Imagine

Imagine you took a phone call where you answered & asked a couple of questions and at the end of the conversation, you were going to be caring for a little baby. You had volunteered to step in when the family of this child could not.

Imagine that what was initially going to be a six month period turned into 3 years. The little baby turned into a little boy. While he was in your care, he learned to sit, crawl, walk, run & jump, to laugh, learn, share, explore, to give kisses, to trust, tell you his secrets, give & receive love.

Imagine that unexpectedly, you had to choose between helping your family or helping his.

Imagine being willing to continue to care for him and not to help your family.

Imagine that when his family do decide to care for him, that they slam their door. Shut you out. No kindness offered for the years of service you gave to their family. No interest in supporting his important relationships. His attachment to you is inconvenient to them.

Imagine the feeling of letting him go. Still loving him. Him loving you.

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Although many children have passed through my home and I have truly loved them (and still do) this experience has been the most brutal. I’ve cried a million tears, lost many, many hours of sleep, overwhelmed by sadness and the pain of feeling that these circumstances will have a lasting impact on a vulnerable little boy who deserves so much better.

I have to trust that he will be OK. It’s out of my hands now. My part in his story is over.

Foster care is not for the feint-hearted.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Something Every Child Should Know

Being a foster carer is like being in a secret cult. We have rules by which we must live our lives, we go through a rigorous initiation process, after which our lips are sealed. Then we go about our lives as if everything is perfectly normal, when it is anything but. In fact, in a world where everyone is trying to be ‘special’ and ‘unique’ we are doing our very best to keep everything as regular as possible – and that can be a big stretch some days.

Despite what many people think, foster carers are not angels, saints or anything like that. We are not better, more noble, more loving. We don’t have bigger hearts. We are everyday people. There is usually some trigger that gets us involved in foster care. We may meet a carer one day and see into their world for a moment. We may come from a family who has fostered. We may have been raised in foster care ourselves. Whatever it is, carers come from all walks of life and I’ve never met one who ‘does it for the money’.

Becoming a foster carer in Australia takes time and involves a number of stages. From registering your initial interest and attending a general information session through to training around ‘standards of care’ and topics like trauma and attachment. Before you are approved though, you will have someone trawl through your life looking at how you were raised, the kinds of discipline your parents used, your support network, your thoughts around the issues you may need to deal with as a carer. How will you feel if they reveal previous abuses to you? How will you react if they steal from you? lie to you? run away? scream abuse at you? flirt with your partner? play power games with your kids? are physically violent? kick holes in your walls? hoard food under their bedding?

Ultimately you will have police and criminal history checks, medical checks and home safety checks before you are approved. Invasive? Yes indeed! But that is just a taste of things to come.

One of the most effective training experiences I had was when our group watched a dvd about a boy. He was the only child of a single mother, about 5 or 6yo. The mother went off to work early in the morning, leaving him to get dressed, have breakfast, make his lunch and get himself to school. He did all that to the best of his ability, but wore a dirty school uniform, there was no cereal or milk left so had no breakfast and he made a sandwich from the one remaining crust of bread, accidentally dropping the jar of jam and cutting his finger. The kids at school were teasing him about being smelly and having no snacks, drink etc. The teacher finally noticed something, but wasn’t sure what she should do.

We were asked – should this child be put into foster care – yes or no? That divided the room. The yes’s were then asked to work together to say why he shouldn’t be placed in care and the no’s why he should.

It’s interesting for me just recounting this story and thinking about it now that I have a few years of caring under my belt. Back then I felt that he shouldn’t go into care, that the mother needed more support. Of course it’s not that simple…ever…but I haven’t changed my view.

The reason children come into care is because their family are unwilling or unable to provide them with a safe, loving, nurturing home. There are many reasons that lead to these situations, none of them are straightforward.

image credit: luke’s army

Life is complicated, good people make bad decisions for all kinds of reasons. Intergenerational neglect and abuse are not uncommon but the most common issues are those of mental health and addictions.  I’ve seen people with the best intentions fail and disappoint themselves and their kids time and time again. I’ve also seen people who you thought were highly unlikely to ever get their kids back – pull themselves out of the gutter, refocus their priorities and persist in changing their lives for the better and…getting their kids back.

As carers, we do not get to sit in judgement on these parents. Our job is to focus on the kids and to help them in whatever way is necessary to learn about what it is to be loved and cared for. Something every child should know.