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Fostering Blogs | Needy Alice

Fostering Blogs – Needy Alice

Sunday.

I have to admit I’m starting to feel like I’ve got cabin fever – probably due to a lack of vitamin D. Lauren is still poorly and still feeling very sorry for herself. She has barely moved from her room in three days. I managed to coax her downstairs with the promise fo bringing her pillow and duvet down. I also bought The Greatest Showman DVD for her to watch – she had absolutely loved it when watching it at the cinema, so knew that this would be a lovely treat for her.

Annie has spent most of the weekend doing her homework. Although we endeavour to get most of it done each day after school, there are aways things that seem to get left – particularly projects like for art and DT. These are not Annie’s strongest subjects and they seem to cause her the most stress, they are ALWAYS the ones she leaves till last and unfortunately they seem to be the subjects that take the most time to complete. It doesn’t help that Annie didn’t choose either of these subjects for GCSE, so she now doesn’t see the point in putting the effort in. We try to encourage to still attempt to do her best. (I totally see her point and understand how frustrating it is – however we are still trying to get her to do the right thing and not just give up – its not that honouring to her teachers!!)

Meanwhile Alice is being a little needy. She is definitely fed up with Lauren getting all the attention. I try to set up some lovely activities for her to do in our play room. I know she loves play dough – so I get that out, but unfortunately her attention span seems to be particularly short today and she is soon bored of that. She is super angry that she is not allowed to watch The Greatest Showman with Lauren. Although, rating-wise it is appropriate, I just don’t want her in the same room as Lauren. Alice has no inner monologue – it is pretty irritating when you are watching a film at the best of times, but when you are ill… I’m pretty sure this will tip Lauren over the edge.

So I do my best to keep Alice entertained (and away from Lauren). Then I had a brainwave and remembered something I had in the cupboard that Alice had never played with before – something we had for Lauren when she was little – an ‘Aquadoodle’ aqua drawing mat. Perfect – Alice was so pleased with it, she could draw all over the mat with the special water pens. I saved the best till last – after raiding the drawers for batteries, I was able to show her the Pièce De Resistance – a figurine of Cinderella and Prince Charming – who danced around the water doodles on the mat while playing “A dream is a wish your heart makes”. It was brilliant – I think I got at least an hour of play out of Alice before the mat was so wet it didn’t work anymore – and the beauty of it was that as soon as I got it dry (eureka moment when I realised I could use a hair dryer to dry it in a less than a minute!!) she was soon playing with it again! I have to admit it felt like a pretty ling day and I was ready for the girls to be in bed.

I was able to get Alice to bed a little earlier than usual – mainly because I cooked tea early and started her routine early, she doesn’t yet read the time – so I can just about still get away with it!

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Fostering Blogs | Alice says

Fostering Blog – Alice Says

Thursday

It has not been a great start to the day. Firstly for some unknown reason we all overslept, Annie rushed into the bathroom to have a shower, Charlie then rushed downstairs to the loo to vomit as he had woken up with a migraine and Annie then went to our other loo to vomit – I suspect she has tonsillitis. Picking up on all of this, Alice says that she doesn’t want to go to school and refused to get up. I know that she is completely fine, she just hates it when anyone else gets any attention. I haven’t got the time or the energy today to play games with her, so I simply state that she will be going to school. If she chooses not to have breakfast then she will be hungry and if she chooses not to get up and dressed then she will go to school in her pyjamas. But she will be going to school, even if I have to carry her from her bed down to her wheelchair. Then I walked away, and didn’t look back.

There are many days when negotiating is a better option and getting her to choose to do the right thing is best – even if that is giving her a closed option choice. Today, I have to look after Charlie (although this will be limited as he will probably spend the rest of the day in bed) and Lauren who will need a doctor’s appointment. Gone are the days of sitting in a telephone queue at 7.59am, hoping and praying to get through, now I can log into the surgery’s website and as long as I am logged in at exactly 8am when the appointments are released for the day – then usually you can get an appointment, otherwise it will be a call to the surgery and getting the receptionist to agree to arranging a call back from a doctor to be triaged for an appointment. Although this can be very frustrating when you can’t get an appointment, I do have to remind myself what an amazing service the NHS is, and it’s shortcomings are due to many factors – probably lack of funding is a top one.

Fortunately, my gamble paid off and Alice was soon shouting down that she was ready for breakfast. Annie was a superstar and helped Alice with breakfast and helping her get into her school uniform, all this before she got herself ready and out of the door by 8am. I was fortunate able to make a doctors appointment for 10am which meant I could do the school run with Alice, and get back in good time to get Lauren to the appointment. As I suspected it was a nasty case of tonsillitis.

We were soon on our way with a prescription for antibiotics and a throat spray. I dropped Lauren back home before taking the prescription to the pharmacist. While I waited for it to be dispensed, I went next door to the supermarket to get all the “poorly” food Alice would need while she recovers – chocolate mousse, smarties, lollipops and mango juice – all the important stuff!! Just hoping now the antibiotics will do their job and she will soon be on the mend.

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Ordinary Alice Days

Fostering Alice Blog

Thursday.

Fortunately Alice seems to have shaken off the doldrums and we are enjoying a few days pottering during this half term. This is one of the first years we haven’t been away for spring bank holiday.

Charlie doesn’t have annual leave this week and is working from home – so I have done my best to do some low maintenance local trips out with the girls. Today we went to a local National Trust Property. It is one we have been to lots of times so all the girls are familiar with it. What is great is that it is totally accessible for Alice to get around which means she feels that she has a bit of independence and can wheel herself round. It is pretty frustrating for her when she can see Annie and Lauren head off around the grounds and she is stuck being pushed by Charlie or I.

Today she can wheel herself and feels a certain degree of freedom as she whizzes off into the distance.

To be honest it’s great for me too. I know that she can go off ahead, which gives me a little space from her, knowing that she is in the safety of the enclosed grounds of the property. She knows her way round, and I know all the places she might try to hide in – to be honest it’s pretty difficult to actually be fully hidden when you are in a wheelchair – but I have’t told her that – so she is blissfully unaware we can see her when she thinks she is out of sight!

These days are pretty rare – everyone happy enjoying each others company, no grumpiness, no arguments, everyone grateful when offered an ice-cream, no-one moaned when I said we were having a picnic and not eating lunch in the restaurant! We did however, stop by the restaurant on the way out for a quick hot chocolate.

Often when recalling things from the week, we focus on the things that we have struggled with, the things that didn’t go quite so well, or the things we wished we could have done differently. Or we look at the other extremes and look for the things we can celebrate, the things that went really well. I wonder whether it is because we have to document so much of our week when fostering – this is a good thing – it protects us and our foster child. However, I think sometimes I miss the days that are just normal, average and run of the mill.

I think we should celebrate and look forward the ordinary days – like today!

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Active Listening

Fostering Alice – Fostering Blog

Tuesday.

Last week I was able to dodge an extra hospital appointment by being bold in asking the hospital whether it was really necessary – as we have an appointment booked for next week anyway. At the time I thought it was a good call, but yesterday I was slightly regretting my decision when I thought Alice was on the brink of another infection. Sometimes it’s a difficult call as a foster carer – when you have delegated authority you are able to make lots of the every day normal parenting decisions for your foster child. But if you are like me then you will have a tendency to overthink some of the decisions you make. Generally I am a fairly cautious person and would never be risk taking in my decisions.

Sometimes though, I just try and make a good decision based on previous experience, gut instinct and what I think is best for Alice and the rest of the family.

I couldn’t do anything yesterday as it was bank holiday (and I couldn’t class it as an emergency) so I got up early this morning and took a sample of her urine to the doctors as soon as it opened at 8 o’clock. I was grateful to the receptionist who fetched the nurse straight away to check the sample. I was incredibly relieved when she said there were no signs of infection. What a relief – I had made the right decision last week not to take the extra appointment.

The thing is with Alice – it’s often hard to know when she is genuinely ill. Like many children with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) Alice never seeks comfort or asks for support when she needs it. In the past we have failed to know when she has been quite unwell. We now try to spot the signs a bit earlier – but this is not an exact science. Usually there is increased irritability, quick temper, shorter attention span, and the last things we find are physical signs of raised temperature, rashes etc.

So I can wait for the appointment next week and put this down to her simply being grumpy! I do often wonder whether I would look at things quite so closely if she didn’t have physical disability. I know for certain that I do not put my own children under the same microscope. It is different when the child is not your own and there seems like an added layer of scrutiny on your parenting skills and decisions. I am sure there have been many times when I have not got things right with Annie and Lauren’s health, I have missed the early signs and could have got them seen sooner by a doctor – but no-one is judging me on them. With Alice it feels different – I do have to justify all my decisions to my own agency social worker and ultimately to the local authority – who are Alice’s ‘parents’. The main thing is that Alice is fine – well fine physically (still not sure why she’s so grumpy!) and we are seeing the consultant next week. Fingers crossed – all will be well until then.

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Long Term Alice

Fostering Alice Blog

Thursday.

One of the most frequent questions asked to us when people find out we are foster carers is ‘Are you going to adopt Alice’. It is so awkward. And it’s not just well meaning people either. I will never forget when our first foster child was placed with us, the social worker who brought him to us asked if we would consider adopting him – he was only fourteen months and would soon be up for adoption… I was completely taken aback and didn’t quite know how to respond, we had only just been approved and here was our first placement – adoption could not have been further from what we were thinking. People think that it would be the natural thing to do – particularly when you have a long term placement like we do with Alice.

The honest truth is, we have never thought about adopting her. She has a birth family, and although they are pretty hopeless in their ongoing relationship with her, and were quite frankly disastrous in parenting her for the first three and a half years of her life, they have maintained contact and Alice does have a relationship with them (even though it is not what we would necessarily choose). When her case went to court five years ago, it was decided by the judge with recommendations from social services that long term foster care was the best option for her and adoption was not even considered. This decision was not made lightly – after a very lengthy assessment of her needs, parenting assessments etc, this was what was deemed best for her long term care.

Without the financial package we get through fostering, we could not look after a child like Alice – she is complex and requires me to be a stay at home foster carer – in order to meet her complex needs. Putting it bluntly, even though she is very much part of our family, fostering is my job. If we had adopted, then I wouldn’t have the income to stay at home and would have to return to work – and there’s no way I could work with a child so complex. And even if she didn’t have a disability, fostering is hard and you need to be around for social worker meetings, LAC reviews, education meetings, contact – most of which take pace during the day!!

I don’t know why it is just so awkward when people ask, and I really shouldn’t feel like I should have to justify all this – but somehow it has become my default position to be on the defensive. I usually just tell them that it’s not an option because of her birth parents. I know people are often just making conversation and don’t realise how clumsy their question is.

We need a top ten things not to say to foster carers to give out!!

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Testing Alice

Fostering Alice Blog

Monday.

Today I received a recall letter from our local children’s hospital for Alice for later this week. The nursing team at the renal department want to see her following her recent bout of urine infections. We had an appointment a couple of weeks ago and started a course of bladder washouts which should hopefully get her clear of the infections.

Whilst I understand that taking Alice to hospital appointments is all part of the job – I do hate extra ones – and in this case we have one in a fortnight anyway so am not too keen on an extra one this week. Alice has so much time off school anyway due to her complex health, so seems a shame to take her out of school again this week when half term is only next week.

So I have a few options, I can either just get on with it and take her to the appointment as requested, or I could call them and ask the question whether it can be delayed till next week as we are not actually going away this half term. Or I could be even bolder and ask whether the extra appointment is even necessary at all. I am pretty confident the wash outs are going well, we have done them before so I know whether things are going well or not. I could also offer to get a sample of urine to the Gp to be tested…. this would show them how things are progressing.

I bite the bullet and make the call. Fortunately, I get through to one of the nurses who knows Alice well, and more importantly knows me well. She has known Alice since she was born and knows her medical history without having to refer to the notes. She agrees that the extra appointment is not really necessary as we are coming in two weeks anyway. She doesn’t feel the urine sample is necessary either as by the time they get the results we will be going in anyway and she would need to be retested at that point.

I have to say I was pretty relieved to dodge the extra appointment. I would never compromise her health in any way, but know that sometimes as a foster carer, like any parent you make judgement calls with the knowledge you have – and sometimes you really do know best. It is difficult as a foster carer to know when to make such judgement calls. I know in the early days of fostering I would have run everything by my agency social worker. The answer would always have been a cautious one and that would have resulted in the extra appointment.

I have learnt over the years that using your own judgement is usually on course, and going ahead and checking with the hospital is the best way to start – the social worker would never give advise different to the hospital as its not in their area of expertise!!

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Djavu Alice

Fostering Alice Blog

Wednesday.

Today we went to visit the Urodynamic team at the Children’s Hospital. This is the department that looks after the bladder and bowels. After a recent bout of Urinary tract infections, the urodynamic team have asked me to start another course of bladder wash outs- this sounds far more scary than it is! I learnt to do this a couple of years ago when she was getting a lot of infections. The nurse said that this should finally get on top of the infection, and it soon comes back to me how the procedure is so straightforward. The only tricky part for me is remembering to do it once a day for 10 days and then three times a week for a month! I get a strange sense of de ja vu.

The good memory I have is that it was pretty successful last time and we have gone almost two years without any problems. So I will be ensure I am attentive in getting it done on the right days during the course of treatment.

We soon left the hospital with two huge carrier bags of medicine, syringes, catheters and a sharps bin – it looks like we’ve been on a shopping spree! (if only!!) It is incredible to think of all the skills you learn as a foster carer – particularly these unexpected ones!! I had no idea when we started fostering all the skills I would learn – let alone the new vocabulary I now have!!

Alice had been on pretty good behaviour at the hospital this morning – to be honest I am always grateful for small mercies – you never know what mood she is going to be in and we have had made appointments that have not gone well and have caused great stress due to her behaviour.

We are soon on our way back to school. It then dawned on her that she had missed break. I preempted this with leaning back and offering her a snack to eat in the car on the way back. I had been keeping it my bag – just in case! Although I don’t really advocate using food as a way of bribing her to behave – there are a few occasions when I do resort to it – today is one – I need to concentrate while I get out of the city centre, so keeping Alice from having a meltdown is a priority!!

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Fostering blog | Precious moments

Fostering Alice Blog

Monday.

I always learned that patience was a virtue. I know that teaching this to kids is incredible difficult and teaching it to our foster daughter has been almost impossible. It seems there’s just no fun in waiting. With the weather heating up again this weekend and bank holiday Monday following the weekend, the girls have asked to have the paddling pool in the garden. What a great idea. I close my eyes and imaging sitting in the garden drinking a latte (or something stronger!!) while my feet are dangling in the pool keeping cool – the reality of what will happen will be very very far away from this image!!

Having mentioned the paddling pool all of five minutes ago, Alice cannot understand why the pool is not already up and why she can’t get into it straight away. A few things need to happen before the pool can be put up – firstly Charlie needs to mow the lawn – something he has been putting off for a couple of weeks now. First cut of the year is always harder and the fact that he has let it go so long will mean it will take even longer. While Charlie makes a start, I try and locate the pool – now I know I put it somewhere in the garage… and then there’s the foot pump.

The girls remember they took it to their youth weekend away and forgot to bring it back!! Fortunately, I remember we have an electric one that plugs into the car. I have to admit it did look a bit of a sight – when I took the paddling pool out to our drive and pumped it up by the car, I had a few funny comments from neighbours. In the end it took less than a couple of minutes to sort and I was actually glad not to have had to use the foot pump which would have taken much longer.

Alice was itching to get in to the pool. She did not understand that it would probably now take over half and hour to fill with water. And then there is the small matter of the temperature. I spent the next half an hour filling kettles of boiling water to add to the pool. Although this may sound likee absolute madness – there is some method in it. Alice has very poor circulation and she find its very hard to regulate her temperature. So the hot water mixed will hopefully take the cold water somewhere above freezing and give her a few more precious moments in the pool before she goes blue!!

After a quick catheter change, we soon get her into her swimming costume and finally into the pool. After about twenty minutes I could see her shivering and she was beginning to turn blue. I let Charlie take a turn at being bad cop telling her it was time to get out of the pool. She made some attempt at protest, but couldn’t argue her case to stay in as she was shivering too much! After getting dried and dressed we took her through to the front room, out of sight of the paddling pool and put on a DVD. We will leave the pool out for a couple of days and hopefully we will get more use out of it.

Although she was in it for a relatively short amount of time she did have a huge amount of fun, for her it is memory making – and that it worth all the effort.

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Protecting Alice

Fostering Alice Blog

Saturday.

Today we all watched Paddington 2 on DVD. We have been waiting to see it for a few weeks and finally got round to it today. We are always quite careful about watching these kind of films with our foster daughter Alice – what can seem quite innocent – can sometime lead to sadness and difficulties. It wasn’t long ago that we watched Finding Dori – having seen Finding Nemo, we were keen to see the sequel. It did not end well this time. It really hadn’t occurred to me that it would cause such emotion. We were left with tears and a huge meltdown, Alice was inconsolable – it had triggered some memories for her and a feeling of deep loss.

So Charlie and I took one for the team and watched Paddington 2 it a couple of nights ago – just to check it of course. Paddington is a story about a bear who arrives in London as a refugee, having stowed away on a lifeboat from Peru. Around his neck he wears the iconic luggage label saying “please look after this bear – thank you”— reminiscent of the labels worn by refugees in the second world war. Paddington Bear was taken in by well off London family – The Browns.

Like the Brown family in the story, we too have offered refuge to someone who needed a place of safety. In giving such refuge our lives have been disrupted, it is not always comfortable and can often come at great cost. When Paddington gets annoyed with someone, he often gives them one of his special “hard stares” (taught to him by Aunt Lucy), which causes them to become flushed and embarrassed. We would give anything to swap the tears and tantrums with a hard stare!! We have gone through many time of feeling embarrassed when Alice reacts. The film itself is charming, the first film may well have brought up issues for Alice – but in the capers that ensued she seemed to have missed the deeper meaning.

When watching the sequel, Charlie and I could see a number of issues that could come up – Paddington being wrongly accused of something he didn’t do, being taken away from his ‘foster’ family and locked up behind bars, getting in with the wrong crowd, committing a crime to get out of prison, being reunited with his foster family and [Spoiler Alert…] his Aunt at the end!

Despite the possibility of the themes running through film affecting Alice in some way, we decided to take the risk. You can’t always protect them from everything, we decided in the safety of being together as family it was a risk worth taking. Fortunately on this occasion, Alice didn’t seem to pick up on the same themes we had, instead she was more upset about the ‘baddy’ getting away with what he was doing and Paddington making mistakes in the earlier scenes. Lauren and Annie loved the film and were already talking about watching it again.

We know we can’t filter everything for Alice – there will be many things she will see that will bring up feelings form the past and remind her of the things she went through.

We will deal with them as they happen and hopefully continue to provide for her that safe place of refuge.

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Weighing up risk

Fostering Blog – Alice

Monday.

What a crazy week. We have gone from having a heatwave to returning to the arctic. We started with a panic to find sun cream, sun hats and extra water bottles for school to finding cardigans, waterproof coats and umbrellas. I thought for a brief minute that summer had arrived and we could finally put the winter wardrobe away. I am a little previous in my hopes – if this weeks weather is anything to go by!! For now the jumpers will be staying at the front of the wardrobe!

Alice has very poor circulation due her to various diagnoses. I pretty much have to think all all possible eventualities due to the consequences of the weather. One of the things we have to think about in the warmer weather is keeping her hydrated. She has a shunt fitted in her brain due to her hydrocephalus. Getting fluids in her can prove to be a bit of a game. Not only is she naturally stubborn but she also has reactive attachment disorder. This can often result in her doing the exact opposite of what you need her to do.

We have had a number of near misses over the last few years on particularly hot days with her refusing to eat and drink. In the early days I was concerned about her eating and not gaining weight but I soon realised that getting fluids into her was far more of a concern. We had been exploring getting a feeding tube over the last few years. It was getting increasingly likely as she was failing to gain weight, however, this was put on hold when she had gained at the last appointment.

To be honest I was surprised, they had put the surgery on hold so quickly. I understand the decision too have elective surgery do not come lightly, they have to weigh up risk verses need and of course there is a huge cost to surgery, but this still leaves us at the mercy of Alice and whether she will go on ‘strike’ with taking fluids again once the weather gets warmer. I guess time will tell.

I never really feel that her social worker has grasped how detrimental it is to her health when she refuses to drink. I think she feels that we are overreacting.

I hope we are overreacting – because the alternative is not good.

A Less Ordinary Fostering Family.