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 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…