School Closures Tomorrow

Day in the life of a foster carer

Joy Pollock with teaOur Worcestershire Foster Carer Joy, kindly writes this regular blog for us to give you a real look into a day in the life of a carer. Updated each month, sometimes more regularly, Joy will give you an honest and heart felt view.

February blog - Mother Clanger

Doing endings well is something I've written about before and I think it's really important. Every time a little one leaves our family - whether it to adoption or to birth family - there are traditions we employ to help us all deal with what is happening. 

In normal times (oh how we long for those) we throw a small celebration party with friends and family who have got to know her. We'll have a cake, party food, put on our best clothes and take lots of photographs. We're making memories. It's a way to mark the closing season with us and it helps make what's about to happen a reality. It's also helpful for any little friends who need to have an opportunity to say goodbye. Sometimes, friends bring gifts to be remembered by. It all goes into her memory box. 

And our little one always gives our other children a leaving present. She's only a baby so I've helped her with the shopping bit. Don't let the kids know, but she's bought magazines for The Big Two ('The Week Junior' & 'National Geographic Kids') and she's got Mother Clanger for the three-year-old. I commissioned a genius friend of mine to crochet the clanger. It's his favourite character from his favourite programme. It's my favourite programme too, as it signals the beginning of the end! 

He'll have that Clanger forever, I hope. And anytime he asks about Mother Clanger and where she came from, it will open up a precious conversation about the precious person who gave it to him. And we can remember. 

January blog - 'You choose'

Some of you will be familiar with the book, 'You Choose' by Nick Sharratt. It's been a favourite of all of my children which means I've been reading it on and off for 12 years. I swing between hating it for the commodification and consumerism it encourages (grumpy old Mummy moment) and loving it for the meandering conversation that evolves.

I always smile when my 3 year-old chooses his family. It's the same every time by the way. Mummy is a glamorous film star type, Daddy looks like early man banging his chest in nothing but a loincloth. And then he picks his three siblings. He has two permanent ones - the third is our baby who has been with us for 8 months. They love each other, and no one can make the baby chuckle like he can. 

People often say to me, that they couldn't do what I do (fostering) because they couldn't hand them back. Well, it's tough. And it's particularly tough on the children, especially those children who are too young to properly understand. It is both heart-warming and heartbreaking that my little boy includes the baby in his family whilst reading 'You Choose'. Heart-warming because I'm grateful they have big hearts and have accepted her and don't question her being in our family, and heartbreaking, that someone they love and accept will have to leave.

There is plenty of support and training to help with transitions, but it is always going to be a tough time. But, what we do is still not as tough as what the children we look after have been through. So we can keep our homes shut and protect our hearts or we can open them and learn how to recover from the heartache together as a family.

You choose. 

December blog – Hope

There are four themes in Advent - the first of which is hope. I've had the carol 'Oh Little Town of Bethlehem' in my head and particularly the lyrics - 'the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.' Hopes and fears are surely two things common to all of humanity, and as months and years go by we experience both with varying degrees of emotion.

As a Christian, I believe that Jesus is our Hope and in the really tough times, I've clung on to this belief. As a foster carer, I believe there is hope for all our children - but I'm not immune to succumbing to fears on their behalf too. I'm sometimes fearful that the decisions made on their behalf are the wrong ones, that no one else will love them like I do or know how to comfort them, that they'll come back into care again or that families will break down. I'm fearful for all our children - for the friends they might hang out with, for the temptations they may succumb to under peer pressure, for their mental health, for their safety walking home, for the choices they might make.

But then I remember hope. We do this job because we see the value and preciousness of all the children we get to love. We see their potential, their personalities, their idiosyncrasies and we know love matters. And we know love makes a difference. It's not always easy, but it is the most rewarding thing ever. So I'm clinging on to hope. Hope for their future, hope in our care system and hope in my heart.

November blog - Loving when it's difficult to love

After years living with a tiny TV, we decided to treat ourselves and buy a better one. After careful research, I ordered an LG TV which seemed HUGE but is classed as a small screen. We no longer needed a set-top box or scart leads! It was all very exciting...for two days.

Then, I had a weekend bath - the most expensive bath ever! I came back downstairs to a huge crack in the screen which - needless to say - no longer worked. Our 2 year old had taken a toy car to the screen and bashed it to see what would happen. There was no malice, just toddler inquisitiveness at this new glowing thing dominating our sitting room.

I haven't bought a new one yet. I'm feeling like I a deserve a medal as I've just come out of half term with 4 kids and no TV, unscathed! Actually, it's been better than that. I've spent more time chatting, building train track, cuddling on the sofa with a book, sand play, walks, parks and all sorts of other creative play. I think I've learnt that my kids want me not some flash big TV.

At the time though, I really needed reminding of this by L. R. Knost:

"Respond to your children with love in
their worst moments
their broken moments
their angry moments
their selfish moments
their lonely moments
their frustrated moments
their inconvenient moments
because it is in their most
unlovable human moments
that they most need to feel loved."

October blog - Stoptober

'Sober October' is a Macmillan initiative encouraging people to stop drinking to raise money. 'Stoptober' is an annual Public Health England campaign to challenge people to stop smoking for 28 days. It seems October is a month of stopping things. 

Well, just to buck the trend, I thought I'd share with you the 'how' and 'why' we started fostering. It was always something I think was at the back of mind to do. 12 years ago when my first child, a girl was born, I kept every item of clothing. When number 2 was a boy, I still kept everything. It was another 6 years before we welcomed our first little one to foster. It can take time to make these decisions and there were lots of triggers along the way leading up to the point of ringing up to request an information pack. 

One pivotal moment was watching the evening news back in 2013 of the horrific story of 4 year-old Daniel Pelka. His parents were convicted of his murder. I was in the regular habit of crying at the TV, checking my kids sleeping soundly in their beds and then carrying on with my life. 

Not. Any. More. 

It wasn't enough just to cry at the TV, I needed to do something. There are lots of reasons why people start fostering. Whatever yours are, perhaps October could be the start. 

Start Fostering. 

Black History Month

Cbeebies presenters have been profiling their black history heroes. I know this because Cbeebies is all I get to watch! 

Anyway, today child #2 had a playdate after school. Our guest was terribly shy and has English as a second language. When it came to supper time nothing was being eaten. Child #3, who is 2 took a real shine to our guest and his hospitality, compassion, cuddles, hair stroking, hand-holding and constant chatter really helped break the ice. He kept climbing across the table determined to sit on our guest's lap and eventually I managed to get him to sit in his own chair. He noticed our guest was not eating anything and he held out the (breakable) serving plate and persistently offered our guest some food until he took some. And he ate it. And he smiled. 

Our third child has an Afro-Caribbean heritage. He's adopted. He's my hero.

September Blog - Scribbles

My head feels like a scribble or a tangled ball of wool. September usually feels like a season of fresh starts, new exercise books and opportunity and optimism. I'm not saying it isn't those things, but this September I've struggled to know what to capture in the blog. Do I talk about transitions, separation anxiety, sensory issues and itchy uniform, managing tiredness or new routines? Or do I talk about parent guilt as we feel conflicting emotions about being happy they're gone and we finally get to wee alone? Those sending their last baby off to pre-school to those watching their teenagers start sixth-form all smart in their own clothes - it's all there - every emotion all jumbled up.

All. The. Feels.

I've heard some parents have created spreadsheets to remember all the different kit days and equipment needed for back to school. It's certainly felt overwhelming and in these changing and dynamic times, there is little opportunity for life to 'settle' as we hear new guidance from government. So where am I going with these ramblings? Love. I think love is the answer. We can't control the world, from COVID-19 to itchy jumpers, some things are just out of our control but we can love. My head full of scribbles will probably still be there, kids with anxiety and struggles will still be there but we can provide something constant. Love. Fiercely and with our whole hearts.

August Blog - Lockdown Acceleration

I've heard the term 'coronacoaster' on social media and I like it! 'The emotional ups and downs of lockdown. One minute you're baking banana bread, and loving the simple life, the next you're weeping and missing people you used to actively avoid down the pub.'

Stressful and intense situations do seem to accelerate many things: The demise of my house into a war-torn shell that is eternally filthy, chaotic and slightly sticky; my body which is out of control with a tummy needing its own postcode and the pile of life admin that seems to have grown exponentially during lockdown. So, whilst I am exaggerating (only a little), it is true that with 4 kids in the house during lockdown it does now need a deep clean. It feels like twice the dirt in half the time has been engrained in my carpets. 

But, the same can be said of other accelerations. Not only have we eaten twice the food in half the time, but I've also read more books to the toddler, sat with him on my lap more than ever, kicked more footballs, watched more Bing, shared more ice-cream licks, held more hands, built more train track, blown more dandelion clocks, given more kisses, painted more pictures and made more memories. 

In short, for all the dirt and chaos I survey, I think we have been sowing into the lives of our looked after and birth children in an accelerated way. And I hope that a positive sense of self, sense of being lovable and a sense of belonging will have been accelerated too. 

July Blog - Doing endings well

As we crawl towards the end of the academic year, many of us will know or have children who have missed significant endings in their school career. Year 6 children missing their friends and leaving primary school in an underwhelming way. Similarly, year 11 and year 13 students facing uncertainty and sadness after much hard work and no significant prom or graduation to mark the end of their hard work or provide an opportunity to say goodbye to their friends. And now, the summer presents a landscape of unfamiliarity as they look towards a September with teachers they may only have met on Zoom. Naturally, anxieties may be running high.

As adults we want to help manage emotions and smooth the transition as best we can with summer playdates and social events to help with confidence and socialisation. For children that come into care, their lives may change overnight with little opportunity to say goodbye to classmates or friends in their street and neighbourhood. As foster parents, our job is to help those children to make sense of the sudden changes and help them with transitions. There may be lots of gaps to fill and a huge sense of loss but with love and commitment, all children can thrive.

June Blog - Chocolate

When I'm tired I crave sugar and chocolate specifically, but if I'm honest I'll take anything. Cooking chocolate, the kids' sweets, marzipan - ANYTHING.

I'm really tired right now as we have a 4 week old in the family. Much like birth children, each time I have one, I fall in love and crucially, I forget about the sleepless nights and the tiredness so when we get a phone call for another, we say yes and do it all again!

I'm not getting any younger and the broken sleep is definitely taking its toll. I'm lacking the pregnancy hormones that would kick in to help me get through the fatigue. But what I'm not lacking is the support from friends, family and my fostering community. We have been inundated with gifts for our little one - hand-knitted cardigans, homemade cards, soft toys, quilts and blankets. And for us, the practical support has come in the form of freezer meals, a sling, a double buggy, nappies, clothes, baby bottles, prosecco and chocolate.

All children are special, but children that come into care capture people's hearts and we have been overwhelmed with their love and support. It's a wonderful thing to be able to help a child that needs us, and the sense of community around us is so sweet.June Blog

May Blog - After the rain

With 4 children in our locked-down home, I'm more obsessed with the weather than ever before. We need our garden as a breakout room! There have been a couple of wet days recently and we all felt the frustration of being stuck indoors and felt the limitations that brought. But after the rain that sweet 'verdant' smell when everything is springing to life and the garden thrives is wonderful. I've been enjoying walking around it and noticing what is emerging.

Lockdown, in parts, has felt like a wet day. Full of frustrations and limitations but we know that it will come to an end. For vulnerable children lockdown is much worse than a wet day with no sense of an end in sight. Fostering families are more vital than ever right now to provide a safe place for children and young people to grow and thrive.

We have a little one with us right now and we are loving nurturing her and watching her grow. I get so much delight from my garden, but I'll tell you something. Watching a child blossom and flourish into the person they were created to be is the best pleasure and reward ever. 

April Blog - How is everyone doing in these extraordinary times?

I've hugely reduced my daily expectations: I'm aiming that we are up and sufficiently dressed (pants and vest in some cases) in order to do Joe Wicks at 9 am. The day is downhill from there. If we've brushed our teeth by midday we're winning!

I try to have at least one creative aim each day - Hama bead rainbows, lavender bags (with 18-month-old lavender), baking a Simnel cake, blowing and decorating eggs, seed planting etc. But my 11-year-old had her own idea. She wanted to make a taggie comforter for our next foster child.

We are currently 'available' which means we're on a list to be contacted to look after a child. We could get a phone call at any time. It could be tomorrow at 11 pm or it could be in 11 weeks’ time. The wait is, in part, due to 'matching', making sure that children and households are matched well together to ensure longevity and success. Some households are approved to look after under 5's, others expertise lie with teenagers or those with additional needs and others have capacity for sibling groups.

We tend to have babies placed with us so my daughter has made a taggie blanket for a little one - we don't know how old they will be, their gender, where they are living now or how they are but we know someone will join our family and in the meantime, they are being prepared for, anticipated, and loved.

March 2020 - A Squash and a squeeze

I've just looked after two siblings for a few days for another foster family. It took the number of children in our home up to five, with three under three! It was bracing and I'd be lying if I said it was a breeze. Five children is five children after all. 

It was chaotic, noisy, bonkers even, but would I do it all again? Absolutely, ‘Yes’! In fact, I'm doing it again tomorrow for another set of siblings. Knowing I was able to help out another fostering family, releasing them to be where they were needed at the hospital was a great feeling. Singing songs, running races, playing on the tractor in the garden, jumping on the trampoline, serving up hearty meals was all such a privilege. But the best thing was my nightly routine of checking all the kids before I went to bed. That feeling that my house and heart was bursting at the seams in such a beautiful way. 

There's a book by Julia Donaldson called 'A Squash and a Squeeze' about an old woman who doesn't think she has enough room in her house. A wise man suggests she fills it with animals and then take them all out again. It felt a bit like that when we went back down to just three kids. There's always room to love one more or even two. 

February 2020 - Dial down the noise

Number 3 child has chickenpox. We've been in quarantine for seven days now and there are still spots so we are not over the contagious stage yet. The nights have been a challenge for him itchy, uncomfortable and a temperature and for me sleep deprivation but lots of precious cuddles.

But, as I've acclimatised to my new normal and accepted that there are no toddler groups, coffee dates or trips outside this house for us, it's made me notice my little one all over again. We've played trains, built track, read stories, baked, licked the bowl, cuddled on the sofa, watched Bing, built train track, held him while he slept and built more track. It's actually been a really precious time and without all the 'noise' of the normal weekly rhythm, I've rediscovered his favourite book, TV programme, favourite train or game. We've just been hanging out together and it's been beautiful.

Far from being boring, dull or not stimulating it's been absolutely invaluable in hearing his small voice - literally and metaphorically - and learning to follow his pace and meet his needs. It made me think this must be what it's like for new adopters when their children first come home to them - or what foster parents might try to do when new children move into their homes.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't looking forward to joining in with life again but I will be trying to be more intentional about reducing the 'noise' and listening to the needs of my children. 

January 2020 - #jointhebiggestfamilyinWorcestershire

I don't mind sharing that I've put on a pound or seven over Christmas. And predictably, I'm using the New Year to provide myself with a fresh start. My goals are to drink more water, take regular exercise and read my bible daily. (I'm failing already I hasten to add) But that's ok. It's my choice to use January as a new beginning and I can 're-set' as many times as I need to. 

My resolutions can all feel rather trite and flippant, however when we consider that the children and young people who we find in our care - as foster parents - must adjust to a new beginning whether they want to or not. They don't have the luxury of making decisions like I do and choosing to start over. It is often a stressful and confusing time when they are suddenly in a new school, new home, new bedroom, new dinner table, new clothes, new people around them. It's all new. And not in a good way. 

Our role is to help them make sense of what is happening to them, help them process their emotions, help them feel comfortable in their new surroundings and help them to feel safe and loved. 

So, if like me you're trying to be mindful of what you put in your body - great! Keep on keeping on. But if you're thinking, there must be more to 2020 than diets and dry January then consider what you might be able to do to help a child whose January has not got off to a great start. 

#foster
#jointhebiggestfamilyinWorcestershire

December 2019 - High days and holidays

Unless you’re a hermit, you’ll have noticed Christmas is coming! People say it’s all about the kids but some children will feel totally overwhelmed by everything that is going on. Our looked after and adopted children – and actually quite a lot of birth children too – will find some of the things we put ourselves through quite difficult to cope with. Here are a few of my thoughts:

Food: I cook simple, recognisable, familiar food week in, week out. Then one day of the year I slave for hours and then get annoyed when the meal is spurned. Too rich, too many unfamiliar foods (does anyone cook sprouts the other 364 days?) and too long. If they sit for 7 minutes normally don’t expect them to suddenly sit for two hours. Keep it simple. We’re having chicken.

Routines: My kids love the rhythm of a routine where they can anticipate and therefore have a sense of control over what is happening to them. School at Christmas Time means school plays, rehearsals, church venues, different school dinners, parties, jumper days, bring a toy day, film day – the list goes on. To offer balance, keep the time at home simple without overstimulating. I have a huge piece of paper on the wall with the ‘headlines’ of what is coming up. We tick off as we go and having the visual aid on the kitchen wall as we eat our meals helps them to reflect on what has been and make sense of what is still to come.

Father Christmas: I’m in my forties and I still get a stocking. It’s one of the delights of the day – full of small and exciting things. From a satsuma to cotton wool pads and perhaps a soap and undies. I love it! But it is a bit weird that we invite a strange man into our homes and often into our bedrooms to deliver these joyous gifts. For some of our children, this could be a really unhelpful concept given their previous trauma. And for all children, it’s a paradox. It is contradictory to all our ‘stranger danger’ teaching in the rest of the year. Hang stockings downstairs or perhaps collect them from the shed or garage.

Happy Christmas Everyone!

October 2019 - We are family

Sons and Daughters month is the Fostering Network’s annual campaign to celebrate the vital contribution that the children of foster carers make to foster care. Worcestershire Children First provided a range of events during half term by way of a 'thank you' to birth children. I took my three along to one of them. The morning involved archery and then kayaking or paddle boarding. The big two donned wetsuits and had a great time on and in the water. I waved periodically whilst I kept an eye on the two year old. Not wanting to miss out, he too, decided water action was what he wanted and within seconds of me turning my back was in the water! He was fine but soaked through. 

In moments, everyone was rallying round to see what spare clothes they had in their bags and boots. He was dressed in socks that went up, over his knees and a Spiderman onesie two sizes too big for him! This commitment to one another is what I love about Fostering. Yes, we are well looked after with training and supervision. Yes, there are enriching events for our birth children and looked after children, but what I came away with that day was the sense that I am part of a family. We love getting together to catch up and see how each other's children have grown. 

My big two love being a fostering family, and I love the wider family that makes us part of. 

You'll be humming Sister Sledge for the rest of the day now. You're welcome!

August 2019 - Routines

I've been thinking a lot about routines and particularly bedtimes recently. I was saddened to hear of the recent and sudden death of a local Headmaster. His last words of advice to pupils before the summer holidays were these: keep reading and get enough sleep. I liked that. It made a lot of wise sense to me. We avoid late nights on 'school nights', and therefore in the holidays, we can be prone to letting routines slide in favour of the 'treat' of staying up late. 

Now, I'm not so sure it is a treat. I'm a firm believer if sticking to routines and rhythms all. the. time. My three kids are still growing and still require the same amount of sleep they always have - their bodies don't know whether it's term time or holiday time. 

I also think that when the routine of their days are so varied - holiday clubs, sleeping in different places, camping, play schemes, big outings etc they really benefit from the reassurance and consistency of recognising the bedtime routine. When no two days are the same right now, the security of a familiar routine is so comforting. 

So, whether they're in a tent, a holiday home, or just had an epic day out the bedtime routine is reassuringly consistent. 

And I don't mind confessing that these fun-filled days with the kids are great but they can be intense too and I am very happy to admit I love when bedtime comes around. For them and for me!

July 2019 - Celebration hearing

July's blog is very personal. Today, we have been in court celebrating the adoption of our child. I made a small speech - somewhere between an Oscar acceptance speech and a sermon!

When I was about to become a Mother with my first, I needed a team of surgeons and anaesthetists as it was an emergency caesarean. With our son who was born at home, two midwives helped me become a mother for the second time.

Third time around and there are a great many more people to thank for helping me become a Mother: the social workers, legal teams, Judge, godparents, friends and family and The Big Two for loving him and accepting him. Previous children that we have loved and looked after have helped us extend our capacity and hearts and acted as preparation for this little one.

I believe all children are a gift from God and it doesn't matter how they come to us. They are all as precious as each other because as Psalm 139 says, 'you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.'

Which leads me to the last people I need to honour and that is the birth parents. What today means to me is very different to what it means to them. Our day of celebration is their severing of ties but I give thanks for the beautiful little one and hope and pray that they can take some comfort in knowing he is loved. 

June 2019 - Be a legend

Tonight we're having a spicy sausage cassoulet with spring greens and mashed potatoes. I received a text from a friend yesterday checking that all the current kids like the dish. 'Yes please,' I replied. So, she brought it around for us!

This is what she does at least once a month for us. Just drops a meal round and then swiftly leaves us to enjoy it. What a legend! To begin with, I felt quite fraudulent as I haven't got a newborn at the moment and I'm getting plenty of sleep. But that's only half the point. It's not just whether I'm coping or not - it's about my friends and family being given an opportunity to practically support us which says, 'we admire what you're doing, keep going.'

It's so easy to turn down offers of help and support or bat away a kind question with, 'I'm fine, thanks,' but the challenge is to let people in so they know what's happening in your fostering world and how they can help. Fostering isn't for everyone, but everyone can be involved in offering support.

From 1st to 7th June, it's Volunteers' Week. This post is to thank all those who have intentionally volunteered to help our fostering family and a challenge to us all to look and see where we can be a legend to someone. 

May 2019 - Rocketman

This isn't about the new epic biography out in cinemas now. No, it's about a trip to our local library for a 'Young at art' session with our 18-month-old little one. The craft activity was to make a rocket - loo roll covered in tin foil and pipe cleaner boosters. You get the picture. I think I might have enjoyed making it more than he did and I spent my time hunched over a tiny child's chair helping him to make his rocket. We sang 'zoom zoom zoom' and then played with our creation. Nothing exceptional about that, you may think.

Sadly, all too often we hear that some care leavers are not achieving the same outcomes as their peers,  But it is so important that we promote high aspirations for the young people in our care. We know that if they are given support, love, and opportunities they will flourish. After all, they are already exceptional for coping with what has caused them to be in care in the first place.

So, whilst building a rocket with a child - arguably too young to do so - I hope I am embedding in him the culture that he can do anything - even be a rocketman.

Fostering changes lives...#changeafuture

April 2019 - Resilience

At the Worcestershire Foster Carers Conference  today, I had no trouble deciding which seminar stream to attend after the break. In the morning, we'd listened to talks from the Director and managers followed by the keynote speech. My head was feeling pretty 'full' and I was in need of the coffee break! The theme of the conference was resilience and the four seminar streams were: mindfulness, yoga, blocked care and resilience.

The seminar started with no messing about and we were all engaged in an icebreaker to get to know one another before any of us had time to put on our 'stiff upper lip'. It was a welcome relief to be moving about the room, laughing and chatting after all the sitting and listening.

A second exercise had us talking even more openly about ourselves and the third involved meditative colouring in as we considered our own resilience and contentedness. We heard from three speakers who kept their stories brief, to the point and extremely helpful. The session was over all too quickly and I reflected on how well paced it was, with a good mixture of content and delivery styles appealing to kinesthetic learners. 

The conference was the annual foster carers conference. The seminar was led by care experienced young adults. My whole raison d'etre for me as a carer was beautifully illustrated in those exceptional young people.

They are why I choose to foster.

Fostering changes lives...#changeafuture

March 2019 - Support comes with coffee

I met up with a dear friend for coffee today. I owed her, as last time we were in that coffee shop, I'd swapped nappy bags and left my purse in the other one so she had rescued me big time! 

I think she rescues me lots actually. Five years ago, when we became a fostering family, she was the person I asked to look after my children when I had training or a meeting to attend. Because of her, I was able to complete a lengthy course of study on attachment theory. She even helped facilitate family time between my looked after child and their birth parents once or twice. These experiences and opportunities have contributed to her family now being a fostering family too! 

It is always helpful to have people who understand what we do. It can sometimes be tricky when we can't always divulge very much to our friends or family but the support from other carers and the network I've built up over the years is invaluable.

There is support out there and it usually comes with a coffee!

February 2019 - Children in care are gifted

Today I've been reading someone else's blog - foster carer Martin Barrow's to be precise. He has written a piece called '11 things they don't tell you about becoming a foster carer'. I liked #1: 

Children in care are gifted

 It’s just that nobody realises yet. They’ve found answers to problems that would break most people. Your job will be to help the children understand how special they are.

He's right, the things our children have gone through to warrant them being with you are often more than most people will deal with in their lifetime. So when people tell me they couldn't do what I do - they couldn't hand them back - my answer is always this: We need to love them more than we need to protect our own emotions. And when we love a child - unconditionally, wholeheartedly, without guarding our own hearts - I think that's when we begin to see children's potential unlocked as they realise they are special, lovable and worth something. 

All children are gifted, but the ones we get to meet in the care system haven't always had the opportunities to discover what they are yet.

Fostering changes lives. #changeafuture

January 2019 - We're going on a bear hunt

The sun shone for us at Bishop's Wood for the annual Early Years Celebration event. It's a bit of a mouthful to be honest, but the morning was simply perfect for our little ones. To have an event tailored to the under-fives in care is so special. There was cornflour slime (very popular), little homemade cupcakes, biscuit decorating, stone painting and face painting. We also wandered through the wood together listening out for the sounds of nature and looking for bears. The library team read to us and we picnicked amongst bluebells. 

One of my favourite aspects of events like this is the photographer. He is set up to take professional shots of our children and then print out multiple images so that we can share them with birth parents and keep some too. I know I'm guilty of not always taking enough pictures of my kids. And who gets around to printing any in these digital days? Not me. I have come home with a tanned nose, lovely memories and some beautiful photographs that I will cherish so much more when they are all I have of the little one I loved for a season.

Fostering changes lives. #changeafuture

December 2018 - Portrait of a foster carer

There's a support group run by Home for Good: Worcestershire that happens to be a good halfway place for me and my friend to meet. We met there today and while the kids played we were treated to a constant stream of coffee, cakes and toasted teacakes. The sun was shining and the team of willing volunteers were playing outside with our children which was such a treat. But, more than that was the joy and privilege of being in my friend's life. I'll explain why. Her little one was once my foster baby. We have been inextricably linked through the love of a child. 

It is not always the case to be able to stay in touch with children once they move to their forever families. Sometimes it's geographically impractical - and there are other reasons too - but research shows that it can be really helpful for the child to see that not everybody has to leave.

Today we chatted as friends - catching up, hearing each others news, making plans and eating cake (and fending off our pre-schoolers who wanted cake too). And to top it all off I was given this beautiful portrait! I'll be keeping it forever.

Obviously. Fostering changes lives. #changeafuture

November 2018 - Dandelion clocks

This morning after dropping the Big Two at school I found myself walking along the river and aimlessly looking at the wildflowers and weeds. I realised that our little one in the pushchair hadn't been educated in the delights of the dandelion clock. So we spent twice as long as usual stopping every few paces to find another clock to blow. This was such a special moment, as I watched the earnest attempts at blowing and often inhaling or eating the seeds instead. It was so beautiful and precious.

The simplest things are often the most life-giving and joyful. In amongst the report writing, meetings and social worker visits to the house, I get to share these precious moments and teach our little one how to blow a dandelion clock.

Their lives aren't just in limbo whilst in care. No, they are being lived with curiosity, giggles, joy and delight at the myriad 'firsts' I get to experience with them. 

This morning I've been reading all about the vacuous nonsense of the Met Gala outfits. Now, I love fashion and enjoy my clothes but I know where my value lies and what I'd rather be concerning myself with.

Fostering changes lives. #changeafuture

October 2018 - Sons and daughters party

Each October, The Fostering Network and fostering services across the UK run events and activities to recognise and reward children and young people for the important role they play in welcoming fostered children into their families.

Here in Worcestershire, there are always events to bless and honour our birth children for their vital contribution. This year there was a party at St. Helen's Church with all you'd expect - bouncy castle, face painting, cake, glitter tattoos and party bags. For the more adventurous (but of course you can do both) there is also an opportunity at an outward bound centre (Lakeside, Top Barn) to have a go at bushcraft and canoeing followed by hot chocolate and toasted marshmallows around the campfire. 

What's beautiful about these events is that they are for the whole family. All the children come - whatever their status - and we all have fun together. 

Our children are the unsung heroes of fostering. Mine play with and entertain our little ones - choose outfits, help with bath time, make up bottles, help with feeding, push the pram, hold hands, sing to, tickle, chase, play catch with, cuddle, watch CBeebies with and everything else in-between. In short, I couldn't do it without them. And nor would I want to. They bring so much love and warmth and fun to the lives of the children we get to do life with for however long they need. And vice versa. 

Instant family

I watched this the other day with my husband. We were out-out! There has been much talk about it within the fostering and adoption communities - good and bad - so I was intrigued to see it for myself and form my own opinion. And also because of a mild girl crush on Rose Byrne. 

So, there are some views held that the film negatively portrayed foster carers - the larger couple who were married but look like siblings. Or the caricatures of the Christian couple, same-sex couple and single carer. Although they were meant for humour, I think that foster families do and should come from all walks of life and experiences and that was reflected in the film. Another criticism levelled at the film was that it traded in children's trauma for laughs. Some may have felt that, but I have heard plenty of adoptees sharing that the film brought healing and wholeness to them through shared experience on the Big Screen and opened up valuable conversations. 

It covered many of the complex feelings and behaviours children feel without needing to go into the details of the trauma which I thought was good. It illustrated how to deal with it (and how not to) and showed, with sensitivity the feelings of all those concerned including the birth mother. Birth parents are often demonised but I thought it was well handled. But more importantly, the film captured the absolute joy and elation of connecting with kids, the depths of sorrow when there is loss and all the other emotions in between including - essentially - humour. 

I laughed and cried - but above all else - I hope it will raise awareness and encourage more people to consider fostering and adoption.

March 2018 - Mothers and mothering

We've just had a weekend celebrating Mother's Day or Mothering Sunday if you're an old fashioned pedant like me! It's a day fraught with different emotions - those who are Mothers but are struggling, those who long to be Mothers. Those missing their Mother or who have a strained relationship with their Mother. And Mothers who have lost children. Finally, there are those who live apart from their children - who are being fostered or adopted. 

We, as foster carers hold in tension the great joy and privilege it is to care for a child who needs us. We might get to see first steps, celebrate Birthdays, go shoe shopping etc. Whatever milestones we enjoy with our looked after children means that someone else is missing out. It's a difficult thing to 'hold' but I'm reminded that where parents are not able to care for their children, it rarely means they don't care about them. 

One of the reasons I prefer the term 'Mothering Sunday' to 'Mother's Day' is it is so much more encompassing. We can all reflect on influential women in our lives who have 'mothered' us.

Perhaps you could consider mothering a looked after child?

Hospitality' by Lee Curtis (fellow foster carer and HFG advocate)

This week, my wife and I attended an event at Birmingham Cathedral for foster carers and adoptive parents. The event was hosted by Home for Good, a charity that promotes and supports fostering and adoption; their vision is to find a home for every child that needs one. That is a huge vision considering that when the charity launched in 2014, it was estimated that the UK needed 6,000 more adoptive families, and 9,000 more foster carers.

We always try to squeeze every drop of enjoyment out of these things, so we decided to make our evening trip to Birmingham into a date night too! My wife collected takeaway coffees from 'Pret' as I left work, and we met excitedly at the train station.

As we boarded the train I realised that the carriage was almost exclusively filled with school children making their way home. As the train juddered out of the station, my eyes glanced from child to child. What a mix; the child that was happy, laughing with their friends, and looking forward to getting home, the child that would rather be doing anything else except go home, and the child who was attempting to use their weak smile to hide their sadness. What a timely reminder of where we were going - children like these are the reason that we foster.

We got into Birmingham in time to squeeze in a cheeky meal for two……well, our fostering social worker had told us to make sure that we made time for ourselves too! We eagerly obliged, although I must admit to picking up my phone and swiping through some photos of the children we’d left behind at home. The irony of it!

Finally, at the event, the Mayor of Birmingham gave her introductory speech, and this was followed by a Birmingham City Councillor who is also a magistrate. He spoke of how he regularly sees the same perpetrators appearing before him in court, starting with petty crimes, and becoming increasingly serious each time he saw them. He commented on how different these young people’s lives could have been if they’d had intervention at an early age.

A word repeated several times in the evening stood out to me, “liberty,” the state of being freed from oppressive restrictions. This reverberated with me, as fostering and adoption gives the opportunity for a child to be freed from their oppressive restrictions, giving them the chance to flourish and be who they are destined to be.

Krish Kandiah, Founder and Director of Home for Good, spoke about hospitality. He commented on how our nation needs to be re-taught about hospitality. As a Christian, Krish paralleled the hospitality shown in the bible, to the hospitality that we can give others today. Hospitality is a key element of fostering and adopting; welcoming a ‘stranger’ to your table.

We heard a few stories from foster carers and adopters. One lady told a story about how a mum on the school playground asked her about fostering, adding that she thought she might do that one day. The foster carer replied, “What’s to stop you doing it now?”

That leads me to a final challenge from the evening. If not you, who? If not now, when?

We returned home tired, reminded of many of the reasons we became foster carers, and challenged again to continue to be a hospitable home.

Could you open your door to a child that needs a home?

Could a child flourish from your hospitality, love, and warmth?

January 2018 - looking forward, looking back

Happy New Year everybody! I've been pondering what to write and find I baulk against the 'new year, new you' sound bites and resolutions. But one tradition my husband and I do uphold each year is the opening of our 'blessings' jar. From January through to December - when we remember - we pop a post-it note or some such into a jar. Examples I'm pulling out are: 

  • Summer sandals for our eldest from Mum
  • old OS maps free from work
  • bike passed on from a friend just as our boy needs one
  • baby clothes from a friend
  • a note left on the bedside table from my daughter
  • free swing frame from a friend that fitted a baby seat I found in a charity shop 
  • sausage hot pot delivered by a friend 
  • free apples
  • free veg at the end of the season from a care farm
  • passed on clothes for our son
  • knitted blanket for our baby
  • time together on a day out at Warwick castle

There are loads more but I'll stop there. By practising noticing when we get good things, it helps develop an attitude of gratitude. I still forget and what is in the jar just reflects what I have remembered and noticed. This year, we are trying to model this practice to our kids and get them to write stuff down too. 

And what I've observed most about what we do, is the interest people take in our life as a fostering family. Whilst it's not for everyone, everyone can play their part and letting people help me is a way of them feeling involved. It blesses me, them and the children in our care.

Thank you, everybody. 

December 2017 - Christmas pace

My kids are pooped. They have both been displaying magnified behaviours this weekend (one extra argumentative, one extra stroppy), which had sent me counting down the hours until I can send them back to school. But then I thought about it a little more. This is the longest of the three terms, it's the season of coughs and colds and dark mornings and drawing in evenings. There are lots of disruptions to the normal school rhythm with pantomime trips, carol concerts, rehearsals, Christmas jumper days, bring a bottle day (for the Christmas fayre) , Christmas party day, Christmas dinner day, film day, end of year music concerts, Christmas card competition, dress up day, dress down day - the list is inexhaustible.

And all this pressure from school is no less evident on the home front. Are we stressing about the meal, present buying, decorating the house, family coming over, birth family contacts, sibling contact - so much to fit in? It's a pressure cooker of a season, so we need to release the valve for ourselves and the children in our care.

I've been keeping days simple when they come home from school. 'Yes' to TV catch up of Strictly and Dynasties. 'No' to late nights. 'Yes' to simple suppers, 'No' to loads of sweets. 'Yes' to skipping swimming, 'Yes' to hot chocolate and snuggles on the sofa, 'Yes' to pyjama days and 'Yes' to 'no plan' weekends. And a big fat 'NO' to trying to have a perfect Christmas, but instead one where we make it to the 25th still sane, in credit and still able to speak kind words to one another.

Happy Christmas to you all.

Parenting younger

On a course recently, we were challenged to see how accurate our child development knowledge was. At approximately what age would you expect a 'normal' child to be doing the following? For example:

  • doubling birth weight - 6 months
  • climb stairs unaided with alternating feet on consecutive stairs - 4 years
  • hop on one foot - 4/5 years
  • begin to understand turn taking - 3/4 years
  • understand riddles - 8 years
  • use a knife and fork - 7 years

These are just some of the ones I underestimated.

I wonder if we are too keen to see our kids grow up? I certainly surprised myself with some of the expectations I put on my children. And then I reflected that as foster carers we need to be 'parenting younger'.

Often we need to discount chronological age in favour of emotional age and reduce expectations. This will decrease anxiety in both parent and child. Put simply - because I am not an expert - the brain of a secure child can develop and thrive.

When can we have another?

The Big Two are constantly asking me this as soon as one of our little ones moves on. It's been mostly the case they move on to an adoptive placement but we have seen children return home and also to different fostering families. As the adult and parent, I used to worry about the impact that additional children in our family may have on birth children. I needn't have bothered.

They have extended love, warmth, acceptance, generosity and patience to all of our children and each time they have had to say goodbye, have bounced back remarkably. Ready to do it all again. I have enforced little breaks as I needed to catch up on sleep but they have inordinate amounts of love and are so welcoming. 

Do they grieve? Yes. My boy (then 5) said after saying goodbye to our first little one, 'this is my worst day ever'. It was pretty bad - but by the end of the day, he was singing a different tune. We always try to keep busy, have a family outing or provide some sort of distraction in the aftermath. It has certainly helped that the children are involved in introductions and get to see where our little ones move on to. And we have been lucky enough to stay in touch with many of them. This helps too, as it's not 'goodbye', just 'see you next time'. 

But the brain of a neglected and traumatised child has to choose - engage fight or flight mode to stay alive or develop  It can't do both. So, if a child has been busy engaging the part necessary to stay alive - producing cortisol - then normal development and meeting milestones cannot be happening too. That's why we need to parent younger in order to go back and fill in the gaps for our children. 

But I think it's been a lesson to me to parent all my children younger. Let's let them be children for as long as they need.

Wonderwall

I was having a lunch date with my husband the other day. The music playing in the background was barely noticeable but I heard over the hubbub of chatter the Oasis lyrics from 'Wonderwall'...'Maybe you're gonna be one that saves me...'

When Oasis released the song in 1995, it was one of the biggest and most successful British tunes of all time - and certainly one of the more recognizable but it's meaning was unclear. I think he was talking about his then-girlfriend Meg Matthews, but later he changed his mind. 

Here's my new twist on its meaning!

There's been much talk in recent months about two Reports published. The first came from the Commons Education Committee and the second commissioned by the Department for Education and carried out by Sir Martin Narey and Mark Owers. 

Both Reports largely canvas the same groups of people; foster carers and care leavers, but their outcomes and tone are very different. I'm with Narey/Owers when they say that,  'We want foster carers who will be as biased and tenacious in pursuing the interests of their foster child as most of us are in pursuing the interests of our own children. We were invariably impressed with the carers we met and moved by their decision to take an unknown, often older, often difficult child, into their home.'

So, foster carers out there. Without wanting to sound melodramatic, what we do for our society's most vulnerable does indeed save them. 

Westminster

I was in Westminster in recent weeks. Did I just say that?! It was for a Parliamentary reception hosted by Home for Good – a national charity I’m involved in running here in Worcestershire.

The purpose was to celebrate what has happened over the past year and to look ahead to the plans and possibilities for the year ahead. We had foster carers, adoptive parents, champions, supporters, church leaders, partners, MPs, Peers and Home for Good staff in attendance. We heard from foster carers, adoptive parents, one of our staff team who shared her experience of being in care, a champion who was adopted, MPs who have been working with us, people and organisations who are leading the way in their communities to welcome vulnerable children and support those who care for them plus many more.
We also had a recorded video message from the children’s minister, Nadhim Zahawi MP, sharing his support for the work of Home for Good and organisations working with children in care.

Our reception was happening against the political backdrop of a crucial day in the Brexit process with a vote on Brexit legislation. Whatever our politics, however we voted on Brexit something heartening struck me on the day. Being in a room full of MP’s – and many more who wanted to be there but the Brexit vote took them away – they all shared a passion for wanting to see better outcomes for our looked after children. The MP’s I’ve met are parents, adopters, foster carers, adopted, social workers and teachers and today felt like a day of agreement despite the political landscape.

'Maybe, you're gonna be the one that saves me.'

Pick a rhythm

Once, I heard a wise woman speak on Intentional Parenting. In relation to the long 6 week holiday, she suggested three things. I can only remember one of them - 'pick a rhythm.' 

Find a rhythm that suits you and the children in your care. It can change of course, but sometimes we go with, mornings out/afternoons in - when we have a toddler who needs to sleep. Or alternate between big days out/home based days. Or, spend days/thrift days, where we take a flask and pack a picnic. Or, car days/on foot days. 

Take the kids on the planning journey with you and involve them in the challenge of planning the adventure. Providing them with some choices helps them feel involved and not disenfranchised. But, cleverly, the choices are well boundaried. What shall we do today on our 'on foot' day, should result in something manageable like a trip to the local library to complete the summer reading challenge. Without the boundaried choice, mine would pick Hong Kong or swim with dolphins! 

The other thing we do (right at the start) is have a bit of family consultation where we all chat about what we'd like to do over the holidays. I write up all (most) of the suggestions on a big sheet of paper and put it on the kitchen wall. It's engineered to an extent with things I know are taking place. As we enjoy the hols we tick things off, and use it as a daily prompt. It's not fixed to dates but it helps to involve everyone, manages expectations and give us all a road map through the 6 weeks which could otherwise feel quite overwhelming. 

Happy Holidays everyone. 

Day in the life of a foster carer

Day 1

Been enjoying a training day at The Countryside Centre on ‘life story work’. I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to training and can’t get enough of the courses! I love learning, and it gives me a break form the ‘day job’ with our little one. I don’t like leaving her too much, but once in a while when interesting training comes up or I have meetings to go to it’s a good opportunity to step back and reflect. I always try to use the same trusted friend so our little one gets continuity of care. I feel happier leaving them when I know they are going to have a lovely time. Today, we looked at memory boxes, life story books, therapeutic parenting and tools to equip both foster carers, kinship and adopters with the job they have. It’s always great to meet other people on these training days and listen to and share experiences. As a foster carer, it’s so helpful to hear the perspectives of an adopter – especially as we are just about to be moving our little one on to their forever family. It makes sense of what I’m doing and why, when I get to meet adopters and hear their stories. What a privilege!

Day 2

What a pain! Was meant to be on a training day about ‘Moving children on’. It would have been such perfect timing as we move our little one on to their forever home soon. I was hoping it would help me prepare practically, but also mentally and emotionally for their leaving. But, one of my birth children (5) was sick in the night – not a bug – just too hot. (His room is in the loft and it does get hot up there – poor thing) I was thinking I’d just send him anyway today as I know he’s not contagious, but his big sister (8)- who is the fount of all knowledge – has just informed him he needs 48 hours off school. Now he’s worried he’ll go to prison if I break the school rule. Will have to ring and send my apologies. The course organisers are so efficient, lovely and understanding. They get that we work with children and that, that throws up all kinds of unplanned eventualities. I’ll sign up for the course again, next time it comes around. A day at home with the boy bouncing off the walls and the little one. Oh joy!

Day 3

Had a lovely ‘moving on’ party for our little one at the weekend. It was a gentle event for ‘D’ and their little toddler friends. We tried to pitch it for them and their pace. It began during nap time, so when our little one woke, they were ready for all the frivolity – and cake! There have been so many people I wanted to thank who have supported me and our family on this journey. So the party was a way for me to say thank you to them. It was also a celebration of our little one’s life so far and all the achievements and milestones they have reached. I also felt it was useful to help all the other little toddler friends make sense of the loss of their friend. There has been a little band of them that are thick as thieves in the playground, and at various toddler groups, and I think it helped them to understand where their friend was going and why. I was overwhelmed by people’s generosity – ‘D’ was given such lovely gifts and mementos. I have been struck by how interested and involved my friends have been in what we are doing. Couldn’t do it without them.

Day 4

Feeling like I am beginning to process what is about to happen. Our first ever placement is coming to an end as they move to their forever home soon. Today has been a day of tying up loose ends and Good Byes. My lovely Health Visitor who has supported me and backed me up and vouched for me whilst I’ve been looking after our little one has just been to do her last home visit. We weighed and measured ‘D’ (they don’t like it much) and chatted about developmental milestones, progress and she was really encouraging. I love how this job is so varied and I get to work alongside so many other professionals. In the afternoon, although our little one was asleep having a nap, their guardian popped round one last time to see us both. She works for CAFCASS https://www.cafcass.gov.uk/ and has been another amazing person to work alongside. She has advocated, not only for ‘D’ but me as well, and taught me a lot about the court system and processes. There is a lot to take in, but it made me realise how important my role as foster carer is. I have the perspective of seeing all the different agencies and piecing it together to build a picture of care for our little one.

Day 5

Today is the day! So, meeting at County Hall with adopters and a room full of social workers! We have a very clear plan in place. We discuss what will be happening on each of the 7 days of the introduction process. It’s nerve wracking going in to the meeting, but probably much more so for the adoptive parents. I have my first real glimpse of what is about to happen: a couple are about to become a family. And I get to be part of that process. Wowzers. This really is what it’s all about. We talk in great detail about the plan. Everyone knows what their role is. After an hour and a half, I get a quick head start home to collect ‘D’ from my lovely friend and get home to do a quick tidy round. Adopters are hot on my heels to meet their little one for the first time EVER. It’s been a good day, but emotionally charged, and I’m ready for a night with my husband. We try to make sure we have time for each other once a week. Tonight is it. It’s crisps and dips night. Aldi’s finest. Night Y’all.