Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Seven Stages of Being Dumped with a Stranger

Emergency foster placements are not pretty. In the course of a day, a child has been removed from family, possibly forcibly and with police involvement, taken to a strange waiting room, possibly in a police station, and then driven to a stranger's house and left there with little in the way of introductions and often only with the clothes on their back. Sometimes they have also been separated from siblings who have been parcelled out to other foster placements.

A little boy has come to us under these circumstances. It has been just over 24 hours, and this has been his emotional journey so far.

1. Incomprehending Terror

It was Friday evening. Nobody wanted to be hanging around and everybody was anxious to see this little one settled in his placement as soon as possible, so handover was perfunctory. After about seven minutes, and with little ceremony ("You be a good boy and stay here with this lady, ok?"), the two social workers left. The moment they began to move towards the door, the terrified wails began. Maybe he didn't know these social workers all that well, but they had been his companions through the ordeal so far and now they were leaving him. Alone. With these strangers. This lasted for about 90 minutes.

2. Desperate Begging

"Mamma! Mamma! Mamma! Mamma!" After a long time crying hysterically and scratching at the window and the door to get back to the social workers, he finally realised that they were gone and I was the person he needed to appeal to now. His wails were heartbreaking and relentless for around two hours, accompanied by hot tears and head clutching. He grabbed my hand and tried to pull me to the door. He even stroked my face, looking right into my eyes while pleading over and over again for his Mamma.

3. Bargaining

Perhaps thinking he would get what he wanted if he did something I wanted he eventually calmed down and submitted to putting on the pyjamas I had laid out for him. He was quiet as I undressed him and then dressed him again, and then he asked for his shoes and coat and said, "Mamma?" And the begging began again, his cries even more desperate because of his newly dashed hopes.

4. Self-preservation

I delayed putting him to bed (in his coat and shoes) until he was beyond exhausted in the hopes that he'd fall asleep without too much distress, so it was past 11pm when we finally put his lights off and closed his door. He spent a blessedly peaceful night. And then, this morning, I awoke to the unmistakeable sounds of 'sneaking around'. When I found him, he was by the locked front door with his clothes held against his chest in a bundle. He had made himself a drink of water and was obviously prepared for flight. More heartbreak when he realised his plans had been thwarted.

5. False Hope

Struggling with our communications issues (is the bilingual toddler incomprehensible to me because of poorly-formed English or because he's actually using a different language right now?) and the apparent lack of suitable food or drink in the house, we made a trip to the supermarket. I asked him to sit in the trolley and point to foods and drinks that he liked. His behaviour was impeccable in every respect. He picked out quite a few items (several of which were rejected when actually offered as food) and even ate some apple and half a doughnut as we shopped. But when he realised that we were parking the car outside my house at the end of the trip instead of his own, his hopes were dashed again and we returned to tears.

6. Exhausted Compliance

After a short nap, the rest of the afternoon stretched ahead of us. He sat where I sat him, held the toys I gave to him (but didn't play with them) and generally sank into himself. OB danced for him, talked to him, brought toys for him, but to no avail. He sat at the table when I served meals and nibbled dully at the food. He took tiny sips of the drinks I offered him and then set them down. Every so often he would break into new sobs, punctuated by persistent repetition of phrases I simply could not understand, despite concerted efforts.

7. Waves of Desperation

After tea I had planned to walk us to the park simply to shake off the cobwebs, but the weather looked unpromising so instead we went out into the garden. He definitely perked up at the idea. "Garden! Garden!" He had one go on the push along bike and one go on the slide, but it was the footballs that really caught his attention and we spent probably ten minutes enjoying a gentle kickabout. At one point he even copied me in clapping himself for a really good shot. In fact, I could have sworn I almost saw the faint beginnings of a smile. And then, all of a sudden, I saw his face fall and start to crumple and I knew the horror of it all was back. His body went slack and the tears started to come and I had to pick him up and carry him back inside where he cried inconsolably for another half an hour.

Nobody should ever be in any doubt that removal from home and family, however terrible we might believe that situation to be, is, in itself, a terrible trauma for a child.


Edit: Monday

This little boy's distress continued unabated throughout the weekend, exacerbated by the fact that, as it transpired, he had virtually no English and I had no words in his language (although I have a couple now!). So, it was impossible to bring any soothing words, or to understand many of his requests and outpourings. On Monday morning we had 15 minutes of repeating the same word and crying on his part, and experimentation and guesswork on my part before I realised that all he wanted was a piece of bread. Although we saw a little improvement in the afternoon, and even a few smiles, courtesy of the generous and open friendship of a friend's children, it was agreed that it would be in his best interests to find him bilingual carers as soon as possible. To their credit, our LA had this arranged by Monday evening, even though it meant getting approval for the extra cost of going out to an agency. I had mixed feelings about this as I was sad not to be able to see a placement through for the first time, and also because I knew that his enthusiastic smiling and waving as he left was only because he thought he was finally going home. But I also knew that, although he would be devastated anew on arriving at yet another strange house, at least these new strangers would be able to explain, soothe and comfort him with their words in a way I never could.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Triple L

About a month ago I was shocked to received a phone call out of the blue from a student social worker who was . . . wait for it . . . working on our LLL! Yes! The Later Life Letter that I had resigned myself to never seeing was actually being prepared.

For those unfamiliar with the complex machinations of the UK adoption scene, the Later Life Letter is one of two documents that are (or should be) prepared for children when they are adopted to help them understand their past and their present, and how those two are connected together. First there is the Life Story Book which is aimed at younger children and gives some very basic information about birth family, the circumstances of their coming into care, their foster placements and their move to their forever family, along with lots (hopefully) of photographs and other snippets. Our Life Story Book was quite a disappointment to be honest, and I'm fairly sure I will be making a new one.

The Later Life Letter is a fuller, more detailed account of the circumstances surrounding a child's birth family and the events surrounding their removal and subsequent adoption. It is designed for a child to read themselves when they are older. Ours is many pages long, and it is really good. Really good. I was amazed, actually.

Obviously I won't be going into the detail that it contains, but suffice it to say that some bright spark thought to bring in OB's birth grandma (paternal) to help to fill in the massive gaps in our knowledge about his birth dad. I met this grandma several times, and liked her. I've warmed to her even more now that I can see the trouble she's gone to to make sure that OB has an image of his birth dad that goes beyond the rather depressing one-dimensional outline we had before.

In particular, in these pages I see the golden nugget of information I was always looking for but nobody had actually confirmed to me. OB's birth dad did see him, and hold him. It was only once, but it was something, and I think it will mean something to OB in the future to know that, in spite of his total lack of engagement with every single part of the process, there was a moment when he cared enough about his son to visit him and cuddle him. If nothing else, it will take away the wondering and the questions on that score anyway.

So, yes, I've read it a couple of times now, soaking up the information, and then I've put it away in his folder until some future opportunity presents itself. Now all I have to do is remember where I've put the folder!

And I hope that student social worker gets a fantastic appraisal at the end of this placement because we definitely appreciate the work she's done for us!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Fear in my Tummy

Dear Mummy,

I didn't really want to be walking down that busy pavement today. Even though I knew we were going for ice cream, a big part of me wanted to get as far away from the people and the noise and the rushing traffic as possible. But I followed you anyway, sometimes holding your hand, sometimes not, always keeping an eye on you as we navigated the crowd.

But then something awful happened. I got distracted by something in a shop window and when I turned around, you were gone! You were gone, Mummy! I couldn't see you anywhere!

Straight away, I knew what had happened. You had left me there, alone, and gone back to the car without me. Quick  as a flash I was running, back the way we came, back to the car, hoping to find you before it was too late.

I ran past the shops and the people, the sound of my own screaming ringing in my ears. Where was the car? Where was it? People were stopping to look at me, but I didn't care. I dodged past them, my coat falling off my shoulders. My feet pounded on the pavement, my breath came in sobs, tears were blinding my eyes. Surely I should be at the car by now? I thought maybe you had driven off already and I was to be lost here forever.

And then I heard your voice, dimly in the distance. You were shouting my name. But where were you? I stopped, shaking, and then you were with me, running up from behind, and you scooped me up and cuddled me close.

I was so cross with you Mummy. I shouted, "You shouldn't have left me! You shouldn't have gone to the car without me!" I hit you and kicked you, panic in charge of my limbs. But you said that you never left me and that you were right next to me when I started running and that you were chasing after me down the street calling my name but I couldn't hear you because my screams were so loud.

And then you said, "I would never, ever leave you in the street. I would never, ever go and drive off without you. I will never leave you alone."

And I know you believed what you were saying Mummy, and I'm glad you said it, but deep down, deep in my tummy, it's not true for me yet.

By the way, you still owe me an ice cream. Oh, and I'll be sleeping in your bed tonight.


OB xx

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Medical Expert

I'm not a medical expert, obviously - best to get that disclaimer in early on. But, five babies in, I'm getting pretty au fait with the range of common and not-so-common afflictions that seem to come along with the nappies and bottles.

Every child seems to come with their own set of conditions, and two of them have been admitted to hospital at least once. So here, in no particular order, is the full range of infant and toddler medical complaints I can now be expected to dispense unwelcome advice about!

  • Eczema
  • Fungal skin infections
  • Coughs and colds
  • Toddler diarrhoea
  • Hyper-mobility
  • Pronator roll
  • Speech delay requiring speech therapy
  • Nits
  • More eczema
  • Hepatitis C
  • Withdrawals - thankfully not severe
  • Respiratory condition that requires inhalers but we can't call it asthma because the child's too young
  • Reflux
  • Chest infections
  • Teething
  • 'Viruses' - this includes everything from coughs and mysterious rashes to a temperature so high it necessitated an overnight stay on the children's ward
  • Earache
  • Night terrors
  • Unexplained seizures
  • Visual development delay
  • Cradle cap (soooo much cradle cap!)
  • Compulsion to eat non-food items
  • Chicken pox

Basically, if you're thinking of becoming a foster carer, you'd better be prepared to develop a very, very good working relationship with every medical professional in your town!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Things I Can't Say

I almost didn't post this weekend. It's well into Sunday evening and it's been a busy old time over Easter, but that's not the reason. My problem is that my mind is so full of things I can't write about that I can't seem to think of anything I can write about.

Suffice it to say that Birdy's care plan has taken an unexpected turn and is now heading in a completely new direction which I'm not terribly happy about. I can't say what is happening exactly, but there is a particular set of circumstances that has prompted this change and means that they are considering an option for her that wouldn't have been considered for her, or probably the majority of other children her age, unless these exact circumstances had come into play.

I'm filled with foreboding about it. This is probably partly because a few years' involvement with anything child protection related breeds a certain amount of pessimism and cynicism. It's also because the plan they are looking at for Birdy is virtually identical to the course that was chosen for OB's own birth mum, years ago. The similarities are uncanny. And it worked out very badly for her in the long run. I often wonder how different her life would have been had they gone a different route. I can't help imagining things could have gone a lot better for her than they eventually did.

The problem is that there are protocols. First we try A. If A won't work out, then we try B. If B doesn't look like a goer, then we move to C. There are certain trump cards which, when played, seem to outweigh and overrule all other considerations. Now that this particular set of circumstances has been revealed, Birdy's options are set. No judge would even consider another option because a trump card has been played. I am concerned that this will turn out to be a second-best option for Birdy, but .... trump card.

Foster caring can be a bumpy ride. When you've cared for a child for so long, nurtured them, protected them, fought for them and learned to love them, your instinct is to want to have your say in the decisions that are being made about them. That's not our role. And frankly, it's above our pay grade. I understand that this role belongs to those who are trained and experienced. And I understand that they have their guidelines and protocols to follow which have been set by others who, in turn, have their own training and experience. That's how it goes.

So, what do I do? I listen to what the social worker is telling me, wait for phone calls and emails, note dates in my diary, prepare Birdy's stuff, plan for a possible transition and at some future point, I say goodbye.

And then I pray for her.