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Holiday Alice

Fostering Alice Blog

Friday

Today we are heading home. Although we had originally planned to come here fore a week, we were offered a last minute respite weekend. No amount of sun and sea could stop us having a couple of nights break. The holiday has been mainly relaxing, with only a handful of tears and tantrums from our foster daughter. It is inevitable when the routine is disrupted that we are in for more boundary pushing. We see this every holiday, particularly when we go somewhere new. Although we try to keep to the routines as much as we can, there are many times when things will be different just because we are not at home.

Despite some of the more difficult moments of the week, we have managed to pack in some lovely activities – a visit to a caste, trip on a steam train, fish and chips by the sea, as well as walks along the promenade – Charlie and the older girls walked along the beach – jumping the waves as they go. They were sensible enough to bring their wellies, so even though the temperatures were nearing zero on some days, they were still able to enjoy being by the sea. It’s not easy to get the wheelchair on the sand, so I stay on the paved promenade with Alice.

One thing we all missed was visiting one of our favourite coves. We haven’t been there since fostering Alice – for the simple reason it is totally inaccessible, It is a long walk from where we can leave the car – the little cove is only accessible by clambering over some rough terrain and craggy rocks, and finally climbing down a very steep hill. We used to bring the girls when they were little. I’m not even sure they really remember it now, or whether their memories come from the many photo’s we took over the years, but Charlie and I still miss going there.

Once we gave the house a good clean and packed up the car, we were soon on our way. We had arranged to drop Alice off at our friend who does her respite care, on the way home. A weekend to ourselves could not come soon enough, and we would soon be recharging our batteries before the beginning of the next half term.

It is a very short half term and the next break from school is already in sight. But for now my mind turned to the weekend ahead, we had absolutely no plans, just two lazy days to ourselves, we would probably go out for a meal and take the girls to the cinema, whatever we end up doing we will not be rushing about, we will try to be as relaxed as possible until Alice returns on Sunday and the chaos of life resumes.

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Freedom Alice

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Sunday

The half term break could not have come sooner. After a week of juggling between looking after the family, Alice’s regular appointments, and daily visits to my grandmother, I have been more than ready for a few days break. A very dear friend has generously given us the use of her holiday cottage on the Dorset coast. So after packing up the car, and doing several last minute checks we were soon starting out on the long four hour journey down to the south coast. I was secretly hoping that Alice would fall asleep. It was definitely wishful thinking. No sooner had we got to the motorway she started complaining that she was too cold, then she was too hot, then she was bored. Poor Lauren who was sitting next to her had to put up with her complaints. Fortunately we had remembered to install the DVD players on the back of the headrests. Lauren quickly got out out one of Alice’s favourite movies and got it playing. Peace was once again restored. And Lauren put her earphones back in and listened to her music.

It has been a couple of years since we have been down to Dorset. The house was every bit as lovely as we remembered it. Our friends had bought it several years ago in quite a dilapidated state. Over the years they had carefully renovated it, keeping some of the original features, but also putting lots of high tech mod cons like sensor lights and underfloor heating. Although they wouldn’t say the house was accessible, it is far more accessible than our own home, and it gives Alice the freedom to stay in her wheelchair on the ground floor. She loves that she has more independence and can get around so quickly. We are still waiting for an assessment to have alterations to our own home, so Alice has to get around the house either crawling or shuffling on her bottom.

It is not ideal and certainly not great for her in the long term. The hold up has come because the local authority where we live think that the local authority where Alice if from should foot the bill. And guess what – her local authority think our local authority should pay because this is where she now lives. So we have been at a bit of a stale mate for a while. Once the assessment has been done, we can push to get a decision made, but until we know what sort of figures we are looking at, it is all a bit of pie in the sky.

Once the car is unloaded and the kettle is on, we can relax. Well as much as you can relax when you have a nine year old foster child who is quite demanding, and two daughters who are currently arguing about which bedroom they are having over the next few days! I sit back, cup of tea in hand, give Charlie one of those looks and he knows it’s his turn to be ‘bad cop’. Order is soon restored and now it feels like the holiday can begin!

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Complex Alice

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Friday.

Today I am hoping for a slightly less eventful day. After the drama yesterday of my grandmother going into hospital after a fall, she was discharged that same morning. Unfortunately, it turned out that they had not actually given her an x-ray on a suspected broken arm, but sent her home with a temporary cast on her arm.

When she got back to the care home she had no idea of why she had a cast on her arm and so pulled it off. The care home spent most of the day trying to arrange to get her back to the hospital to get and x-ray and the cast put back on if needed. While all this was going on I was the other side of the city at a hospital appointment with Alice. I felt so helpless that I was unable to help my grandmother. I know the care home were frustrated with me, as it meant they would have to send one of their staff to accompany her to the hospital.

There was nothing I could do – felt stuck between a rock and a hard place so to speak. I was willing Alice’s consultant paediatrician to be on time – but it was no use. She never runs to schedule and today was no different. I have never worried too much about it before, as I know once we have our appointment – she will give us her undivided attention – and I am sure with the complexities of life that Alice faces – we will just add to the schedule being behind!!

So, I resigned myself to the fact that I was here with Alice and the care home would just have to get my grandmother sorted. Sure enough they got everything sorted, and I finally got to visit her after the social worker had been in the evening.

My grandmother had no recollection of the events of the day and all the fuss and anxiety that had gone on. She was sporting a very bright pink cast and she really had no idea why she had got it. I tried to explain – but she wasn’t taking any of it in. I left her that evening, in the safe hands of the care home and in the knowledge that I do not have to do everything all the time. I do still hope that the next adventure will come on a day when I have nothing in the diary – wishful thinking I think!!!

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Alice and Grandma

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Thursday.

There are many weeks when you feel like you are being torn between many things – and not just between your foster child and your own children (this does happen on many occasion!!), but also to other commitments in your life. Charlie and I hold the Power of Attorney for my Grandmother. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease about seven years ago. She has lived in a residential care home for the last six years, and mainly things keep ticking along and we don’t have too many issues. I aim to visit her twice a week, but sometimes it is difficult to fit in visits in between all the other appointments and meetings I have for Alice. I hate not seeing her, even though I know she will have no recollection of me ever visiting her. The time I have with her at the time is special – and that’s why I go.

It doesn’t matter that she doesn’t remember that I’ve been afterwards – I know!! I also want to teach our children about the importance of looking after the older generations – and not just because it could be me one day that needs this level of care! Although I do wonder sometimes – whether it will indeed be me one day. Of course, it is best not to dwell too much on these thoughts as there is nothing we can do to stop the ageing process!!

As I say most of the time we don’t encounter too many issues. However, today has been one of those unusual days when everything seems to be happening at the same time. It is a pretty full on day anyway with a social worker visit after school booked and a routine hospital appointment for Alice, and a quick cuppa with a friend somewhere in between. What I was not counting on was a call my grandmothers care home at 5 O’clock this morning asking me if I could go to the hospital and accompany her while the night staff from the care home left for the night. I had no idea that she had even been admitted to hospital – so it came as a bit of a shock. Turns out she had a fall yesterday evening – but the evening staff had forgotten to inform me.

I decided to wait until a more reasonable hour to make a decision of whether to head over to the hospital. Just as well I waited as thirty minutes later I received another call to say she had been discharged and was awaiting transport back to the care home. Sometimes, it is good not to make snap decision – and just wait a little to see how things play out. Hopefully the rest of the day will be a little less eventful!

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Frogs and Alice

Fostering Alice Blog.

Sunday.

We have been waiting for this day for several months. Today, we are travelling down to Watford to the Harry Potter tour. Lauren and Annie have been fans of the Harry Potter books and films for a couple of years and they have been desperate to go to the studio’s where the films were made. Although Alice has never read any of the books or seen the films, we felt that she is now old enough to enjoy the tour. We had been recommended it by several friends who said that she would enjoy or the visual stuff there and it wouldn’t really matter that she hadn’t actually seen any of it.

I think they were right, she had a lovely day despite not really having a clue about any of it. Annie and Lauren enjoyed it too – but they had a clue about everything – every prop, painting, costume and set – they were totally enthralled with it all. It was well worth the wait and the effort of getting down there. I loved seeing their faces as they went round, as they recognised things from each of the stories.

One thing none of us were prepared for was the prices in the shop. The girls had all taken their pocket money and had saved their Christmas money too – but it was not enough. I nearly choked when they told me the cost of a chocolate frog – £9 each!!! Wow!! I can see where they are making their money. Lauren managed to scrape enough money together to buy a map, Annie bought a scarf and Alice chose a soft toy. In the end Charlie and I bought them each a chocolate frog – that is definitely the most expensive chocolate we have ever bought (£27 for 3 chocolate frogs!!!) – let’s hope it taste good!!

All in all it was a good day out!! No major drama’s from anyone! Everyone had a souvenir, but mostly we came away with happy memories – and a hankering to go back and watch the movies again – think we will wait till Alice is in bed!!

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Tuesday.

There are lots of days when I feel like I am juggling too many things. I am pretty sure most people feel like this from time to time – but from my perspective they are definitely hiding it better than I do. Maybe they are just ok on the surface and underneath they feel like me. Today, I feel like I have gone from one thing to the next, without a breath. It started after the older two girls had gone to school, I had to get across town for Alice’s community dental appointment. I don’t know what I was thinking getting a 9 o’clock appointment. I usually get something after school, so not sure what I was doing. Getting across town during the rush hour is not my idea of fun. It is not helped by the commentary coming from the back of the car. Alice has no inner monologue, it makes sitting in traffic jams less than ideal.

I never know from one appointment to the next how Alice will behave. On occasion she can be angelic and we can be in and out in a few minutes. It was wishful thinking hoping we would get an appointment like that today, particularly as I had a meeting to be at afterwards. Alice started the session by asking the dentist and her assistant lots of questions. They always think its cute that she wants to know so many things and they indulge her by answering everything and showing her all the equipment. I know that it is simply a delay tactic and she has a string of questions up her sleeve to delay the dentist and stop her actually going anywhere near her mouth. I know she picks up from me that I am getting annoyed. I must have looked at my watch a number of times. More than ten minutes has gone by and she is now flicking through a ream of good child stickers – she’s choosing the ones she might like to have after the dentist has looked in her mouth.

It is no use, I have to say something. I remind her that the dentist needs to look in her mouth and we need to get back to school. Of course I am really hoping the dentist picks up from my cues – that Alice is wasting time and we need to get on with what we are here for. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work as the community dentists have much longer slots for their appointments, so they don’t feel the urgency to get her to open her mouth. After thirty minutes she has had a good look at Alice’s teeth and says she needs a follow up to have some fluoride coating put on her teeth. I couldn’t help but think, if she had got on with the inspection a little quicker then she could have done the coating there are then. I quickly get Alice back in her wheelchair, we make a follow up appointment (for a time after school!!) and we are back in the car and on our way to school.

As soon as Alice goes in to class, I head off to my foster carer training at the independent agency – back across the other side of town! I arrive a little late and quite a lot flustered. Fortunately everyone understands – they are all in the same boat. It is always good to have a catch up with fellow foster carers, you realise that you are not on your own!! Today’s training is about dealing with stress!! How apt!!!

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January Christmas

Fostering Alice Blog

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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Blog | Fostering Panel

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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

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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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