A series on Foster Care
The phone rings and on the other end of the line is your support worker: have you got a minute? You take a deep breath and you try to create a space in the noise of the day to give your full attention to the conversation you are about to have.
That’s usually how it starts. It’s the rollercoaster of foster caring. In that conversation, you are asked if you would be interested in considering a placement. You are given some basic details – the age, gender and the shorthand reason of why this child needs out of home care. This may be their first time in foster care, it could be their 10th placement. They may coming straight from the hospital in which they were born or they might be getting picked up from school that afternoon, not knowing that their world is about to change significantly. They may only stay with you overnight, they could be with you for a few months or for many years.
Of course when you are asked, you are fully entitled to say no. It may not be suitable because of plans you have in place with your own family, you may not feel comfortable/confident/equipped to deal with the issues or behaviours this child or their family has or you may just need a break. You don’t even need a reason, you can just say no.
But being foster carers, we are usually willing to open our doors and our hearts once more to allow someone in need to come into our homes and our lives. So we say OK, bring him/her/them over.
The time you have between that call and that knock on the door could be 20 minutes or a couple of days. In that time you shift into hyperdrive. You do whatever you can get done. You make dinner, clean the house, put on a load of washing, reorganise furniture to make space, make up a cot /bed or two, clean out cupboards and dig out some clothes – that’s the first 15 minutes.
Then you think – supplies! What do I need for the next few days? If it’s a baby, then you’ll be getting nappies and formula. If it’s a toddler then you might need a few little toddler snacks, more nappies, drink bottles etc. A school aged child? Lunches, lunch boxes, water bottles, snacks. If it’s not in the cupboard, then you make a dash for the supermarket. You get the picture.
More than anything though, you want your home to feel warm, happy, easy, stress-free and safe. A bit of mess won’t matter – in fact it normalises things a little. When you open that door, the running around stops. You need to be in that moment fully, but not intensely.
They will usually be accompanied by a worker (we call them a Child Safety Officer or CSO). Once the CSO hands over the paperwork and their belongings, usually a small collection of whatever could be found in the moment carried in a garbage bag, sometimes nothing at all, they head off. The child may or may not know them, but when that person walks out the door, there goes the last possible connection to everything that is familiar and to what they know of home and family. Their eyes get that little bit bigger and their heart sinks that little bit lower. They are left with you – in your care.