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
There is a crisis in fostering, with 10,000 new foster carers needed. Rather than putting resources into recruiting, training and developing new foster carers, some agencies and local authorities prefer to spend this money incentivising existing foster carers to transfer.
A recent report by Association of Directors of Children’s Services describes this practice as immoral, and we agree.
Greater London Fostering and myself believe that these one of payments represent a loss to the fostering community, and whole heartedly promise never to pay them and encourage other independent agencies and local authorities to stop encouraging foster carers to transfer..
We however believe that a foster carer has the right to work for whoever they want to, and should be free to transfer, however, this should be down to the level of support they receive, and the relationships they have, rather than a short term financial motivation.
The ADCS report was thin on criticism against local authorities. In my experience, there is often pressure applied to our foster carers from local authorities, with vague threats of children being removed, or support not given unless they transfer.
I think this practice is as immoral, as golden hellos, and call for la’s to also promise not to poach foster carers from independent agencies.
At the end of the day, we should be putting all our efforts into recruiting new foster carers, rather than wasting money on the carer transfer merry- go – round.
Richard Norwood, Director Greater London Fostering
We know fostering can change young people’s lives forever but it’s always good to see the evidence stacking up to prove it.
A joint study by the University of Oxford and the University of Bristol in 2015 found that children who live with foster parents did better than those who remained with their own families with social worker support.
The study looked at just over 13,500 GCSE students that were living with their birth families but receiving support from social workers and compared their exams results with 4,800 children who had been living in care for at least a year.
Those living with foster families gained GCSEs that were at least six grades higher on average – and the longer kids were living with their foster parents the better they did.
Richard Norwood, business development director at GLF, said: ‘We work with young people day in and day out who we see benefiting from the stability that foster care can offer them. Unfortunately we are always in need of people who are willing to foster teenagers.
‘People worry that older children would have developed bad habits or a chaotic lifestyle that they won’t be able to manage or help them move on from. But we know from talking to our carers that the difference you can make to a young person’s life can be overwhelming rewarding and worth the challenge.’
And don’t just take our word for it.
Adam, now 17 from London, spent most of his teens with his foster parents: ‘Yes, they gave me my own room to study in and a structured daily life where I could have the time, space and quiet to study properly. But more importantly they gave me the confidence to know that it was worth trying hard with my school work – which made all the difference to me. Thanks to them I’m now at college and loving my studies!’
‘Paperwork is not my thing but the way I got through the fostering process was to remember why I was doing it. Not only did I want to foster a child but the approval process is necessary to make sure the child in care is safeguarded – most have already gone through a lot of disruption and trauma so it’s important that fostering is done correctly,’ said Tom, 42 from Derby.
So how long does it take to foster and what is the process? On average it can take about nine months from initial expression of interest to being approved, although this process also includes mandatory fostering training.
Once you’ve expressed interest in fostering with GLF, you will need to complete a fostering registration form and a consent form that allows us to do police, medical and financial checks as well as seek professional and personal references. If all is ok you’ll be invited to pre-approval fostering training and assessment process where we can get to know each other better and you can understand the commitment that fostering entails. This will include visiting your home and attending training courses that have a time commitment of approximately 5 hours a month.
If we both want to move forward with the process at that point, we’ll invite you to meet with the GLF fostering panel for final approval before we then discuss with you how best to match you with a child that is most suitable to your personal situation.
Tom said: ‘I know some people can find the vetting process a little intrusive but it really helped me fully understand the commitment I was entering into and made me think through why fostering was so important to me.’
He continued, ‘GLF are also fantastic at guiding you through it all. It feels like a partnership throughout the process so at no point did I feel I was being grilled or analysed. And the end result is totally worth it, my wife and I are currently fostering a toddler and she has really lit up our lives.’
‘I love fostering and I’ve done it now for 15 years mostly as a single parent after my first marriage broke down. I was never really interested in meeting someone else and then of course as they always say, when I least expected it, I met Ian,’ said Kerry, from Devon.
Kerry’s situation is not unique. We encourage foster carers from all walks of life and all different family make-ups so for us there isn’t a typical family that is most suited to fostering.
But taking care of a foster child will affect your whole family, no matter what your connection to them, so we do need to make sure they are involved in the approval process. This doesn’t just apply to people living in the household or your partner – you also need to consider your wider family. If they will be around to help you, baby sit or take the children out on day trips or to parties then we have to check their background in a similar way to yours, although the approval process is not as extensive.
If you’re planning for a new partner to spend time with your foster children, he or she must have a background check and cannot stay overnight in the same home as any children you foster while this is going through. The process can take a little while so you and your new partner must be prepared to be a little patient too.
Kerry said: ‘I am always aware that whoever I am fostering may already have had a lot of adults coming in and out of their lives so it’s really important to me that I offer them a sense of stability. We understood the legal requirement of ensuring Ian’s background was checked out but more importantly for us, we needed to think about how best to introduce him to my foster kids.’
As well as taking you through the legal approval process, GLF can offer advice and support on how introduce a foster child to any new family member.
Kerry added, ‘The kids love Ian now and he’s added a whole new dimension to the support and care that I can provide to them. Being a bit patient was the right thing to do for both us and them.’
‘I love fostering, I truly do, but when my foster child asked for chips for dinner every night, I did get exasperated’, says Trudy, 32, from South London.
‘I knew he needed to start eating healthily but it has been a real struggle to get him to – it did make me feel like I was failing him.’
Trudy is certainly not alone. Children can enter foster care for a wide variety of reasons but have often experienced chaotic home lives and a lack of guidance. When kids are not used to eating healthy food or being told to do so, foster parents can often feel at a loss as to what to do.
So how can you help? Firstly recognise that meal times can be a time of anxiety for foster children so don’t make food feel like punishment. Introduce new healthy foods gradually but never force them to eat it all or fall into arguments over dinner – increased tensions will only result in the child having negative emotions about meal times.
Get them involved in all the fun stuff to do with food, too. Take them food shopping and let them choose a few healthy items they fancy the look of. Encourage them to make their own snacks and sandwiches and ask them to help you make dinner occasionally. Not only are you giving them valuable life skills, but by letting them feel part of the process they can feel a bit more in control and also start to appreciate that a rigid diet of high-fat and high-salt food can be quite boring.
At GLF we also remind foster carers that children must know that food is easily available to them. Don’t feel guilt tripped into stocking your cupboards full of packets of crisps but children should be able to easily help themselves to healthy snacks. Occasionally we hear horror stories through the national media of foster carers padlocking their kitchen cupboards – that is certainly not a supportive home environment right for any child, let alone one that needs that extra care and support.
Trudy says that by letting her child get more involved in choosing and cooking food she is slowly making progress. ‘Don’t get me wrong,’ she said, ‘he won’t be begging me for big bowls of salad any time soon but he now really likes peas, tomatoes and fresh potatoes. Small steps, but we are getting there.’