Our 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.
June blog – It's been a blast
This is the most difficult blog to write. It's difficult because I'm trying to articulate a decision we've made as a family that we haven't all fully reconciled in our hearts or heads.
We've been fostering for eight years. Our youngest was four when we started and he's 12 now. We've also added to our clan with number three who came along four years ago. I have written and spoken about what made us start fostering frequently. It is, perhaps harder to quantify how one knows when to stop.
But discerning when to stop is as important to get right. We chatted with The Big Two and these are their reflections on the past eight years. My eldest Son said that he has made so many new friends through our fostering community, but also with the adoptive families we moved our babies on to. They too have become genuine friends we see socially. He has loved the support we've received from friends and family, meals, gifts and encouraging cards. He recognises he's been bolstered by a support network and it's encouraged and validated him. He feels he's more empathic. He's proud of his identity as a fostering family and he loves seeing tiny scraps growing into chubby babies. He feels life is worse, dull even, with 'just' three kids and he's missing the cuddles. He's even happy to share a bedroom again and keen to help us grown-ups more!
My Daughter said much the same, adding that a baby was often the only member of our family able to get her out of a teenage grump! She loved her life, describing it as chaotic and wonderful, full of joy and laughter. She recognises we're good at it, she's loved watching children grow and loved the support and identity fostering brought her. Apparently, three children feels quiet and too easy!
I've written my thoughts over the years and for my last blog, I wanted to give voice to the thoughts of my children. I happen to think they are brilliant and I couldn't have done what we've done without their support and wholeheartedness.
It's time for a new season, but that does feel hard as the need for carers and the numbers of children coming into care has only risen since Covid and continues to do so. Nationally we need another 25,000 foster carers. At the risk of this sounding like an Oscar acceptance speech, thank you to my kids and Husband for the last eight years. Thank you, to you for giving fostering your serious consideration. And finally, thank you to the 17 children who have let us love them. It's been a blast.
May blog – It takes a village...
Foster Care Fortnight is a national campaign to raise awareness. This year's theme is #FosteringCommunities to celebrate the strength and resilience of fostering communities and all they do. This ensures children are cared for and supported to thrive. I think, off the back of the pandemic and social isolation, we understand more than ever the importance of relationships and connection.
This was brought home to me as I was packing up the belongings of our little munch, who is moving to his forever family next week after 13 months in our family. I was rereading all his New Baby cards, Christmas and Easter cards and his first Birthday cards. It filled an evening. It also fills my heart to see how our community has wrapped around us and him, accepting him, celebrating him, loving him, just as any child should be.
It's a well-used African proverb that says, 'It takes a village to raise a child'. It means an entire community of people must interact with children for those children to grow, in a safe and healthy environment. Well, my fostering community and my neighbourhood, friends, family and church community all join in supporting us in order that we can support vulnerable children.
Could you be part of a fostering family's community to help support the work they are doing? Or do you recognise that your community could help you to begin your fostering journey as you consider joining Worcestershire's biggest Fostering Family?
April blog – Mothering
Last month saw us celebrating Mothering Sunday. I'm careful with words - I like words - and I always try and use 'Mothering Sunday' rather than Mother's Day as it's far more inclusive. We have all been mothered by lots of different women and we can all 'mother' others, perhaps a niece or nephew, younger sibling, friend at work or even our own Mother.
As a foster parent, I get to work with birth mothers who might also find the day extremely challenging. They may be in the process of court proceedings not knowing what the outcome will be. They may not be able to see their children on this special day.
Our little cutie (11 months) made three cards at a toddler group for Mothering Sunday. One for his tummy mummy, one for me and one for his adoptive mummy who he's yet to meet. If ever there was an example of the 'now and not yet', this is it. We hold in tension the feelings of devastation and loss of one mother and the yearning desire of another who is about to become a mother. And me, in the middle, standing in the gap, loving our boy now but not forever.
Could you mother someone now but not forever?
March blog – World Social Work Day
I know that it can feel like every day something or someone is being celebrated but I happen to think World Social Work Day is something worth giving some time and thought to. Around the World, Social Workers will be and have been working tirelessly to do what they can in places like Ukraine, Northern Ireland, Israel and Palestine, any conflict zones, to help the vulnerable.
Social work is an academic discipline and practice-based profession. It concerns itself with individuals, families, groups, communities and society as a whole. In efforts to meet basic needs and enhance social functioning, self-determination, collective responsibility, optimal health and overall well-being.
It's easy to hold a very different view of Social Workers, as they are often vilified in the press and in my opinion, are given a hard time generally. Theirs is not an easy job. My Supervising Social Worker has been my Line Manager now for five years. I have cried on her, vented frustrations, shared celebrations and everything in between. She is part of my support network, keeps me on my toes where training and continuous professional development (CPD) are concerned and is a 'critical friend'. For her and all the others, I am thankful.
February blog – Love
Obviously, we're celebrating Valentine’s Day this month. Less obviously, February is also the month I write my annual letter to our Son's birth parents. Our Son was a child we fostered and then went onto adopt.
There are four main types of love found in the bible, their Greek words are Eros, Philia, Storge and Agape. Eros (erotic) represents romantic love between couples. Philia (friendship) means the love between good friends. Storge (affection) is the love found between family members and Agape is the fatherly love of God for humans.
When we shared our news that we were adopting, some queried whether we could love him as much as The Big Two because he wasn't 'ours'. Well, having had the privilege of loving lots of children over the years through fostering and being a birth parent too, I can confidently tell you that I love them ALL THE SAME. That parental love or Storge is as strong and feisty for all our children, fostered, adopted and birth.
'But can you love someone you don't share DNA with?’ I often think about those of us who have partners...we don't need to be biologically linked to fiercely love (Eros) each other. There are different ways to love and I believe we have the capacity to keep doing it. It's not something that runs out. When I write our annual letter I always sign off with how much I love our/their Son.
As a Christian, a Mummy and a Foster Carer words from the bible help me make sense of why and how we keep loving all our children. It is through my lived experiences of parenting, fostering and life that I know we all have the capacity to love beyond our biological connections.
January blog – Standing in the gap
When you look after a friend's kid for a play date, because they are working, etc. you might take a bit more care than perhaps with your own. You've been entrusted with their precious child so you want to love them well in their parent's absence.
I do a lot of my thinking and reflecting in the middle of the night. Partly, because the baby has me up for milk and cuddles and partly because I can actually hear myself think as the other kids are asleep! I was thinking about how I am loving our baby (who is Looked After), as well as I can, for his birth mum while she cannot. And I'm also loving our baby for the family, kinship or adoptive, that may become his forever family in the future. I don't know who will be his forever family, but my job right now is to stand in the gap and love him well on behalf of those who have loved him and who will love him.
It's a more abstract ask than having a friend's kid over for a play date. We might not always get on with birth mothers, and we don't yet know who might become a forever family but what we do know is that our little one needs loving right now, the very best way I can.
Can you stand in the gap and love a child for someone else?
December blog – Are you ready for Christmas?
How many times have you been asked that, or had a conversation about whether you've 'started' or not? It's overwhelming isn't it? It can create a feeling of inadequacy in us depending on the answer. The first Christmas was a shambles - Joseph hadn't booked a room for his heavily pregnant Fiancé for a start! If we feel overwhelmed as adults who are (mostly) in control, how are our children feeling?
The lead up to Christmas if they are school or pre-school age will inevitably include Christmas jumper days, Christmas lunch, toy day, DVD day, Christmas play/nativity including itchy scratchy headdresses and weird costumes that smell funny.
Routine is ebbing away from them, and being replaced with heightened emotions, heightened expectations, more sugar, more lights and decorations and less predictability. And that's before we consider the emotional side of Christmas. 'Elf on the shelf' relies on the feelings of being 'good' or 'bad' and many looked after children will have huge struggles with self worth without needing the pressure to be deserving based on a year-long behaviour plan!
Last year I took my 3 year-old to meet Father Christmas at the theatre. He was distressed, refused to enter the theatre, screamed when the man in the beard appeared, and couldn't cope with the noise, lights, crowds of people and unexpected loud noises. This year I won't be making the same mistake.
We'll try to stick to rhythms that are predictable and offer a sense of control. We'll open presents over a few days to minimise the highs and lows and reduce the comedown. We'll eat Christmas lunch the same time we always do and stick to foods that are recognisable and familiar.
We'll keep it simple.
November blog – Literally a day in the life
We have coronavirus. Yep, all six of us piled on top of each other in our home. Normally, its a juggling act of running kids here and there while my Husband and I negotiate who gets the car. Now, we are all in the house, all together. The car sits forlornly outside the house, not having moved for days. The highlight is waiting for a Sainsbury delivery.
Also, we have no TV. Accident involving our three-year-old, again. It's being fixed but they won't be able to deliver it back and reinstall it while we are all in isolation. My battle managing screen time of the older two is lost and neighbours are feeding Paracetamol and baby wipes through the letterbox for us. My Husband and I have symptoms but the kids are asymptomatic.
Our Supervising Social Worker has been ringing and e-mailing to check how we are. The baby's Health Visitor has also been checking in and even offered to do shopping for us.
The Track and Trace people rang to check the names and ages of all those living in our house, so as I went through his questions, I mentioned that one in our family was Looked After, hence the different surname. It's amazing how often this information sparks an impassioned response from people and lots of questions about fostering. The call handler shared how he and his wife had talked about fostering many times. As we chatted, my Daughter was on the laptop writing a blog about how much she loves fostering.
I suppose I'm telling you all this because I want to show you a snapshot, even in the illness and frustration of isolation, that we are just a regular family and fostering still fits. And you could do it too.
Sons and Daughters Month
Sons and Daughters Month is The Fostering Network’s annual campaign to celebrate the vital contribution the children of foster carers make to foster care.
Each October, our service Worcestershire Children First Fostering provides activities by way of a thank you to the children of fostering families. They have actually provided lots of really wonderful experiences for all children from bell boating, pumpkin carving, canoeing, orienteering, archery, wall climbing and fairground rides. Because when you're in a family no one is excluded are they? They are all invited and all treated the same.
It's been wonderful watching my Big Two jumping off the pontoon into a lake for a spot of swimming after canoeing. One is a confident, water baby. The other a more risk averse cautionary soul. But the group of children encouraged and playfully coaxed him into the water and he was so proud of himself for his achievement. Children were kind, thoughtful encouragers that day, and it didn't matter if they were 'looked after', birth or adopted children. They helped each other achieve their potential.
I love watching my Big Two growing up and I love that they love fostering. They clearly value the identity they have as a fostering family and are proud of what we do and who that makes them. They reflected after our canoeing day that they thought they were more empathic and sensitive as a result of the world that's been opened up to them. They see how to help others at school and they look for the needs.
And to think I worried about the impact fostering would have on them!
October blog – More than...
My wise friend, Krish Kandiah once said that looked after children and young people are more than the worst thing that has happened to them. Or indeed, more than the worst thing they have done. When a child comes into care, there is usually information emailed to the foster parents about the child. Inevitably, the information is often distilled down to the things they have been exposed to and subjected to. It often makes uncomfortable reading. These are factual reports and as such, can feel quite stark.
As a parent I'm guilty of focussing on the one unacceptable behaviour my three-year-old presents me with, instead of looking at the myriad beautiful behaviours he's managed over the course of the day. It's something I'm daily working on. He is so much more than what he has broken, scribbled on etc.
Back to our looked after children.The fact they are with us, instead of their family of origin means they were at risk of significant harm. They will ALL have encountered adverse childhood experiences and even babies removed at birth have experienced the primal wound of leaving their tummy Mummy.
All these experiences and trauma mean that our looked after children will show us lots of 'challenging' behaviour. Our role as foster carers is to get to know our children and call out of them the person they are intended to be. Not the one defined by what has happened to them, but the one they have the potential to be. Could you look past behaviours and see potential more than challenge? Could you show a child they are more than enough to be loved?
September blog – PACE
With week one of the new term under our belts, I am constantly trying to pace the children. The four-month-old invariably has to accompany me on all school and preschool related journeys which can squeeze cuddling and playing time out somewhat. The three year old is not only contending with the shock of being back at preschool and away from me, but also is picking up on all the morning and after school stress in the house. The 11 year old has started secondary school so there is masses of information for him and me to absorb and the 13 year old is a teenager who keeps funny hours and needs to work on timekeeping!
And in all this, I have to try and provide the pace, so that they get enough sleep, do not take on too many extracurricular activities, do not rush their homework, do not spend inordinate time on their homework, do not fall asleep at 4.00pm before supper, and get all their milk feeds in over 24 hours etc.
To do this I usually bring the whole day forward by half an hour so that supper is sooner, the big two are ravenous when they walk in the door, and the little one is teetering on sleep so the sooner I feed and revive him the better! It is not like this forever, but while we all adjust to the new pace of life, simple, reliable, tried and tested meals, the same routine, the same cereal for breakfast and clear boundaries around bedtime are a win for me.
Whether they are birth, looked after, or adopted children (I have all three) they all need help with pacing themselves. Much of the training we receive as foster parents with Worcestershire Children First includes parenting with PACE, which is an acronym for playfulness, acceptance, curiosity and empathy. If you have the capacity in your head to remember these four words to add into your households do. It can really help!
August blog – Seven Years Significance
This time, seven years ago, I was preparing my youngest of two (and myself) for primary school. In parallel to this, Tom and I had been through the assessment process as foster carers, and a month after our son was settled in school, our first little one arrived. I think I remember writing a blog about how much James loved walking with his hand on the pram handle on the school run and saying, 'we're a proper family now'. We suddenly had three kids, just like that! We didn't wait long between being approved and getting our first little person, just a matter of weeks.
We've had three children pretty much constantly since then until we adopted one of them three years ago and then continued fostering afterwards taking the number of kids up to four!
So this September, seven years on from being peeled off me in tears in the playground (it does get better) he is now getting ready to start secondary school and he can't wait. I, on the other hand still have a pile of uniform that needs naming. Our first little one is now climbing the highest trees and is an absolute delight. We hung out and did some epic tree climbing just last week with them.
Since welcoming that first precious little person, we've welcomed 16 more children in the last seven years. It's been a wonderful time and I'd urge anyone thinking about fostering as their children begin school/leave school to just do it.
July blog – Holibobs
We've just taken 4 kids on holiday. Their ages range from 12 weeks to 13 years and it was hard! Before the holiday there's the thinking, planning, booking, online food order, sorting who will feed the pets, winding down work, emptying the fridge, wearing the clothes you don't want to pack, washing the clothes you do want to pack, buying a roof box, buying sunblock, checking sandals and swimwear still fit. You get the idea.
And then there's the actual holiday. Sandy, gritty nappy changes on the beach, sandy, gritty picnics and fish and chips, trying to keep the baby in the shade, trying to keep a hat on the toddler, trying to keep the big ones off phones! Doing epic days out that I wouldn't dream of doing at home and all with less sleep, because, inevitably they don't sleep so well away from home.
And I won't start on the unpacking and the washing. But we do it all nevertheless, year after year. Each year we have the immense joy and privilege to take our foster child with us and for all of them, we get to say they had their first holiday with us. Their first sight of the sea, their first time with little toes dipped in the ocean. It is an overused word, but it is such a privilege. And when I've forgotten all of the above (which doesn't take long, to be honest) I'm left with memories that last a lifetime along with glorious pictures they can take with them which tell them they were included and part of our family.
June blog – Father's Day
I've struggled with what to write about Father's Day this week for several reasons but largely because I've been feeling low level grumpiness towards my own kids' Daddy! Just keeping it real. It's probably compounded by sleep deprivation (newborn baby here) which makes me less resilient and more sensitive.
Anyway, as I write this he is working from home behind me at the dining table, and has just fed the baby and is now cuddling/winding whilst typing with one hand. When we started fostering 7 years ago, I think it was with some trepidation he agreed to my plan. Like most things, crazy building projects, trips to Hong Kong, loft conversions, fostering and adoption, he has been the voice of reticence and caution and I've been the 'gung ho' leader in any project deemed crazy.
But in all this, I've watched him over and over again fall in love with every child we have had the privilege of having in our family. These children have broken and softened his heart and opened him up to a life lived out of vulnerability, sacrifice, selflessness and compassion. It's been a fine tuning and sharpening experience for us all.
'As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.' Proverbs 27, v17.
Thank you to all the children who have been the ones to sharpen us and Happy Father's Day to all those who allow it to happen.
May blog - Why we care
You'll know from previous posts that we said goodbye to our lovely chubby bubba about a month ago.
Discerning when to welcome another one is always tricky. We need time to grieve the loss, and as a family, we all process that in different ways. Our 13 year old misses her but doesn't want to talk about it. Our 10 year old talks all the time and the 3 year old just thinks it about time she came back home! We want to make sure we leave enough time for her room to become a neutral space again. It does a disservice to the next child if we are still thinking the room belongs to someone else.
There are also all the practical considerations like getting bits of work done on the house (we're replastering a few walls) while there are fewer people in it. Having a date night or a weekend away. Getting us all haircuts, getting on top of life admin and everything else that is permanently put on the backburner.
But then the phone rings, and we hear about another vulnerable child in need and we say no because of all of the above. Then we all feel wretched, agitated, and unhappy and then we say yes.
Foster Care Fortnight 2021 will is taking place from 10 to 23 May.
The theme for the fortnight will is #WhyWeCare.
April blog - Raspberries
There's the squished raspberry on the bathmat, the remaining small clothes in the laundry basket and the last of the nappies in the bins. These are the things left after we said goodbye to our little one after 11 months. I've packed the highchair away, taken the car seat out of the car and washed the cot bedding. I've put away baby clothes, toys and bottles.
I find myself standing in her room just looking at the empty cot or flicking through pictures and videos of her on my phone. It's hard. But what takes the edge off is the other side of my story.
There's a family created where there wasn't one before. They probably have even more squashed raspberries all over their house and I happen to think they are loving it! Where my house is looking uncharacteristically ordered and tidy theirs is a delightful mess. Knowing what it means to them to be a family, really helps me with the sense of loss.
And our little one leaves so much more behind than raspberry stains and nappies. She leaves us all a little bit kinder, more patient, more gentle - and with our hearts full of the love and affection she has given us and we've been able to give to her.
March blog - In our hearts
This feels more controversial than most of the stuff I write about. It's taken me longer too, As I've wanted to get the wording right for those for whom it matters. March has been a wretched month as I've seen a birth mother say goodbye to her baby in our care. March is also the month we mark Mothering Sunday. I've written about this day before from many perspectives but there's perhaps one voice that doesn't get heard as often - that of the birth mother.
As foster carers, we work with birth families all the time. It's a big part of what we do. Sometimes these are really positive relationships and it's been a joy to see children return home when it's the right decision. And sometimes, when children in our care don't return home but move to a new, adoptive family, it is still a positive relationship with the birth mum. I have a draw I keep cards and memorabilia in, and amongst the letters and cards I've kept are those written by birth parents thanking me for the care and love I've given their baby.
Working with birth parents can be stressful all round, so it's important to find common ground. And we have this by the bucket load. We both love their child. I didn't want to cry when I picked up the little one to drive away for the last time. I thought it was selfish of me and would diminish the feelings of the birth mummy - but I couldn't help it and we both cried. I hope It didn't diminish her feelings. I think it showed compassion and empathy.
There's a wonderful book called 'In our hearts', that is written by mothers who live apart from their children and as far as I know it's the only one of its kind. I recommend it.
As part of our engagement with birth parents the fostering service has spoken to 30 birth parents to further explore how their voices can be incorporated through the fostering service and easier more inclusive ways of obtaining their feedback. Some parents have been willing to take part in a focus group looking into more depth about how we can support the voice of the parents regarding the care their children receive and potentially how this can impact on the fostering service assessments panels.
We are also really pleased to be able to offer the following developmental training:
Moving Children On – Strategies For The Fostering Family
- consider the wellbeing of the foster carer in the moving on process
- discuss the potential impact on birth children and the wider fostering family
- identify the strategies which can be used by the fostering family to support a child to have a positive transition
- to provide foster carers and their family members with strategies to meet their own emotional needs in the transition process
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.
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.
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.
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