The introduction to a fostering series
Thank you for taking the time to read this. I like to think of what you are about to read as an alternative, unofficial, guide to fostering. Everything you read and are told, by your agency, is valuable information and worth retaining and referring back to – it might save your hide on many occasions – but what I am going to tell you is worth thinking about. It will give you a first hand perspective of fostering and, with any luck, might make you chuckle to yourself (especially if you are an experienced carer; I’m sure you will relate to much of what I have to say and may have forgotten how it was in the beginning).
I may only have a couple of years experience in fostering but I wanted to write this, before I get completely used to how absurd, frustrating, rewarding and frankly hilarious fostering can be. At the time of writing this introduction, I am sipping a cup of coffee, having reheated it for the third time this morning and have despatched our three foster children (all under 10 years old) to spend the day having contact with their mum. With four kids in the house, finding the time (especially during a pandemic and being locked down at home) to sit down and write a shopping list, let alone a decent passage of text, is challenging.
If you are reading this via the blog then this is just the beginning for me; my intention is to write a chapter a month, when the stars are aligned and I can get an hour to myself. If you are reading this in book form then you should probably know that this has been written in those fleeting moments of peace and quiet while the kids are out and we are in Lockdown 3, 4, 5, etc. (who knows). Either way, my intention is to write a chapter at a time, guiding you through my experience of fostering; from CSE Training and Local Authorities to toilet training and the National Railway Museum.
Either way, this guide is my salvation and my tormentor; I have committed myself to writing it over the course of the year (2021) yet it also provides me with an escape and a release from the rigours of fostering and, let’s face it, parenting. They are amazing children and the support we have, to facilitate ample contact with their mum, is simply awesome. I wish I could say that our current placement (three siblings) is typical of the fostering experience but I can’t. We have to work incredibly hard – all three kids have some challenging needs – but on the whole, we are very lucky. I’d also like to take this moment to say that our journey through fostering could not happen without the support of our amazing 8-year old son; this truly is a family effort and we would not be doing it if we were not all committed.
It takes a certain type of person to be successful in fostering (from the perspective of creating a “better” child) but it takes a completely different type of person to deal with the red tape and “ways of working”. And, more often than not, those two types of person are completely incompatible.
I’m definitely not the latter type of person; I’m a consummate professional with 20 years in IT and Finance. I have a way of working, which revolves around getting on with it and solving a problem. I like to see results. And if there is one thing that drives me crazy, in the professional world, it’s the expression “that’ll do”. It seems that many people enter the world of fostering filled with good intentions, a cupboard full of candy and the mantra “that’ll do”.
Early on in our journey through fostering, during which we gave 100% of our effort into educating, training and nurturing the children in our care, one professional, who shall remain nameless, told me that as long as the children are safe, anything else is a bonus and not expected of us. I can certainly see how, particularly with short-term placements, people can slip into this mentality.
Quite often, the children that find their way into ‘the system’ have been through one hell of a time – it breaks your heart – and have, as a consequence, many challenges for us to tackle. When you are only expecting to have the children for a few months, prior to their permanency plan being devised, it may seem too daunting to try and tackle any, let alone all, of the challenges. Therefore, you simply keep them safe, fed and happy. Indeed, you will be told from time to time that, as long as the children are eating something, it doesn’t matter what it is (many children will never have had a square meal in their life), even sweets, cake and chips, anything is better than nothing.
However, we do not share this mentality and prefer to put in maximum effort from day one. We set boundaries, responsibilities, discipline and good habits. We also promote a healthy diet, personal hygiene and good behaviour from the off. We don’t have games consoles, we rarely serve sweets or desserts and don’t serve sugary drinks. You might struggle breaking them of the habit but, like other kinds of addiction, it really does pay off, in the long run.
We went into fostering with our eyes fully open. This was always going to be a full-time job; my wife gave up her previous job to take on fostering. We were determined, from the get go, (and still are) to put 100% effort into our own training, teaching, caring for and supporting every child we take in. We were (and still are) committed to the professional and administrative side of fostering, too. Never forget, this is a job; you get paid for what you do and, like any job, you should put your best effort into delivering on your commitment.
If you want to be successful in fostering, and I mean successful from the perspective of creating a child you would invite to your own kid’s birthday party (let’s be honest here), you need to do it full time and have two or three foster kids. So don’t think you will achieve great things unless you are willing to sacrifice everything and commit to it 100% effort.
So, we come back to the two types of person; I’m not the bureaucrat (second type) but I’m putting 100% into creating children I would be proud to call “our kids”. So, I guess time will tell if I am the first type. Maybe, after reading the following chapters / posts, you will have your own opinion. However I, or any of the kids, turn out, I hope you find something helpful in what I’ve learned over the last few of years. And, if you have a bit of a chuckle or decide to venture into the world of fostering, it won’t have been a complete waste of time.
To be continued, part 2 available now