Welcome to my first blog post. I’ve been a foster carer for GLF for 4 years and to date have been lucky enough to have fostered 9 amazing kids. Their ages have ranged from 8 weeks old to 14 years old. For me, deciding to become a foster carer was an easy decision to make because my parents are foster carers and have been since I was a young child. I have had over 30 foster brothers and sisters so as you can probably imagine there was never a dull moment in our house!!
Through my parents I have been involved in the fostering community nearly my whole life. Following in their footsteps and becoming a foster carer myself was something I dreamed of for a long time and because of their work I already knew what to expect and what was involved and felt very confident that I had what it takes to welcome foster kids into my home to live as part of my family.
Maybe if I hadn’t of had the knowledge from my parents and the experience I gained in growing up within the fostering community my decision wouldn’t have been so easy and maybe I wouldn’t have been so keen to take a personal walk down the fostering path. I cannot imagine how empty life would have been without the joy (amongst the chaos) that my 9 foster kids have given me.
I am passionate about trying to spread the word to all the non-fostering people out there in the hope that maybe others can see that foster kids urgently need families, they need people like me, like my parents and like YOU (YES YOU) to give them a chance. To give them what many of us take for granted, a safe, warm loving home to call their own, educational opportunities, life skills, health and fitness, mentoring, encouragement, forgiveness, love and above all the ability to find and have happiness in their life.
There is still a huge shortage of foster carers in the UK in 2016 and I wonder why. Why do you think this is? I’d love to hear your thoughts! From my experience people often seem to have an unrealistic view of us foster carers that we are some kind of superheroes, or even saints. Trust me we are neither! We are all ordinary people and very much less than perfect just like you perhaps! Take me for example well I am definitely the less than perfect foster carer but that hasn’t stopped me from TRYING to give my very best to my foster kids and mistakes (more on these later) and all it hasn’t stopped them from flourishing in my care and having the chance to enjoy lots of positive experiences they can look back on when they are older and cherish. Children don’t need perfect people as foster carers otherwise how will they learn to cope in life when things go wrong?
I’d like to share with you one sunny but slightly windy (with the emphasis on windy) day in the summer of 2015. I hope it might help you see that even the most well-meaning foster carer can have the odd mishap or two and that really we foster carers are only human!
My 5 year old foster-son has spent weeks in training for this…his school sports day! Every day after school encouraging him to run as far and as fast as he can, all the way screaming until my voice hurts ‘DON’T STOP KEEP GOING’ as he gets further and further away across the park.
Today I line up with the other parents along the trackside nervously wondering if he will even find the courage to start the race. He’s a terribly shy boy prone to just bursting into tears in public at the tiniest little thing always clinging to me for comfort and reassurance. As I dropped him off this morning his last words were to me were ‘don’t worry I know if I fall I’ve to get up and keep going until I finish the race’. I smile at him as well as to myself and say ‘well done darling you do that as it’s not the winning it’s the taking part’. ‘You know that right?” I ask him for the millionth time this week.
‘Yes’ he tells me he knows that!
I’m cheering, I’m then screaming and I’ve forgotten all the other parents are around me as I shout at the top of my voice just as I have done every night in the park…’DON’T STOP, KEEP GOING’ He knows and he can hear me as I see him focusing on my face and my voice as he runs way ahead of all the other kids. Then I’m crying before he even reaches the finish because I know he has won.. The proudest day of my life. He won the minute he stood at the start of the race and took part in it, coming first was just the icing on the cake. Ok so it’s only a kids sports day but for this little man attempting that race and winning that race meant way more as it showed him he could do it that and nothing could hold him back. That finally he was good at something, something he loved.
Later that afternoon I proudly picked him up from the School at home time. His face beaming with happiness. Other kids and parents were all congratulating him in the playground his whole body was puffed up from pride. I felt so emotional again and grateful that all the weekend & after school walks and runs had paid off. Coaching him to not stop running, explaining to him time and time again if he falls to get up and keep running and to finish the race even if he comes last. I realised that day when he lined up with the other kids and went down into the crouched position like the Olympic athletes on the iPad we had watched over and over on YouTube do, that perhaps I had been a bit over enthusiastic in my training approach as the other kids were looking at him as if to say what an earth is he doing down there….. Embarrassing really but I wasn’t to know that they don’t teach kids the professional racing positions at primary school level sports day!
He had been given a sticker shouting a big 1 on it as a prize for coming first. Even though he had only owned it a few hours it had already now lost it stickiness and was shabby and torn. He had been showing it to everyone he could as if it were a gold shiny medal. He carried it all the way to the car very carefully and I promised him I would help him later find somewhere safe to keep it. Though the sun was in the sky there was a wind about and as I was fussing over his baby brother about to get him out of his buggy to put in the car, I heard him screaming my name at the top of his voice and then a ‘MY STICKERRRRRRR AHHHHHHHH’ !!! I turned sharply to look at him, tears already flooding his face as he hysterically pointed at the tiny scrap of the sticker now blowing freely in the wind at a rapid speed through the carpark. Without a second thought I just lurched like a huge buffalo after it. School bags, crisps, water bottles, toys and the 101 other things that kids seem to accumulate at hometime for parents to carry, dropped at my feet whilst I screamed nooooooo.
My summer dress pulled up to my knees, one flip flop flying off my foot in a very undignified scramble as I attempted to catch the runway sticker. I felt his utter despair at losing what was the representation of something he had worked so hard for, something that he was finally good at. What had been weeks of work and months of confidence building and I just couldn’t let it be lost. I flew after it like it was a winning lottery ticket worth millions. To him and to me it was worth way more than that. Next thing I heard just as I had managed to grab the sticker safely was yet more screams from the children and I turned to see their shocked faces as their baby brother’s buggy rolled down the slope of the car park with him still in it. The little mite seemed quite oblivious to the fact nobody was pushing him. I screamed even louder as everything seemed to spin into slow motion. In my haste to scramble after what was effectively a penny sticker I had forgotten to put the brake on a very precious 9 month old baby’s buggy. Baby in runaway buggy was now rapidly gaining speed across the carpark veering towards a parked car.. Jesus Christ on a bike is the polite version of the words going through my head (ok I admit they came out my mouth loudly in front of children)….
By the sheer grace of God one of the other parents saw him rolling and was able to do what can only be described as a superhuman very ungraceful like mum-style leap crossed with a long jump towards him stopping the buggy in its tracks at the bottom of the slope. She was actually very understanding about it especially seeing how upset I was. Little baby brother was of course totally unharmed and actually happy as Larry at his little joyride. Me, I looked like I had been dragged through a bush backwards and was still missing a flipflop! As I caught up on my breath and pulled myself back together making sure all of the children were calming down and tears had been wiped from their faces I felt so thoroughly ashamed of myself.
So from a truly amazing afternoon to a very definite #fosteringcatastrophe. That day even though it left me feeling like the worst foster carer ever it also remains one of the best days of my life watching a little boy who had come to me neglected, filthy with no confidence and no life skills learn that he too could be a WINNER in life. He and his siblings stayed with me another few months before they were adopted. During that long summer holiday that we spent together he never stopped running everywhere he went. He RAN because he could, because he finally believed in himself and because ultimately he knew he was good at it.
Throughout my faults and imperfections as a foster carer I helped one little boy find his something to be good at and that makes me incredibly proud. Every child deserves to be good at something don’t you think?
It’s only my second blog post and I’ve suffered writers block already, typical! Tonight I have asked my fiancée Scott for his thoughts on what I should blog about. He is the decisive one of us both! Without a pause for thought he tells me I ‘should write a blog post about R’ (one of his favourite foster kids). ‘Ok’ I agree, ‘what shall I write about her’ I ask him? ‘Well’ he tells me ‘you must tell everyone how she kept trying to aggressively bite us’ (she did)’ but that now she is such a lovely little girl very happy, sweet and caring’ (she is). Thanks’ Scott!! Never a truer word said as oh my god could that girl bite! OUCH! I won’t even mention the hair pulling or scratching. But goodness me this is a blog to hopefully encourage people to foster so I am not going to get into too much detail on all the bites and scratches we acquired from this little one!
Writing about R who was 18 months old when she came to us is, I guess the perfect way to address one of the most difficult aspects of fostering which is saying goodbye!
People often say to me they couldn’t do fostering because they couldn’t cope with the goodbyes. Well they have a point!! It’s actually brutal and I wish I could say otherwise!
Goodbyes can be incredibly hard and incredibly sad. Fostering kids can, and often does, mean parting ways eventually. Children living in your home as part of your family, calling out your name when they get hurt, crying for you through the night, screaming for you first thing in the morning, having you as their world and their soother and cleaner and chef and taxi service and cuddler and joker and everything else that comes with children living as part of your family in your home………and then they have to leave! How is it possible to actually cope with that you may wonder? I don’t have the answer to that and it’s a question I have often asked myself having been through 9 goodbyes to 9 lovely foster kids.
“Showing foster children how to say goodbye and how to cope with goodbyes can be just as important as teaching them not to be afraid in life”
For me, with my foster children each goodbye has been as sad and as hard as the last. I believe that with most things in life our little ones learn from us and even with something as ordinary as a goodbye, the way it’s done prepares them for life which can often be full of goodbyes. We all have to die sometime, most of us will leave a job, a school, move to a different neighbour, split with a partner etc etc. Goodbyes, loss and bereavement surround us throughout our life. Remembering that foster children may have experienced traumatic goodbyes in the past perhaps being taken away from parents or split from siblings, mean it’s even more important that time and effort goes into each and every goodbye in foster care. Showing foster children how to say goodbye and how to cope with goodbyes can be just as important as teaching them not to be afraid in life, teaching them happiness, self-care, confidence and kindness. An art form, a tradition, a rite of passage, a greeting I am not even sure what exactly a goodbye is but one thing I do know is that for foster kids moving on its surely a right that they get one! As foster kids look back on their childhood they need to know that somebody cared enough to make that effort to give them a goodbye! That someone cared enough to be sad they were leaving! It’s not much to ask for is it?
“She was our second foster child and I felt sheer disbelief that we had been entrusted to such a tiny little person of only 18 months old.”
R was with us for 9 months it felt like she had been with us forever. Let me start at the beginning in order to get to the end and yes sadly there is an end and a goodbye!
As is often the way in fostering we didn’t know anything about R before she arrived and she quite literally out of the blue turned up on our doorstep one spring afternoon! Accompanied by two social workers, a few plastic bags, a suitcase of cuddly toys and a smile to light up the whole of London.
That grey Vauxhall Corsa pulling into our driveway, me peering through the car window in to the back seat and seeing a little cheeky cherub with chubby cheeks, ginger curly hair and a big angry red rash on her chin peering back at us with a huge beaming toothy grin. It’s like it was only yesterday!
She was our second foster child and I felt sheer disbelief that we had been entrusted to such a tiny little person of only 18 months old. That evening when Scott my fiancée came home and saw her sprawled out in the cot I had temporarily installed at the bottom of our bed he confessed he felt totally shocked too! She was just so tiny and so delicate it wasn’t possible to be more in awe of anything or anyone in the world. We both sat gazing at her for at least two hours as she slept. What we wouldn’t do to be able to go back in time and have that time all over again.
We didn’t know much back then other than she had been taken away from her Mum for neglect and then placed with a foster carer who hadn’t been able to meet her needs and then she was passed to us. An incredibly sad state of affairs for a little girl not yet two and it was quite understandable that she was very confused, frustrated, aggressive and quite wild!
“Where’s my Amee I want my Amee” she would say when I wasn’t there. “Lut you Amee” she would tell me at bedtime as she couldn’t quite pronounce love.
That nine months passed by in minutes. We fed her, we changed her nappies, we potty trained her, we took her to ballet lessons, to fairy School, to playgroup, to the park, on holiday to Scotland. We did it all as if she were our own little girl and we let ourselves forget she wasn’t! She changed in front of our eyes and slowly stopped biting and being aggressive. She trusted us and she grew into a sweet kind little girl who loved animals especially dogs. Wherever we went whatever café or restaurant we were sat in she had this terribly embarrassing habit of announcing to all the public that I was “her Amee”. “AMEE” she would start of with when people smiled at her “AMEE” she would tell them and point at me. Then it would turn to “MY AMEE” in a more firm voice as whatever random person had started to show interest in her “MY AMEE” would turn to a warning tone as they ventured closer as if warning them to stay away. It was incredibly heart-warming and so cute and made us laugh so much. Being her Amee made me feel wonderful and proud.
We knew for the last two months of that period that she was leaving us to go home to her paternal grandparents. I guess we tried not to think about it and buried our heads in the sand. We were so happy for her that her family on her Dad’s side had come forward to claim her but so devastated that she was going to leave too.
“Where’s my Amee I want my Amee” she would say when I wasn’t there. “Lut you Amee” she would tell me at bedtime as she couldn’t quite pronounce love. Her love wasn’t just for me either she loved Scott too and often flatly refused to go to sleep until he had come home from work. “SCOTTTTTTT” she would call out from her cot if she heard him coming in “SCOTTTTTTTTTTT” and as soon as he went in her room she would quickly lie down and softly say “nose touch, kiss, chin tickle, lut you Scott”. That was always the routine. Our routine. To this day Scott and I never say the words I love you to each other, we always say “lut you” just like she did.
“We didn’t know how things would work out for her and we felt so afraid for her future that it was so totally out of our control.”
It was selfish of us to want to keep her and I admit we were jealous that her real family were getting her back but in our defence we are only human not pre-programmed robots. Controlling your feelings and emotions when dealing with real live children can be an actual mammoth task, a huge burden and I am not sure anyone can prepare you for the rollercoaster of feelings that you expose yourself to in fostering.
Not a day goes by when we don’t think of her, watch videos of her, and laugh at something she said or did the memory like a ghost just within reach but not quite enough to touch. And it hurts so much but I would do it all again in a second…………Why? Because fostering changes these kids’ lives? It takes them off that twisted out of control path and gets them back on track. It doesn’t work every time I know that but with R it did and we were so proud to have been part of the team that worked incredibly hard to get that little girl’s life the way she deserved it to be.
We didn’t know how things would work out for her and we felt so afraid for her future that it was so totally out of our control. Afraid we may not see her again, and afraid that things wouldn’t work out her at her Gran’s or that they wouldn’t make the right decisions for her future.
“There are so many ways of saying goodbye you only have to use your imagination.”
That final day arrived and I suppose I was in shock more than anything that this little person who stormed into our life like an aggressive out of control tornado was now leaving us as almost abruptly as she arrived. Everything was planned the way it should be when children move on from the care system. Her Grandmother spent a week with us learning her routine and then I spent 2 days with them easing R into life with them. I even spent ages photographing all her teddies and made it into a word document with their names and everything I knew about them so that her Gran would know them all. When R had arrived to us nobody bothered to tell us the names of any of her toys and I had to name them all and give them personalities. The afternoon that I left her there I didn’t know what the future would hold for her. She was two year’s old and I couldn’t explain to her that I wasn’t coming back, that I wouldn’t nose touch her tonight or kiss her or chin tickle her or read her Goldilocks and the bears. I just had to say it that word, goodbye and then leave! I tried not to cry and tried to force myself to smile and be happy so as not to frighten her or confuse her. I left her in the arms of her Nanny. She was happy and surrounded by her aunties, her Grandad and her Dad but not just them she was surrounded by love and it’s where she belonged and I knew that.
At only 2 year’s old it was hard for R to understand she was leaving and that in turn made it very hard for us knowing that she would be confused when she couldn’t find us. Age should be irrelevant and even when children are too young to understand goodbyes must still be put in place as all children grow up and want to know about their early life. There are so many ways of saying goodbye you only have to use your imagination. I would love to know how you have said goodbye to your foster kids or if plan to foster how would you say goodbye when the time comes for your children to move on? For R I wrote her a book a little story. My friend Ellie illustrated it for me. One day I hope R will read her book and know she was so loved and wanted and that we cared so much about her and that we still do. I hope that knowing this will make her feel valued and give her the self-worth to be happy in life and follow her dreams.
Foster care can be the difference between a child at risk and a child with their whole life ahead of them. We were honoured to be her foster carers and be that difference for her.
Lut you R