Saturday, December 31, 2011

Obligatory New Year Blog Post

Apparently, as my social worker told me a couple of weeks ago, Christmas and New Year are busy times at Children's Social Care.  How depressing is that?

I was going to write a really deep and meaningful blog post about this, perhaps exploring some of the reasons why there is so much sadness and hopelessness during this season which should be about the very heart of our hope, but I find that I just can't.  I'm between foster children at the moment, and I don't want to speculate about what the little one I will next receive into my home has experienced at Christmas time, and how far that might be from the warm, golden Christmases I remember as a child.

I've spent a gorgeous Christmas with my family.  I've enjoyed watching my nephews' excitement over their presents and I've eaten the best in Christmas food.  We've laughed together and played cards together and talked together.  We've had long lazy days in a warm, comfortable home, and I've received some pretty excellent gifts!

So, I can easily start the New Year by saying that I am thankful.  I am thankful for my family who love me, and for my friends who are always there for me.  I am thankful that I have an 'ample sufficiency'!  I am thankful most of all to my Heavenly Father in whom every single day is a chance for a fresh start, not just New Year's Day!

Happy New Year everybody!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Week of Last Things

Tonight I put my gorgeous little foster baby to bed for the last time.  Tomorrow he goes back to his Mummy and we'll have just three short visits together before I say my last goodbye to him.

And so my thoughts are turning to a question I've been asked many times since he came in April, and to which I've always been unable to furnish an answer: how will I feel when he leaves?

Honestly?  I still don't really know.  How can I know?  How could anybody know what their reaction would be in advance.  I can imagine various scenarios but, even at this late stage, I still can't honestly say what will happen on Friday when I hand him over to his Mummy for the last time and I know I'll probably never see him again.

Over the last six weeks of his transition my thoughts have mainly been about sufficiency.  Have I done enough?  Have I played with him, read to him and talked to him enough?  Have I given him enough love, patience and security?  Have I prayed for him enough?

But today, a day of so many last times, I have been thinking not about my experience, but about his, and about the experiences of the others who have meant so much to him over this last eight months - my family, my friends and my awesome church.

There has been a constant stream of last goodbyes, kisses, cuddles, prayers and love.  He surely has been made to feel as though he is a very special boy, and I'm glad of that.  There have been a few tears too, and a few brave faces.

Despite all the training and serious talks with social workers and others, I never really appreciated how difficult this might be for those not obviously directly involved in the process.  This smiling, loving little boy has giggled his way into a lot of hearts over the months, and there's almost a sense of disbelief that we'll probably never know the outcome of his story.  He is part of our lives today, and tomorrow he is completely gone.  My friend's two-year-old son greets me with 'Where's ****' every time I go to the house.  I don't know how long that will go on for.  I certainly never gave much thought to the effect that the appearance and disappearance of these transitory playmates might have on the other children in my life.  And then there's my family who, even at a distance, have welcomed and loved this little boy as one of their own.

And then there's 'the boy' himself.  He went to bed like a lamb tonight, blissfully unaware that he would never sleep in this cot again.  I've taken him to his Mummy's home so many times and always, always been there to pick him up later.  How will he process what happens this Friday when I drop him off and then just never come back?

I can't answer that question any more than I can answer the questions about myself.  I can't know the effect on him.  I can only commit him to his heavenly father and then trust.

Parents experience a lot of 'last times' when raising a child.  The last time in those newborn clothes, the last milk feed, the last time in the cot before getting a big bed.  I've experienced many last times with 'the boy' already, but paid little attention to them because I was always excited for the 'first times' - first time eating solid food, crawling, walking.

This week, it has been all last times with no possibility of any first times.  If nothing else, it has made me make each time as special as possible.  Perhaps we can all learn to pay more attention to the last times, even while we look forward to more first times.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Our Brush with the NHS

I used to be the kind of person who saw the doctor so infrequently that she had to blow the metaphorical dust off my records when I made a visit, but, since the boy came to stay, I've become something of a frequent flyer.  If it's not the many immunisations then it's DNA tests or LAC medicals or whatever.

This week it was an unpleasant case of what I call 'ruttly chest'.  He started with it last weekend and by the Monday morning, in my non-expert opinion, it seemed to have developed into a proper old chest infection.  So I dutifully phoned the Doctor's, only to be told that the next available appointment would be Friday afternoon.

This caused me to pause for quite a while on the phone until the silence lengthened out to a point where the receptionist had to check that I was still there!

My dilemma was as follows: I could make a fuss, say it's an emergency and harp on about his very young age and almost certainly would be given a much sooner appointment.  On the other hand, it could well be just a cold and then I would be the hysterical woman making a massive deal out of a cold and I don't want to be that person!  And to be fair to my GP, you don't normally have to wait so long for an appointment, so I wasn't especially inclined to push it.

Instead, I decided to run him up to the walk-in centre after his contact on Monday afternoon and see if I could get somebody to quickly run a stethoscope over his chest.

Due to recent cutbacks in emergency provision, our local A&E has been closed, and the walk-in centre has been moved into what used to be A&E.  It has also been renamed 'Urgent Care Centre'.  I didn't know this, and must admit to wavering in my resolve somewhat when I realised I would have to walk into a building which to me is still A&E and has 'URGENT' written all over it, carrying a baby with what could be a mild cold.

Still, I pressed ahead, but was dismayed even further when I saw the number of people in the waiting area.  Undaunted, we booked ourselves in and took our seat, and I began the tricky game of trying to work out how long we'd be waiting.  This is not as easy as you might think.  The number of people in the waiting room bears absolutely no relation to the number of people actually wanting to be seen by a doctor.

For instance, shortly after my arrival, a party of 5 walked in.  Apparently, the daughter, aged about 10, had 'hurt her foot'.  I'm thinking she can't have hurt it that badly since she was walking on it.  Quite why it was necessary to bring not only the injured party but also the brother, both parents and a grandparent was beyond me.  Equally baffling was the gang of girls chatting in a corner who periodically stepped outside of the doors to use their phones or have a quick smoke.  I couldn't work out which one of them required urgent care.  It seems that every person who visits the Urgent Care Centre is obliged to come with an entourage that wouldn't look out of place with Simon Cowell!  I seriously considered phoning some of my friends to come down so that the boy wouldn't feel inadequate!

Consequently, our wait was actually quite short, and I have to say, the medical workover that the boy was given was very impressive.  A nurse came and listened to his chest, took his SATs, temperature and pulse, watched him breathe and cooed over him in a most gratifying way.  Then a doctor came and listened to his chest, checked his chart and clucked over him.  Following that another nurse came in and re-did all the tests that the first nurse had done, although with slightly less grace.  By this time, I was almost hoping that it would turn out to be a bona fide chest infection or else surely all these professionals would be grumbling about the crazy woman the minute I'd left.

In the end, the doctor came back and pronounced it a 'viral infection', i.e. a cold.  It was a rather more sheepish me that left the Urgent Care Centre than entered it.

I must just finish the story off by telling you that we did attend Friday's GP appointment after all as the ruttly chest situation had not improved at all over the intervening few days.  My lovely GP had a quick listen and immmediately identified the rattling that I could both hear and feel at the bottom of his chest as basal creps, meaning that, yes, he has a chest infection.

I'm pretty sure that our adventures with the yellow, foul-smelling antibiotic medicine will be a whole other story though!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Celebrities Weigh in for National Adoption Week

National Adoption Week is upon us and unsurprisingly a crop of celebrities have been called upon by various news programmes to give their opinions.  But how useful are their views?

Undoubtedly, using celebrities can help to raise the profile of the issue, and I'm all in favour of that, but are their anecdotal tales really any substitute for informed opinions from experts who work in the field?

Amongst others, the BBC news programmes have called upon Saira Khan and author Jeanette Winterson as part of their coverage of the story.

Saira Khan's adoption of a baby, Amara, from Pakistan has been well-publicised and was the subject of a two-part doumentary.  She undoubtedly has been through a profound personal journey, but her views as expressed on the BBC news programme that I saw were somewhat naive.

Calling for a speeding up of the adoption process, she spoke of the trauma that children who are awaiting adoption go through, but then downplayed the long-term effects of this trauma, suggesting that over-stating the problems of these children puts parents off adopting.  The message was clear: all these children need is a loving family and if they have that then the problems will melt away.

If this is true, then why the increasing number of failed adoptions?  Why the desperate calls from adoptive families for more post-adoption support to help them deal with the difficulties they encounter?  Unfortunately, love does not conquer all.

Jeanette Winterson was herself adopted as a child and, despite her own difficult upbringing, she has spoken passionately to encourage more people to step forward as adopters.  Yet on TV this week she said that she was shocked at how few children are being adopted nowadays.  According to Jeanette Winterson 'only, like, 60 kids' were adopted last year, a statistic which she found 'unbelievable'.

Well, yes, it unbelievable, and it is also completely untrue.  The much-mentioned figure of 60 children adopted relates only to the number of babies under one who were adopted and doesn't include the hundreds of older children who were adopted.

An easy mistake to make - anyone could have slipped up like that, you might think.  But there was no expert to correct her, and the interviewer did nothing to correct the misinformation.

So, BBC, have your celebrities if you like, and let them do the important work of raising the profile of this vital issue, but at the same time, you also need to include the expert views of those who actually work in the field - from social services, from Action for Children,  from AdoptionUK and the many other agencies who really do know what is happening.  Otherwise the debate and public opinion will be skewed by naivety, inaccuracy and misinformation.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Ofsted reports on babies at risk

I'm often asked why I chose to only foster babies, especially since I have so much prior experience with older children and teenagers.  The full answer is long and rather complex and will probably form the subject of several future posts, but a recently published Ofsted report highlights very simply one of the reasons why babies are in need of special care.

Apparently, more than one third of serious case reviews between 2007 and 2010 concerned babies under the age of one.

This is staggering.

A serious case review is carried out in the event of the death or serious injury of a child.  The fact that such a large proportion of these concern tiny babies demonstrates how vulnerable this age-group is.

In the first few weeks of a child's life it is likely that the only agencies involved with the family will be health-related - midwives, health visitors, etc.  By the time a few missed appointments at the clinic are noticed and followed up, it may already be too late for a tiny infant.

Ofsted also notes the additional complication that some young mothers could themselves be identified as children in need and may not be receiving the support they need.

Far too often, fathers are virtually 'invisible' as far as professional agencies are concerned, and yet their influence on the child may be extreme.  Professionals may be having contact with the mother and child through scheduled appointments, but may never have a chance even to meet the other parent.  Ofsted highlights a case where a 3-week-old child left in the care of its father became ill and died just a few days later.  The child's grandparents had previously tried to alert social services regarding their concerns about the father.

Babies are helpless and fragile.  Seemingly minor occurences can quickly become potentially life-threatening.  While social services struggle to balance the need to protect children against the fear of intervening unnecessarily, these tiny ones may be slipping through the net.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Adventures Abroad

If you have been following the blog (hello follower!) or if you know me in real life, you will no doubt remember the trouble I've had getting a passport for the boy.

So, you will appreciate how delighted I was when the passport finally arrived and I was able to organise a last-minute trip to France to visit my family and feel a little like I've been on holiday. 

And here we are!  The flight over was blissful as the plane was mostly empty so the boy and I had a TRIPLE SEAT!  He has recently learned to stand up unaided and was pretty keen to spend the whole flight practising this new skill so the extra space was definitely a bonus.

The weather is not hot so we can't pretend we're on our summer jollies, but it is fine and clear and crisp, and we've been across the border to Germany and Switzerland several times, so the boy can claim to have visited four different countries before his first birthday. 

Of course, we have taken many pics of him in front of various signs that say welcome to the various countries.  Providing these kinds of pictorial markers is important for children who may be relying on sketchy third-hand information when they are older in order to piece together their past lives.  At least the boy will have plenty of baby photos and videos.

I'm going to make the most of this week because from the day we get back to England, the process of handing him back to his Mum will begin.  Everyone wants to know how I will feel when that happens.  I've no idea whatsoever, but I'll let you all know.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Fostering: Getting Approved

In the short time I've been fostering, a number of people have asked me about the approval process, so here is the first in what will probably be a short series of posts about my experiences of getting approved.

I say a series of posts, because the process is long and pretty involved.  It would be misleading to suggest that it was simple and short enough to fit into just one post!  Here, I'll just do a quick overview of the main steps in the process.

In all honesty, it all began for me a long time before I actually decided to do anything concrete about it, but that's a story for another time.  I started the official process by making a phone call to the Fostering Team at my Local Authority back in November 2009.  During that phone call, they told me how much I'd get paid.  This revelation caused me to put the phone down hastily and do nothing more about it for nearly four months!

When I got back to them in February 2010 they arranged an initial visit in very short order.  Foster carers are in short supply everywhere, so Children's Social Care tend not to hang around when somebody shows an interest.

At that initial visit I sat with a really lovely social worker, Gillian, for over two hours.  We talked about the whole issue of fostering, my motives for making the call and some of my background and experience.  She told me a little of what I could expect from the assessment procedures and about the training I would need to attend.  She left me with the application forms and told me to think it over. Personally, I found this a really positive meeting.

Once I had sent off my application, Gillian came again with a colleague, Amber, who was newly-qualified.  This was another very positive meeting.  This time we went into more detail about the assessment process and they also went around my house to check that it was suitable (e.g. that I had a spare room, etc.) and to make a note of any obvious health and safety concerns.

All potential foster carers receive training before being approved.  In my LA, this involves attending the 'Skills to Foster' training which took place over two Saturdays and one evening.  I'll go into this in more detail in another post.

After that, the assessment visits begin in earnest.  I actually had several assessment visits before I attended 'Skills to Foster' because due to cancellations and my previous commitments it was a few months before I could actually do the training.

The assessment visits were carried out by Amber, who became my link social worker.  We had about 14 of these, and over the weeks I had to share pretty much everything about myself and my whole life with Amber.  Again, I'll go into more detail about this in another post, but suffice it to say that at the end of it all, the report that Amber wrote about me was over 50 pages long, not including appendices, references, etc.  Be prepared for an extremely invasive process - they really do want to know every single thing about you and everybody else in your household.

Amber also had to watch me interacting with children and write a report on that.  I 'borrowed' my friends two children for this and organised a play date at my house.  She also took references from family members and friends that I had nominated.

And of course there were the CRB checks for myself and anyone else who might be likely to have extended unsupervised contact with a fostered child.

As part of the process, I also had to write (with my social worker's support) a 'safer caring policy' for my household to demonstrate how I would ensure that children were safeguarded while in my care.  This was fairly easy for me as I am a lone carer, but would be more involved for a family.

There was also a full health and safety check of my house.  I had to rectify any shortfalls before approval.  For me, thankfully, there were only minor issues such as making sure smoke alarms were fitted and that I had appropriate safety measures put in place for babies.

When the assessment portfolio was completed, I was put forward for panel in March 2011.  The process can be done more quickly than this, but I had started a job on a one-year contract at the start of the process so we were happy to take a whole year over it.

Once I was approved, I worked out my notice at work and two days after I finished, I had my first placement!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

New Adoption Figures Lack Context

The news has been abuzz recently with the release of figures that show that only 60 babies were adopted in the last year, compared to 150 in 2007.  This has been described as 'shocking' and 'scandalous', but, as always with these statistics-based stories, there is a context that is being ignored.

Firstly, babies here are defined as only those aged less than one year old.  The full figures show that the number of children being adopted aged 1-4 has stayed more or less static over the same period, and the average age of adoption has fallen from 4.2 to 3.10. So, while less under-1s are being adopted, the number of very young children being adopted hasn't fallen, and the lower average age could imply that the process is speeding up, not slowing down.

But why are more babies under 1 not being adopted?  The figures don't show how many babies of that age are in care awaiting adoption, only the total number of children in care.  Maybe there are fewer babies in care?  We can't tell from the figures.

And of those children who are in care, what percentage are actually eligible for adoption?  Many children in care are not awaiting adoption at all, but are in care as a temporary measure while family issues are resolved.  These children need to be removed from the equation if these adoption statistics are to have any real context.

We also read that a child will spend an average of 2.7 years in care before being adopted.  It is still the policy of social services that all possibilities of re-uniting a child with their birth family, or placing them with extended family should be exhausted before adoption is considered.  Bearing this in mind, it is not surprising that this can be a lengthy process as parents complete assessment procedures and long transitions from foster care back into the family.

And perhaps most important of all, and rarely mentioned, is the fact that a child over the age of four, or in a sibling group or with a disability stands an extremely poor chance of being adopted at all because, by and large, this is not what adoptive parents are looking for.  For parents who are adopting to create a family, the dream is for a little baby to bring up from scratch, not a ten-year-old with a lifetime of baggage behind them.

The difficulties of finding families for older children must skew the statistics on average waiting times.  I would love to know the statistics on how long, on average, it takes for a child to be adopted if they were brought into care aged less than 6 months.  I bet it's a lot less than 2.7 years.  But of course, we can't tell from the figures in the news reports.

The long and short of it is that this is a much more complex issue than can be covered in a few sensationalist headlines and several paragraphs of inflammatory comment.  Polly Curtis does a reasonable job of looking behind the issues in The Guardian (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/reality-check-with-polly-curtis/2011/sep/29/reality-check-adoption), and includes some illuminating quotes from The Fostering Network and others, but in general, this is just another example of grabbing a statistic out of context and using it to draw several completely spurious conclusions.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Children's Social Care provides the fun part of my week again!

So . . . I have to take the boy to the Doctor's for a DNA test.  I am supposed to take with me a copy of his birth certificate and 2 passport photos.  I phone his social worker who, for some reason, is surprised that I don't have a copy of his birth certificate already.  Why would I? 

I inform them that they still have the spare passport photos from the passport application I tried to make for him 4 months ago and ask them to send me the documentation ASAP so I can book the appointment at the Doctor's.

That was three weeks ago.  Today the social worker phones me and asks me why I haven't taken him for the DNA test yet.  Excellent question, I think, and patiently explain the whole thing again.

At the same time, I ask them if we have a date yet for his return to his Mum.  They had a court date nearly a month ago at which time we were all told that his Mum would be rehomed by the end of the month and then he could return to her.  It's the end of the month, so why no date on rehoming?  Social worker sounds confused.  I patiently explain the whole thing again.  Turns out the social worker doesn't know the date.  "I'll have to phone . . . " she says vaguely.

Not to worry though, because after four months of constant chasing and phone calls and more chasing it turns out they have actually sent off his passport application now.  This is really great because, having had to cancel my trip to see my family no less than three times, it now seems we'll get his passport through just in time for him to go back to his Mum who has neither the means nor inclination to make use of it.

Still, what would life be without its little ups and downs?!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

What are we doing here?

I say 'we' rather optimistically as for now it's just 'me' and zero readers/followers, but maybe in the future, who knows?!

So, what are we doing here?  Specifically, what's this blog about?  Well, in a few short weeks I will say goodbye to my first fostered child.  He has been with me for 5 months now - more than half his life - and it seems a good time to reflect on the whole fostering thing.

And what could be better, in this let-it-all-hang-out-on-the-internet age, than to reflect publicly, on a blog, for everyone to see?

There will be more to come, including stories of my forays through the minefield that is Children's Social Care, links to useful sites and blogs, tales of my progress through the notoriously overblown CWDC standards and plenty of more or less amusing anecdotes.

But for now, just let me say this.  He is in bed and I am happy!