Pushing The Envelope

I seem to have rather a lot going on at the moment. That could possibly be the understatement of the year.

There is the regular high level of activity in a house with three little boys: school, swimming lessons, music, play dates, play doh, toilet training, day care etc. Then there is the autism ‘stuff’ – speech therapy, sensory diets, daily communication with his teacher, horse riding, managing & monitoring behaviour, anxieties & meltdowns, technology, respite services, appointments, etc.

not mine!

not mine!

Then there is the child protection layer – dealing with the bureaucracy, three different families all with their own set of needs and issues, confidentiality, attending training, attending therapy, research and reading to stay informed on various incredibly important and current issues, endless filling in of forms, home visits, pyjama angels, paperwork etc.

I’m exhausted just thinking about all of these balls I need to keep in the air. But this year has just jumped up and turned the balls into chainsaws. That makes it sound bad…it’s not bad. It’s actually pretty exciting and being a single parent…well I gotta get my kicks where I can.

juggling

What is so exciting? A couple of new projects are getting off the ground.
I’ve started a new blog. A private blog which is for foster carers in my local region. After a year of discussing the idea, getting approvals and educating people about the blogging world, creating and tweaking the draft, it’s finally gone live. So I’m pretty excited about the potential for this blog to provide some great support to local carers. I’ve got a lot of blogging to do!

I’ve also become a signed up member of the P&C at L’s special school. It’s his second year at this wonderful school for special needs kids. I’ve been absolutely thrilled with his progress since he’s been going to school. He loves going there (thank goodness), their program is dynamite and his teacher is just wonderful. She ‘gets’ him, she cares about him, she has her work cut out for her, but she is doing it…he is learning.

It looks like L will be going to this school for many years – all the way through. So, I thought I’d better get in there and be an active part of his school community.

But the biggest item on the agenda is a project I have cooked up with another wonderful autism mum. In looking to the future for our kids we know there is precious little support out there as they transition towards adulthood. So we figured that if we start something going now, by the time our kids are that age, we will have created a program that they can be a part of.

so many small things

so many small things

We’ve called it Studio Next with the tagline autism+art+life. The basic idea is to provide a program for 15-25 year olds with autism, where they are supported to use the visual arts to explore their interests & passions while developing a friendship group, social and life skills. In a very short space we have generated a lot of interest. It’s exciting to see an idea develop into a reality so quickly. Of course, there will be a blog to document the progress there as well.

blogging it

So yeah…I’m pushing the envelope.

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A Phone Call, A Space, A Knock At The Door

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Removing Children

 

This week in Australia, a television program called Insight was screened on one of our free to air channels. Insight has a forum style format where a moderator/journalist directs the discussion of the invited live audience of about 50 people representing a diverse range of opinions and experience. It really is a great program that has been successful now for many years.

The format works well and each week topics relevant to what is happening in our world, our country and our communities are explored in what is usually a compelling and deftly handled conversation.

This week the topic was ‘Removing Children’ The format was changed slightly so that the four special guests were sitting on the podium with the presenter. They were two young adults who had been removed from their families during their childhood, a foster carer and a father (appearing anonymously) whose children had been removed and who had worked successfully to be reunited with them.

Of course this topic is one very close to my heart. So, along with my many foster carer colleagues, child protection workers and the many people who work in support of children and families, we were all glued to the screen. Finally the issue that dominates our personal or working life (or both), our hearts and our homes was being given some air time.

I came away from watching the program feeling quite disappointed. I realise that one hour is simply not enough time to explore such a complex issue in great depth. However there were gaping holes in the discussion that left the television audience no wiser as to the decision making process that leads to removal of children or even the key issues we face as a community when it comes to child protection.

There were no representatives from the ‘Dept’, not a single politician and though there may have been people who work to support families & children in care in the audience, they did not get the opportunity to speak.

The main discussion centered around the young people and their experiences of trauma and abuse from both their birth families and from the system that was supposed to be protecting them. It was painful to see the young woman being questioned when she was not comfortable or equipped. The young man was more worldly and at 30, was older and better able to discuss his experiences.

The dad was brave and honest. His acknowledgement that it was the right thing for the department to remove his kids at that time was telling. The foster carer did not get a chance to say anything of much value, though I’m certain he would have had a lot to say given the appropriate questioning.

I do believe there was enormous value in the discussion that took place. Most people are lucky enough to never need to darken the doorstep of the child protection system. For them, it’s mysterious, dangerous and unspoken. This program did shed some light for those people.

As a foster carer though, this is the world I inhabit. The department may be the ones during urine tests and going to court, but I’m the one (of many) working to help children live through and heal from their trauma, to build positive relationships with their bio families and the important people in their lives, to help mums & dads and extended family learn about good parenting and supporting them in their efforts to reunify.

When that is not an option we are the people in your communities who step up to raise your children, whether it’s for a week end or  a lifetime. Foster carers play a pivotal role in helping our communities. We’re volunteers who live our values out in real time. Kids are the product of our community values, not just of a mother and father. So what is that saying about us as Australians right now? What is that saying about you?

Insight: Removing Kids