‘Sometimes the tiniest thing can make such a big difference even if it’s only temporary.’
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 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.
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 Families 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 Families Fostering came 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.
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.
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 Families Fostering was really supportive throughout. Looking back, it could easily have been interpreted that I was a ‘tyre-kicker’ and time-waster, but ‘Families’ 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.
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…’