Stop celebrating the numbers.

As a foster carer I love reading articles regarding fostering, those that celebrate both the wonderful people that open their homes and hearts to children in need but also, and maybe more so the amazing children that come into the lives of foster carers like myself. I adore reading about their strength and courage and their innate desire to change their story.

Still there is one thing that really frustrates me about some conversations regarding fostering and this the celebration around the numbers.

Let me explain, only a week ago I read an article about a foster carer who in her life had fostered over 5000 children and whilst the couple are pretty amazing my heart breaks that over 5000 children needed a home.

5000 children worlds were turned upside down, 5000 children were walking again into an unknown out of their control.

In England alone

  • 56,160 children were living with foster families on 31 March 2019.
  • This is 72 per cent of the 78,150 children in care looked after away from home (Department for Education, 2018).

This isn’t a number we should be celebrating.

Don’t get me wrong, whilst I am so thankful and proud to work in foster care it’s one profession where I wish I was unemployed and not needed.

The other reason I struggle with numbers is that some foster carers will never have 5000 children through their doors, not because they don’t work as hard or aren’t as open, but because they foster long term. Take myself I have now fostered for over 10 years and only 4 children have come to me. This isn’t a failing on my behalf it’s because when they come to our family it’s with a plan for a long term stay and in the case of my now adopted son,forever. There are many different streams of foster care, from respite, emergency to short and long term, from a fostering perspective it’s not about the number of children we have but the lives we can impact upon.

Fostering is an incredible job and one I’m incredibly proud of doing but it is hard at times when the numbers are celebrated.

To me, those numbers are hearts, broken scared hearts that crave love and stability. They are vulnerable spirits craving somewhere to call home.

The only time will should be celebrating the numbers is when the number of children needing to be fostered is reduced and when the amount of families kept together and supported is rising. Then I promise I will be celebrating the loudest.

 

Changing seasons

I’m not sure how I feel about change. I often find myself facing it begrudgingly. It’s as if I’m scared of rocking the boat, effecting the status quo. I’m so scared at times that I delay what needs to be done rather than put things outside of my control. Yet I’m usually the one telling others to reach for the adventure, push the boundaries, embrace the excitement.

Blooming hypocritical me.

November has been a month of major changes for me. My foster son has moved on after nearly eight years with us. I’m so excited for him and the move is so positive for all of us but it’s a change and I’m so lousy at change. It’s ironic saying this because as a foster carer your life can and does change over night. New placements join your family, some move on and it’s an every changing profession. I know this but it’s never easy. Even when the move is positive and families are reunited or forever families are found there is a semblance of loss that tears at your heart.

Yes you can see how you have impacted a child’s life. How you have been security in an insecure time. Your heart can be full and empty simultaneously. I worry if others will love upon them like I do, keep up to date with appointments, remember their favourite foods or the way they like to dress. It’s not that I believe others cannot love like me it’s just it’s hard to trust and hand over these special hearts.

Yet for us all there are seasons in life and as Autumn gives way to Winter I need to embrace the future and our new season. Excitement for the coming holiday and preparation for the next stage of our journey.

I know what is loved is never lost.

Who knows what the future holds for us as a family?

Who new may join our merry tribe?

What I do know is that whilst change is scary for me it is also exciting. A little flame is building in my heart for our next adventure, wherever, whoever that may be.

Not a thing

I know people mean well but sometimes I want to scream “shut the heck up. “

Only the other day I was having a conversation with someone who I have known for a while. I won’t say we are friends but we chat when we bump into each other. In fact sitting here now I cannot actually remember how we met but anyway hey ho I digress. Me digress what a shocker.

Anyhow we were chatting as you do when she turned to me and said “ I don’t know how you do it, I don’t know why you do it” then the clanger “you have to give up so much”.

Now before I seem like a complete bitch I know she meant no harm but the “it” she was talking about was fostering, adoption and ultimately Daniel.

Yet you see adoption isn’t a thing.

It’s a heart, a heart that you are promising to love, care and protect for a lifetime. It’s a web of emotions, a tangle of heartbreaks and brokenness that you have committed to hold in your arms and whisper I love you’s to.

It’s a gift, a blessing and hard work all rolled into one but it’s never about giving up it’s about getting so much more.

I know the questions was aimed at the special needs aspect of our adoption but Daniel isn’t his special needs, he is everything all squashed together into one adorable package.

I’m not going to pretend it isn’t hard at times it is but that’s ok, life was never promised to be a bed of roses.

When I met Daniel I didn’t see a list of conditions, it wasn’t the pages of hospital notes that won my heart, it was the way his tiny hand gripped my finger. Not opening his eyes or turning towards me just holding my finger tight.

My heart just opened and he jumped right inside, right then, right there.

He had my heart.

I knew it wasn’t going to be easy but I truly believe that the best things in life aren’t.

I know my friend didn’t mean harm and I wasn’t offended but this is something we have come across so many times. People telling Alan and I how amazing we are caring for such complex children. How lucky the children are.

Children in foster care aren’t lucky that they have a new home. Their hearts are broken and their souls sore. What they knew is gone and even if it wasn’t the best of experiences as they often aren’t It was what they knew, their normal.

Children who get adopted aren’t lucky, the parents who now get to call them their child are the lucky ones.

My girls, Alan and I, we know we are fortunate , we are wonderfully lucky that we get to love upon children that need it. We get to open our hearts and our home to children who need us. We get to love, care and cherish.

How incredible is this?

As for Daniel I haven’t given up anything to be his mama, I have been incredibly blessed that I get to call this wonderful little boy my son.

My heart, my boy.

So what it’s the weekend

Seriously it’s official if I see one more TFIF status today I may just lose it. 

So what it’s Friday that doesn’t automatically mean that tomorrow I get to do nothing. No tomorrow I will still have to get up to do medications and nappy changes. My back will still ache from lifting and if we follow on from our current evening schedule I will also still be sleep deprived. 


Oh it’s the weekend so that means my big boy is off and that brings me the joy of chasing him around and saying “please leave alone” every second for two days. 

All joking aside, ok moaning aside I do appreciate the end of a normal working week and that for many tomorrow and Sunday are days of relaxation but seriously stop rubbing it in. 

Please think of us exhausted parents those like me to who the weekend is just another day. In fact the weekend is actually a little harder as school does give me a little respite. 

I absolutely love my life and fostering a child with special needs is a great job but the reality of it is that it is 24hr, 7 days and week and 365 of the year. Being a mom of a complex needs child means exactly the same. So as a mom and foster mom of both I may be slightly shattered. Though as we enter the weekend of Mother’s Day I am so thankful for my boys. It just means at times I just have the urge to strangle those who write TFIF. 

It matters 

Today we went to what is know as fostering panel. A board of professionals that reviews your last year as a foster Carer and decided to whether to approve you for another year. I always get so nervous before these panels. Not because I feel we have done anything wrong or are not good enough but because it matters, it really matters. 

It really matters that I get to be a Foster Carer for another year. That I get to be part of a profession that can make such a difference in the life of a child.

It matters because I now get to continue working for a company I am so proud to be part of. 

But mostly It matters that I know that the children I care for, the children I love get to stay safe and secure with our family. 

Being a Foster Carer matters to me, it’s not just a job. I’m proud to say it part of who I am. 

Is it pretend…?

My daughter was in her sociology class last week when the subject turned to fostering and adoption. She was sitting there listening to the views of others when one boys opinion really annoyed her, it seemed that to him fostering and adoption is “pretend parenting.”

Well I’m certainly not going to argue with the viewpoint of a 15 year old because as we all know at this age they are always right, but I would ask him to think about this.

Is it pretend when I walk the bedroom floor for hours soothing a teething baby?

Is it pretend as I wait patiently and worryingly outside the hospital theatre’s door?

Is it pretend when I hold them tight when they wake from nightmares?

Is it make believe the pride I have in all their achievements?

The worry I feel when they are sick?

The missing I feel when they are not with me?

Is it pretend when my heart fills with love for them?

I don’t really expect most 15 year old’s to understand but so many times I come across adults who just don’t get the love I feel for my fostered children. They see them as a means to an end or just part of my job. In fact the current government seems to view fostering as second class parenting but that’s for another post.

It just drives me mad that people view it this way, as it’s so far from the truth.

You see the moment I open my home up to child I also open my heart to them.

Slowly we both get to learn about each other.

I get to watch them as they come to understand that this is their home too.

I want them to know they are so loved, that they are so cherished and that they are so wanted.

I want them to put their stamp on their bedroom, knowing that it is their’s for as long as they want it.

To sleep without fear of moving on or not being safe.

I want them to know that they are now part of the tribe, that no matter what they do there is no giving up.

We fight for family in this home.

We fight for dreams to be realised.

There is no pretend is this family, just pure real true love.

A families love. 

 

 

Monday is the start of the Fostering Network’s Foster Care Fortnight. This years message is Time to Foster, Time to Care. They  want to spread the message that for many prospective foster carers NOW is the time to care and NOW is the time to foster. Please go take a look over on the Fostering network’s website and if you have ever considered fostering now is the time to do it.

There are so many children out there waiting for families to reach past pretend and to embrace them in real family love. 

 

Becoming a foster carer was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

It’s not always easy but it so worth it. 

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A truly wonderful evening, memories, moments and awards.

There are some experiences that will live with you forever and for me Tuesday will be one of those. My beautiful daughter won an award from the Fostering Network for an outstanding contribution by Sons and Daughters. As you can imagine I was one proud mom and was so excited to go to London to watch her receive this award.

Words cannot describe how wonderful the night was, from the moment we reached the BMA House we were so welcomed. In fact many people came up to us and to say hello as they recognised us from the film we had recorded, Brodie’s story.

 

The evening started with a tea party, in a room that was dressed beautifully, we were greeted warmly by one of The Fostering Network trustees Daisy, a truly lovely lady who has such passion for Fostering. We were then seated with another Sons and daughters winner and his family and a lovely gentleman who was there to support the Fostering Network. We were also lucky enough to share a table with the beautiful Holly Willoughby and her equally as stunning mum. We also had the incredible honour to meet HRH The Duchess of Cambridge who sat and chatted to us all.

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How do I explain how amazing the evening was, Holly was truly lovely, really friendly and so genuine and HRH The Duchess of Cambridge was so beautiful, she was warm and interested in what we did. Brodie loved it and I was in complete awe. To sit round the table with these wonderful ladies was a real honour. I think I may have burst with maternal pride, my girl rocks.

After the tea party we all moved into the hall for the awards ceremony. The Sons and daughters awards were the first ones to be given. We then got to watch the video that we recorded a few weeks ago, sharing our story and our beautiful daughter. The video was so wonderful and so emotional, I will cherish it forever.

Seeing Brodie up there on the stage receiving her award from the Children’s minister in England Edward Timpson MP, was incredible, to say I am proud of her doesn’t come close. Fostering isn’t easy and you really have to work as a family to make each placement successful. Brodie is an integral part of making us work. She opens her home and her heart to children who need a home, who need a family. Her motto is , “Our home, your home”. You can read the reason she was give this award here.

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The whole evening was marvellous, the celebration of some amazing people all involved somehow with fostering. From fantastic Foster carers to some amazing fostered children who in spite of their struggles had achieved some incredible things. The atmosphere was inspiring it was a true honour to be there.

Brodie, myself and my husband had a memory making evening, we got to speak to some wonderful people and will hold dear so many moments from the night.

My husband was in awe of Holly, Brodie loved the fact that Holly admired her converse and for me just getting to talk about why I love fostering was wonderful.

So proud of my girl
So proud of my girl

 

I want to say a big thank you to the wonderful team at The Fostering Network, you are an incredible bunch who work so hard to represent fostering and supporting the awesome work of foster carers. Last nights celebration was for you all too as you are all stars.

Thank you for a wonderful evening, thank you Holly for loving my girls shoes and her plaits and thank you HRH The Duchess of Cambridge for giving us a memory to cherish and for wearing the same colour dress as me. ( see I do have some dress sense).

I also want to say thank you to my amazing foster son, you are such a gift to us all and we are so lucky to have you as part of our family, today and always.

Yes, fostering is a job but it so much more, it’s the opportunity to change lives.

I am so grateful that I get to do this everyday. Is not always easy but it is always so worthwhile.

I truly love my job.

The crazy bunch of people I get to call my friends.

“I’m tired of friendships mom” words I wasn’t expecting to hear from my 14 year old daughter. I mean giving up on friendship at 14 seriously I think I was at least in my twenties before I felt this way.

My daughter and I are similar we tend to lay our hearts on the line a lot quicker than most. We have so much hope and often find ourselves a little shell shocked from life, from people.

Our hearts can be a little battered.

Friendship is a seriously strange thing, it can bring so much joy but can also turn you upside down and inside out.

My life has been blessed by friendship but also my heart has been broken by it too.

I hate watching my daughter walk this pathway, watching her turn herself in circles.  I am shocked at how cruel we can be to each other. How words can be flung about without any reproach.

I hope that one day my daughter finds the friends she deserves, those that will cherish her tender heart.

I know I am so grateful for my friends, the people that surround me in my life today. My friends keep me sane, they drag me out of my moments of darkness, they challenge me to be the best that I can be.

I love that I get to surround myself with friends who share my passions, ones that are willing to stand up for others. Fight for disability rights, free speech, equality and to challenge and change political policies.

I am honoured that I share my life with mothers and fathers of children with special needs, parents caring for their children with compassion, empathy and kindness.

With foster parents, adoptive parents who open their homes and hearts to children in need.

Recently I have found myself building friendships with amazing women who are pro active in the body positive movement, woman who are encouraging  other woman to love their bodies and celebrate who they are.

Friendships are ever evolving, some friends are there for a lifetime some for just a moment.

Yet for however long your friendship lasts its special, it changes you, makes a mark on your life,

So today I’m taking time to celebrate my friendships and to say thank you to the crazy bunch of people I get to call my friends.

I truly love you all.  xxx

 

Friends

What can you tell me about…

One of the major issues still arising within foster care, is the lack of information given to carers.

A recent survey published by the Fostering Network, where Foster carers were asked “Are you given all the information you need about a fostered child before they move in, to look after them and others in the household safely?”

 

The survey highlights some concerning issues in the way information sharing is being dealt with, as only 9% actually said they were “always given the information needed” and 6% saying that “information sharing ‘never happened”. In fact 23% of the carers who took part; said “they were rarely given the information they needed.”  32% said “this mostly happened” and 31% were saying “they were sometimes given this information’.

 

As foster carers; we know how important it is that we have the information needed to safely care for the child. Whilst we accept that emergency placements happen with very little warning and information, this should be rectified as soon as possible.

As professionals we must be ensuring that we receive the information needed to keep both the child and ourselves safe. We need to know as much about the child as possible so that we can help and encourage them reach their potential.

 

This is an area where real change is needed. But is this really a piece of a much bigger puzzle? Does the real issue lie with how fosters carers are still viewed within the care system?

 

Clearer understanding must be shown of the key role foster carers have within the ‘Team around the child’, I love this quote from Debbie Booth a foster carer speaking at the Fostering Network’s conference 2007.

 

“If I am not a crucial part of the team who works around the child, then what am I?

 

If I am not paid for the time and skills I dedicate to the child I care for, does that mean that my time, those skills and that child are worthless?

 

I am regulated, monitored, assessed and standardised, reviewed and approved.

 

I write reports, attend meetings, submit forms, keep my paperwork in order, record my days, attend training, as well as wipe noses and bottoms, sing songs and read stories, and act as mother, teacher, taxi driver, counsellor, therapist, nurse, spiritual advisor, confidante, rule giver, cook, nutritionist, careers advisor, pillow, whipping boy, moderator, IT consultant, advocate, bank manager, librarian, encyclopaedia, legal advisor and just be there…

 

If I am not a professional, does that make me an amateur?”

 

The professionalism of foster carers is something that needs to be recognised and respected, not just within the care system, but across society as a whole. Though there is a great deal of room for growth, foster carers must also play our part, it’s essential we continue our development, undertaking relevant training and by treating all members of the care profession with the respect we so desire, and with time we will be recognised and respected for being the front line of care for vulnerable children.

 

 

My third blog post for Progress Care, read this and others over at Foster Care with Progress.

Fostering Network Conference

Last week I attended the Fostering Network Conference in London held in the beautiful surroundings of the BMA House in Tavistock Square.

The conference was open to anyone work worked within the field including, foster carers, social workers, senior management and policy makers.

The theme of the conference was the “Future of Foster Care” and each speaker brought their own interpretation of what this means from their own perspectives and fields.

I cannot fit into one post all that I took away from this conference but what I do really want to share firstly is what I felt was at the heart of the day.

“The children.”

Regardless of which field the speakers came from the core overview was that the needs of the child should always be in the forefront of every decision made and every piece of policy written.

No matter how many professionals involved in a child’s life we should always remember we are the “team around the child”.

The need for a child to be listened to and their views taken into consideration at all times was paramount.

This point was reiterated when we heard from three care leavers who bravely and elegantly shared their care experiences with us.

Each one spoke about the loss of control of their own lives being a hard thing to accept. Whilst they accepted that some decisions needed to be taken by professionals the desire to be consulted, informed was extremely important to them.

They just wanted to be heard.

One explained that for him this was especially important regarding contact and information regarding his birth family. He understood that seeing his birth mother was not a positive thing for him but he still wanted to know about her and who she was.

‘By understanding my mom’s journey I was able to move forward with my own’.

As foster carers we are the ones there with the children every day. This conference was a great reminder that we really need listen to the children but also how important it is for us to advocate for the children with other professionals.

We are their voices and their advocates and this is something we need to be extremely pro-active in doing.

 

 

You can find this blog and others written by me over at Foster with Progress Care