Sunday, December 20, 2015

Christmas Lull

It's been another busy week for us here. What shall I say? I could tell you about seeking urgent medical treatment for Birdy yet again, over her poorly wheezing lungs this time (thank you Community Children's Health Team - you are all heroes!), but I won't.

I could tell you about going to visit Twinkle in her new home, but I won't . . . well maybe I will just a little bit . . . she called me by her new carer's name throughout the visit. Interesting! She's her usual Twinkly self though.

I could tell you about the annoying thing Birdy's social worker said to me when she called round the other day. I definitely won't.

I'm not talking about any of these things because tomorrow is our English Christmas (in advance of our French Christmas which will take place with more conventional timing). The presents are wrapped and under the tree. The food is waiting in the fridge after some last-minute shopping today. I had planned low-key food but this morning, when I asked OB what he wanted, he asked for 'Christmas dinner'. So off to the supermarket we went and now we have a lot of turkey in the fridge! The kids are sleeping and I'm expecting an early morning present frenzy (punctuated only by another visit from the health team to check Birdy's SATs).

So, for us, Christmas starts now. I'm announcing the commencement of a Christmas Lull. Everything else can do one until I declare the festive season over (probably in about February!).

Happy Christmas!


Sunday, December 13, 2015

An Eventful Week

No deep thoughts this week - far too much action for that! We are rushing headlong towards Christmas along what seems like a never-ending obstacle course of events and happenings, with all their associated unsettling side effects.

Our week began with the departure of Twinkle. This was a planned move, albeit somewhat hastily decided, and precipitated no doubt by the fact that everybody finally admitted that there was no way a passport would be arriving in time for our Christmas trip abroad. It is sad as I'd hoped to take her (and indeed already booked and paid for her tickets!) but none of us wanted to contemplate having her in respite care over Christmas, so a move as early as possible was the only alternative really. From almost the start of Twink's time with us I have been telling any professional who would listen that she needed a home with no other children, or with only much older children. Various reasons have stopped her from being moved before, but once the move became inevitable, they were able to find her such a placement. I hope that, despite the timing and the stress of the move, it turns out to be good for her.

OB has proceeded to fill the sound-void left by Twinkle's departure with plenty of his own noise! It certainly has not been the quieter, calmer week I had hoped for! He is in a state of post-birthday, pre-Christmas excitement which I expect to go on for some time, not helped by the fact that we also celebrated Birdy's 1st birthday this week.

Before that milestone though, we had another, sadder one. Birdy's final contact with her birth mum took place this week. This is the fourth final contact I have taken a child to and I never get any more comfortable with it, which is probably a good thing. In the event, it passed without much incident. Everybody held it together and Birdy came home with another huge pile of gifts and keepsakes. I think she will need a memory cupboard rather than a box!

We had no less than two children's birthday parties to attend on Saturday and then, alarmed by the severity of Birdy's latest eczema flare up which wasn't responding to the hydrocortisone that usually works wonders, we all ended up at the walk-in centre. The tone of the visit was a bit accusatory I thought - maybe I'm sensitive or maybe there is a tone reserved for foster carers. I'm not sure. Anyway, I passed all the 'test questions' except for the one about "Has she had any Piriton?". My negative response elicited an incredulous, "Why not?!" from the doctor. Anyway, she has some now. And maybe there's a report winging its way to social services as we speak, complaining about how I haven't given a drug to an infant that isn't recommended for children under one. Or maybe the doctor has better things to do.

Today we had our Nativity performance at church. OB was Joseph. This is the second time he has played the role and on the way home he announced that he'd had enough of being Joseph now and would like to be a wise man next time. He did great though. He had a line to say which wasn't integral to the plot so if he bottled it nothing would fall apart. There was a bit of squirming when it came to his big moment, but he said it! Bravo OB!

So, yes, an eventful week. We have barely been home. My parents have been waiting to skype Birdy to sing Happy Birthday to her for several days now and I just haven't been able to get us all in front of the computer at a reasonable hour. Perhaps we'll manage it tomorrow and I'll take comfort in the fact that Birdy has no idea about birthdays at all and will just be thrilled by the smiley, familiar faces and the singing!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Twinkle, Obesity and Fat Shaming

Twinkle is not obese, by any means. If anything she is a wee little thing, possibly even slightly small for her age.

But my word, can she pack away the food. It's a standing joke that when I go to pick her up from nursery and they tell me what she's done that day, it's just a long list of everything that she's eaten. At home, she's obsessed by mealtimes, constantly asking if it's dinner time, or wondering when I'm making dinner. If someone mentions food or if she sees any food she immediately proclaims, "I'm hungry!" There's never any food left on her plate at the end of a meal.

I have heard enough parents worrying over their child's picky eating habits to know that many would consider me lucky to have a child that is so easy to feed. But it's not that simple.

Twinkle can't leave food. She just can't leave it. If she can see food, she has to have it. She has no sense of what her body is saying to her about hungry/not hungry, full/not full. If food is served buffet style, she will load her plate with as much as she can physically carry, and then work her way through it as though slogging through a marathon. Leftovers in the bin are fair game.

On the occasions when she has been sick, it has been immediately evident that she barely chews her food at all. She just inhales it.

After six months of rigid routine and predictability around the provision of meals, and the reassurances, and the availability of snacks, and the special plates and cups, she has finally begun to utter the words, "I've had enough." But it's a chimera of progress. The moment I approach her to remove the unemptied plate, she repents. "No, I want it!" Her brain is wired for food survival, never sure when, or if, the next meal is coming. "Eat up now!" it whispers to her. "You might go hungry later."

I wonder whether one day all of this will catch up with Twinkle, and she will join the statistics of the obesity crisis we hear so much about. And if that happens, will someone, Katie Hopkins style, one day call her lazy? Or stupid? Or say "How could you let yourself get like this?" Or hand her a cruel, cowardly 'fat-shaming' card while she's minding her own business on the bus?

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Now We Are Five!

Every year OB's birthday shocks me anew. How on earth can he be five already? FIVE!

We have celebrated in fine style with a party yesterday, and presents, lunch out at the local pile 'em high, skype to beloved grandparents and more presents today.

Every year the birthday party provides a creative challenge for me, so I was beyond delighted this year when OB announced that he wanted a 'Paw Patrol Party'. Awesome! Went on the internet and ordered a load of Paw Patrol accessories and job done!

In fact, this has been the least stressful birthday party I've ever done. All the ready-made Paw Patrol stuff was reasonably priced and did the trick for decorating the room and providing table accessories and one of the party games, and the cake I saw on Pinterest was the easiest I have ever decorated. I normally spend hours sweating over fondant icing and turning the air blue, but this year I just glued a load of biscuits and maltesers to a double-layer chocolate cake using Betty Crocker's Chocolate Fudge Spread. I love Betty Crocker.


Today I arranged a playdate for Twinkle (with some heroic friends of mine!) so that OB and I could have some very rare together-time over lunch. I had arranged childcare for Birdy too, but OB wanted her to come! It wasn't long, but it was nice to sit together, eat and 'be'.

He has had many lovely presents which he is exploring bit by bit. Particular favourites so far are a mini car racing track with a booster that shoots the car out and a track that flips over. It's hard to explain but he loves it. He also loves the toy doggy in a plastic pet carrier that he's had his eye on for ages. Another favourite is the Mr Potato Head toy which was actually a pass-the-parcel prize from the party that he inadvertently won! Actually the little girl sitting next to him won it, but before she even opened it, she passed it on to OB because it was his birthday so she'd rather he had it. That is one awesome little girl.

The favourite by far, though (I'm relieved to say!) has been his long-awaited junior drum kit - in red, naturally! I know what you're saying - utter madness! But he's had a toy drum kit since he was three, and he's played it and played it every single day until it completely fell apart, so I don't feel the new kit will be money wasted.

He had the good grace to forget that I'd already told him he could have it, and to be completely amazed when he saw it sitting there this morning. I think he loves it. He tenderly covered it with a sheet before he went to bed tonight!


Happy Birthday OB!





Sunday, November 22, 2015

Too Poor to Adopt?

I am becoming increasingly frustrated with the protracted procedure involved in deciding whether I am 'financially viable' to adopt Birdy, the little girl I have been fostering since she was 4 days old.

The issue first came up at my Adoption Viability Assessment meeting way back at the end of July. I was told I'd need to fill in a financial assessment form before being allowed to begin the adoption approvals process. I had to chase them up for the form, which took over a month to arrive. When it did arrive, it was clearly the wrong form, being an application form for Adoption Allowances. I had already been told I was unlikely to be awarded allowances, but I dutifully filled the form in anyway.

Several weeks later, I was sent an email requesting 'additional information' and another form to fill in. This form was clearly the financial assessment form I should have been sent in the first place. I returned it within the week.

I heard nothing for some time.

Then I received a phone call from the Adoption Practice Manager. She had some queries about my financial viability. "We need to decide whether you can afford to adopt a second child if you don't get any adoption allowances," she said. I pointed out the currently healthy state of my finances as evidenced on the form I had filled in several weeks earlier.

Her response was to make inaccurate assumptions about the information recorded on the form and then to present me with a range of increasingly unlikely scenarios and ask me what I'd do to put food on the table in each case. It was not a great time - I was standing on the pavement in the rain trying to get the children in the car one-handed - but I didn't dare ask if I could call back later as it had taken no less than four attempts to set up this 'urgent call'.

I have three sources of income. One is fostering allowances. Another is directly dependent on my continuing to work. And there's a third. My problem is that the LA apparently considers that none of my income sources are reliable. This is ironic since they are the ones who recruit foster carers under such strange working conditions that I feel sure we could challenge them successfully in the courts if it didn't mean that we would bring the whole system crashing down around our ears.

I have provided them with all the information they have asked for. But now they are asking me to prove my financial viability not just for now and the foreseeable future, but also for the unforeseeable future. Crystal-ball like, I am suppose to gaze into my own (apparently quite dystopian) future and predict my responses to a range of disasters.

After nearly 15 minutes of this questioning I frustratedly commented that in the unlikely event of total disaster I could always get a job and go out to work like other parents do. After all, I'm still a qualified teacher. She was surprised to hear that I'm a teacher. Well, you will have these little surprises if you get involved in someone's adoption approval process without even a glance at their files from the two previous approvals they've been through with the same LA.

But earning a living isn't the right answer either apparently. "We'd have to consider whether spending all day in nursery while you were out at work would be in [Birdy's] best interests." To which I responded that if they believed that Birdy's needs were such that she needed a full-time parent at home and could not attend nursery, then this seemed to make a good case for adoption allowances to be granted.

There was some spluttering at this. Apparently the person I was speaking to has nothing to do with the award of adoption allowances. She can't comment on that at all. It's outside the purview of this telephone conversation.

Several weeks have passed since then. It is now two months since Birdy's last LAC Review at which the IRO set a 2-week deadline for the completion of financial assessments. I have heard nothing from the Adoption Team since that phone call.

However, I did arrive home from our trip to CenterParcs last week to a letter informing me that Adoption Allowances will not be granted.

I am now seriously beginning to wonder whether this is more than the usual attempt to crush the spirit of a prospective adopter. Are they seriously considering not allowing me to commence approvals for this child? Are they seriously considering letting this baby hang around in foster care for months and months after a placement order has been granted, and then sending her off to complete strangers when the foster carer is willing to adopt? Seriously?

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Old Faces, New Places

Almost unbelievably it's two and a half years since NB went off to start his life with his forever mummy. It's a whole year since Baby Girl moved in with her forever family. I'm collecting anniversaries like charms on a bracelet. Recently, we were able to meet up with both of them - two lovely, but very different experiences.

As Baby Girl's adoption has recently been finalised, we were invited to her Christening and Adoption Party. We haven't seen her in person since introductions all that long time ago, so it was amazing to see her again, and see the gorgeous toddler she has become. Obviously she had no idea who I was at all, and she was so different, running around with all her lovely curls and teeth (finally!) that she hardly seemed the same beautiful baby I handed over last year. And yet she is fearless, tiny, bubbly, full of smiles and giggles, and in some ways very much the Baby Girl we knew and loved. A strange experience, but I'm glad to have seen her again, and hope it won't be the last time.

Seeing NB was quite different. He lived with us for 18 months before moving on to K, his new mummy, at the age of 3 and a half. He and OB were like brothers, barely 9 months apart in age. I have written before about how grateful I am to K for continuing to include us in NB's life as it means so much to OB, and to me too. NB has some very clear memories of us.

K is very good with NB's life story work, and has always talked openly to him about his birth family and his foster family. We sent a handmade scrapbook of photos and other memory items with him and they would look at it together whenever he was feeling sad in the early months. When we visited, he got it out of the cupboard and brought it to me to look through with him, which was very sweet and not a little moving.

The boys played well with each other and really enjoyed each others company - even the addition of Twinkle and Birdy to the party didn't cramp their style. It clearly raised a lot of emotions though. NB had a couple of full-on meltdowns during the weekend, and K and I talked a lot about what we were doing and why. She spoke of wanting to hold together the threads of his past and his present so that he doesn't have to untangle it all himself in the future. She wants to maintain contact unless she feels that it is just pain with no gain for him. She called us part of their family. These are tricky paths to walk, but I take her lead on it - not only is she his parent, the one who knows him best, but also she is a therapist herself with extensive theoretical and now practical experience in childhood trauma.

As for OB, well he was impeccably-behaved throughout the trip, but we did have a tricky 2 or 3 days after we returned home. So many memories, so much emotion stirred up for both of them. We need wisdom indeed to choose the paths we take them along.


Twinkle, My Teacher

It would be so easy to write another moany blog this weekend about how frustrating the bureaucracy all is . . . it never ends so it's always relevant!

But actually, I'm even bored of myself going on about that all the time, so instead I thought I'd share a few things I have learned since Twinkle has been living with us. It's been quite the learning curve.


  • Twinkle is the oldest child I've fostered - well, the oldest on arrival anyway. She was just a few days short of her 3rd birthday when she arrived (cutting it fine for a foster carer who's only supposed to be fostering children aged 0-2 right now!). So for the first time I had a fully-fledged, fully-charactered, fully-speaking individual arriving. It's quite a lot to take in. It takes a fair amount of flexibility to accommodate her into our home and routines, and also throws up a few unexpected moments of confusion and hilarity. For instance, she insists on calling her knickers her "Nickynackynockynoonoos" (or something like that) which I find more irritating than endearing, I'll admit. Also there's the thorny question of what we call her 'private parts'. I won't share here what word she uses but, suffice it to say, it's not one I'd ever have come up with and it took a fair bit of getting used to!
  • I've been introduced to the world of fostering a school-aged child through Twink's sisters who are both at school and living together with another foster family. Struggling through traffic to contact three times each week at school run time, and then back to pick up at rush hour before hastily serving a meal to stave off the near starvation of 3 kids while Twinkle is practically falling asleep at the table is frankly enough to remind me why I prefer pre-schoolers and babies and their lovely daytime contact schedules!
  • This is the first time I've fostered a child with siblings, and so arranging sibling contact separate from birth parent contact is a new experience. It seems that this is largely left to the foster carers to sort out between us but I'll admit, between the sisters' school schedules, my other children's schedules and the three contacts a week with birth family, it can be a real challenge to also fit in sibling contact once each week.
  • Twinkle has taught me a lot about 'checking in', and the different ways it happens. To begin with she was my shadow, following me everywhere, crying outside the door when I went to the toilet, panicking if I even went near the stairs. Now she must be feeling safer, so she checks in verbally instead. Here are some of the 'check-in' phrases she uses, none of which really require a sensible response: "When are we there? When are we going? Is that mine? Am I having one of those? Can I have XYZ? I need a wee! I've done a poo! (Yes, really!). Whose is that's? What are you doing? I'm hungry! I'm thirsty! I'm tired! Is it my turn? Can I do XYZ first? Can I be quickest? When is it breakfast/dinner/tea? Are you making my breakfast/dinner/tea? Why aren't you making my breakfast/dinner/tea?" Obviously some of these also betray her underlying fear that her basic needs won't be met, but they tumble out of her almost constantly in a nonsensical order and sometimes totally out of context. It is not uncommon for her to announce that she is hungry while she is eating a hearty meal. She asks "When are we there?" many, many times per journey, sometimes before we've set off. Today we stayed home all day. While I was emptying the tumble dryer, she shouted "[My name]! When are we there?" from the other room!
  • Each new child brings new experiences, new challenges, new behaviours. With Twinkle, I have learned a lot about sensory-seeking behaviours, and behaviours driven by insecurity about basic needs. We have had a lot of ripping and tearing, exploratory dismantling, faeces smearing, intentional vomiting. There has also been a lot of compulsive eating, inability to leave food on the plate and, once, eating leftovers out of the bin.
  • For Twinkle's sake, I have learned to carefully ration fun, playfulness and high jinks as too much of any of these leads to dangerous levels of silliness and out-of-control reactions.
  • I have learned, or perhaps been reminded, of the difficulty of getting at the actual child underneath all these behaviours. She's there, and she's sweet, vulnerable and funny. I like her.







Friday, October 23, 2015

Finding Grace's Parents: THAT Advert

It's National Adoption Week and t'interweb is buzzing with back and forth opinions about its remit, efficacy and relevance to adopters and adoptees. I understand that the celebratory nature of the event and its obvious emphasis on recruitment above all else can raise people's hackles, especially those who are experiencing real daily hardship in their adoptive families, or living with the lifelong effects of having been adopted.

For myself I've made a conscious decision to let it go. I have questions about the amount of money spent on recruitment of prospective adopters generally compared to the amount spent on supporting those adopters after the adoption order. I have questions about the need to keep on and on recruiting when currently the numbers of children with placement orders are tanking and prospective adopters are waiting with apparently no end in sight and fierce competition for matches.

On the other hand, there are children waiting, and many of these are harder to place - older children, sibling groups, children from ethnic minorities, children with additional needs - so the focus this year on older children ("Too Old At Four?") does not seem misplaced. Many raise their eyebrows at the lack of any mention of the challenges involved in adopting an older child, but then there are also adopters and adoptees speaking positively of their own experiences.

So, yeah, I let it go. Certainly much more could be done and said regarding post adoption support, and regarding the actual lived experiences of adoptees, but I'm not sure a special 'week' should or ever could effectively achieve this. I'm happy to see non-governmental organisations taking advantage of the heightened awareness of adoption issues generated by the week to push their less popular and arguably more realistic agendas, but it's definitely a conversation that needs to be ongoing and targeted to those who can actually make a difference.

And then yesterday, an article appeared in the Daily Mirror that was quickly circulated all over the internet. First 4 Adoption, the organisers of this year's National Adoption Week, wanted to introduce us to Grace, a 3-year-old with quite complex health needs who had been waiting all her life for somebody to adopt her. Her foster carers are nearing retirement. Could we find her a new adoptive family before Christmas?

Personally I found it extremely conflicting, and not a little stomach churning. I do not like to see individual children 'advertised' like that. It does not sit well with me. It wasn't so much the lack of detail in the article about Grace's actual needs (although I thought it did make clear that she had significant additional medical needs and would need a full-time parent to accommodate them), or the lack of any hint as to the difficulties that might face any family adopting her. If I thought that they were prepared to send her home with any random family that called in then, yes, that would have been a serious issue, but in reality they will be looking for adopters who are already approved, who have already been through preparation and given some thought to what life with an adopted, special needs child might look like. If their preparation was inadequate to prepare them, then that's a serious but separate issue. This was an advert and, like all adverts, it was hardly likely to focus on the negatives.

The question raised for me is whether such adverts are ever appropriate. I sincerely hope that the motivation was to find a family for that specific child, and not to make her some sort of poster girl for adoption in general, but its timing at the end of National Adoption Week makes me doubt the purity of the motive. On the foster carer side of the adoption fence, I can understand the desire to 'flesh out' what can often be a bleak pile of paperwork on some children. I have fostered children who, if I had seen their paperwork only, I would never have dreamed of adopting. And yet they were living with me and it was going fine. An abstract list of symptoms, disorders and concerns can be very off-putting. I felt that the foster carers of Grace were trying to show that the reality of parenting her was much more rewarding than the paperwork alone might have suggested.

Adoption Activity Days raise similar concerns. Is it right to parade children in front of prospective adopters like some sort of meat market? Part of me cringes at the thought. And yet Baby Girl, whose paperwork was absolutely dire and who was 'hard to place', found her family at such a day. Her personality and adorable countenance just shone through. In a few days I will go to their home to join with their celebrations at getting the Adoption Order, almost exactly a year after she was placed with them. Will they face difficulties? Probably. But they will face them as her parents, with a fierce love and passion. In the abstract, it's hard to imagine how it will be. But in reality, as parents, we would walk over hot coals for our children in a heartbeat, whatever it takes. Baby Girl's parents admitted to me during introductions that there were two health issues on her CPR that they had initially said no to when considering matching. But then they fell in love with her at first sight, went away, thoroughly researched the issues, and decided they would go ahead after all. Were they naive? Maybe. But somebody has to raise that beautiful child. Might as well be these people who love her. No parents are experts when they start out.

And yet, nagging at me is the thought that, one day in the future, an older Grace (I really hope that's not her real name) might find that picture of her younger self on the internet somewhere, along with the description of her as the child that "nobody wants". I can't get past it. I hope they find a family for her. I'm sure there are people out there who have what it takes. But she could not have given informed consent to have that photo and that information about her spread all over the internet. And she will never be able to undo it or take it back. Only she will ever be able to say whether the ends justified the means.


Friday, October 16, 2015

Connor Sparrowhawk's Mum

Some of you might have seen in the news tonight that the inquest into the tragic death of 18-year-old Connor Sparrowhawk while in NHS care, ruled that his death was contributed to by neglect and was not, as originally claimed, due to natural causes. For those unfamiliar with the story, Connor had autism and epilepsy and died in an NHS short term treatment unit after having an epileptic fit while in the bath, unsupervised. Please read more on the #justiceforLB website.

I am totally unconnected with this tragic story. I did not know Connor, who was called Laughing Boy by those who did know him, and do not know any of his family or friends. I have no expertise on autism, learning disabilities, the NHS, or epilepsy. I have not been involved in the widespread #justiceforLB campaign on social media and elsewhere. In fact I saw Connor's mum's face for the first time only tonight in her dignified interview on the news.

However, like many others I have followed events from a distance for months, through Twitter and through the blog maintained through the darkest of times by Connor's mum, Sara Ryan. I don't claim any special insight or knowledge, or any right to speak, or to connect myself in any way to the story that has unfolded. All I can say is that I have watched and read and wondered and cried and raged as each episode of this convoluted tale has been revealed.

And through it all I have been struck time and time again by how different things could have been if, at any point, Connor's mum had been acknowledged and listened to and given respect by the professionals involved in his life. Of course, Dr Sara Ryan is a professional in her own right but, in her role as 'Connor's mum' it seems to me that her voice, her knowledge and expertise regarding her own son, her concerns about his wellbeing and treatment, have all been ignored.

Both before and after Connor's death, she has been subject to criticism, abuse and deceit. She has been sidelined, ignored and belittled. Two months after Connor's death, the unit he was being treated in was closed down as it failed to meet any of the key quality and safety standards at a snap inspection. Today, the inquest verdict has vindicated her and all those who stood with her in this battle. But at what cost?

When I look back on my 12 years as a teacher - a 'professional' - I sometimes cringe at things I said and did, not having the understanding I have now in my role as a foster carer. It is so easy to fall into the trap of thinking that 'professionals' have all the answers. Time and time again I hear of parents frustrated because they are simply not believed by 'professionals'. Or if they are believed, then they are blamed.

Professionals have training, yes. Expertise, yes. Wide knowledge of a lot of relevant cases and situations, yes. But parents know their children. They know the nuances of their personalities, their needs and their behaviours. Of course parents are sometimes 'too close', but maybe professionals are sometimes 'too far away'. We need professionals. We need their skills and knowledge. But we need parents too. After 18 years of caring for her son every single day, Connor's mum should have had a seat at the professionals' table.

I was glad to read the verdict today, although it must be a bittersweet moment for Connor's family. I am grateful to Connor's mum and the rest of his family and their supporters who fought and fought and would not give up the fight, because their fight is that of mums and dads and grandparents and foster carers and guardians and kinship carers of children everywhere who, try as they might, can't get a seat at the professionals' table, can't get their voices heard, can't get their expertise acknowledged. Thank you, Connor's mum.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Car Crash

I was nearly involved in a car crash the other day. Constant reorganisation of our town centre has left quite a few tricky junctions around the place and it was at one of these where another driver pulled out directly in front of my car. Realising her mistake, she slammed on the brakes and stopped right in the middle of the junction. If I had not been able to stop in time, I would have gone straight into her driver's side door. Straight into where she was sitting.

Thankfully I could stop and the incident ended with nothing more than a bit of apologetic hand waving. But I couldn't help thinking how unhelpful our instincts can be at times of stress. The other driver's split second decision in that moment of crisis was probably the opposite of what it should have been. If she had put her foot down and completed her turn, she would probably have been well out of my way. As it was, screeching to a halt right in front of me placed her right in harm's way. I'm not criticising her. I would probably have done the same. Sometimes our instincts betray us!

It is easy, and probably a bit cheesy, to draw comparisons between our near miss and our lives here as parent and children. But I'm going to do it anyway.

My children are young, and in their heads and their emotions, they're probably even younger. In times of stress - which is a lot of the time! - their instincts often drive them towards making decisions and displaying behaviours that are likely to get them into more hot water rather than less. As their parent, albeit temporarily in some cases, I have to train myself to remember this; to recognise stress-causing situations and minimise them so that opportunities to fail aren't so frequent; to show them what self-control feels and looks like; to lead the way through some alternative routes.

It's a long haul, and I'm not sure how far we'll get. I know full well that when skidding on ice, one should avoid the brakes and instead turn the wheels in the direction of the skid. I know that. And yet when it happens, I can barely keep my foot way from the brake! I hope I can be more forgiving of my children when they succumb to their instincts than the icy road is.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Power of a Phone Call

Twinkle goes to nursery three and a half days each week. It's the same nursery she's always been in and we all agree that it provides much-needed stability while everything else is shifting around her.

Three afternoons each week, her day is finished by a contact session at the nursery with her mum, and her two sisters who are brought over from their school at hometime. On the afternoon when she doesn't see them, we go to McDonalds. It's a well-established routine. We like a good routine.

When I dropped her off at lunchtime today, she was expecting the day to end with time with her family. She asked about it several times on the way. But when I arrived at 5pm to pick her up, I knew straight away that something had gone wrong. Normally they are all waiting outside in the car park, the girls running riot. Today the car park was empty. I waited a few minutes to see if anyone turned up, but eventually I unloaded the other two from the car and went inside in search of her.

There had been no contact. I managed to speak to one of the teachers before I found Twinkle, and she confirmed that there had been no contact, and they didn't know why. Nobody had called them. When Twinkle was finally reunited with all her possessions (somehow her socks are always missing!) and brought to me, her face absolutely crumpled.

"I didn't see my Mummy!" she wailed, tears rising in her eyes.

Twinkle is definitely one for a dramatic display, and often her wails are merely noise with little substance behind them, but not today. She was very upset, and clung first to her teacher and then to me, sobbing. I felt bad for her, but also mad for her. This cancelled contact must have been planned and known about or else the two sisters would have turned up at the nursery with the contact supervisor and the staff would have known about it. The sisters had never been there.

It didn't take me long to find out what had happened. They have been in court. Something they would have known about for weeks. Clearly they managed to tell the contact supervisor that contact was cancelled, and the other sisters' foster carers. But they didn't tell me.

I can imagine why. Some time ago there was concern that a forthcoming contact might be missed. This posed a problem for me as I had a commitment which made it impossible for me to pick Twinkle up from nursery at 3.30 instead of 5pm on that particular day. It was agreed that she could just stay in nursery until 5pm when I could get her. I imagine that this has set a precedent. Perhaps they felt they didn't need to call me as Twinkle would be fine in nursery and I wouldn't have to alter any plans.

Unfortunately that has meant that instead of preparing Twinkle gently for her mum's absence today, I actually reassured her on the way to nursery that yes, she would be seeing her mummy later. We managed the aftermath of it all very well in the end, but proper preparation would have avoided all of that crushing disappointment. And as yet I don't know how much the incident has damaged Twinkle's fragile trust in me.

Recently we were asked as foster carers to contribute ideas towards a new training session being devised to help social workers understand the role of the foster carer. My response was that any social worker could find the role of a foster carer in two minutes with a Google search. My own LA's website has a pretty good summary as a starting point. Knowing our role is a start, but it's not enough. I would like social workers to be given better guidance on how their decisions and actions can help or hinder us in our roles. And vice versa for that matter. We should understand that we are a team and each member's actions impact on another member's ability to fulfil their role.

I don't really blame the social worker for not calling me. She probably found a logical reason for not doing so and I expect she had a million calls to make that day. Or maybe she had to deal with an emergency. Or maybe she just forgot. We all forget things. But in the aftermath of a seemingly small error or decision like that, I have difficulty explaining to people how big an impact it has had on the child and our home. This is where I think things could improve - helping each person in the team around the child to understand the full extent of all of our actions or inactions on the child, so that better decisions can be made next time.

I picked Twinkle up from nursery after a contact one day last week and found her fizzy, defiant, almost manically flipping from one mood to another. Only the next day when I dropped her off did I learn that the Guardian ad Litem had attended contact that day and spoken to the children and their mum. Coincidence? I don't think so. I knew the Guardian was planning a visit but I didn't know when so I was unable to prepare Twinkle for it. Again, we managed it quite well, but I would so much rather prevent fires than fight them.

I am acutely aware of the pressure on everyone who works in children's social care. I know that there is a lot to remember, many appointments to be made, and crises to be attended to. Twinkle's social worker is a child protection social worker so she often has to cancel things at the last minute to deal with an emergency. I don't want to make more work for people. But I wonder if it would be possible to bcc a child's foster carer in on every email that is sent about the child? There should be no issue of confidentiality as we foster carers are supposed to be in the loop anyway, Much of what is written might be of no interest to us, but it's just possible that we might be able to flag up events and decisions that will have an impact on the child that nobody else might have foreseen. Proper information is the foundation of proper preparation. Preparation is better than cure. If there even is a cure.

Friday, September 25, 2015

A Pinch of Salt

Anybody who is considering embarking on adoption should purchase for themselves a large bag of salt, and carry it with them at all times. You will need it, as much of what will be said to you should be accompanied by a pinch of it.

Today we had Birdy's long-awaited LAC Review. The Independent Reviewing Officer, Birdy's social worker and I convened the meeting in our playroom while I put the children in front of a DVD with vast quantities of snacks.

I got out the salt.

Today's largest pinch was needed to accompany the words, "I'll get that form sent off straight away." Do I hear hollow laughter from the adoption community?

This was said in relation to a form which I was promised at the start of August, received at the start of September (after chasing it up myself), and returned, in person, almost three weeks ago. Since then, apparently, it has been sitting on the social worker's desk. Nothing else can happen until this form is received by the 'Finance Panel'. As an administratively-challenged person myself, I do have sympathy with others who also suffer, but it's starting to wear a bit thin now.

It's not the first time I've got the salt out. You may remember that the thorny issue of finances raised it head extremely early in the process. I ranted about it here. I was told, in no uncertain terms, that I could forget any idea of receiving any adoption allowances. I thought this was a mean-spirited opening shot, and wondered at the time if it was one of those tricksy stumbling blocks they like to throw in the way of prospective adopters to see if you've got what it takes to stay the course. After all, we'd already been through 'open-adoption-gate' with its proposed six direct contacts with birth mum per year. That was a barrel of laughs.

My suspicions were aroused even further when the 'financial assessment form' I had to fill in turned out to actually be an application form for adoption allowances. Shortly after I filled it in and returned it, Birdy's social worker talked about how she would "submit that form and see how much you'll get". This is the same form that hasn't been submitted yet. Of course.

Today, the IRO reassured me that "there's usually a 2-year buffer" for people in my position. This is exactly what I received last time. So much for "no chance of adoption allowances this time around" then. I'm not out to wring every last penny from the LA. I actually think two years is a bit generous. Personally, I'd be happy to settle for financial support to cover the Statutory Adoption Pay I don't get because the LA forces its foster carers to be self-employed. Two years is also fine though!

But I digress. Suffice it to say that I was right to suspect that the whole no adoption allowances scenario needed a little salt on it. I know that many (most?) adopters don't get allowances, but there was just something about the way it was said that made me suspect all was not as it seemed.

Today's LAC Review turned out to be a great opportunity to get a grip on the whole process and get a few things off my chest. The IRO supported me over some of my concerns, and is concerned about "drift" in Birdy's adoption process. She rounded off the meeting by setting out a timescale based on the minimum possible time that each stage could take and decreed that we should be at approval/matching panel by March.

Pass the salt!


Saturday, September 19, 2015

Tiny Steps for a Man. Giant Leaps for a Child.

It's around four months since Twinkle moved in with us as an emergency placement. With two hours' notice we went from a fairly settled family of three, to a decidedly unsettled family of four. It's been a rough old ride to be honest and there have been several days when I have felt sorely tempted to phone her social worker and ask for her to be moved to another placement. I still have my doubts that our busy house with another child very close to her age (and therefore in direct competition for my attention) is the best possible place for Twinkle but we must weigh up the advantages of a different placement against the trauma of yet another move for this vulnerable little person.

Whatever happens, Twinkle will need permanence, so at least one more big move is in her future. Where to, we do not yet know.

But, we have seen progress. While we are a long way from seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, I am beginning to feel as though we have taken a few steps forward. It is still dark, but there is something fresher in the air. We are definitely seeing positive changes.

I can go to the toilet in peace, for instance. For the first three months, every visit to the toilet would be accompanied by a persistent soundtrack of relentlessly loud wailing right outside the door, accompanied by scratching at the wood and rattling the handle. I can't express how delighted I am that this has stopped.

There is no more crying at night. This happened regular as clockwork every night for the first ten weeks and, I think, eventually became something of a habit with well-rehearsed lines on both our parts. The habit is broken. She's actually a great sleeper.

There are signs that she is beginning to value our established routines and see herself as part of them. We have a simple but unvarying bedtime routine but recently, as a result of throwing her new shoes over the garden fence, Twinkle was sent to bed without participating. Her genuine sadness at missing out on our sofa time was, I must admit, a little satisfying (after all - the shoes!), but also an encouraging sign that our little rituals are beginning to mean something to her.

Finally, and this may seem an odd one to some, this week she has left food on her plate several times! I know a lot of parents are frustrated by picky eaters, but for a little girl who approaches every meal as if it might be her last, the few bits of pasta left behind and the words "I've had enough" are very encouraging signs that she's beginning to feel more secure that her basic needs will be met.

Many times over the past four months I've been reminded of that programme, "Protecting Our Foster Kids" and, in particular, of Amy who was featured in the first programme. I remember some of the shocked and shocking comments about her foster carers, and I wonder what some of the commenters might have written if they'd seen the results of someone following me around with their camera as we've tried to re-group and re-establish our family since Twinkle's arrival.

The problem with a child with overwhelming needs is that caring for them can be . . . well, overwhelming! And, however experienced you might be, you do not know what you are getting when you accept a child on an emergency placement. At the point at which you say "yes" to a child sitting in a police station, you do not know their background, their experiences, their personality, their needs. I was not even able to pin down Twinkle's correct age.

And it's not just overwhelming for me. I am an adult and able to rationalise what is happening. Yet even so I have days when I really don't want to get out of bed. For other children living in the house, it can be completely destabilising. OB has had to share his toys, his mum and his personal space with a total stranger who sees herself as being in competition with him for every morsel of food, every word, look, cuddle or moment from me, and even for toilet time. It's a lot to ask. Of course, none of this is Twinkle's fault, but that doesn't make it any easier for OB . . . or for me sometimes, for that matter.

I'm not a fan of the attitude that unless you have experienced something you have no right to hold an opinion on it. Personal experience is only part of understanding a bigger picture. But I will happily admit that I could never have imagined the impact on every single part of my life that fostering would have, and I'm pretty sure someone who hasn't experienced it couldn't imagine it either. A new child comes into your home and literally nothing feels the same. They stay for an unspecified length of time, then they leave and literally nothing feels the same.

And repeat.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Deafening

I have written before (this time last year actually) about the White Noise that comes with adoption; a sort of never-ending buzz that stays mostly in the background but sometimes pushes its way to the fore. A lot of the time we get along like any other family but, in reality, it's never possible to completely get away from the fact that adoptive families are not quite like other families. There's always that white noise.

Recently, with two unrelated looked after children in the house, an adoption in progress, and letterbox time upon us, the white noise has become considerably more noticeable. Each of these situations comes with its own set of professionals to deal with, paperwork, meetings, appointments, plans and schedules. I will pull out my mobile phone to discover a missed call from Children's Social Care and think, well, that could be from any one of eight or ten people!

This week alone I have spoken to Twinkle's social worker twice, Birdy's social worker, Birdy's IRO several times, my adoption social worker, a PAS social worker and my supervising social worker. And that was just a regular week with no extra meetings or appointments. That might not seem so bad, but bear in mind that, usually, an actual conversation with social worker will have been preceded by several missed calls, or a series of emails to set up a successful call. At times like this I get irrationally irritated that their switchboard closes at 4.45pm. Not 5pm. It's almost as if they're admitting that nobody stays in the office until 5pm so there's no point ringing.

I have resorted to contacting Birdy's IRO directly to try to cut through the issues surrounding the adoption process we are supposed to undergoing. I am concerned that there is no timetable for it, no final contact with birth family scheduled for her, apparently no accountability for whoever leaked my intention to adopt to Birdy's birth mum before her placement order had even been secured. She promises that we will discuss all these issues at the next LAC review which will be happening very soon. I had to ask her to personally ensure that I was told when it was scheduled as I was not invited to any previous review, despite my presence being theoretically required as Birdy's foster carer. The IRO admitted that there seems to have been "drift" in the process - an understatement I'd say since she remembers me discussing it with her back in March and there has been virtually no progress since then. She was of the opinion that there was no reason why we couldn't be at panel in ten weeks. I rolled my eyes. She has a good reputation but I haven't yet heard of her working miracles.

In the meantime, Twinkle's situation has done a complete reverse course. We had quite a dramatic few days shortly before we went on holiday (and she went to respite), and now it seems as though she will be staying here for quite a while longer. This will have implications for us all and I'm not sure what the best course of action will be as yet. She is a little girl full of challenges and yet I do think I'm beginning to see faint glimmers of progress. We will see. Mostly it's out of my hands anyway.

And then, earlier this week, we had a particular moment when the white noise became not just intrusive, but deafening, all-consuming. Driving to my close friend's house for a playdate with our children, I slowed at a junction to let a young couple with a double buggy finish crossing the road. It was only as they got on the pavement and turned towards me that I saw that it was OB's birth mum, her partner and their two tiny children.

She didn't see us. I'm sure about that. OB was chatting away in my ear, Mummy this and Mummy that, and I couldn't take in a word he was saying for the buzzing in my head. I only caught a fleeting glimpse of her face as she walked off, barely aware of our car, but I knew straight away it was her, as surely as she'd have recognised me if she'd seen me.

Of course I've always known that OB's birth mum lived locally - in the next town in fact. But not in the small town I was in that day. Not in a place I go to at least once a week. Not so close to my friend that they would share the same local park (a park I won't be visiting again any time soon). My dentist is in that town. We might even share the same dentist. We were, maybe, a quarter of a mile from my friend's house. I have always expected to find myself face to face with her again, but, you know, in a few years, when OB was older, when and if he chose to look for her.

Hoping against hope for reassurance, I phoned post-adoption support only to be told by a very kind and understanding lady (after several missed calls of course!) that the most recent address they had for birth mum (which of course she didn't disclose) was not in that town but was also, probably, extremely out of date. I suspected as much. She hadn't co-operated terribly well at the time of the adoption, so the chances of her keeping social services updated as to her latest address were always going to be slim.

Tonight, tomorrow night maybe, I'm going to write our annual letterbox letters to birth mum and paternal grandma. I'm going to write platitudes and moderately interesting anecdotes about OB's year, without hope of reply in birth mum's case anyway. And all the time I'm going to be wondering if her second and third children are playing at the same park as her first one so often does. I'm going to be thinking about that for a while.





Saturday, August 1, 2015

Filthy Lucre

On Friday last week I had my enchantingly-named 'Adoption Viability Assessment Meeting'.
It's as though whoever designed the process we have to follow to become a parent through adoption was determined to take the shine off the whole experience, right down to the choice of language!

But anyway . . .

As I have now been thoroughly assessed by my LA twice (once for fostering, once for adoption) I had rather hoped that this initial meeting could be avoided, but no, the protocol still applies. Thankfully my assigned adoption social worker had actually read my files in advance (a growing feeling of hope glimmers) and came to the meeting with only two discussion points: potential risk posed by birth family, and my financial situation.

We didn't start there though. No. We started with a question that I personally consider one of the most annoying questions that is asked during the process (and believe me, it's up against some stiff competition).

Why do I want to adopt? And why, particularly, Birdy?

I knew it was coming, so I had rehearsed my answer and was ready for it. But I can't help wondering why it is that those who will become parents through adoption must justify their desire to create or add to their family in this way? And this in the context of a meeting where, if everything doesn't go well, the ASW could write a negative assessment and shut the door at the very start of the whole process. So I have to justify my desire to add to my family in terms that will pass some sort of test, the criteria of which I will never know. I just have to hope that my explanation is good enough.

Thankfully we moved on to the birth family issue quite quickly, and dealt with it to the ASW's satisfaction, so there was only the issue of my finances left. It was at this point that I started to slide into that weird vortex of misunderstanding that I often experience when dealing with social services.

It's not that we are incapable of making ourselves understood. The problem is more to do with the protocols and tick sheets that the social workers seem to have to work to, and which I think are sometimes ridiculous. I suspect that some social workers think they are ridiculous too, but saying so is not the done thing. So the social worker keeps trying to bring the conversation back to the tick sheet while I try (and fail) to suppress the urge to challenge the tick sheet's basic assumptions.

As far as finances go, I will have to fill in a financial assessment form which will be passed up to a finance panel who will look at it and decide whether I earn enough money to raise two children. Here's where I start to grit my teeth. I am a foster carer. I live on fostering allowances supposedly designed to cover the cost of raising children that are placed with me. I intend to carry on fostering. So my income will remain at a similar level. So, the same LA that pays the fostering allowances that we are supposed to live on is now to determine whether they are, in fact, enough to live on. I wonder what will happen if they decide that they are not? I am pretty certain such a decision would not result in a raise in all of our allowances!

I pointed out to the ASW that 'enough to live on' is a matter of opinion. I am apparently wrong. They work it out to a formula, totting up all the bills and then seeing whether what you have left over is sufficient. It seems to me, though, that the definition of 'sufficient' might be significantly different for someone who habitually does their grocery shopping at Marks & Spencers than it would be for someone who shopped at Aldi and Lidl. I mentioned that when I started fostering, this same LA thought that £150 per week would be 'enough to live on' for me and my foster child. "That's totally different!" said the ASW. Not to my bank manager, I thought.

She was also very quick to assure me that there would be no question of adoption allowances. In the past, allowances were apparently automatically granted to all foster carers adopting in our LA (although last time around I was made to feel as though I was being given a grand favour when I was awarded them), but now they are only granted if the powers that be assess the child in question to have significant additional needs that would warrant the award of allowances. "And I can tell you now, just from looking at her, they won't." How marvellous, I thought, that the ASW can tell this child's whole future just by looking at her!

Before this meeting ever happened . . . way before . . . I had already thought through the finances and worked out that we will have 'enough to live on' in a range of different scenarios, with and without allowances. I know that we will, because I know how to cut my cloth. Now to fill in the form and hope that these people on the finance panel, who are probably used to considerably more disposable income than I've ever had, feel the same way.


Saturday, July 25, 2015

Boing!

I have finally achieved the ultimate garden 'look' of my neighbourhood with the addition of a trampoline! Ours is considerably smaller than the neighbours' efforts, but just the right size for my littlies and for the limited space currently available (before a radical garden re-design that sadly remains mostly in my imagination at present!).


I've heard much about the therapeutic benefits of trampolines - letting off steam with vigorous exercise, rhythmic bouncing calming fraught emotions etc. OB loves being pushed on the swing and will happily do that for hours (or as long as he has a willing slave to keep on pushing) and I've always felt that this was a soothing experience for him. The trampoline has been on my to-do list for ages - its arrival was carefully timed to coincide with the beginning of the summer holidays!


It's getting plenty of use right now, and I'm more than happy to encourage that for as long as the novelty factor makes it the activity of choice. If nothing else, I'm hoping it will tire Twinkle and OB out sufficiently to make bedtimes a breeze for a while!


Sunday, July 19, 2015

On Continuing Contact Post Adoption Pt 2 Foster Carers

I wrote previously about my mixed feelings concerning contact in general, and particularly the thorny issue of continuing contact post adoption. Now I want to say something about a subject that comes up a lot when I talk to adopters, but concerning which there seems to be little protocol, research or clear direction: continuing contact post adoption with a child's foster carers.

It isn't really possible for me to offer clear cut advice to adopters as to whether contact should take place, or exactly how or when, as each situation is so different. I know that relationships between adopters and foster carers can vary from warm and supportive to contentious and downright damaging, with every shade in between. Other complicating factors in the decision might include the length of time the child has stayed with the carer, how many placements they have had, whether there were other children in the placement, the age of the child, the physical distance between foster carers and adopters.

As a foster carer, I am not aware of any existing protocol on continuing contact. I have simply been told that contact is entirely at the discretion of the adopters. To be honest, I am mostly comfortable with that as I think adopters are best placed to know whether and when contact might be in the best interest of the child and their family, although it does sadden me to think that I might never hear again about a child I have loved and cared for over many months. However, I do think it places a lot of responsibility on the adoptive family as there is so much to be considered, especially when some adopted children have spent the majority of their early lives with their foster carers rather than their birth parents. Perhaps I can offer these suggestions as things to consider when thinking about continuing contact:
  • Be careful of decisions made during introductions. Intros are a very emotional time for both foster carers and adopters, whether they go well or badly, and it is easy in the heat of the moment to make decisions or promises that may be harder to stick to later on. When adopters have said to me during intros that they will definitely keep in touch, or have talked about meeting up soon, I try to be encouraging without pressuring them, but I don't raise my expectations too much as I know that, once they are away and building their new family life, contact with foster carers might slip down the priority list.
  • The timing of first contact is important. Imagine moving to a new school or job. If you were happy at your old place, you may experience a period when you wish you could just go back. Eventually, as you settle in and begin to 'belong' in your new place, you may find that while you think of your old place fondly and with affection, given the choice, you'd stay where you are. Personally, I'd say that is when it's time to consider direct contact. It will still stir up emotions for a child, but hopefully not rekindle any longing to return. Adoptive parents are best placed to know when the time is right.
  • The place chosen for first contact is also worth some consideration. Perhaps a neutral location, or, if the adopters choose, a place they frequent as a family or even their own home. I personally would have concerns about contact at the foster carer's home too early, but would be interested to hear from anybody who has made it work for them.
  • The frequency of direct contact will depend on many factors. It may be that one or two visits will be enough to reassure the child that the foster carers have not abandoned them or forgotten about them, but in some cases a longer-term relationship could develop with regular meetings. All of this doesn't need to be decided early on. Nobody should feel pressured into long-term commitments, and everyone needs to be aware that arrangements can and will change as the child grows and their needs change.
  • It is likely that your child's foster carers had a significantly different parenting style to your own. In any room filled with parents, there is likely to be a range of very differing opinions on any number of issues. This can make transition more complicated for adopters as they initially try to stick to routines established by foster carers that might not fit with their parenting styles or that they might not even agree with. It's frustrating - believe me, a foster carer knows what it's like to try to parent a child in these circumstances! When thinking about continuing contact, consider whether these difficulties should be a factor in your decision. While an adoptive parent might not agree with the approach a foster carer has previously taken, it might still be in the child's best interests to establish some sort of continuing contact. Obviously if there have been welfare or safeguarding issues, or the relationship has seriously and dangerously broken down, then it is a different matter.
  • If direct contact is not appropriate for your child, or simply not possible, is there any possibility of maintaining some level of indirect contact, however small? While foster carers don't provide the sort of information that only a birth family knows (like medical history, etc.) it is likely that they will be the people with the anecdotes, milestone memories and early history of the child, especially if a child has spent most of their life living in the foster placement. Continuing contact, even by occasional letters or Christmas cards, can keep lines of communication open for both adoptive parents and the adoptee to access that information. I know some situations where skype (or similar) has been used very effectively.
  • If no form of contact is possible or appropriate, or if contact is planned but with a long delay after introductions, a child may find it helpful to look at photographs and talk about their carers with their adoptive parents as part of lifestory work. Their memories of their carers are likely to be much more immediate than those of their birth family, and knowing that foster carers and adopters mutually 'approve' of each other supports transition. Even if the relationship has been difficult, talking can help a child work through their loyalties and give them 'permission' to grieve their loss and settle into their new families.
Foster caring is a lot more than a job. The children we care for mean much more to us than that and, yes, it is hard to let them go, knowing that we might never know their futures. In the hothouse of introductions, adoptive parents rarely get to experience the full extent of the community within which a child has grown and been nurtured. I still get asked by all sorts of people how former charges of mine are getting on years after they have been adopted - friends, family, nursery staff, swimming teachers, local shop keepers, neighbours, playmates - all have included these children into their circles, and all feel their disappearance to a greater or lesser extent.

However, the role of the foster carer is to love and let go. That much should be clear. A foster carer should never make an adoptive family feel under pressure to maintain contact, and I hope this post does not give anyone that impression. But when the guidelines are so vague, sharing our experiences is a good place to start. Please feel free to share yours in the comments!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

On Continuing Contact Post Adoption Pt1

This week, as part of their Sore Points series, The Adoption Social has been asking adoptive parents to talk about their experiences of contact with birth family, direct and indirect. A series of special posts from different perspectives on the subject have been posted on the site, starting here. Well worth a read if you're involved in foster care or adoption in any way.

Contact is a hot-button topic for me right now, both with my foster carer's hat on, and my adopter's one. The new post-placement order contact arrangements for Birdy are unfolding like some sort of multi-part Shakespearian tragedy, complete with intrigue, misinformation and treachery. Twinkle's thrice-weekly contacts continue to result in a lot of totally undesirable behavioural impacts, and her Mum announced to me last week that contact arrangements will change this week (increase and move to new location) - I await official notification from her social worker with bated breath. And in around six weeks I will write my third lot of letterbox letters for OB, a task I have little enthusiasm for to be honest.

It's not that I'm against indirect or direct contact as such. It's more that I don't like the tired and hackneyed phrases of justification trotted out whenever someone so much as questions its necessity. Phrases about helping children with their sense of "self" and their "identity", assuring them that they are "not forgotten" and "still loved", smoothing the way for possible future reunion. I'm sure contact can do these things. I'm just not sure it always does. I'm not sure it's enough justification for the relentless "contact is good for you" mantra. It also irks that it's taken for granted that all adoptees will seek reunion as if all adoptees are basically the same and will have the same reactions to being adopted. The stories of adult adoptees who quietly get on with their lives with little drive for more than the most basic contact with birth family (if at all) are rarely shouted out on social media.

And as someone pointed out during The Adoption Social's Twitter Chat on the subject the other night, how can years of unanswered letterbox letters assure a child that he is "not forgotten"? Doesn't it, in fact, do precisely the opposite?

I will admit that when I read glowing accounts of adoptive families who have wonderful relationships with birth families, I tend to think, well, whoopie doo for you. I don't mean to sound harsh, but the comments below such accounts about how open-hearted and amazing those adoptive families are say it all really. This is the ideal and everyone who isn't doing that falls short in some way and, by implication, isn't so open-hearted and amazing as they could be.

In reality, though, every family, every child and every circumstance is different. Where contact is appropriate and well-managed, then it can bring enormous benefit to everybody involved (although not without some sacrifice I'm sure). I really do take my hat off to those who manage it.

Perhaps we are unusual in the adoption world as I fostered OB from very young, and he was adopted as an infant with no memory of any birth family. Unlike many adoptive parents who feel they know too little, sometimes I think I know too much. I took him to many, many contacts with his birth mum before I adopted him. I spent a lot of time with her. I watched as she abandoned her child not once, but twice, and much more that I won't say here. He lived with her a total of 22 weeks. She has never replied to letterbox. Then there's his dad who only saw him once and only admitted paternity after he was tested. Then there's his paternal grandmother who only appeared on the scene after he was a year old, had a few contacts, and now gets letterbox too. At least she did reply once and I admit I found that reply very useful as it filled in a lot of information about birth dad which was unknown to me. I will write her letterbox letter this year in a better frame of mind than I have the previous two years.

So, yes, like many others, I keep doing my duty with regard to contact because I do as I'm told and because of the many future benefits it will apparently have for my son. And because I daren't stop in case the tired old blanket justifications turn out to have been right all along. Like everything else in child-rearing, we ignore the "experts" at our peril!

But I wish more could be done to provide support for, and raise expectations from birth family when it comes to continuing contact. Even at adoption prep there were a lot of knowing looks and clear indications that often birth family members would not reply to contact letters. And yet we have to keep writing them. It's hard enough to explain to my son why he does not live with his birth family. I don't want to have to keep explaining again every year why they don't even write a letter for him. It makes me feel as though, despite the reassurances that the child is at the heart of the process, the whole issue of continuing contact is at least as much about the birth family as the child - in fact Birdy's social worker admitted as much when trying to justify the, frankly, ridiculous contact arrangements that have been set up for Birdy over the next few months. The expectation is on the adoptive parent to dutifully maintain contact, while there is little or no expectation that birth family will do the same and that, apparently, is absolutely fine.

I suspect my feelings and opinions on the subject will shift with the passing of time and the increase in OB's understanding. Should the day come that he wants to know more, or even meet up with members of his birth family, then, provided I felt he could be properly supported through it and he was emotionally strong enough to manage it, I would do all that I could to make it happen. Do I relish the prospect? No. Sorry if that makes me sound close-hearted and less than amazing, but the state of my heart is not the driving force here. My son's well-being, his needs and his wishes are. At the moment, his bog-standard continuing contact arrangements take none of those things into account.


Sunday, July 12, 2015

Breaking News (Again)

It was a little over three years ago that I announced to the world that "At a recent court date, the judge decided to implement the local authority's latest care plan for OB, namely that he be adopted and I should be the one to adopt him." You can read the rest of that announcement here.

But wait! 

Before you do that, first read the rest of this announcement:

At a recent court date, the judge decided to implement the local authority's latest care plan for Birdy, namely that she be adopted and I should be the one to adopt her.

Yes, you read that right!

We're at about the same stage as we were with OB when I broke the news to the world (although Birdy is much younger) so I know we have months ahead of us yet, and nothing is set in stone until I have that precious certificate in my hands.

Already we have had a few bumps in the road. Thankfully I seem to have been spared the rather aggressive initial meeting where some stranger came to my house to decide whether I would even be allowed to begin the process, scaring me half to death in the process and exhorting agreements out of me to all kinds of conditions which thankfully mostly didn't come to pass. Good job too as if I'd had to do everything they initially said, I would have lost my job, my home and my support network all in one fell swoop!

No, this time I have had to contend with an egregious breach of confidentiality which means that somehow Birdy's birth mum was told about my interest in adopting several weeks ago. Contacts are still ongoing twice a week so you'd better believe I've been looking over my shoulder on the drive home. Due to the revolving door of social workers and the near impossibility of actually getting to speak to anybody I haven't yet tracked down the leak, but Birdy's newest social worker has insisted it wasn't her, so that's something anyway.

It seems that birth mum has been telling everyone who will listen (including the latest SW) that we're doing an open adoption and she'll still be able to see Birdy. I don't know where she's got this from, whether she's dreamed it up herself or whether she's going off something that the 'leaker' has said. As a result I have had many, many phone conversations with professionals (CAFCASS, SWs, Guardian Ad Litem, IRO, Contact Supervisors, you name it!) asking me about direct contact and open adoption, suggesting that it might be written into the care plan, asking if I'd still pursue the adoption under those terms etc. etc. At one point six direct contacts per year was mentioned. None of the people I speak to seem to speak to each other - the CAFCASS lady phoned at teatime the night before court and said that birth mum had told her I wanted to adopt Birdy and that was the first she'd heard of it!

I won't go into all the reasons why I don't want an open adoption, or any direct contact written into the agreement (to do so would be to compromise Birdy's story) but I don't, and I have said so all along. I had an anxious 4-day wait before I finally managed to get someone to return my calls and let me know the outcome from court. The placement order was granted with no mention of direct contact.

So, yes, it feels something of an achievement to have got to this stage, and I know there is a long way to go yet!

But we know our goal - that Birdy will join our little family and I will have a daughter and OB will have a sister. He is very excited about the prospect!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Girl's World

I haven't been blogging much recently. This is mainly due to the arrival of Twinkle who, while lovely in many ways, brings our family to a level of 'interesting' that means that there isn't much time or brain space left over for other things!

Twinkle is the 7th child I've fostered, but she is the first girl I've had who wasn't a tiny baby. I have discovered that in some ways, little girls really are different from little boys. It's been quite the steep learning curve:

Clip and Bobbles

I have had little in the way of hairdressing to do previously. OB doesn't even really submit to having his hair brushed and I let that battle go a long time ago. And the babies tend to be on the bald side. But Twinkle has a full head of girly, curly hair. It requires clips. And bobbles. Lots of them. More than I thought, in fact, because they have invariably slipped (or been pulled!) out of her hair within 30 minutes of me painstakingly putting them in. I've lost count of the times I've sent her to nursery with several clips strategically placed so as to have maximum staying power (who am I kidding?!), only to pick her up later and find that nobody knows where they are. It's possible that somebody is planning to open a clip shop in the near future. I'd send her without, but clips in her hair are apparently a deal-breaker for her mum, so on we go.

Pink Things 

I know that all little girls are not into pink things, but Twinkle definitely is and, even if she wasn't, I reckon it's virtually unavoidable. My house is full of pink plastic all of a sudden. Massive unwieldy plastic prams with a selection of truly awful dollies. I don't like dolls - they freak me out a bit. And stickers. All the sparkly, sparkly stickers.

Disney

Le' i' goh, Le' i' goh . . . 
Up to this point we've totally avoided anything Frozen. OB has barely heard of the film and never seen it. Not so Twinkle, who seems to have more than a passing knowledge of all things "Le' i' goh". Meals need to be served on the "Le' i' goh plate", drinks in the "Le' i' goh cup". The soundtrack of our every breakfast time is "I wan' mah Le' i' goh poon!" Oh, and on a semi-related note, we also have a selection of One Direction accessories in the house. Twinkle has no idea who they are.

Footwear 

OB's footwear needs are pretty basic. He has nice shoes and trainers. In the winter we add wellies. In the summer, sandals. That's it. And his shoes are robust and last for ages - at least until he's grown out of them anyway. Not so with Twinkle's shoes. She's been here less than two months. She's already had six pairs of shoes. And most of them are stupid. There are bows and flowers and butterflies stuck all over them, practically begging "pick me until I fall off"! She destroyed one pair on the second time she wore them by letting her toes scrape on the floor while in the pram. They wore through to her socks in a matter of moments. And while I'm talking about socks, seriously, how filthy is it possible for a garment to get? Boys' socks tend to be in dark colours, patterned, dirt-hiding. Girls' socks are apparently all pastel coloured. Lovely. Now most of Twinkle's are permanently dirt coloured.

Sprinkle-free Tinkle

Here's an unexpected plus point of girls, as I see it. When Twinkle goes to the toilet, everything she does just goes straight into the toilet. Those of you who have boys will understand my delight!

Skirts and Dresses

I've never dressed a child in a skirt before - they're not always so practical for tiny babies. And apparently not for Twinkle either, who can't get the hang of what to do with it when she goes to the toilet, so she just takes it off, leaves it on the floor and comes out semi-naked. Dresses look lovely on her, but when she goes to the toilet in those she tends to fail to lift them up sufficiently. Yeah. Some unpleasant moments there.

Tights

Aaaaaaaaggghhhh! 'Nuff said!

Friday, June 12, 2015

So, Let's Start Protecting Our Foster Kids Then

I've written this post over and over in my head since the first episode of 'Protecting Our Foster Kids' aired. I've been through the programme's events, wondered at the bits we weren't shown (I'm sure there was a lot left out!), wished so hard that things had turned out differently for those sisters, and rebutted many of the naive, judgemental and sometimes downright insulting comments I heard and read about those foster carers.

I've written it so often and so eloquently in my head that I'm not going to bother writing it all again here. I'm over it. Instead, I'm just going to say this:

If you watched that programme and thought those foster carers weren't good enough, that they failed those children, that the children deserved better, that the system is broken or that you could have done better, then go and apply to be a foster carer.

I'm not being flippant.

What we saw in that documentary was the sad reality for so many young people ricocheting around the foster care system. Apparently 25% of teens will have had 4 or more placements. This is why I metaphorically roll my eyes when I hear people talk about 'permanence options' in the context of long term foster care. Often, there's nothing permanent about it.

So, maybe you watched that programme and thought you could do better. Perhaps you could. Call your local authority or a voluntary agency near you and enquire about becoming a foster carer then.

And if it's not for you, now or ever, then that's ok. It's not for everyone. But let's remember this: whatever else we might say about those foster carers, their commitment, their experience or their abilities, at least they stepped up and tried to do something. They made that call. They stepped into the unknown. Nobody goes into fostering to let kids down. Most people don't go into fostering at all. Let's give a little credit to those who at least tried to marry actions to their words.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Cracking Our Toilet Code

It's Foster Care Fortnight so really I should be posting something heartfelt and yet insightful about fostering, but after surviving our recent camping trip relatively unscathed, together with all the effort of packing/unpacking/packing/unpacking that comes with it, not to mention a massive laundry pile, I just really don't have the energy.

So, yeah, fostering is great - you should definitely give it a go. That's all I've got.

In the meantime, here is a handy list of things that the urgently uttered phrase "I need a wee!!" might really mean in our house these days:

I really need to distract you!

I don't like the way this conversation is going!

I don't want to sit at the table to eat my meal!

I don't want to do what you just told me to do!

I'm hoping the implicit threat of wet pants will make you stop the whole 'time-in' thing immediately!

I want to get out of the pram!

I want to get out of the car seat!

I don't want to go wherever you want me to go!

I really want to sabotage someone else's attempt to have a wee because it's a competition of course!

I was hoping this strategy would work but forgot I already had my bedtime nappy on!


Very occasionally it might also be a signifier that somebody actually does want a wee, but I've never yet been wrong in predicting when that actually is the case. So if you see me out and about, adamantly refusing to let a cherub-faced toddler go to the toilet despite insistent requests, please don't call Social Services!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Just a Little Slap

Today, during a short conversation on the importance of using 'please' and 'thank you', Twinkle reached up and, quick as a flash - and only an old-fashioned term will do here - she boxed my ears. Quite hard. With all the strength her little body could muster actually.

I was pretty shocked by it. It wasn't that I never expect lashing out or hitting, but because in the few days that she's been with us, she's shown no signs at all of hitting or any other physical response. She hasn't even got especially frustrated about anything, or seemed angry, despite some pretty severe provocation from OB at times. She has cried when things have gone wrong, exactly as I'd expect from an older toddler.

She didn't seem particularly angry or frustrated today either. The way she did it was almost matter of fact. She was sitting there, listening to me, admittedly with a grumpy look on her face, and then she was hitting me.

The Adoption Social has been running a special theme this week as part of a new series on difficult subjects that are hard to talk about and rarely aired. This first week was focused on CPV - child on parent violence.

I know from talking to people that this is something that affects not only adoptive and foster families, but can happen in 'normal' families too. It's not about toddler tantrums with lashing out ("Don't all children do that?!"), but about violence that is intractable, unstoppable, carried out with intent, and, certainly as a child gets older and stronger, violence that can do real harm to the parent on the receiving end. I hear of black eyes and bruises, of knives and other kitchen objects being wielded, of kicking and strangling.

I don't wish to air OB's dirty laundry in public, but there are times when I worry about the possibility of CPV in our future. What comforts me about the incidents we have experienced is that each time I have known that his actions have stemmed from either an internal or external provocation, rather than a cold-hearted desire to inflict hurt. He is small, and his emotions are big. My hope and prayer is that as we work together to unwrap, examine, name and validate his big emotions, we will move past a stage where lashing out is his most effective expression of them.

Certainly, I am no expert on CPV, but if this is a reality in your life, then I urge you to seek help and support for you and your child. It is hard to talk about, yes. It is hard to admit. Others may not understand. They might judge you or blame you. But there are organisations out there that do understand and that are committed to working with families without judgement or blame. The Adoption Social has compiled a list of resources on the subject here. If this is happening in your home, then both you and your child are suffering. Please, do, make that call.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Skills to Foster

Last week I had the privilege of standing in front of a group of prospective foster carers on the second day of their Skills to Foster training and telling them a little of what it means to be a foster carer day to day.

There were around 20 people, mostly couples, some singles, so perhaps 12 new foster families in the offing. If they continue past the training. If they are approved. If they last beyond their first placement.

Some of them were already caring for someone else's children - I could tell that from their knowing looks and wry smiles. Others were completely new to it, and baffled by some of what I said.

"Why would they return a child to a birth parent if it wasn't going to work out?"
"Why would they place a child with you in the first place if they couldn't speak your language? Why not just place them with an appropriate family straight away?"
"Why didn't they give you more notice? Don't they plan these things?"

I spoke a little about my experiences, the children I've cared for, the timescales, interventions and outcomes for them. I majored on talking about transitions, both at the beginning and end of placements, and especially on transitioning to adoption. I know the lady who was running the course fairly well, and she knows quite a bit about us, so she encouraged me to talk about OB and some of the issues he faces as an adopted child. Towards the end, I urged those of them who would be fostering younger children to make contact with adopters, either in real life or online, and to learn from them as I have been able to do thanks to communities such as The Adoption Social. Learning the issues faced by adopters way down the line over such practical things as unlabelled memory box items has definitely changed my fostering for the better.

Remembering back to my own training, I also admitted to them that there had been things that I had mentally resisted when they were discussed in training. I heard the speaker talk about them, but I put up a mental hand of denial towards them. I think many people have a tendency to do this. For me, it was the amount of contact I might have with birth families. I was nervous about it, so I clung to some imaginary hope that I could limit it to a few words exchanged at contact drop off. What was I thinking? I have spent hours and hours and hours with birth family members, sometimes at the worst moments in their lives. I have been there when their children were removed, when they got the bad news that they weren't coming back. I have seen tears and heard rage and denials and pleading. I have maintained diplomatic cool when, after missing 5 consecutive contacts without a word, a birth parent gets shirty about re-arranging one contact at my request. I still get nervous about it. It's still unavoidable.

I was sure that in that room were people who had mentally stiffened at some of the things they had heard. I am sure that happens at every training session, both for fostering and adopting. It's so tempting to hold up the hand of denial against the things we don't want to hear. But they can happen whether we want them to or not, and recognising that we are resistant, and understanding the reasons why will be the key to working out how to deal with it if it does come to pass.

Anyway, I was just one of many faces, speaking just a few of the many words that these prospective foster carers will be bombarded with over the next weeks and months. We had a few laughs and I answered a few questions, and hopefully threw a little light on it all, at least for somebody.