Fostering BLOG

Rotas and pigs

Alice – Fostering Blog

Friday.

I am not sure why I thought getting pets for the children was a good idea – I guess I thought it would teach them about responsibility of looking after something. A couple of years ago I thought it would be a great idea to get the girls guinea pigs for Christmas. On Christmas day, we surprised them with a hutch as a gift and then took them the day after Boxing Day to go choose a guinea pig each. They were super excited about their new pets, but the the novelty soon wore off and Lauren was the only one who really took an interest.

This wasn’t too much of a shock – as it had been Lauren who had been asking for a pet for years.

We set up a rota for Lauren and Annie to clean them out each week – but as you can guess, I was left to sort them out the majority of the time. One of the errors I made was to let them each have their “own” guinea pig. That meant when Lauren’s got sick last year and eventually passed away, she was left without a pet. Despite this she has still loved and cared for the other two.

Today we found Annie’s little pig stiff as a board at the bottom of the hutch. There had been no sign that she had been sick – and they had only been cleaned out yesterday. We broke the news to the girls. I was surprised how sad Annie actually was about it. Lauren, who had already experienced the grieving when hers passed away last year, was very kind to Annie and told her she knew how she was feeling. Alice – who was now the one left a guinea pig she did not care for by any stretches of the imagination, went into complete meltdown. She wailed and cried and said how sad she was because she missed Annie’s guinea pig so much. She was inconsolable.

I’m pretty sure she was not that sad about the guinea pig. I can’t even remember the last time she even took the slightest interest in them. I don’t mean to be cynical, but it definitely felt like she didn’t want Annie getting any of the attention over this. I am sure there are also some attachment issues going on around loss too – so we tried to be sensitive. After Charlie did a little ‘funeral’ for the pig, we buried her and planted some bulbs. I then took Annie and Lauren out for a hot chocolate. I thought it would be good to let them have a bit of time away from the drama Alice was creating – to give them a chance to say how they felt and process it all. I also thought Charlie could spend some one to one time with Alice and try to help her be a little bit more empathetic toward Annie.

Empathy is not something that comes naturally to Alice – so we try to teach her by modelling it. Modelling behaviour is one of the strategies our fostering agency advocate. It can sometimes feel a bit fake and over the top but we have seen some positive results of using this over the years. When I returned home with the girls, I was pleasantly surprised to hear Alice offering genuine comfort to Annie. This was a huge turnaround from when we left the house just over an hour earlier. Charlie definitely earned his brownie points today!!

A Less Ordinary Fostering Family Blog.

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Floating Boats

Alice – Fostering Blog

Wednesday.

We have had my Aunt to stay for a few days over the Easter break. Often having visitors (particularly ones to stay) causes lots of extra issues with Alice. Her attachment issues normally go into overdrive, and it can make our visitors feel particularly uncomfortable. Fortunately, my Aunt has been involved from day one of our fostering journey. Although she lives over 70 miles away, she has always been a regular visitor. One of the reasons she gets it, is because she was a foster carer in the 1960’s. Although things have changed significantly in foster care, many of the issues children face remain the same. She takes no nonsense from Alice. She doesn’t have the same emotional attachment that we do with Alice, so when Alice has a meltdown, my Aunt is very happy to step in and give us a break.

There are very few people in our support network who really understand the ins and outs of fostering. My Aunt is one of the few. Whilst we have a lot of support from many friends, we know that they only see a glimpse of our lives and have no idea of the realities of the day to day. Most people see the good side of Alice. Mostly in public she is pretty charming, and very rarely lets her guard down. At home it can often be a very different story.

Whilst it is a great source of help and encouragement to have my Aunt with us – she is not here all the time. I have found over the years that you need friends who you can look to for support – ones who you can just text and tell them things are not going great. You know they will be thinking of you and they will pick up the phone to listen to you, encourage you and tell you that you are doing a great job. I have also found that finding a local group of foster carers can be another source of support when things are not going well. As well as meeting up with foster carers at training sessions put on by our fostering agency, they also arrange monthly meet ups. I would say the meet ups are invaluable and the best source of support – a chance to talk openly about how things are going.

It never ceases to amaze me that when we have gone though the most trickiest of times – there is always another carer who has been through something similar and can offer advice. Although our social worker often offers the same advice – somehow it feels different when you know it has been tried and tested by someone in the same boat!!

A Less Ordinary Fostering Family.

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Easter eggs

Fostering Alice Blog.

Sunday.

Today is Easter Day!! I have decided today to relax a little and not worry too much about the girls chocolate consumption!! I may have had that thought a little too soon, as when we arrived at church, Alice received a glut of Easter Eggs. It seemed pretty unfair the amount she received compared to the girls, but they are used to this. She gets a lot of attention wherever we go. After church we head out to lunch. Some friends have invited us to theirs for lunch and have organised an Easter Egg hunt for the children.

For some unknown reason they decided to have the Easter Egg Hunt before lunch. What could possibly go wrong with that idea!!!! We decided to just go with the flow and stay relaxed about it all. With the atrocious weather they moved the hunt indoors and sent the children around the house with clues as to the location of the eggs. At the end of the hunt, to ensure complete fairness and avoid any tantrums, they had the sensible idea to gather all the eggs and then divide them equally between all the children.

Alice however, was convinced that the others had more than her, and started to blub. There was no convincing her, so I told the others to move away and find something else to do!! They are used to vacating the area quickly, so they went with no questions asked. Fortunately, Alice’s tantrum was short lived, when attention came from no one. She was soon back with the others enjoying some of the chocolate from the hoard from the egg hunt.

We could have predicted what would happen next. After eating the chocolate she then refused to eat any of her Sunday lunch. Fortunately, our friends did not mind. In fact they then had their own son to deal with. He started his own meltdown when given his meal as he did not want the vegetables that had been put on the plate. For once, Alice was not the most badly behaved at the table. To be honest it was a bit of relief all round, that we could sit back while our friends chose how to discipline him. I couldn’t help myself internally criticising the way they were dealing with him – indulging his bad behaviour. Then I caught hold of myself and thought how many times I have chosen then easy road to discipline – just to get through the day, or a social situation. I am sure I will have been criticised many times for being too lenient, and at other times being too harsh. It is so easy to look at how others deal with things and judge them.

I must remember that next time someone comments on the way I do things. The saying pot calling the kettle black comes to mind!!!

A Less Ordinary Fostering Family Blog.

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Social etiquette

Fostering Blog

Thursday.

Easter could not have come soon enough. I was surprised how early it was this year, and how short the half half term was. Although the term has been short it has felt like it has dragged. I guess it hasn’t been helped by the dreadful weather we have had over the last month. It has been pretty hard work before leaving the house each day getting Alice in waterproofs in her wheelchair. And then there is getting her out of her waterproofs and dry every time we arrive home.

I couldn’t wait to get the girls home today, and at least have a break from the routine for a couple of weeks. Shortly after we arrived home, the door bell went. As usual Alice makes a dash for the door, crawling under my feet, almost tripping me over, She always has to be at the door first, wanting to know who is there, and getting attention from any visitor if possible. It was Lauren’s friend at the door. Alice starts talking to her, asking inappropriate questions, and making her feel a little uneasy. She had come to give Lauren an invitation to her birthday celebrations next week.

With no sense of social etiquette, Alice asks Lauren’s friend if she can come to her party too. Lauren’s friend looked so embarrassed and didn’t know how to reposed, Lauren looked equally mortified. I jumped right in and told Alice that Lauren’s friend was inviting Lauren to her party. I explained that she will get to go to parties when her friends invite her. I’m not sure whether she understood or not, but she pulled a face and started crying. I told Lauren and her friend to ignore her, and I tool Alice through to the other room.

Social situations can often be awkward. Alice has no inner monologue and often blurts out what she is thinking. She thinks the world revolves around her and has no idea why she wouldn’t be invited to Lauren’s friends party. I don’t think any amount of explaining helps her to really understand. Such situations can cause mild embarrassment for Charlie and I, however, for Lauren and Annie, they hate it and just want the ground to swallow them!

These situations remind us that Lauren and Annie are just two normal kids that feel the same things as other kids and just because they are part of a fostering family, doesn’t necessarily mean they are more equipped to deal with such socially awkward situations. We don’t always know the best way to help them. I think I will talk to our agency social worker to see if the agency can do anything for birth kids around this.

A Less Ordinary Fostering Family Blog.

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Casual disregard

Alice – Fostering Blog.

Saturday.

I was sad to read in the news this morning that Frank Gardner a BBC News correspondent was left stranded on an airplane at Heathrow airport when his wheelchair could not be located.

When his plane landed from Ethiopia the ground staff at the airport said his wheelchair could not be found. It took 100 minutes before Gardner was finally able to leave the plane. He said “That is your legs gone. It is a basic human right.” He had earlier tweeted “I am so utterly sick of @HeathrowAirport ground staff ‘losing’ my wheelchair. Over 70 mins after landing back from Ethiopia I’m still stuck on an empty plane while they try to find it Just when is UK’s premier airport going to stop treating disabled passengers this way?” He accused the airport of having a “casual disregard” for disabled passengers and said it was “a disgrace to British airports”.

Sadly this is commonplace for disabled passengers. I remember reading in Tani Grey Thompson’s autobiography “Seize the Day”, about the experience she and other athletes had at airports when travelling to the Paralympic Games. We too have seen how disabled passengers are treated when we have travelled with our foster daughter Alice. No matter how far in advance you book your flight and let the airport know that you need assistance, there seems to be always something that goes wrong. The Civil Aviation Authority states that if you’re a passenger with a disability or reduced mobility you are legally entitled to support, commonly known as ‘Special Assistance’, when travelling by air.

The last flight that we took from Bristol Airport to Malaga in Spain started off really well. We checked in early and ensured the staff knew that our foster daughter was in a wheelchair and we would need special assistance. We boarded the plane using a special lift into the back of the plane. We then had to carry Alice to her seat and her wheelchair was taken away. We made it clear that she would need her wheelchair to disembark. On arrival in Spain we were told that her wheelchair had been put in the hold and we could collect it at Baggage Reclaim.

It shocked us that staff had allowed her wheelchair to go to Baggage Reclaim – her wheelchair is not baggage – it is her legs – it is how she gets around. She cannot crawl the length of the airport to collect it. We were in a very difficult position and in the end staff brought an airport wheelchair so that we could transport her to her own wheelchair. It is so unfortunate that this experience happens far too often. If we are ever in this position again, I will stand our ground like Frank Gardner and wait on the plane until they bring her wheelchair back. Maybe by delaying the plane, it will send a signal to staff that this is not okay and that disabled passengers have rights to a fair access to air travel and that further improvements need to be made in the consistency of the service available to all disabled passenger.

A Less Ordinary Fostering Family Blog.

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Happy Places

Alice – Fostering Blog

Thursday.

It is never dull in a fostering household. If there isn’t a drama occurring with your foster child or your own birth children, then it will be something in your own life. This week Charlie has been pretty stressed at work. His boss is pretty chaotic at the best of times, but just recently he has become erratic to say the least. Charlie hasn’t had an evening in for nearly a month – which is mainly due to his boss’ bad scheduling. Whilst Charlie is around between school pick up and tea time, he is out before the girls go to bed – leaving me to the bedtime routine.

I know that I am beginning to lose my patience with the girls as they come up with various reasons and tactics to delay bedtime. I have also noticed that I have been having some back pain in the last few weeks and wonder if it is linked with me carrying Alice up to bed each night and carrying her in and out of the bath too. As the days go on, I know that things are getting harder. This is when Alice really tries my patience. I’m pretty sure when I am at my most tired, and all I want is an early night, she plays up and goes on a ‘go slow’ getting into her pyjamas. She then refuses to lie still to let me put her overnight catheter in. I can feel my blood pressure rising and I don’t want to end up shouting… I try my breathing techniques and try to think of a happy place. Sometimes it works and other times, I feel like I am losing the plot.

I am not the only one that is fed up, Charlie is pretty fed up of the work schedule. After letting things go for a few weeks, he finally approached the subject with his boss. He was relieved that he took it well, and listened to Charlie as he offered some suggestions about their schedule and how they could plan a little better meaning that that they would both get more evenings at home. I know his boss hasn’t been deliberately difficult, it has simply been a matter of poor management.

I am so proud of Charlie for raising it with him and find a solution. I am now very much looking forward to Charlie’s new work timetable – starting next week!!

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Nervousited!

Alice – Fostering Blog

Monday

We bumped into some old friends a few weeks back, they were just about to be approved to become foster carers. They got in touch this morning to tell us that they had been unanimously approved and had been awaiting their first placement. I had a strange sense of dejavu. Almost like a flashback to six years ago when Charlie and I were first approved. I can remember that feeling of being really excited and yet incredibly nervous at the same time – Lauren calls this being “nervousited!!” I can remember keeping my phone to hand at all times of the day – just in case we got that call.

It was incredibly frustrating as the days and then weeks went on before we had that first call. As the call came, my adrenalin levels rose and I became a little anxious about the placement. Then only a few hours later, the agency called to say there had been a change of plan and that the child had been placed elsewhere. I felt both disappointment and relief! Were we ready?? In the following few days we had a couple more calls like this. But then only a week or so later, we got another call and this time it did lead to our first placement – a little one year old boy. Panic set in and we rallied round to get all the necessary equipment in place. And that was the start of our fostering journey.

Our friends had just had “the call”. They were ringing for a bit of advice. I told them not to tell their birth children until the placement was confirmed. I remember the highs and lows we felt, but for Lauren and Annie who were only 6 and 8 years old at the time – it was much more difficult. They didn’t need those disappointments! I also told them to only get the basics – the essential things.

Once the child is placed, they can get everything else they need. I could hear in my friends voice, a little panic. I reassured her that it was going to be fine. After all, they have just gone through the most rigorous of tests to get this far and they would not have been unanimously approved if there was any doubt! In the meantime, I reminded her that I would be at the end of the phone, and only across the city should she need to call on me in the coming days and weeks.

A Less Ordinary Fostering Family Blog.

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Alice’s IRO

Alice – Fostering Blog

Thursday.

Talk about needing to count to ten. I think I need to count to a thousand. And this time it’s nothing to do with any of the children. Social workers can be very frustrating. Today’s meeting did not exactly go according to plan. It didn’t help that the local authority social worker was running late, so late that by the time she arrived my agency social worker only had thirty minutes before she had to go to her next appointment. She couldn’t leave any later as she was heading off to a LAC review – it would not go down well if she was late for that. So we had to make a choice of what we were going to tackle today. I decided the most pressing thing to talk about was therapy and life story work. Home assessment and education was unfortunately going to have to wait for another day.

I feel that we expressed how urgent we felt therapy was. Alice’s behaviour is still pretty erratic, and while we have good days, there are many more bad days. There are times when we feel that it is impacting family life. Whilst Lauren and Annie have been hugely supportive, we know it is impacting them too. The truth is, sometimes we feel like we are doing this solo. It feels like social services have failed to remember who the legal parents are and they leave it entirely up to us, yet we do not have parental responsibility nor the rights that go with that. I wonder if it’s because we do such a good job. We have always met Alice’s needs, gone above and beyond. It feels like that has really backfired on us because now we need some help we are not getting it.

Alice’s social worker failed to grasp how serious the situation is. Alice’s emotional needs need to be met as a matter of urgency. There are only so many times we can be fobbed off with excuse after excuse this time we have had enough. As we had got nowhere in our meeting, I decided it was time to call Alice’s Independent reviewing officer (IRO). With the backing of our agency social worker, we decided to call an emergency looked after child review. We have felt for some time that social services have not offered us the support we need as a family, but more than that Alice is not getting the help and support she so desperately needs.

Whilst we understand the pressures that social workers face and the number of cases they are holding, it is now time for action. Alice has waited for over five years to get help with her emotional needs, we need help for her now before it is too late, my worry is it may already be too late.

One of the most frustrating things about being a foster parent is that so often, you feel like your hands are tied behind your back that you are gagged and unable to speak for your foster child. I know if it were our own birth children, by now I would be taking further steps, I would be posting details on social media and I would be contacting my local member of Parliament, but I am unable to do this for my foster child and her needs continue to be left unmet. So we will wait to hear back from the IRO and hope that she can get us the help we all need.

A Less Ordinary Fostering Family Blog.

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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

Alice – Foster Carers Blog

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!

A Less Ordinary Fostering Family Blog.