M is a great worrier, and is particularly sensitive to what he perceives to be strange noises. We both thought we heard a knocking sound coming from the back door which immediately placed M’s senses on the highest of high alerts given the lateness of the hour.
I told M to stay where he was (which, if I remember correctly, was making a dash for the back of the sofa), whilst I went to investigate. I was met in the kitchen by an elderly Indian gentleman dressed mainly in what I can only describe as clothing reminiscent of that favoured by Indian Holy men, together with flip-flops on his feet.
As a foster carer you learn – and indeed may well be told during any one of the numerous training courses you’ll attend – to expect the unexpected but, try as I might, I cannot recall ever being told that the unexpected might include an elderly Indian gentleman whom you don’t know in your kitchen at half past ten on Christmas Eve (I must make a note to contact the training department about this oversight).
Anyway, I asked if I could help him and he said – in very broken English – that he thought he lived in my house. On a serious note, I was by now concerned for his well-being but, before I could say any more, he obviously twigged his mistake and apologised. I then showed him out, checking that he was all right and knew where he was going.
M, in the meantime, had just about plucked up the courage to peep into the kitchen as I said goodbye (and locked the door behind me!). It transpired that the man was staying with relatives a few doors away from me over Christmas and, having gone out for a walk, had become temporarily disorientated!
R Feels Sick…
Anyway, going back to R and Christmas 2012, all went well and we had a brilliant Christmas Day. This continued into Boxing Day which we spent with my son and three year-old grandson. In the morning we went to the local park, played football and generally messed about before going home for lunch and chilling for the rest of the day.
Just before midnight, I was woken up by a knock on my bedroom door. As I opened it R, who was crying, ran off and into his room. I followed him and immediately realised from the give–away aroma on the landing that he’d been sick. When I entered his room it was obvious he had been very sick but I wasn’t prepared for what I saw.
R was cowering in a corner of his room still crying and looking more terrified than he had that first night he came to me. I felt so sorry for him. He thought that because he’d been sick I was going to hit him! I gave him plenty of reassurance that no-one was going to hit him or punish him at all, got him cleaned up and wrapped up in a fresh duvet on the sofa downstairs while I set about the room.
Fortunately, the reason for his sickness was not that he was unwell. It was because of the mixture of things he’d eaten throughout Boxing Day. Yet another lesson. It seems that children in care are often worse at regulating what they eat than those kids in a ‘normal’ (for want of a better word) family, and it’s one of our jobs as foster carers to help them.
In R’s case he usually ate a lot anyway, but this was accompanied by a very active lifestyle which meant he always kept in trim. Later in my brief fostering career, I was to have another placement to whom food was almost the be all and end all but trying to get him to exercise was a nightmare. But more of that perhaps in future blogs. R was able to go to bed again around 1am and had fully recovered by the time he got up.
A Budding Magician…
Over the previous few days he’d watched ‘Dynamo, Magician Impossible’ on the TV and seemed to be particularly interested. On the day after Boxing Day he went out with his placement support worker, and while he was out, bought himself a magic set with a voucher he’d been given for Christmas.
After returning home he spent the rest of the day practising his magic tricks and was so enthralled that the next day I took him to London where we visited a specialist magic shop and he bought another couple of tricks. R spent much of the following day as well practising his magic, and in the evening we went to see ‘A Christmas Carol’ at a local theatre. This turned out to be a real eye-opener in that R’s reaction was totally unexpected (what was that I said earlier about expect the unexpected?).
We arrived at the theatre in time for R to have an ice cream. He knew the story and we chatted a little about Scrooge and the Ghosts before we took our seats. When the curtain went up, R tapped me then whispered in my ear, ‘They’re real people! Up there, look, they’re real people!’ I said, ‘Of course, what did you expect?’ and he replied, ‘A DVD. I thought we were going to watch a DVD!’ I glanced at him from time to time throughout the performance and I don’t think he blinked or closed his mouth the whole time, so entranced was he by the experience.
By this time R had been with me about a month and I sensed that we were starting to develop a real bond. As Christmas came and went and he returned to school, however, things began to take a turn for the worse. The ‘honeymoon’ period was about to end.
And on that slightly sad note I’ll close out for this week but, before I do, I’d just like to wish you an enjoyable New Year’s Eve and hope that on New Year’s Day you don’t find yourself philogrobolized.
Next week: ‘Trouble on The Horizon’
Week 5: It’s Christmas Eve and Welcome To The Night Shift..
In a previous blog, I mentioned that one of the lessons I’d tried to learn was not to make assumptions. For the purposes of this blog, however, I’ve decided to temporarily ignore that lesson (even though as you read on you’ll realise I still hadn’t really learned it anyway) and assume that you’ve got far more pressing things to do this festive week than read my lengthy ramblings through the world of fostering.
This week, therefore, my ramblings will be short(er); more of a one hundred than a fifteen hundred metres I suppose. If you’ve read any of my other blogs, you’ll know that I had my first placement – five-feet-nothing, 12 year-old ‘R’ – and that Christmas 2012 was almost upon us.
I thought I’d use this week to tell a couple of stories leading up to that Christmas which illustrate two different sides to R. Although the first of the stories shows a particularly good side, the second doesn’t show a bad side but one which was a bit more challenging but funny as well.
A Helping Hand…
R loved football and our local non-league team were involved in a 2nd Round FA Cup replay. Now, anyone who knows a little about footie – and more particularly the FA Cup – will know that once the competition reaches the third round, all of the Premier League teams come into the draw.
The hope was, therefore, that our team would win the replay and be drawn against one of the top Premier League sides in the Third Round. Having just realised I’ve spent most of the previous paragraph giving you information which is barely relevant to the story, I’ll now cut to the chase and tell you what happened.
I got tickets for R and me to see the match. Before the kick-off, R suddenly stood up and started to clamber over his seat and the seats behind. Thinking he’d got bored waiting for the action to start and had decided to go walkabout, I went to grab him (and missed), and was about to launch a verbal assault when I noticed an elderly man with crutches four rows back.
By this time, R had reached him and it was then I realised what he was doing. The man had dropped one of his crutches and as a result couldn’t lower himself into his seat. R picked up the crutch, gave it back to the man, then helped him sit down before clambering back and into his own seat once again. This was such a pleasant surprise that I must have resembled a goldfish with its mouth jammed open because R just looked at me and said, ‘What?’
I’m sure it won’t go unnoticed that I had, once again, made an assumption and to my eternal shame that assumption was made based purely on the fact that R was in care.
Down At The Police Station…
As for the second story, the title of this week’s blog is a bit of a clue in that the event took place on Christmas Eve.
R had once again gone out with his friends and once again had failed to show up for collection at the appointed time. I went through the usual rigmarole of contacting Compass Fostering and the police (although by now it had become a regular occurrence and I was not as worried as I had been the first couple of times it happened), and waited for the police to turn up with him later on in the evening.
The police phoned around 10pm and asked me to pick up R from the police station as they’d had to suspend his ‘regular taxi service’, being as it was Christmas Eve and they were quite busy. As with most police stations nowadays, my local one was closed and so I’d been told to go to the door at the back of the building which served as the exit/entrance for officers coming off or going on duty.
I got there about 10.15pm and could see R through the door chatting away merrily to the policeman who’d found him. The officer let me in, R was as happy as Larry and thrilled to see me, saying he was glad I’d turned up because the policeman had told him that if he continued to go AWOL, he would drive him to somewhere in the wilds of mid-Wales where he would stay until he was eighteen and ‘you wouldn’t wanna go there.’
At that point, a couple of policemen appeared from one of the corridors on their way off duty, and as they passed R, they said a cheery ‘Hiya R, how’re you?’ as if they’d known him all his life (which, on reflection, they might well have done). R responded with an equally cheery ‘Watcha.’
They opened the door to leave, holding it for another policeman to enter the building. When he saw R, he chuckled and said hello as well. I’m now beginning struggle to display the sort of gravitas one should when dealing with a youngster that has stepped out of line, but what followed kicked any chance of me remaining serious into touch.
R very politely said, ‘Evening George, you working tonight?’ to which George the policeman replied, ‘Yes, ‘fraid so R.’ R then responded with a line that will remain forever with me and never fails to make me laugh. I’m not sure what it was that tickled me the most at the time and still don’t, what R said, or the seriousness and concern for George with which he said it. Anyway, R replied,
‘Aw, that’s a bit of a bugger innit?’
And on that happy festive note I’ll end this week’s blog and wish you a very Merry Christmas.
Next week: ‘A Magical Time.’
Week 4: A New World Record?
If you read my previous blog you’ll know that my first placement after being accepted as a foster carer was a six-feet plus gang member in a bandana. Or rather, that was the image I’d formed in my mind before the five-feet nothing terrified 12 year old ‘R’ was brought to me some 8 hours later than planned by two huge policemen. You may also recall that on that first evening R and I stayed up chatting until around 1am.
On the following day – Saturday, I took R to the cinema to watch the new James Bond film ‘Skyfall’. Afterwards, we went to the local shopping centre, and R asked if he could look in a sports shop whilst I went to Boots. My initial reaction was that I now had something of a dilemma on my hands.
R was a bit of an absconder and this had been borne out by his actions the previous day, when he had run away from school rather than face the prospect of coming to me. If I’d said ‘no’, it would have shown a lack of trust, but by saying ‘yes’, I might run the risk of him disappearing while I was in Boots. Of course, when I got my brain into gear, my so-called ‘dilemma’ was a complete nonsense and the result of zero fostering experience. I mean, why would I be worried about him running away while I was in Boots? He could easily give me the slip anytime he wanted anyway! Another lesson learned, or presented to me at least; whether or not I learned it then is a bit of a moot point. As it turned out R met me without a hitch.
R spent Sunday with his grandparents as he did every other week. They were a very solid and positive influence on him and he always looked forward to seeing them. So, after a couple of days of fostering, I’m thinking, ‘what’s all the fuss about? This all seems very straightforward.’
What a quaint thought!
Finding Ways to Support R…
During the week that followed, I received more information about R. School was certainly a problem for him, so much so that as I stated in my last blog he was on a half-day timetable. I also mentioned that he liked football but what I didn’t know at first was that he was actually a talented footballer. Unfortunately, because of his anger problems, he couldn’t take part because he struggled to deal with team colleagues who weren’t as good as him and was intolerant of their mistakes on the pitch. However, it did get me thinking whether it might be possible over the coming months to try and channel that anger rather than let his talent go to waste.
In spite of his difficulties at school, I never had a problem getting him there. Before he came to me, he had a walk of almost two miles and was often very late or wouldn’t arrive at all. If and when he did get there he was scruffy and not in the designated school uniform. I lived about a mile from the school but figured the best thing to do would be to drive him there and pick him up and if nothing else he wouldn’t get punishments for lateness.
When I’d helped him put away his clothes on that first night, I noticed that what school uniform he had was just plain tatty, and he told me that other bits of it he didn’t have such as a tie. There was only one place locally where you could buy his uniform and that didn’t open at weekends, so when I collected him Monday lunchtime we went straight to the uniform shop and re-kitted him out completely. We then went and got him new school shoes and on Tuesday morning, when he was ready for school, he looked a different lad and was visibly proud of how he did look. Nor was this a flash in the pan. All the time he was with me R was fastidious about his personal hygiene and the way he looked.
That first week of school after R came to me passed uneventfully until we got to Friday, when I received a call to pick him up an hour early because he had sworn at two teachers. When I arrived at the school, the Deputy Head met me, explained what had happened and said this was R’s last chance. On the positive side, though, he did compliment him on the transformation in the way he looked!
The First Dilemma…
So we’d reached the second weekend and other than the Friday problem at school, all had gone very well and at home R was always polite and helpful. I did, however, wonder whether the weekend would go quite so smoothly as R had told me on Friday night that he was seeing his friends on Saturday, and the gang I’d previously been warned about took its name from the location where he’d arranged to meet these friends.
I decided there was no point in trying to stop him going, so the best thing I could do would be to drop him off and arrange a time to pick him up. He phoned me an hour-and-a-half before the scheduled time to collect him to say he was ready to come home. Phew! He said he’d arranged to meet them again on the Sunday and so I dropped him at the same place and again agreed a time to collect him.
I arrived a few minutes early and waited… and waited…and waited. No R. I had no way of contacting him because he wasn’t allowed a mobile phone. Now I really did have a dilemma because I’d rather stupidly put the dinner in the oven before setting off to get him and so I couldn’t wait indefinitely for him to turn up. Another problem with being a single (male or female) carer; no back-up in case of emergencies!
After around half an hour of waiting I called the police, explained the situation and my predicament. I also called Compass Fostering as per the protocol and made my way home. Within half an hour of me arriving and attempting a rescue of the Sunday roast, R was once again deposited on my doorstep by two burly policemen, and explained that one of his friends had been taken ill and he’d stayed to make sure he was all right.
I confess that this episode was very stressful as I was worried that something had happened to R. With hindsight, it was another example of lack of fostering experience because as I became more seasoned to the quirks and foibles of the kids in my care, the unexpected became the expected if that makes sense.
The New World Record…
I’m mindful of not overstaying my welcome and realise that I’ve yet to explain the title of this week’s blog so I’ll push on.
A few days after the events described above, I received a phone call from the school to remind me about the next day’s carol service at a local church, and to tell me it was compulsory for all students to attend. The school had obviously decided R was a potential absentee otherwise presumably they wouldn’t have called, and I don’t imagine they contacted all one thousand students’ parents and carers.
I think it’s fair to say that when I told R, he wasn’t overly enthusiastic about attending, and it seemed no amount of persuasion was going to change his mind. However, I thought I’d made a breakthrough after telling him all his friends would be there, and suggesting maybe they could hang out for a while afterwards.
The day of the carol service, R went to school in his usual positive frame of mind and I dropped him off at the normal time of 8.20. I watched from the car – as I usually did – to make sure he at least went through the school gates, and I guess I pulled away about 8.25. I travelled the short distance to my local Argos to pick up a couple of Christmas presents and was in the queue at 8.35 when my phone went off. It was the school.
Would I please pick up R immediately as he had been in a fight and sworn at two teachers (I never did find out why he always seemed to swear at two teachers. Never one, three, four or five, always two). Anyway, having double checked that it wasn’t April 1st, I told whoever it was who phoned that I would be claiming a New World Record on R’s behalf as I felt that a twelve-year-old being ‘evicted’ within fifteen minutes of arriving at school would take some beating. I then corrected myself because thinking about it, he had been in my sight for five of those minutes so everything must have happened within the space of ten minutes.
As anyone who knows me will attest, I will always fully support a school’s efforts where a child in my care is concerned. However, I also never lose sight of the fact that my primary responsibility is to the child and if I don’t consider the aforementioned ‘efforts’ quite come up to scratch, then I will say so. On this occasion, I felt the school fell short and I attempted to point that out in a pleasant and humorous way. Unfortunately, I don’t think the person on the other end of the phone was attuned to my sense of humour and my attempt to lighten the mood fell very flat. Still, R did get out of the carol service.
Well that’s it for this week, but if anyone is aware of a student lasting less than ten minutes after arriving at school, please don’t contact me or Families Fostering, but instead write direct to The Guinness Book of Records…
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.
My First Foster Child…
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.
Getting To Know Each other…
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?’
Week 2: The Best Laid Plans…
…have a habit of ending up if not in tatters, then a little bit unstitched at the seams. A bit like Christopher Columbus’ quest for the East Indies, which you may remember from the previous blog found him half a world away from where he’d intended to be.
And so it was with my plan to become a foster carer, although in my case it wasn’t a distance thing but one of time. More in a bit.
You may also remember I spoke about some of the qualities I felt go into making a good foster carer such as those possessed by the Gloucester Old Spot pig – calmness, resilience and so forth. But there was one important omission which surely must belong in the weapons’ arsenal of any carer, and that’s a sense of humour.
I can’t say for certain whether this particular quality formed part of Columbus’ make up, or features as a personality trait of the Gloucester Old Spot pig although I doubt it, given that the former was destined to sail the seven seas with a navigator whose skills were at best a bit dubious, and the latter is destined to end up in the country’s frying pans and fan-assisted ovens.
The First Steps…
First though, you’ll recall what it was that made me – a single male – come into fostering and how, after years of being unaware I could foster, I saw the free-sheet ad, did some research and contacted Compass Fostering. A couple of days after I called, some information arrived in the post with the inevitable form or two that had to be completed and returned, and shortly after that a social worker from Compass Fostering damn thesecame to see me to make an initial assessment as to my suitability.
The visit went well and the next stage was to attend a two-day course which then was simply called, ‘Preparation Group Training Course’. It’s different nowadays in that prospective carers complete a three-day ‘Skills to Foster’ course whilst in assessment and prior to attending Panel, followed by a two-day induction and then one-day of training on Education toolkit after Panel approval. I’d like to be able to say I know what ‘Education toolkit’ means but as I don’t, I think it’s best to move on as quickly as possible.
My Preparation Group Training Course took place in May 2011 and provided a great opportunity to meet other potential carers, and to discover what made them take the plunge. It was particularly useful to have a current foster carer of twenty years’ standing as one of the trainers, and everyone made full use of her knowledge and experience.
Dealing with Doubters…
Part of the reason for me writing this blog is to try to give some perspective on fostering from the viewpoint of a single male carer whom, you may remember from last week, I described as a rare breed. Indeed, at the Preparation Group Training Course, I was the only one in that situation and to be honest, I was half expecting to feel a bit uncomfortable, given that my best friend had already told me I was a ‘strawberry short of a punnet’ and ought to ‘see someone’ about my ‘problem’.
He would have been the very first to put his hand up following my invitation in last week’s blog to raise your hand if you thought wanting to be a single male carer was ‘a bit odd!’. I did not, however, feel at all uncomfortable or out of place on the course and everyone there was really supportive of everyone else. Sometime later though, I did wheedle a confession out of my supervising social worker that both she and her colleague who came to do the initial assessment didn’t hold out much hope for me prior to the visit.
Shame on them, I say (albeit with my tongue stuffed very firmly in my cheek!) but, if you think about it, it is the woman who is more naturally pre-disposed to a nurturing role regardless of what any of today’s ‘radical thinkers’ might believe, and so a little initial wariness when someone like me appears on the scene is only to be expected. Okay, I know there are quite a few couples where the man is the main carer, but I think you get my drift.
At this point, I would just like to say I have been very remiss in not mentioning my son so far. He was in his late twenties when I ‘hit him’ with my fostering plans and he has been totally supportive all the way through. I’m going to come back to the Preparation Group Training Course towards the end of this week’s blog, because I really want to tell you what I think is a great – and in many ways, humbling – story about what happened there.
A Few Bumps in The Road…
In the meantime, I want to back-track slightly and remind you about what I said earlier on the subject of, ‘the best laid plans.’ After completing the Preparation Group Training in May 2011, the idea was to push on with the assessment process and aim to be accepted before the end of the year.
Unfortunately, a family crisis arose which well and truly put a spanner in the works, and there was a time when I wondered if I would ever complete the journey to Panel and acceptance as a foster carer. The nature of the ‘crisis’ is irrelevant; indeed, that there was a crisis at all would be irrelevant, were it not for the fact that it gives me the opportunity to tell you that Compass Fostering was really supportive throughout. Looking back, it could easily have been interpreted that I was a ‘tyre-kicker’ and time-waster, but Compass stuck with me and things were back on track in the early part of 2012.
The assessment process was long and far more involved than I had expected. Of course I understood why but, nevertheless, it was sometimes disconcerting to have to open up the whole of your life – past and present – to a complete stranger. You need to be prepared for the number – and breadth – of questions you’ll be asked and if, like me, you can’t remember the forenames of one or more of your grandparents it would help to find out! I have nothing but praise, however, for the social worker who undertook the painstaking task of my assessment, and we remained friends after my report was completed and I went to Panel in July 2012.
I think it’s fair to say that once you have a Panel date, it’s more likely than not you’ll be accepted. This is because your assessing social worker will only recommend you if they think you have what it takes to be a foster carer; and don’t forget, they have your life history upon which to base their judgement and will accompany you to Panel.
In that respect, Panel was not as intimidating as it could have been, bearing in mind you are facing eight to ten strangers who are responsible for helping to ensure the safety of our vulnerable children. So it was, in July 2012, eight years after the seed of fostering was first sown, and many trials and tribulations had been negotiated, I was eventually accepted as a foster carer.
An Up and Coming Rap Star…
Finally for this week, the story I promised from the Preparation Group Training Course. Among other things on the first day, a music CD was played to us. It was a ‘Rap’ song, written and performed by a teenage girl in foster care. It was about her life both before and after she was taken into care. To be honest, I’m not the greatest Rap fan who ever lived, but the lyrics were so evocative and poignant that I was living her life along with her.
On the second day of the course, the foster-carer-come-trainer I told you about earlier was accompanied by two young men and a girl. The young men had both been fostered by our trainer, and were now making a great life for themselves on their own. The girl was actually in foster care with our trainer at that time, and it was she who had made the music CD. The young men were confident and outgoing but told us it was a far cry from what they used to be like before they were fostered. The girl was quiet and withdrawn, so much so in fact, that I felt sorry for her but admired her enormously for being there when she really didn’t have to be.
We were given the opportunity to ask them questions and it was interesting to sit back and learn a bit about their fostering experiences, although the girl did struggle a bit. I asked the young men one questions, and the girl a couple, and I remember them as if it were yesterday. I asked the boys if they would give me the name of their hairdresser as I’d like to have my hair styled like theirs, but they seemed to think I was a bit old. And just to rub salt in the wounds, they laughed when they said it!
I told the girl we had listened to her song on the first day (which seemed to surprise her), and whilst I wasn’t a great fan of Rap, I loved the lyrics and the way she’d performed it. I then asked her if she could tell me how she’d recorded it and did she hope to have a career in music? This seemed to lift her and whilst she wasn’t exactly gushing she did open up more than she had before, telling us how she’d started going to a music workshop where the kids could create and record their own stuff.
I can’t deny that her responsiveness gave me a great feeling, but nothing like the one I got after the day officially ended.
The young men, girl and foster carer (one of our trainers) had gone out to their car. I was standing around chatting inside when the foster carer returned and came over to me. She said, ‘what you did has made her day. She’s chatting about it in the car. I just wanted to come back and tell you.’
There are two points to this story. One is to show that sometimes the tiniest thing (in my case so tiny that it didn’t occur to me it would have such an impact – or any impact at all actually) can make such a big difference even if it’s only temporary and two, how rewarding doing what appears to be very little can really be. I knew then that my decision to foster was the right one. See you next week…
Next Week: ‘Into The Unknown…’
Week 1: To Boldly Go…
…not exactly where no man has gone before, but certainly where relatively few have dared, wanted to or, just as likely, knew-that-they-could, set foot. I’m talking about fostering, and whilst there are couples where the man is the main carer, I’m a single male and although I may not be quite as unusual as a Gloucester Old Spot Pig, for example, I’m one of a rare breed nonetheless.
But before I share a little more of my strange and wonderful world with you – and explain what spotted pigs have got to do with fostering – let me introduce myself and tell you how I came to be a foster carer.
I was wondering whether to give myself the pen name ‘Kirk’ as a kind of continuation of the Star Trek theme that began this blog. Then I thought I’d go for ‘Spock’, which would have been really appropriate, a sort of Star Trek-meets-the-famous-paediatrician-and-author-of-one-of-the-definitive-childcare-books, but I’ve settled for Columbus (or Col for short) because, just as the explorer of the same name discovered his new, exciting world in the Americas, so I discovered mine when I found fostering.
In a previous life, longer ago than I really care to remember, I was an accountant. I’m telling you this firstly to demonstrate that even accountants can move on to do interesting and hugely rewarding things (after saying that, what’s the betting a very offended accounts department ‘forget’ to pay me this week?) and secondly, because it leads me nicely into a little story, a story that will give you a glimpse into one of the thought processes I went through after I’d told myself that fostering was what I wanted to do.
A local firm of solicitors had advertised for someone with a financial background to head a new Family Finance department it was setting up. I applied for the post and was successful. After I’d started, the senior partner told me that the main reason I’d got the job was because of the answer I gave to one of his questions at the interview. The question was, “What advice would you give to someone who came to you and said they were giving up their job to become self-employed?” I replied, “I would tell them to go and lie down on a sunny beach somewhere until the feeling passed.”
And that’s pretty much what I said to myself after deciding I wanted to be a foster carer. I didn’t exactly find a sunny beach to lie on, but I did let the thought swish merrily around in my head until it passed… except it didn’t. In fact, as it swished and swashed it grew stronger with time and here I am.
‘That’s all fine and dandy’ I hear you say, ‘but you haven’t told me why? I mean, what motivates a single man in his fifties to think about fostering of all things; and once you’ve taken the plunge, gone through the process and been accepted, what then? What’s it actually like?’ And hands up those of you who are also thinking, ‘Sounds a bit…well…odd to be honest.’
If you are thinking that, I’m not offended and you’re certainly not alone, but more on that in the weeks to come. In the meantime, come with me on a journey ten years back in time and I’ll let you into the secret of how I came to be here now.
Thinking About Fostering…
Late in 2004, after speaking to someone she knew at a village club she belonged to, my wife came home and started talking about fostering. Her enthusiasm for the idea was infectious and so we agreed that once we’d got Christmas out of the way we’d take a closer look at what it entailed (fostering that is, not Christmas!). Christmas came and went but, sadly, before we had chance to make detailed enquiries, my wife was diagnosed with a terminal illness and died in April 2006.
During her illness, fostering wasn’t mentioned at all, but it continued to pop in and out of my head as the weeks and months passed following her death. As far as I was concerned, however, the idea had become a non-starter because I was now a single male and I’d assumed you had to be a female or couple to foster. The weeks and months turned into years and as they did so the fading flame of the fostering idea was totally extinguished… until…
…Fast forward to 2011.
I saw a TV programme about kids who were living in residential homes. It seemed that some were just too challenging to be fostered, but there were others who maybe could have been fostered but there were just too few foster carers to go round. I remember thinking something along the lines of, ‘That’s a shame. There must be hundreds of kids in that situation and if I’d been allowed to foster I might have been able to make a real difference to one of them.’
My overriding memories of the programme were first the huge impact it had on me and second, my frustration (misplaced as it turned out) at not being able to foster. I suppose I could sum it up by saying that at that point it almost felt as if fostering was a vocation – or calling even – such was the sense of really wanting to get involved.
The following day, I picked up a local freesheet and lo and behold there was an ad for foster carers and much to my surprise, it said that pretty much anyone could be considered (although I did wonder if that included former accountants). I went onto the internet and researched several fostering organisations in my area – both Local Authorities and agencies – and eventually decided to approach Compass Fostering, mainly because the website seemed more comprehensive than most and the training and level of support looked to be amongst the best.
A phone call later, and everything pretty much snowballed from there – or at least it would have done had a family crisis not got in the way, but that’s another story for another time.
So now you know the ‘Why’. As for the ‘What’s it like?’ please stay tuned to the weeks that follow and all will be revealed.
Before I sign off for this week though, I’d like to come back to my friends Christopher Columbus and the Gloucester Old Spot Pig who, in the context of fostering, have quite a bit in common – well, sort of.
Now, I’d planned to say that Columbus, as well as being a great explorer, didn’t rely on others to find his way through the choppy waters of the world’s oceans because he was also a brilliant navigator. Unfortunately, I then found out that when he landed in the Americas, he was actually aiming for the East Indies which by my reckoning is just about as big a miss as you can get (good job he wasn’t in charge of the Apollo Moon landings).
Anyway, because it suits my purpose, I’m going to exercise a bit of literary licence here and pretend that on the occasion of the ‘big miss’, Columbus did rely on someone else to navigate who, it would seem, held their sextant upside down or back-to-front or something, thereby taking Columbus in completely the opposite direction to that in which he wanted to go. So, literary licence duly exercised and you the reader having forgotten his navigational incompetence, I can now say that Columbus was an accomplished navigator which for the purposes of this little section I need him to be.
As for the Gloucester Old Spot, well, they’re known for being as calm and docile as a pig can be and pretty resilient into the bargain. If you put those qualities together, then you’ve gone a long way to cooking up the ingredients (hope there are no Old Spots reading this) for a half-decent foster carer.
You see, you’ll need to successfully navigate your way through and around the myriad of challenges and obstacles that fostering will inevitably put across your path; and being level-headed, calm and resilient while you do is a definite help. Get that right most of the time though, and the rewards should far outweigh the frustrations and heartache that from time to time fostering inevitably brings. See you next week…
Next week: ‘The Best Laid Plans…’