Saturday, 29 June 2013

Child friendly attractions and stain removal

Although Jack-Jack still isn't walking he's extremely active and mobile, crawling at the speed of light in every direction, standing up and walking holding onto furniture/hands and wanting to investigate absolutely everything. Andy is walking, but is still a bit wobbly and can't walk very far yet. We're always on the lookout for new places to go where they can safely let off steam and have lots to investigate, but which doesn't require children to be able to walk (or not to put things in their mouths, which rules out things like petting farms at the moment as Jack-Jack doesn't want to stay in the buggy or carrier!)

We've been to two local museums lately, neither of which are specifically designed for children, but the experiences at each were so different! At the first, an employee rushed over to help us, told us where to leave our buggy and looked really pleased that we'd brought young children with us. Many of the exhibits were low down and the floors were clean, so we were very happy for Jack-Jack to crawl around and discover everything with us - there were doors at the entrance to each room so we knew he couldn't get out. He absolutely loved it. At the second museum, we struggled in with the buggy and had to find somewhere to put it, whilst being frowned at by staff and visitors when the boys made a bit of noise. The whole museum was open plan (including the staircases) so we had to be on our guard at all times, chasing them around trying to keep them both safe and in view - it must have felt to them like we were spoiling their fun and Andy particularly got quite frustrated that he couldn't go wherever he wanted. Many of the exhibits were high up so we had to lift the boys up to see anything - from their level it must have looked quite boring. The whole experience was quite stressful and we didn't stay long. We'll definitely go back to the first museum on a regular basis, but I think we'll think twice before attempting the second with young toddlers again! It was an interesting attraction for adults and older children, but it's amazing how just a few little changes could really widen the target age range considerably.

I've spent the last week trying various methods to get a large unidentified stain out of the front of one of the t-shirts that Jack-Jack's mum bought him. He came back from contact with food down his front as his mum had chosen not to put a bib on him, and I'm now stuck between a rock and a hard place, because if I send him to contact in a stained top it will all be my fault and I've stained it on purpose, but if I send him in a different top it's a personal attack on mum and I'm saying the clothes she's bought him aren't good enough. It's almost funny, I've bought a specialised stain devils product as a last ditch attempt to remove the stain, which cost about the same as a new t-shirt. If we had a local branch of the shop the t-shirt came from, I would probably have gone out and bought an identical one to save any hassle!

Thursday, 27 June 2013


We have a new challenge in our lives with two little ones to look after - keeping everything fair. We're not sure whether the children actually have a sense of "fairness" yet - probably not - but as adults we do. We want to make sure we mix it up so that one child isn't always last, (except in the double buggy - we've chosen the seating arrangement specifically as one child is much more likely to kick the other in the back), and that neither child feels like they're going without - so everything must be offered to both, even though one child would happily eat all day and the other only has a tiny appetite!

Meals now don't end until everyone has finished, which means the youngest (and fastest eating) member of the family who has been used to deciding when dinner is over tends to spend the remainder of his time smooshing his leftovers into the corners of his highchair tray and sweeping them onto the floor whilst wailing at the injustice and being outraged that he's not allowed to grab his favourite foods off someone else's plate.

The more time they spend together, the better they are getting at sitting near each other and playing without Jack-Jack feeling like he absolutely has to grab Andy's nose. They're not yet of an age where they can play together and share, but we had a lovely moment in the swimming pool today where they were throwing a ball back and forth with lots of encouragement from us. They do seem to be starting to enjoy each other's company and are genuinely pleased to see each other when Andy is dropped off, or when they wake up from naps. I think Jack-Jack has been generally relaxed about the whole thing overall - the only exception being when Esmeralda was feeding both boys yoghurt, and Jack-Jack looked absolutely horrified every time the spoon went anywhere near Andy's mouth instead of his!

Monday, 24 June 2013

Esmeralda takes the helm

I went on a local authority training course for foster carers today, so Esmeralda was left in charge of our "ship". She's never looked after Jack-Jack on her own as I'm the primary carer whilst she works full time, and as if that wasn't enough extra responsibility, Andy was also due for a visit today! We worked out the times and realised that Jack-Jack would have left for contact before Andy arrived, and I would be back from my course before Jack-Jack got home, so Esmeralda wouldn't have to worry about caring for both toddlers at once.

As I walked into the training room I received a text: "Contact on." Excellent.

A couple of hours later and we'd just stopped for a tea break when I recieved another text from Esmeralda. "Change of plan - contact cancelled." I could feel the slight tone of panic emanating out of the phone, but sent an encouraging text back.

As it was, Jack-Jack went down for a nap just before Andy arrived and slept for an hour, and Andy went down for a nap straight away, slept for nearly 2.5 hours and was woken by me ringing the doorbell when I came home so Esmeralda was spared looking after two (awake) toddlers on her own. We played all together until Andy was picked up.

When Jack-Jack was in bed, Esmeralda looked around at the boxes of toys strewn across the living room, then looked at me and said "So... you went out for the day, both babies are still alive and the house is still standing. Are you proud?" I really am!

Friday, 21 June 2013

Getting to know you

We met Andy for the first time yesterday, along with his main carer and social worker, and with Jack-Jack and our social worker Jane here too it made for quite a cosy living room! We talked through Andy's daily routine and the requirements for his contact sessions, and also planned in regular visits for the next couple of weeks so that he can spend more and more time with us - eat meals here, have a nap in his new cot, sleep overnight etc. all working up to the day he moves in with us. It's useful for us too so that we can get to know Andy, how he behaves in different situations, what he likes etc. and can ask his carer any questions before she goes away. For Jack-Jack these visits will be a bit of a steep learning curve as he'll have to share our time and attention for the first time!

When Jack-Jack and Andy met unfortunately neither of them was very impressed at all and they both burst into tears! Andy came again today with his carer and it was a little better, although Jack-Jack is fascinated by Andy's face and just wants to grab his nose, and Andy gets very upset if Jack-Jack gets within arms reach so it required a bit of baby wrangling and distraction, but we had a lovely afternoon.

This is a completely different experience from Jack-Jack's placement with us when we had about 40 minutes notice of his arrival - at least with Andy it won't be such a shock for him (or us!) as we have the time to make the transition as smooth as possible.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Names and a new placement

Over the years there seems to have been a general shift in terminology from "foster mum" to "foster carer". People we know from our parents' generation and older regularly refer to us as "foster mums" or even just "mums", and many made a point of texting or calling on Mothers' Day to congratulate us, thinking we'd be celebrating it as our first.

I think the shift is intentional. We're not allowed to encourage the children we foster to call us "mum" or "dad". I've heard of several cases recently where the foster children called their carers "Grandma and Grandad", or even "Auntie and Uncle", but "Mum and Dad" seem to be sacred terms reserved for a child's forever family (so of course in permanent foster placements the child might choose to use those names.) We're using our first names to refer to ourselves with Jack-Jack, but in reality it has meant that we haven't actually referred to ourselves half as much as we would have done. It just doesn't feel as natural to us to refer to ourselves in the third person using our names, it's not like saying things like "it's ok, mama's here," "come to mama" etc. Most of the time we use I, my, me instead, which I'm sure is not delaying his speech and understanding, but it probably is delaying his use of our names (as opposed to how early he might have said "mama") as he doesn't hear them as much. Our names are also not reinforced by others i.e. a stranger in a shop will say something like "you look so much like your mummy," or "I bet you keep your mummy on her toes!" (we get this last one quite a lot.)

The only person to use the word "mummy" in our house so far has been Jack-Jack's social worker asking him how his contact with his mum had gone that day. Everyone else seems to skirt the issue - our social worker, support worker and the health visitor never mention Jack-Jack's mum to him and don't refer to us at all!

One of our neighbours bumped into Esmeralda in town the other day, and, after not recognising her immediately, she suddenly said "Oh you're Jack-Jack's mum!" We don't usually correct comments like that, and hardly any of our neighbours know that we're fostering. Esmeralda and I had a chat about it and we agreed that it might be a bit awkward when a new child arrives or if/when Jack-Jack leaves us, but we don't think it's the right thing to announce our foster family status to all and sundry, especially if/when an older child arrives who might not want everyone to know.

We have some news - we had a call about a short term placement today, and a little boy will be moving in next week and staying for a few weeks whilst his carer is away on holiday. He's a few months older than Jack-Jack and his blog name will be Andy. We're looking forward to meeting him!

Monday, 17 June 2013

Sensory/messy play

My mum was visiting last week and mentioned that she was impressed with the amount of activities we do with Jack-Jack. When I thought about it, I suppose one reason we do so much at home at the moment is that we don't have the option to leave the set-up and clean-up of messy/sensory play to someone else (much as I wish we did sometimes, particularly when I think about painting!) as our local messy/creative/outdoor stay and play sessions don't fit in with Jack-Jack's contact schedule. Plus I enjoy watching his expressions as he investigates and discovers, and he gets very excited when he sees the messy mat and trays come out, so it's win-win.

We don't like to have Cbeebies on too much, and as Jack-Jack's only just turned one his attention span for most toys and activities is well under ten minutes which makes the day feel very long sometimes. I've spent quite a few evenings on various blogs and websites gathering ideas and inspiration for things to keep him (and me!) stimulated and busy.

I'm looking forward to a time when he's stopped putting everything straight into his mouth (he's definitely getting better at exploring with his hands and feet, but everything eventually has to pass the taste test) and we can have messy/sensory fun without it having to be technically edible!

Successes so far have been:

The great outdoors - we go out to a park most days and in most weathers, and Jack-Jack spends time exploring the textures of grass, mud and pavement, and picking up flowers, sticks and stones. He loves it, and requires very little input from me beyond narrating what he's doing, naming plants and animals and heading him off from patches of nettles.
Rice - this was the first time I've actively discouraged Jack-Jack from mouthing whatever he's playing with, and he got rather cross and bit me!
Cornflour and water - this was amazing and kept his attention on and off for about an hour - he kept exploring something else in the garden and then returning to the tray. Clean up was easy too as we were outside - just hose everything off and pop the baby in the bath!
Painting in a ziplock bag - I'll be trying this one again as the paint I used was a bit too sticky for the job.
Water - always a winner in any form - we've done warm/cold, scented, rainwater, bubbles, and the paddling pool.
Popcorn - a bit of a cheat on a rainy day, but foods are textures too and he enjoyed putting his hands in the bowl up to his elbows and watching all the popcorn spill over the sides.
Jelly - Jack-Jack looked absolutely disgusted the first time he touched jelly, but soon realised that digging both hands in and squishing it all over the highchair tray is good fun, and eating it is even better!
Cooked spaghetti - always a hit - the first time he saw cooked spaghetti it made Jack-Jack laugh, and he still loves it.
Ice - this doesn't hold his interest for long yet, but does give me a guaranteed few minutes peace to make tea.
Cotton wool balls and water - We did this today - I was impressed how quickly Jack-Jack realised that after they'd been in the water the cotton could be sucked or squeezed to get the water out again, and did this over and over.

It's definitely nice just having one child to focus on at the moment, as all activities can be aimed at Jack-Jack's skill level and attention span, but I hope that we can carry on doing this when we have two (or three, or four...)

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Review: Plum's Little Foodies

The lovely people at Plum have been kind enough to send us their new "Little Foodies" range of toddler meals for 1-3 year olds, to see what Jack-Jack made of them.

Our first impressions were very positive - the packaging is attractive and clearly displays the key ingredients that are in the meals. It reassures parents and carers that they're giving their children the best food choices possible, when perhaps it's not convenient to serve home-cooked. The recipes are organic and are full of exciting flavours.

We were sent the full range, all of which sounded delicious:
Morrocan Tagine with apricot, lamb and bulgar wheat
Jamaican jerk chicken with mango and wholegrain rice
Vegetable biryani with wholegrain rice
Italian ragu with tomato, beef and ditalini pasta
Jack-Jack normally eats the same food as we do, even when out at restaurants, so it's been several months since he was regularly eating pouches of baby food. The exceptions have been when he's been poorly, teething, or if he's very tired - we've found that it's a quick and easy way of getting nutritious food into him without too much effort on his part! We usually keep a couple of toddler steamed meals in the cupboard for these occasions.

We had the perfect opportunity to try one of the Little Foodies meals the day after Jack-Jack's birthday, as we'd had a picnic party in the park out with friends at lunchtime followed by a huge play, so Jack-Jack was ready for his bath and bed at teatime, but had worked up an appetite! I was slightly dubious about trying new flavours, as Jack-Jack has been known to completely refuse to try anything new if he's not in the mood, but I decided to go ahead and chose the Jamaican jerk chicken with mango. The pot was very large (as it would need to be to cover the 1-3yr age range), so I split it into two portions and popped one in the fridge. It smelled amazing - I was a bit jealous!

Jack-Jack likes to look at, have a tiny taste, feel with his fingers and smell his food before committing to eating it, but it seemed to pass the test as he happily ate nearly the whole portion after examining it closely! There were whole peas, beans and pieces of sweetcorn to chew, and plenty of wholegrain rice. He finished off the second portion the following day - as it had been in the fridge for a day we decided to heat it up in the microwave, and Jack-Jack enjoyed it just as much warm as at room temperature.

The clean up afterwards was easy, even though Jack-Jack had managed to spread the remainder all over the high chair tray and up into his eyebrows and hair, and I was pleasantly surprised that there were no orange stains on the high chair, bib or flannel after washing.

Unfortunately the high cost of these meals (RRP £2.25 each) means that we wouldn't be buying them regularly, but we can definitely see a use for them and would consider keeping one or two in the cupboard for the odd occasion.

We were sent the products free of charge for review purposes, but weren't paid for the review, and all opinions are our own.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Putting the child first

One of the things Esmeralda and I have been shocked about during Jack-Jack's placement with us is how little his needs seem to be prioritised by the adults responsible for him. Fostering is also known as "corporate parenting" meaning that the local authority is responsible, at least in part, for the child's welfare. In Jack-Jack's case, his mother and his Social Worker are jointly responsible for him. We as his foster carers are responsible on a day to day basis and can make very basic decisions for him i.e. the brand of wipes we use, what he eats, how often we wash his hair etc. but even these can sometimes be overruled by mum - if she insisted that we buy Johnson's wipes rather than supermarket own brand for example, we would probably be told by the Social Worker to buy them.

Jack-Jack's age is a disadvantage when it comes to having his needs prioritised, as he really does have no "voice" whereas the adults in his life have very loud ones which are harder to ignore. We have advocated for him of course and have written countless emails and reports detailing where things have been going wrong, and changes have been made, but it's been very slow going. Mum has been allowed to cancel contact at very short notice, announce that she no longer wants to see a particular sessional worker and they have to find a different one (which has changed the times/days as availability of rooms needs to be taken into account), insist that contact be nearer her home than ours so Jack-Jack has to travel, and has displayed unpredictable volatile behaviours.

Parents who have had their child taken into care will have all sorts of issues. They may be drug or alcohol users, they may be mentally ill, they may have depression or anxiety, they may be physically unwell, or at the very least emotions will be running high. It's vitally important for the child that for those few hours the parent's feelings are put aside, so that contact can be an enjoyable and positive experience on both sides. Jack-Jack's contact this week has sadly not gone well. After the complete shambles that happened on his birthday mum was told that if she didn't change her behaviour, the consequence would be that she wouldn't see Jack-Jack for a defined length of time and contact may be permanently reduced overall. At the very next contact we were phoned almost immediately to say that he was being brought back. It's beyond our comprehension.

Having said all of the above, we were genuinely surprised and touched when we heard that one of Jack-Jack's parents has put together a truly thoughtful package of birthday gifts for him, including things he'll use every day, and things he'll keep forever. They've really been chosen with Jack-Jack in mind, and are personal to him and that parent. He hasn't yet received even a card from the other parent. At Jack-Jack's age he won't remember his first birthday, so it's important that he's given gifts that have a lasting memory - we haven't yet met either parent, nor do we have any real opinions on them or their parenting skills, but it looks like one of them has got it right.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Dear Jack-Jack

We had a meeting with your social worker last week, and found out that you will more than likely be with us for at least the next four months. We don't have any more certainty than that right now, but we treasure every day that we get to live with, look after and love such a precious little boy!

Here are a few of my favourite things as you approach your first birthday tomorrow...

The way you learned to blow kisses by making lip smacking noises after eating your beloved yoghurt.

Your all-consuming joy when we go in to get you from your cot in the morning or after a nap.

The way you turn the phone and iPad over to try and work out where the pictures are coming from.

Your cute little snores.

The way you light up when you see Mickey Mouse (I hope we can take you to see him in Disneyland one day!)

Your dramatic flung to the side "talk to the hand, lady" face if we offer you something you don't want.

How you wave with your whole arm, and usually after the person you're waving to is long gone.

Listening to you singing and chatting to yourself until you fall asleep.

How enthusiastically you approach new situations.

Your cheeky grin when you peep around corners to play peekaboo.

How you open your mouth expectantly to share a bite of whatever I'm eating.

The fact that just seeing Lady chasing after a ball can make you laugh, even if you're cross.

You get more excited about picking a dandelion in the park than you do about a new toy.

You make a beeline for your books first thing every morning, although you're still more interested in chewing the pages than having them read to you.

You still choose a silicone whisk over every other bath toy at bathtime.

How you would rather eat grapes than biscuits, and will eat a whole apple and just leave the stalk.

You love it when Esmeralda and I have a sneaky kiss or hug whilst holding you.

The way you snuggle into my back when you fall asleep in the sling.

How you keep us on our toes by changing your routine just when we think we have it sussed!

Happy Birthday to the gorgeous one-year-old who turned this couple into a family, we hope your second year is full of joy, wonder and exploration.

Saturday, 8 June 2013


I'm not normally a sun-lover. I'm the sort of person who says, on a warmish spring or autumn day that it's perfect because "it's not too hot" or "there's a lovely breeze." I have spent many a beautiful summer's day inside reading a book, with the curtains drawn slightly to stop the glare. I also suffer from hayfever so summer has been synonymous with itchy, red eyes and a streaming, puffy nose. Not fun.

This year I'm already loving the summer! A warm sunny day now means an hour or two in the park, not having to wrestle Jack-Jack into hundreds of layers of clothing (so getting ready to leave the house is much quicker), ice lollies, the paddling pool, bare feet, playing outside in the garden, no mud to clean up when we walk the dog, laundry hanging out on the line, eating meals outdoors, smelling neighbours' barbecues and hearing snatches of conversation and laughter in the evenings, picnics... the list goes on.

I was even eyeing up buckets and spades in the toy shop the other day. Anyone who knows me will be shocked at this announcement, given my past dislike of sun, sand and sea, but living with a small child seems to turn everything on it's head and I'm already planning a trip to the seaside!

Thankfully Jack-Jack doesn't mind having his sunscreen applied and can be persuaded to keep a sun hat on, or perhaps these hot summer days wouldn't be quite as much fun!

Friday, 7 June 2013


Foster carers are professionals. This is drummed into us during our assessment and training - gone are the days when foster carers were just kindly old couples who took in a child or two, now we are professionals, part of a multi-disciplinary team of other professionals who professionally put across their views and are open to the views of others. We treat each other with respect. We attend meetings, are qualified to provide excellent care, to advocate for the children in our care and liaise with other members of the team to ensure that any concerns are handled appropriately in the child's best interests. This is what we're told anyway.

The reality is somewhat different.

We had a meeting this afternoon with the Health Visitor and Jack-Jack's social worker, to talk through some concerning behaviours we'd observed, and do a general update on his progress and the case in general. The meeting was in our living room, and Esmeralda and I were both there, so there were four professionals present. The Health Visitor (used to dealing with parents of birth children) deferred to the Social Worker, but directed all questions to us as Jack-Jack's carers. The Social Worker spent much of the meeting pretending we weren't there and directed all questions to the Health Visitor! It's very hard to talk to someone who is talking over you, talking down to you, isn't listening to half of what you're saying and is actively trying to disprove the rest.

This is the person who is supposed to know Jack-Jack well and make the decision on what will be in his best interests for his future. He hasn't seen her since February. Her only interaction with him today was saying over and over "Are you ok?" whilst he just looked at her slightly bemused.

The meeting was actually quite positive overall as the Health Visitor kept turning the conversation round to how much progress Jack-Jack has made in our care and how pleased she was with how he's doing. She seemed to be getting quite frustrated with some of the bizarre responses from his Social Worker too, but is very much "on side" with us, wanting the best for Jack-Jack and his development, and talking honestly and openly about our concerns.

They were here nearly two hours in total, and Esmeralda and I feel exhausted this evening. Jack-Jack on the other hand got super over-stimulated by all the extra attention and took 2 hours to fall asleep this evening compared to his usual 10 minutes.

We found out that the case isn't as far along as we'd been lead to believe, so it looks like Jack-Jack will be with us several more months at least which is lovely. He's so much fun to be around and his personality is really starting to shine - we've got some exciting times ahead!

Wednesday, 5 June 2013


We've come to realise that foster carers are at the bottom of the list to be kept in the loop with what's happening with a particular child's case. It doesn't seem to matter that we're the ones caring for the child 24/7. We know nothing about what's happening with Jack-Jack's case at the moment, and regardless of this we decided to book him a place on a series of weekly classes starting in September. We know he'd get a lot out of them, the classes are very popular and we wouldn't want him to miss out on a place, but it's strange to think that he might not be here when September rolls round and we might have to cancel.

Booking things ahead is a bit like that as foster carers - full of uncertainty as the situation can change at a moment's notice. A couple of months ago Jack-Jack was obsessed with the TV program "In the Night Garden"(he hasn't watched it for a while as we changed his bedtime routine when the clocks changed, but he still recognised the characters in a book we got out of the library!) so we booked tickets to the live show in July as a summer treat. This felt like it was ages away when we booked it, and we weren't sure how long Jack-Jack would be staying so there was a chance we'd be going on our own, but it's already June now so it's not far off! We always have to consider when we make future plans with family and friends that the child/ren we're looking after may change in the mean time (and plans made with a baby in mind might be completely unsuitable with a school-aged child!) and we may have to rearrange at short notice to accommodate the child/ren's contact schedule.

Jack-Jack's social worker is coming to visit us this week so hopefully we'll be updated and have a bit more of an idea about Jack-Jack's future. Children's social workers are supposed to visit a looked-after child every six weeks, but for one reason or another we haven't seen Jack-Jack's since February so she'll hardly recognise him. He's a real toddler now and still growing at a rate of knots - we had his feet measured the other day and he had grown an entire size in just 6 weeks! Thankfully he's not wearing proper shoes yet as he's not walking - we had a bit of a shock when we saw how much infant shoes are in Clarks. How can they be so expensive when they're so tiny?!