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January Christmas

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Friday

It was Charlie’s works “Christmas Do” at lunch time today. I’m not sure exactly why they have it in January – but apparently that’s what they always have done – and its definitely not our place to question why!! Anyway they invite ‘spouses’ to the lunch too – so that means me!! I hate the word spouse!! It just doesn’t sound very nice! I am happy to go along though – it is good to spend time with Charlie’s colleagues. It is a good opportunity to get past the small talk that usually happens when I meet them in passing and actually have time to get to know a little better the colleagues that Charlie spends much of his working days with.

It is nice to be invited to a ‘Christmas Do’, it is something that I don’t get as a foster carer. There have been times when our Fostering Agency have put on events around Christmas – but it’s not quite the same as going out with colleagues and letting your hair down a little.

They opt to go to a local pub for lunch which is perfect – low key, and it means I haven’t got to dress up. Dressing up is not something I do very often and certainly not in the middle of the day when I will have the school run straight after. Unfortunately, it was not quite the time out that everyone had hoped for. The service was really slow. Although we had all sent our menu choices in beforehand, that seemed to have no idea who was eating what. When my meal eventually came – it was the wrong meal, so I had to send it back. Eventually they brought out the right dish but it turned out to be stone cold. I sent it back again. Everyone else was tucking into their dinner while my stomach was rumbling rather loudly.

Eventually my meal came, fortunately it was the right meal at the right temperature. Only problem was that everyone else had finished their meal. I felt very self conscious, and under pressure to finish quickly so they could move on to desserts. In the end I told everyone to carry on with desserts. I was running out of time anyway and had to leave to get to school. The older two were on a 2:15pm finish day and needed collecting from school. So it wasn’t quite the meal out we were hoping for.

I think next Christmas I am going to organise my own ‘Christmas Do’, perhaps with friends rather than colleagues!! I will be choosing the venue and it will definitely be before Christmas not after!!

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Tuesday

I popped into the city this morning to do a little shopping, whilst I was in the queue at John Lewis I saw some old friends Fiona and Peter. Charlie and I went to University with them over twenty years ago. I hadn’t realised that they had moved to the other side of the city to where we live. To be honest it was a blast from the past. We haven’t really seen each other over the last twenty years, I kept thinking about what they were like back then, and then thinking how different Charlie and I are to those kids we were back in college!! So much has changed, careers, moving house (several times), having families, fostering life and so on. It was good to hear about their life and how much they have been up to over the last two decades. As the queue quickly got to the tills, we decided to head to the cafe to grab a coffee.

Turns out Fiona and Peter, had been considering fostering for some time. They had no idea we had been long term foster carers for over five years. They had just finished their assessment with their local social services, and had just been given the draft copy of their Form F. It seems like a lifetime ago that Charlie and I were doing our assessment – felt like we were having our lives scrutinised! They shared how cathartic it had been for them – to see their lives on paper. We laughed about how there are never any small talk conversations with social workers – everything is written down, nothing is hidden. They are going to panel in less than a month, so we spent time sharing with them how it had been for us, trying to reassure them that their social worker must have full confidence in them to get them this far.

I remember how nervous I was before our panel. Charlie less so, he was much more philosophical about the whole thing. He is very good at thinking out loud and answering questions on the spot, he is also used to talking in front of lots of people. I on the other hand, am an internal processor and can find it difficult to articulate what I am thinking on the spot. When I speak at meetings – like LAC (Looked After Child) Reviews or education or health meetings, I am well prepared and often well rehearsed, I am living the things I am talking about. Panel is another thing altogether, whilst you can guess what might come up in questions, you really have no idea what they might pick up from your Form F.

Fiona and Peter seem much more prepared than we were. It is reassuring to hear how well their social worker has prepared them so far. As we parted company, we agreed to stay in touch. It will be good to hear how they get on next month. I have a feeling though that we wont see them much, as we both have such busy lives. I wonder when we will bump into them next and what changes will have taken place at that point!!

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Alice’s Birthday

Fostering Alice Blog

Thursday.

Today is Alice’s birthday. I am sure many families have the same feeling with birthdays so close to Christmas – but what on earth is there left to get her? To be honest I do most of the birthday present shopping when I am doing the Christmas present shopping in November and December, that way its not such a stress getting it done after Christmas and I don’t have to go to the dreaded sales with the other hoards of shoppers. Anything else I want to get I usually try to get online in the Boxing Day sales – so it arrives in plenty of time.

This year Alice is mad on ‘Shopkins” – I think they were a craze last year and she is only just catching on – which isn’t a bad thing as they are definitely not as expensive as they were last year- – however still pricey for what they are. From what I can see they are tiny toys that look like items of shopping. Alice loves imaginative play, and so I don’t mind spending money on something she will actually get use of!! Along with several packs of Shopkins, we get her some new clothes in the sales and some stationary – whilst she’s not that into writing letters – she does love to make pretend “shopping lists” when playing.

This year she is at school for her birthday, sometimes this feels like a blessing – as we only have to think about breakfast and a special tea and think about a party or special event at a later time.
There have been quite a few times where it feels like she has sabotaged her own birthday with terrible behaviour and outbursts, so we approach the day cautiously. Fortunately, she woke up in a good mood an the morning went pretty well, if anything she was a little over excited – but that we can cope with – after all it is her birthday!!

Now I just need to get on and organise her party – it’s hard coming up with new ideas – things that she would like to do, are affordable and accessible for her. She often wants to so things that are just not possible. My friend had an idea to do a “baking” party. I think this may be a good idea – although a bit less of the actual baking but more like decorating cupcake type of thing would work perfectly. That way we can keep it at home and have smaller numbers. It is always better to keep things smaller for her, as she finds it so hard to keep on top of her emotions – especially with a crowd. Now to just get on and fix the date and get the invites out!!

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Tuesday

Today is the day I am filing my tax return. Every year I tell myself that I will not leave it to the last minute and that when I receive the notification from the Inland Revenue in April I will get it filed straight away. So far this has just been a good intention because every year when the notification comes, I put it at the bottom of the to do list and it never gets done. As soon as the new year comes, my friend who is also a foster carer calls me in a panic and asks if I have filed my return yet. So, pretty much every year we get together in January and file our returns together.

I think the problem is – it’s the thought of filing the return because the crazy thing is, that it’s not even that difficult to do, and once again we agree to file it earlier next time round. I remember the first year of filing it, it seemed like a big faff, having to register with the inland revenue – getting the log in codes and passwords, and getting the account verified. You are then asked for the name of your business – why that was so hard to decide I will never know. We simply went with our surname followed by the word ‘fostering’ – now that wasn’t so difficult.

The good thing about filling the form in on line is that they take away all the questions that are not relevant to you, so it’s actually quite simple. The most complicated thing is working out your qualifying amount for your tax – and once you’ve done that a couple of times it doesn’t feel too hard. This is split into two parts – fixed amount and weekly amount – which you add together to get the qualifying amount. The fixed amount is £10,000 per year (or if it’s not a full year it’s the number of days you have been fostering times 10,000 and then divided by 365).

The weekly amount is easier – its £200 per week for under 11’s and £250 per week for over 11’s. Then you add these two amounts together for the qualifying amount. This is always much simpler when you have been fostering for a full year with no gaps!! So for us it is pretty straightforward as we have one child in place on along term basis!! It is slightly more complicated for my friend, who fosters short term and has a separate part time job.

By the time I have deducted all my expenses and mileage etc, I do not have to pay any tax. The only payment I make is my voluntary national insurance contributions. The whole thing took less than thirty minutes to file – and that was with gathering all my payslips and looking up bank interest etc. My friend and I agree to both put a reminder in our calendars for April to get it done straight away and not leave it to the eleventh hour again!! We will see how that one works out!!

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Fostering Blog | Alice is disabled

Alice – Fostering Blog

Friday.

Today is Friday – well at least I think it is Friday. I’m struggling to know what day it is to be honest. It’s that funny time between Christmas and New year where everyday feels the same and no-one knows quite what day it is. It doesn’t help because Charlie has the week off too, so all routine has completely gone out of the window. Alice hates the lack of routine. We know her behaviour deteriorates during the school holidays and the routine has stopped. Whilst she needs the routine, we are in desperate need of the break from the routine. We need the long lazy starts to each day just to recharge the batteries.

There are parts of the routine that remain no matter what day it is though. Because Alice is disabled, there are a number of things that have to happen – no matter what. She has various medicines throughout the day, she has her catheter changed every three hours and suppository given to help her bowels move. These things remain whatever day of the week it is, whatever else is going on we always make sure these things take place at the right time – although I have to admit it is not always easy, there have been times when I have missed things – when I can’t quite remember the last time the catheter was changed or by whom.

We have had my great Aunty staying for a few days. It has been great to have someone around who knows us well. She is great because she shares the load, she helps around the house, cooking, clearing away and so on. But most of all she takes a turn with the discipline with the children. Just like a grandparent she steps in when she needs to, she picks up when we are at our wicks end, and knows just the right tone to take. Alice has not once wrapped her round her little finger. My Aunt was a foster carer when she was younger. She and her late husband fostered over twenty children in the 1960’s and 1970’s. She says things haven’t changed too much with the needs of foster children. It is so good to have her here – she just gets it. Not many people really do – so we make the most of her wisdom while she is here.

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Fostering Blog | Alice however

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Tuesday.

It is only twenty four hours since Christmas and already it is beginning to feel like a blur. All that planning and preparation that took place over the last few weeks and it is over in what seems like a blink of an eye. Twenty four hours ago we were here celebrating Christmas Day and today – Boxing Day we are sitting in our pyjama’s sat in front of the television watching repeats and films that we have seen many times before. Yesterday was a real mixed bag. On the one hand it was a very special day – for us we are celebrating the birth of Jesus – it is one of the biggest celebrations of the year for our family. On the other hand – all of the things we “add” to the celebration – the food, the decorations, the tree and all the gifts, somehow seem to distract us from what it is all about. It is easy to forget what it is all about when we spend so much time and energy trying to create a perfect day, and another Christmas passes by and here we are on Boxing day with left over turkey and all the trimmings.

For our family the giving of gifts have always been a joy – we actually feel the pleasure of giving a gift and see the joy of the receiver as they open the gift. Our foster daughter does not always show gratitude when given gifts. She has no inner monologue and she often makes her displeasure known – even in front of the gift giver. Lauren and Annie have learnt to be polite and thankful even when they receive something they don’t really like or when they get something they already have. They have learnt the art of tact and having a poker face when needed.

Alice however, shows no mercy. It can be very uncomfortable – particularly when it is someone outside of the immediate family. Whilst we know that she does not always mean it personally, you cannot help but feel disappointment, especially when you have bought something for her – chosen it especially, having put much thought in to it. There is also the embarrassment when it is with a friend or someone who has given a gift who doesn’t know the family so well – we feel the urge to explain things or make excuses.

We also have the drama of the opening of the gifts that her birth parents gave her. I don’t think it would matter what they gave her – you can pretty much guarantee that whatever they give – that tends to be her favourite gift of Christmas. It is usually something totally inappropriate for her – either clothes that are far too big or far too small, toys that were popular two years ago or DVD’s that are unsuitable. WE  become the bad guys when she wants to watch the DVD and we have to make an excuse as to why she can’t watch it.

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