Foster Care Fortnight #4

Trust
 
One thing I have learned from being Auntie to my gorgeous nieces and nephew is that trust is easily gained in the right circumstances. My beautiful niece Emily is 18 months and has known me her whole life. She smiles when she sees me, and when I’m babysitting or am in crèche with her, she comes to me for comfort because she knows I’m there for her. She shows me things because she knows I’ll encourage her, she says “ta-da” and claps her hands whenever she does something she’s proud of, because she knows I’ll clap for her and cheer her on. She does all of these things because she has only had good experiences with me (yay) and I have never given her any reason to distrust me – I have never shouted, or hurt her, or neglected her. 
 
Her baby brother Eli is the same, although at only 10 weeks old his trust of me is much more instinctual. When he’s with me, he knows that if he cries, I’ll comfort him. (The most effective way is to let him suck on my little finger!) 
 
Neither Emily nor Eli panic when they are with me, or get stressed out if I’m taking care of them and Mum and Dad aren’t in the immediate vicinity. This is because they have learned through their entire lives that I am a person can be trusted. Their trust in me is a given, it is learned. 
 
With the foster children I have worked with, and work with now, and for almost all foster children I can imagine – trust is not easily given, it is not easily learned. 
 
Fostered children have come from painful, neglectful homes. The families they were born into have let them down, one way or another, and in many cases have deliberately caused them hurt. They have not had any experiences that have allowed them to build trust for that person – so when they are moved into a foster family and told “you can trust me” by their foster parent, they simply CANNOT believe this. 
 
We learn a lot from our experiences. In the same way that Eli and Emily have learned to trust me, because I have been kind and caring to them, fostered children have learned to distrust people who are trying to care for them: because those who have cared for them before have not done it well. 
 
It can be very hard for foster parents, to have a child living with them in their house, knowing that the child doesn’t trust them. But it is more than that – the child CANNOT. Their brain tells them that people who “care” for you cannot be trusted; they will let you down. 
 
(This is not helped by professionals who make promises they cannot or do not intend to keep, compounding the child’s view that anyone who says “you can trust me” is an outright liar)
 
In these situations, it is a long and sometimes painful process, as the child will need infinite amounts of patience, kindness, and reassurance, and numerous chances to learn to trust. It is worth it in the long run…but you have to hang in there, for the child’s sake

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views expressed in this post are entirely my own

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Foster Care Fortnight #3

A continuation of my blog series for Foster Care Fortnight.

Support

A strong support network is a vital part of life for any foster parent. From stage 1 of your assessment until your last days of fostering, the S word will be ever present. A support network can look different to each foster parent; featuring biological family members, friends, neighbours, local schools and clubs…anyone who you can turn to for help if needed. Let me tell you, fostering really shows who you can lean on…try asking a friend to have a DBS check in order to babysit for you. If they stick around, you’ve got a good one!

Foster parents need people to turn to, for all kinds of things – babysitting, parenting advice, lift sharing to clubs and activities, someone to call at 1am when it feels completely overwhelming. It’s so important to have that network available. I often use the analogy of an oxygen mask on a plane…when the safety announcement says that you should put your own mask on before helping others. It’s true of fostering, you have to take care of yourself so you can take care of the child you’re trusted with.

Sadly lots of foster parents don’t have enough support, not just from friends and family but from professional organisations too. Ever heard the phrase red tape? Sometimes I feel like I’m bound up in it, trying to access support or intervention for a foster child. Regrettably finance is often a key factor in delaying or preventing a child from accessing what they need, which puts added pressure on an already struggling child … This in turn means more challenges for the foster parent and a greater reliance on their support network to step up and pitch in however they can.

By surrounding themselves with a strong support network, foster parents aren’t just protecting themselves against burnout and stress. They’re also doing something potentially greater and longer lasting: demonstrating to the child that they can trust others, need others, and that others care about them enough to be around for them, which is something they may never have experienced before.

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all views expressed in this post are wholly my own

Foster care fortnight #2

This is part two of a blog series in support of Foster Care Fortnight 2015, an amazing week of fostering awareness, and will be posting every weekday over the next two weeks on a different topic relating to foster care. The fortnight is aimed at encouraging more people to step forward and apply to foster – I hope this series does the same.

Opportunities

When I was younger I had all kinds of dreams about my future. When I was 10, I was convinced I was going to be Prime Minister. When I was 13, I was going to be a barrister. Later in my teens I thought I’d be a teacher…until God showed me social work.

No matter what I wanted to do, though, there was a common thread – at all times, I knew I could do it. Why? Because throughout my whole life, people have told me I could.

I have had so many opportunities in my life – opportunities for education, to try new things and discover talents and interests. I have a mum who encouraged all my aspirations (even, probably the crazy ones I had when I was five!) I have always known that I have doors open to me, people who will help me to succeed …and people who will love me even if I fail.

Did you know that statistically, a fostered child is more likely to go to prison than to go to university? Isn’t that sad? And unfair? But it’s true. So many children see no doors open to them, and cannot bring themselves to hope to achieve. Many of those who do have aspirations will then have very few people they trust enough to share their aspirations with, meaning that there is not anyone who can support them to achieve their goals.

Fostered children deserve every opportunity that I had…that you probably had. They have been through so much in life that they find it hard to accept that. Part of the foster parent role is to find out what they dream for, and search for opportunities for them to achieve it.

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views expressed in this post are wholly my own

Foster Care Fortnight 2015

Today is the first day of Foster Care Fortnight 2015. Since this is something so close to my heart, I have decided to do a blog series in support of this amazing week of fostering awareness, and will be posting over the next two weeks on a different topic relating to foster care. The fortnight is aimed at encouraging more people to step forward and apply to foster – I hope this series does the same.

The first post…

FAMILY

Many people see fostering as an idyllic and altruistic act. One of the things I would hear most often when completing assessments for prospective foster parents was “we want to be a family for a child who doesn’t have one”. It’s even how I describe my work to younger children; “I help find families for children who can’t live with their mums and dads”

However – one thing I always encourage foster parents to remember us that every child currently in foster care comes from a family. It may be the most broken down and screwed up version of family that you and I could think of…but it’s theirs. For many children, they would return to their birth family in a heartbeat if it were possible. Why? Because, family.

Their mum or dad or aunt or step-parent or grandparent may have done awful things which have led to them being fostered…but they are still bonded to that family! It seems incomprehensible and illogical… That’s because it is. That family is the only experience of Family that the child has ever known, and when you remove them from that environment into something new, something “better”, something “safe”, it is hard for that new family to feel like a family to them, to feel safe to them because it’s not what they know. Their experience of Family is not like your family and it can be uncomfortable and scary for them.

Imagine how you would feel…being taken from what you know and then being told that these strangers are a new family for you, with the connotation that they’re going to do a “better job” than your real one. It’s not going to bond you to that family, it’s going to make you resist their attentions, push boundaries, do anything to stop themself becoming part of your family – because it seems like to be part of your family means leaving their own, for good.

It is so important to honour the relationship the child has with their birth family. Sometimes that’s a difficult, even excruciating thing to do – when the child is hero-worshipping the villain of their story. More often though it’s about accepting the child and their experience of their family and being sensitive in how you address or redress their real-life experiences to help them come to terms with their reality, that (in most instances) they are fostered because their family could not or did not care for them as they needed or deserved.

A foster child has a unique family identity, an expansive family tree. It could include several foster families, friends, peers – anyone who makes an impact in their life. But it always starts with a birth Family, and that cannot be denied if you want to care for a child.

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* views expressed in this post are wholly my own *