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.

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