Sunday, September 29, 2013

Feeling Supported?

The theme for #WASO this week is support.  I didn't think I was going to write to the theme this week as I didn't know what to say . . . since April when our adoption was finalised, I haven't received a single thing in the way of support except the training session I went to on my own initiative, which was pretty disappointing.  I haven't even received OB's life story book yet and I've heard that the SW who is meant to be responsible for that is leaving or possibly has already left.  It's the month for letterbox contact and I had to phone OB's family finder myself because I had no idea what to do about it.

While some of the individual social workers I have dealt with have been fantastic, lack of communication, bizarre admin decisions and total inability to get hold of the people I need means that frustration is a major feature of my dealings with Children's Social Care.

I am about to change my fostering team social worker as my current one is agency and the powers that be have decided to move all agency workers off active cases and reassign them.  I got hold of the name of my new worker and phoned her three times last week, leaving messages for her to call me. She didn't.  I'm anxious to get hold of her as I don't have a child in placement and I'm worried that a possible match will come in and I won't be considered because I'm not on my new SW's radar yet.

Meanwhile, the final act of my outgoing social worker was to apply for a second lot of retainer payments for me - something I didn't even think was possible until she mentioned it, and here I have been languishing with no fostering income since my last retainer ran out at the end of July.  At the end of the week she rang me out of the blue to explain that my new SW is very busy but she does have all my details (clearly new SW has had a word with old SW about troublesome carer!).  And as an aside, she asked if I have received the retainer yet.  I haven't.  She was surprised.

Several phone calls later, it turned out that admin had come up against a problem.  They couldn't find on the system where it says that I am a Level 3 carer.  So, due to this discrepancy, they decided to stop all retainer payments without informing either my social worker or myself.  Sigh.  I became a Level 3 carer in September 2011, although they didn't start paying me as such until January 2012 because they lost the email request from my then social worker.  Yeah, really.  So they've been paying me as a Level 3 for well over 18 months but apparently it isn't registered on the system.  Apparently it's sorted now and I should get the retainer . . . . I await with baited breath!

So, over time, I've come to expect very little support from that department.  And yesterday, it was brought home to me again that, as a single parent, another important source of support is missing.  I had what we call in our family a 'sick headache'.  It started in the afternoon while OB was napping, and was in full force by teatime.  I managed to throw some fish fingers and potato waffles in the oven for him in between trips to the bathroom for throwing up, but most of the evening I spent draped over the couch occasionally pressing a button on the DVD remote as one Wallace and Gromit finished and the next was requested.

Bless him, he really was a sweetie.  He dragged the blanket over to me and gave me kisses on the head, endearingly asking "All better now?" after each one.  And he did manage to be a bit less energetic and active than usual.  Nonetheless, it was nearly 9pm before I could gather myself together enough to get him safely to bed and then I just plopped into bed myself.

Now, I know that I've heard wives complain about how little their husbands do, and make (hopefully jokey) comments about their uselessness around the house, with the kids, whatever, but I'm pretty sure that any decent husband, coming home to find his wife flaked out on the sofa and the child eating fish fingers with their fingers while glued to some DVD would step in, even just as a one-off, and give his beloved a little recuperation break!

Most of the time it doesn't bother me that I'm doing this on my own, but just occasionally I do wonder what on earth I've signed up for! A couple of days ago, while wondering what to make us for tea, it dawned on me that I have at least another 16 years of teas to think of and make - it was a sobering moment!

What I do have around me are friends.  Lots and lots of great friends.  Oh, and do they bear the brunt of my need for that elusive thing . . . adult company!  Beware, friend that visits me - you may well go home with a melted ear!  They are good for practical support too. I blogged a while back about their amazing capacity for turning up with meals, and I do have friends who would come round and care for OB if I was truly incapacitated.  My friends are babysitters, counsellors, ports in storms, playdate organisers, encouragers, inspirations and listening ears - all of this wouldn't be possible without them.

And in a month, Mamy and Papy will come to stay and I will get a mini holiday in my own home! Who wouldn't love that?!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Proud Mum!

Sometime last week a new display appeared at my son's Playgroup - an array of little house pictures coloured in with varying degrees of artistic style and verve!

The pictures had yet to be labelled with names so I chatted with another mum about which one was likely to belong to OB.  I decided on one with a particularly scrawly spread of green felt tip haphazardly swished across it - this seemed to fit with OB's tendency to get fixated on one colour and refuse absolutely to even consider a quick trot across the colour spectrum.

So imagine my surprise, pride and slight mortification when the names appeared later in the week and this is what turned out to be my son's effort!


Not bad eh?  See how he's used a variety of colours and picked out the windows and doors? See how he's had a go at colouring within the lines?  See how he's given it an upside-down eyebrow?  And he's not even three years old!

Obviously a colouring genius!  I must seek out specialist art tuition forthwith!

Seriously though, a good lesson for Mummy - do not think down or talk down your son!

Shared with #MemoryBox at theadoptionsocial.com

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Whose Children?

I've had a series of blog posts brewing for a while - not my usual Suddenly Mummy stories of cute doings by the little ones, but please don't click away from this page yet.  This post, and probably several future posts, will be prompted by a growing feeling I have that our children have long since stopped being our children in the eyes of some.  Or at least, while they may be our children in name, we as parents are no longer trusted to do any kind of a good job of raising them.

More than that, the whole concept of children being the natural result of a mutually loving relationship is being challenged at its very core.  More and more, children are becoming commodities, engineered, modified, bought, and swapped around to suit the needs of adults.  I well understand the possible irony of an adoptive parent saying such a thing, but there will be future blog space to unpack exactly what I mean by it.

For now, let me begin with what is possibly an unlikely starting point: the announcement this week that all infant-aged children will receive a free school meal. What's not to like? Well, plenty apparently, if you read any of the comments below the article on the BBC News website. Most of the objections there are the usual ones about how parents should feed their own children and childless people shouldn't be paying for other people's kids, as well as the usual bizarre sprinkling of diatribes about immigrants, chavs and the feckless. Well, it is the internet after all!

Of course, there are financial implications to this proposal which do effectively mean that the taxpayer will be subsidising parents of infant children to the tune of £400 per year per child, should they take up the free meal option.  One could argue the economic ideology of such a scheme until the end of time without reaching resolution.  My objections are based on something a little different.

There seem to be two reasons why this scheme is being introduced.  Firstly, we have a 'childhood obesity epidemic' in this country.  This is pretty well documented.  The School Food Plan, spearheaded by chefs Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent described 99% of packed lunches as not meeting the nutritional standards that apply to school meals and urged a multi-faceted approach to increasing the take-up of school meals (which currently stands at less than 50%).

The School Food Plan website says that,

A random sample of 1,000 packed lunches found that 85% contained sandwiches, while two thirds contained sweets, sugary drinks and savoury snacks such as crisps. Only one in five contained the recommended proportion of vegetables.

I'm not going to argue with the research or get into a row about what constitutes 'healthy' or whether it might be ok to let your kids take a packet of crisps to school occasionally, or even comment on their apparent inclusion of sandwiches in the non-healthy department. For the purposes of this, let's just take the research at face value - kids are getting too fat and having them eat school dinners will help with this.

The second reason seems to concern children's ability to learn being improved if they get a nutritious diet and, specifically, if they eat a filling, healthy, nutritious lunch.  I'm not going to argue with this either.  If they've done research then fair enough, I'm not second guessing it right now.

My concern is that, supposing both these reasons are valid, is providing free school meals for all infant-aged children really the most appropriate response?  It seems to be a case of, "You're doing it wrong - let us do it for you," rather than "You're doing it wrong - let us help and support you."  The School Food Plan even offers comfort to parents struggling to provide nutritious packed lunches for their children: 

This is not a problem of lackadaisical parenting. Making a good, nutritionally -balanced packed lunch, day after day, is hard.

Later, in reference to a packed lunch meal planner drawn up by the Children's Food Trust, more comfort is offered to beleaguered parents

The mere thought of this amount of cooking – on top of making breakfast and dinner for the family – would make anyone’s eyes water, but for a parent working full time it would be a Herculean task. 

You see?  It's not your fault, hard-working parent.  Let us take this burden from you.  The problem is that each time we as parents allow the state to take some of the burden of parenting from us, we hand over a little of our authority as parents.  We admit that someone else could do a better job than we can.  We take on board the idea that, not only does someone else know best, but rather than learning from them and adapting our parenting, we can just give in and let them do it for us.

It's strange because, in raising children, we know that if we want them to become independent and able to function, we shouldn't keep doing for them what they can do themselves.  Guaranteed that the parent that constantly follows their 4-year-old around tidying up after them will be lamenting their grumpy teenager's inability to put their dirty clothes in the laundry basket ten years later. I have a theory that when we remove the need for people to do things for themselves, they soon forget how to.  In time they forget that they ever had the ability to do things for themselves and become more and more dependent on others, constantly expecting 'them' or 'someone' to step in and sort things out.

In recent years, I believe we have seen a concerted effort by the state to wrestle children away from parents and into state-run institutions.  I'm thinking about Sure Start nurseries springing up everywhere, sometimes obliterating long-standing independent nurseries and playgroups.  And free nursery provision for three and four year olds that is now being extended to some two year olds.  And breakfast, after-school and holiday clubs provided in schools.  And the relentless insistence that every parent should go to work all of the time, not to mention the cost of living rises and benefit reductions that 'encourage' people to find work.  (Maybe if those who wanted to stay at home with their children were financially supported to do so, more parents would be able to take on the 'Herculean task' of providing healthy lunches?) And now we'll even feed your children for free because we don't want them to be fat and stupid.  Why?  Because fat people cost the NHS money and stupid people don't contribute to the economy as much as well-educated people.  And all of these changes are portrayed as being made to 'help' parents.  Most are welcomed by parents' groups and the general public at large.

To me, offering free school meals is a back-door version of the same strategy.  While reassuring parents that it's not their fault that they can't meet these high standards, the state takes another little slice of the parenting cake.  Every time the state seeks to do the job of a parent rather than support parents in doing their job, little warning sirens go off in my head.

Perhaps it seems far-fetched, but think about this.  Children learn better when they've had a healthy, nutritious, filling lunch, so let's provide such a meal for free.  Children also learn better when they've had a good night's sleep in a calm environment without TVs in their rooms . . . perhaps we should also provide them with a place to sleep?  And if you think something like that could never happen, just remember that Ceaucescu seemed to think it was a good idea.


Wait a minute...aren't I two?

A couple of weeks ago I was on the verge of writing a gushingly boasty blog post of the kind that only a doting parent can write about how my son was so perfect and so easy to live with.

Yeah, well, I didn't get round to it, which is good, as I would probably be having to hastily revise my opinions judging from the new things he's learned in the last week or so!

It's not that his good things have gone away.  No.  In many respects he's an unbelievably easy child.  After a torrid first year, we now have the sleep thing down to a fine art (including a pretty lengthy 'little sleep' in the afternoon).  He's not so bad at the meal table, and I have a system for avoiding conflict over food that has worked for us so far.  He's learning lovely manners, has a gorgeous giggle, a fabulous way with words, a cute sense of humour, an astounding memory and many, many other great qualities.

So, all that is excellent.  But what has happened recently is that he seems to have suddenly remembered that he's two, and that there should be an element of 'terrible' to it all.  What an oversight!  He's only got a couple of months left of being two - now he's going to have to cram all the terribleness in before it's too late!

Now, after a relatively tantrum-free time since NB left us, I am suddenly back to being subjected to a couple of major tants each day.  Over nothing and everything.  It's quite a shock to the system after nearly three months of relative quiet, and I'm finding it hard to rediscover my calm and measured responses in the face of the screaming, shouting, flailing and kicking!

Most of the flashpoints are over who's controlling the situation at any given time.  In addition to his favourite 'running away' tactic, OB has now learned to take his time, change his mind repeatedly, pretend I'm not speaking . . . in short, he's suddenly discovered lots of ways to wrestle control of the situation away from me and over to himself.

A typical example is this:

OB: Please may I have a drink?
Me: Yes.  Do you want orange or red juice?
OB: Orange . . . . red . . . . . orange . . . . red . . .
Me:  Which do you want?  Orange or red?
OB:  Errrr . . . orange.
Me:  Orange?
OB:  Orange please.
Me:  Ok. You asked for orange. (Pours orange juice)
OB:  My want red!
Me:  It's too late now.  You asked for orange, so I've made orange.  You can have red next time.
OB: MY WANT RED! MY WANT RED!!!!

Cue massive tanty, usually accompanied by throwing the drink all over the nearest surface!

I never really had this with NB because he couldn't talk well enough to achieve this sort of artful sabotage.  His tantrums were always much more direct and immediate, less contrived somehow.  OB is stubborn, but so is his mummy - it will be interesting to see how it all unfolds!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Highlights

So, OB has been to Playgroup five times now.  Here are some of the highlights:

  • He told everybody at Playgroup that Mummy NEVER washes her car - completely true but still . . . !
  • He had a road rage incident while driving the little plastic cars - "No!  Silly people!  Cars on the road, people on the path!"  When the teacher asked him who says that, he replied, "Mummy!"  Thanks there littl'un!
  • He has treated the Playgroup teachers to one of his epic poos . . . in his pants of course!  I persevere with the underpants more in hope than expectation.
  • He has started calling his bottom his 'bum' or 'bum bum' instead.
  • When trying to put his shoes on the other day he declared the whole exercise "A bit tricky!"
  • He now says 'Mum' more often than 'Mummy' - this is a sad moment, although it's still 'Mummy' in the morning, as in "Mummy!  It's morning Mummy!  Get up Muuuuummmmmy!!!!"
  • He has started singing songs at home that I don't recognise, although Twinkle Twinkle features quite often which, thankfully, I do actually know.
  • He has run in through the doors every day without so much as a backward glance - so much for me worrying about how he'd settle in!
  • He has made a new friend, Eva, who he regularly demonstrates his affection for by bestowing enormous cuddles.  Thankfully, she doesn't seem to mind!
  • He is, if possible, even more bossy than before!

In other news, I have finally finished decorating his new bedroom - not so easy when done in 90-minute chunks to fit in with his bedtimes.  It looks great, complete with rocket ship rug and two special shelves to hold all his treasures and the lovely gifts he was given for his Celebration and Dedication.  Last night he slept in there for the first time and, despite my worries that we'd have some last minute wobbles at bedtime, he went straight into the new room without even a glance at his old one and settled down like a lamb, sleeping right through for the first time in over a week.  Lovely!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Fostering Myths?

There's a lot of chat in the fostering community on Twitter and the blogosphere about the publication today of Action for Children's research into popular conceptions (or misconceptions!) about fostering.

The detail can be found on Action for Children's website here, but suffice it to say that plenty of people think that if you're over 55, gay, living in a rented house, etc., you wouldn't be approved as a foster carer.

I'm not really surprised by this. The survey also showed that a lot of people confuse fostering with adoption, and we all know the mythology that surrounds the whole adoption scenario.  It's not surprising that people who aren't directly involved in fostering and adoption would have little idea of what really goes on, especially as most 'information' given by the media seems to rely almost entirely on anecdotal sources.

But not all myths are entirely myths.  For instance, my local authority assured me that fostering was open to absolutely everybody, before proceeding to tell me that I wouldn't be allowed to go out to work as a single foster carer and then disclosing the eye-wateringly low financial package, designed, as they said, to ensure that people aren't doing it 'for the money'.

The reality is that although it's perfectly acceptable for single people to become foster carers, it's actually quite a precarious existence in real life if fostering is your only source of income.

We do, of course, receive a financial package.  This is not a salary, and is not taxable until you reach a certain (quite high) level.  It's not really expenses either, as it covers more than the basic costs of feeding and clothing a child, and some additional expenses can be claimed on top.  It's somewhere in between - you could perhaps call it a stipend.

For the first six months I was fostering, I received £150 per child, per week.  So, with the one child I was approved for, I received £600 or thereabouts per month.  Yeah, not exactly life-changing amounts of money - well, not life-changing in a good way anyway!  We managed.  That's the best I can say.

During that time I underwent additional training, both on training courses, and by completing an online course.  This, coupled with my prior experience and training (I have an MEd and lots of experience in teaching and voluntary youth work), ensured that I was reclassified as a Level 3 after six months, with an accompanying decent-sized rise in the financial package.

So, when I have children placed with me, I have no need to worry about money.  It's not monopoly money, but I can pay the bills, buy the shoes, enroll them in swimming and other fun stuff, and have the occasional treat.  But, and it's a big 'but', when I don't have children with me, I don't necessarily get anything at all.  In every year, I can claim a retainer worth half a child for up to 4 weeks, but once that's gone, that's it.

At the end of June, I transitioned NB onto his new family.  Immediately afterwards I was moving house (at Social Service's request) so I knew I wouldn't be able to take anyone else on straight away.  I claimed my 4-week retainer during July.  In August I was away on holiday with OB.  My retainer had run out by then but there's no point putting myself back on the list when I'm about to go away - no child arrives with a passport, even if you could sort out an extra ticket with a couple of days notice!  Anyway, the new house wasn't really fit to live in for a traumatised child.  Middle of August, we came home and, after some frantic decorating efforts by some very good friends, I was able to put myself back on the list.  It has now been nearly a month and I haven't heard anything.

How many people can manage nearly two months with no income?  Of course I know that this can happen, so naturally I save in the fat months to offset the lean months, but with my recent house move, my savings have been sadly depleted.  Even without the building and decorating work I've had done on the new house, just the costs of moving are enough to contend with and, despite initiating the move, SS had nothing to offer in the way of financial support there.

Thankfully, fostering is not my sole source of income.  We won't starve, but things are tight, and necessary expenditure is having to be postponed.  When you're the only breadwinner in the household, it's not a comfortable position to be in to know that your main source of income is so unreliable.

I'm not claiming that fostering is unique in this regard, but with a shortage of foster carers in the country, we perhaps need to do more than 'mythbusting' if we are to persuade people to give up their jobs and foster for a living.

Of course, pay and conditions for foster carers vary from place to place and agency to agency.  Some agencies pay all foster carers a basic 'salary' that does not vary, and then add a weekly amount for expenses for each child in care.  This seems eminently sensible to me.  Even when I'm not actually caring for a child, I have extra expenses associated with being a foster carer.  For instance, I live in a much bigger house than I need for just the two of us, with the accompanying bigger mortgage, higher council tax and inflated utility bills.  I have to tell my house and car insurers what I do, so I pay for that on all my insurance premiums.  At some point, I'll probably be getting a bigger car with, again, higher running costs.  None of these costs go away just because the children do.

Foster carers don't need to be made rich.  Nobody thinks that foster carers should be doing it for the money.  But we do need to know that we will be on a secure financial footing so that, when all the families in our towns are doing a great job with their kids, our own kids won't be wondering where their new shoes are coming from.

Mythbusting is good, but while the financial situation is so precarious for many foster carers, a lot of people will quite rightly be put off the whole thing.




Friday, September 6, 2013

And so it begins...

Yesterday I took OB for his first morning at Playgroup.  It was awesome.  He trotted in with nary a
backward glance and had a perfectly lovely time.  I, meanwhile, got a load of boring admin-type jobs done in about a quarter of the time it would have taken me otherwise.  Wonderful all around.

And today, he went again (declaring "My wanna go Paygoop 'gain!" when I picked him up!) and I managed to get a coat of paint on what will become his new bedroom.  Productivity abounds!

The Playgroup is one I've been associated with for many years - I was even on the management committee a lifetime ago.  I know all the 'Aunties' who work there personally, and sent NB there all last year.  I am confident that it supports my beliefs and values and that OB will learn, develop, flourish and be loved there.

And yet I have a vague sense of unease and a nagging thought that this week marks the beginning of a 16-year treadmill of assessing, marking, comparing, grading and judging according to a set of criteria that, to be honest, I don't much care for.

It's not that I don't approve of education - I'm a teacher, for goodness sake!  And I had an excellent education which, on the whole, I enjoyed very much.  I have the type of personality that enjoys academic pursuits so the pretty full-on grammar school I went to suited me down to the ground - academically anyway.  Social experiences were another matter entirely!

But things have changed in education since my school days, and even since I stopped teaching six years ago.  These days there is so much more assessment, so many opportunities to fail.  There is so much not-so-hidden agenda in the curriculum and so little encouragement of difference of viewpoint or belief.  Even before OB had spent his first few minutes at Playgroup, a file had been opened on him, and details of his 'achievements' so far had been ticked off on an exhaustive list.

I find it just a little bit oppressive.

So, we will do Playgroup, probably three mornings for two years, but after that, I don't see myself willing to run the treadmill any longer, dragging him along with me.  I have options about what happens in the school year after he turns four, and I'm completely prepared to explore them and take the less-travelled path.  At least that's a path we can walk at our own pace.