Friday, 24 February 2012

All part of the (fostering) process

It is with some trepidation and a sense of impending sadness that I find myself writing this blog. I'm not a writer so please bare with me. I'll try to keep a sense of order as I go. It's also quite a read so make a cuppa before you start ...

I guess the best place to start is the beginning, right? So, me, myself and I thought about fostering a couple of years ago but parked the idea because it was shortly followed by a move back to our "home" country. A return to the warmth of friends and my husband's family (my immediate family consists of one brother, living abroad).

After a few months, once our two children had shown great leaps in settling in to their new environment and seemed to be forging friendships, I made enquiries locally. Wanting to find out about fostering and the need to reach out and as I saw it, help the little ones out there that need it the most. This was not in anyway me smugly asserting that "aren't we great?" "Look at us we know it all". We're just muddling along, trying our best for ourselves and the kids, like the vast majority of parents. I am fortunate that I can be at home for our kids whilst my husband, albeit reluctantly at times, goes to the big city and is away Monday-Friday.
"We need all kinds of carers for all kinds of children" 
~ local authority fostering & adoption brochure
According to the British Association for Adoption & Fostering ( there were almost 16,000 children in the care of local authorities in Scotland alone at the end of Jult 2010. 37% are between 5 and 11 with 21% younger than 5 years of age. That is more than 3,000 little boys and girls needing to be looked after or under the watchful eye of social services, under the age of 5.

The process started, in March, with an "informal" chat with two social workers. Their job obviously to find out why we want to get involved; find out where and how we live and a small sense of our family dynamic. So, briefly, we want to help those that need it the most in life, neglected and uncared for children. We live in a village in Scotland, we have a good-sized spare room, two child friendly dogs, I am at home with a little bit of self-employed work I do from home, around the kids and my OH is away during the working week to provide for all of the above, so home at weekends.

I imagine that every Local Authoroity probably has their own processes and procedures but this has been our experience and it's not over yet...

With their initial curiosities answered, the social workers (SW), left to determine the next course of action. That transpired to be a series of what is called "preparation classes". A series of 6 sessions, that we both had to attend, normally held in the evenings however, for conveneince for a number of interested parties, they would hold a series of these sessions over a group of weekends. Yippee. We could proceed to the next step.

These sessions began in May and were put together and presented by Social Workers who act on behalf of the children who need to be looked after.

Session 1: Why children and young people are fostered?/ What do foster carers do?
    Session 2: Identity & Life Chances/ What's in a name/ Group work re discrimination
      Session 3: Working with others/ Law/ Who else is involved
        Session 4: Undertsanding the child/ Behaviour/ Development/ Attachment/ Resilience
          Session 5: Safer Care/ Abuse/ Risk/ Meet a current foster carer
            Session 6: Moving children on/ Positives/ Negatives/ Memories/ Meet another foster carer
              At this point the SW who took the sessions then visited us at home, at the end of June, to give feedback and let us know how they found us.
              "Both presented as warm, friendly and anti-discriminatory"
              "Engaged well"
              "Good communication skills"
              "Mixed well with others"  __________________________________________
              The next step, beyond this feedback, is another series of home visits. The aim of which is to determine our competencies and what we can bring to fostering a young child.

              At this point we fill in an application to apply to foster so technically still not theeee application to become foster carers! Our home visits don't start until the end of September. So, it has taken just over 6 months to get to this point. As far as I know, no CRB checks have been done and references, although supplied months ago, have yet to be contacted. 

              So, home visits start in September. From hereonin it's all about the SW getting enough information to complete the FORM F. The formal application to becoming a foster carer. She will have to present this on our behalf to the fostering panel. So, she needs to have trust in us and our competencies. The most important it seems is "resilience". It seems to be a buzz word everywhere you look at the moment.

              There will be roughly 12 of these home visits which will cover me and my background x 2; my OH and his background x 2; us as a couple; the "mid-way" visit with a senior SW (SSW); each child x 2; us as a family unit; safety round the home; an independent vet will give our dogs a check up; credit checks will be undertaken; every coincil we have lived under since birth will be contacted (we have both moved 17 times since birth) and they need addresses and postcodes of each residence; employer references; personal references; medicals; school references for our children. You name it and they "check" it.

              It is as a result of our mid-way visit that I find myself writing this blog. We have been nothing but honest and upfront about our backgrounds and more than open with any questions put to us. In summary, our story is perhaps a little out of their spectrum of "normal". I don't know. I'll try to keep it brief.

              We are now in our early 40's. Our journey to get here is a path less travelled at times but one, in parts, that is probably more common than we, as a society care to mention. 

              My husband's family, although divorced, are incredibly close, geographically and emotionally. His sister works in childcare for another local authority. SIL is a police woman. BIL is a fireman. OH is ex-forces. FIL volunteered football coach, now retired. MIL was a swimming coach, now retired.

              I was the daughter of a woman who liked a drink or two; she made bad decisions about her partners who turned out to be either violent and abusive, absent, or violent, abusive and alcoholic. As children, my brothers and I ricocheted through life from one drama to another. There's quite a list so in short they include divorce #1; separation from my brothers; some parental absence when she was at the pub and I was 6/7, marriage #2, alcoholism, physical and mental abuse, divorce #2, finding out my dad wasn't my dad; eldest brother's suicide which takes me up to about 17 at which point I leave home to study. To get distance from the drama. I was always in contact with my mum throughout.

              During my first home visit, in relating my "life story" I made the mistake of welling up. Frankly, no-one has ever asked and no-one has cared before how we got to where we are today. People see the "comfortable" life we appear to lead and assume the journey has been an easy one. The visiting SW has translated this showing of emotion into her notes as a "breakdown". Is it just me or are a few tears tantamount to a breakdown? Now, maybe I'm wrong, but I feel that if I hadn't shown emotion, they would have thought I was a cold-hearted witch who can't form attachments.

              During the next phase of my life, upto marriage, my mum ran away with her best friend's husband who turned out to be an addict so for my sanity, we lost contact for a while. I couldn't believe she could treat her friend so badly let alone that she'd picked another wrong 'un. A while later, she was on her feet again. She'd always held down a job whatever else was going on.

              I never thought I'd get married, let alone have children so now, having been so for over 11 years with two great children, I'm somewhere I never thought I would be. However, I digress. I left home, a council high rised flat with ice on the inside in the winter. Headed off to study. I graduated with a good honours degree in economics, qualified as an accountant a few years later. (Incidentally, my older brother became a dentist through sheer hard work and determination and he now has 4 children). 

              Got married. Moved away. Had children. During those years we watched my mum deteriorate due to a terminal degenerative condition. It took her life slowly over 7 years. We also set up and ran 3 businesses. Employed up to 11 people. When recession hit, we sold 2 of them. I think, personally, it's apparent that (a) we can look after and parent children (the SSW has also confirmed this) and (b) we have shed loads of resilience between us. 

              I think they're looking for a family "ideal" that amongst my friends doesn't seem to exist. A wee wifey who's at home for the now, grown-up kids, who have left home and a husband, maybe in his 50's who does a wee 9-5 job. Amongst my friends, most of the mums work, at least part-time and the dads work long hours and are generally home once the kids are in bed or work away for either one or two weeks at a time. Whose prejudices are they bringing to the fore when they sit in judgement? 

              The parting shot at the last visit, the mid-way visit, was 
              "we can obviously see you can parent, that is not disputed but fostering isn't about parenting. I need to think about how will you deal with the birth parents."
              Essentially, if fostering isn't about parenting, I've lost the plot and really need to think again. it feels that despite our honesty, our openess, our sheer willingness to open up our "ideal" family, these  social workers sit in judgement. They assess the "risk" supposedly in the interests of the 1000's of children who are seriously at "risk" from parents who don't care, who are neglectful, who abuse their own children. Whose back are they really watching? 

              Can't help but think they're more concerned about their own perception of risk; their own judgement; that they're scared to make a decision. In the meantime, how many children are falling through the cracks? I do mean children. They have to be younger than my youngest so, we're talking 7 years of age and under. 

              We are the first to admit that we're not perfect but we are perhaps more than aware and more honest than most of our shortcomings.

              It makes us question why we ever started this path in the first place? .....


              1. Ruddy hell. It makes you just want to go and shake the damned authorities and shout "why, why, why?????" It is beyond ridiculous. Yes, children need to be protected from potential harm, but the reality is that unless they are put into good foster care homes, with people who are keen to foster them, their emotional lives will be shot to pieces anyway, as they remain in the system.

                We've talked about concurrent fostering, but we have to wait until our daughter is 3.5 before we can even start the process.

              2. I couldn't have entertained the idea before my youngest was at school. Thanks again :-)

              3. I am an adoptive parent, and have nothing but admiration for anyone preared to take on the important job of fostering. From my experience of social workers I'd say to remember that they all have their own baggage to deal with and this affects how they treat you. Also you don't have to go with your own Local Authority. We adopted from a different area as we were not happy with the approach of our own LA.

              4. Well done for sticking to the process for adoption. Did it take you as long as all the reports say?

                Friends have suggested going through other agencies/ charities but the thought of starting the whole process again, when it's taken a year to get this far, feels like it might be one too many hurdles. OH adamant, that he wants to make it the "fostering panel" to ensure we have the opportunity to deliver our feedback. Still a work-in-progrees at this stage :-)