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Fostering Christmas

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Reflection from last Christmas to this year.

Beth and Harry have been living with us for 15 months now and this Christmas marked our second together.   Throughout the month of December, I couldn’t help but notice the difference in them both from this Christmas to last year.

If I am honest our first Christmas together was a bit strange for us all.  My husband and I didn’t really know how the children were going to be at such a special time of the year.

What were their past experiences of Christmas? Were they good or bad memories?, Could they be overwhelmed?

During their relatively short lives we were their third family they had spent Christmas with.  I wondered if they had even had the chance to create what was a traditional Christmas for them, given their age and different families that they had lived with.

We quickly noticed that Harry was struggling in the build up to Christmas.  He seemed uninterested and emotionally he was very up and down.

I recall each morning we would listen to the radio on the way to school and Heart FM would do ‘Sleeps till Santa’ each morning, it must have taken two weeks of listening to this to grab his interest and slowly he become a little more excited, but I felt like I was having to really push the excitement.

Harry and Beth’s arguments seemed to increase as the Big Day approached and by Christmas Eve, they went from playing nicely to a full-blown argument screaming and crying hysterically.  We sat down with them both and started a conversation around not being able to be with our family at Christmas.

Harry was very vocal and explained that for some people they can feel very angry and sad.  We also spoke about the fact that they were also not able to spend Christmas with their previous carers who they had lived with for eighteen months.

They had only been with us for less than 3 months so in many ways we were still strangers to them.   I recall explaining that I did have some understanding how sad it was as I also missed my Mum and Dad.

After our chat both Beth and Harry seemed to relax, and the arguments stopped.

I think sometimes it’s also hard for them both to say they want to be with their family for fear of upsetting us. Obviously now they know us much better they don’t have to worry about stuff like that, they are fully aware we totally understand that their family is everything to them, and we have total respect for that.

A year on and it was totally different, firstly they now know us very well but most of all they know what to expect on special occasions.

They were constantly remembering what we did last year and were excited about doing the same again.  They love our cheeky elf that comes to stay and this year there was a new addition to the elf family, they couldn’t wait to decorate the Gingerbread Houses and receive their Christmas Eve boxes.

This year just before bed Harry read ‘The Night Before Christmas’ poem instead of me telling it to them.   They knew that they would get a day out with their youngest brother who had been adopted, visit their grandparents, and call their Mum on Christmas morning.

We try very hard to ensure that there is contact with their family over the season so that they can feel like they are still very much part of their lives and Christmas as much as they can be.

For us it was such a magical Christmas, finally we all knew what to expect, we all feel completely comfortable with each other.

It feels natural and we look forward too many more Christmas’s together.

Helen – A Blogging Foster Carer.

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First Time

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First Week

Our first week was a busy one, my poor feet never touch the ground.  I would go hours without having time to eat and I certainly didn’t sleep very well.

Beth was off school sick on the Monday, not a good start, but she had been sick the night before and whilst I was pretty sure it was due to the stress of moving in with a new family I couldn’t be certain she wasn’t actually unwell and lets face it I had only known her for just over 2 days.

We had a visit at home on the Monday from the children’s IRO (Independent Reviewing Officer) as they had a LAC Review coming up the following Monday.  A LAC Review is a meeting  with all those that are concerned with the care and care plan of the children, they will look at how things are going, and what changes there might be in the future.

This did give us an opportunity to meet the team involved with the children and also meet their Mum and Nan.

The following day I had both of the children’s PEP Meetings, which is an education based meeting held for children who are in the Local Authority Care.   This was then followed by the Placement Planning meeting.

A Placement Planning meeting sets out why the placement was chosen and how the placement will contribute to meet the child/children’s needs.  They also discussed the children’s history and explained their other family members.

The children we were placed with had 1 sister and 3 brothers.  The children’s Social Worker was also making more regular visits and therefore visited on Wednesday and the children had their monthly contact with their Mum re-arranged for the Thursday as she had been too unwell to see them the week previously.   I also had to get both Beth and Harry registered with our local Doctors, Dentist and Opticians.

The children’s previous carers had clearly been smokers as all of the children’s belongings smelt of smoke. Being an ex-smoker myself I was very sensitive to this smell and hated it with a passion. I therefore decided I would wash and iron all of their cloths and as many of their belongings that I could.

There was so many people I had to start to get to know and remember the names of teachers, family members, Social Workers and anyone who was involved in the children’s care.  I had to get to grips with working with a new database for my recordings, my god this took up a lot of time.

I am not going to lie by the Friday night I wondered if I had bitten off more than I could chew.

I recall that I had lost nearly half a stone, I was completely exhausted and sat with my husband that evening and cried my eyes out.  I was unsure if this really was the path for us.  It was a horrible feeling because already I knew I was invested in this two lovely, sweet and funny children, but I had not envisaged the amount of meetings and paperwork that came with them.

I just had to hope that somehow it would get easier and that I could at least have time to catch my breath the following week! 

Helen – A Blogging Foster Carer

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Fostering | Bedtimes

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At the very beginning Beth would do anything to keep herself awake, she would be up and down the stairs until around 10.30-11pm most nights and even when she stopped coming downstairs as we ourselves had gone to bed you could always hear her tinkering about in her bedroom.

We quickly learnt that bedtimes were going to be a big stumbling block to work on.  If the bags under her eyes and her anxiety around bedtimes were anything to go by it was clear Beth had not slept properly for a very long time.

For many months Beth would never sleep under the duvet only on top and with a blanket over her, she would go from wanting all of the lights on to wanting to be left in complete darkness.  She would change what end of the bed she slept at each night or make a camp on the floor.  She would do anything to keep herself awake, constantly fiddling around with things in her bedroom and finding any reason to come back downstairs to ask or tell us something.

At the beginning it wasn’t unusual to find her asleep on the floor, which would appear as if she had finally become so exhausted that she just fell asleep where she was.

It was hard to know what to do at the beginning.  We knew that the likelihood was it was simply going to take time.  We were aware there was almost defiantly many reasons for her inability to settle and get to sleep.  We just had to try many different things to help her.

Firstly, we made sure her bedroom was a place she wanted to be. I quickly brought things that I thought she would like, from pretty fairy lights, photos of her family, pictures and ornaments of animals, unicorns and mermaids.  I purchased fun and soft bedding and lots of lovely fluffy blankets and pillows.  We made sure that bedtimes were consistent and approached in a happy and calm manor.  I would read both Beth and Harry a bedtime story before bed and would chat happily with them until it was time to say goodnight.

Over a period of around 9 months we tried many things, such as allowing her to listen to mediation music, to sitting with her stroking her hair until she fell asleep, she went through a phase whereby she wore an eye mask, all of which appear to be working for a very short periods of time before it didn’t anymore.  Then all of a sudden she just started going to bed and just going to sleep and this has continued to this day. Of course every now and then she will struggle, normally if something has happened that day that might have unsettled her, but for us it was clear that Beth just needed time to feel safe and settled and I’d like to think that the work we have done with her around her history and the worries she had has finally paid off.

For me it was probably the thing I found most difficult, because it meant we had little to no time to ourselves each evening for many months.  Normally by the time Beth had finally got to sleep I would be off to bed myself.

Was I surprised a little 9-year-old girl who had been through so much had trouble sleeping in a new home and with a different family …. no of course not!

I am just so happy that she is finally in a place that has helped her settle her mind enough so that she can finally fulfil the most basic necessity to get enough sleep to function and be happy when I wake her the next morning.

Helen – A Blogging Foster Carer