Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Life on hold

With Jack-Jack's upcoming adoption always in the forefront of my mind, I've noticed that I've recently stopped trying to help Jack-Jack progress. Almost unconsciously, I've taken a step back from actively teaching him and encouraging him to practise new skills (numbers, animal noises, body parts, signs etc.), as it would be so nice for his new parents to teach him these things and share in his achievements. His walking is coming on in leaps and bounds, but I've caught myself thinking "not yet!" as I'm imagining how much his new parents would love to hold out their arms and have him wobble and totter into them, as he's been doing with us. It might sound silly as you don't want to hold them back, but I've heard of foster carers holding off on weaning, moving from bottles to beakers, potty training etc. to allow the adoptive family to go through that milestone with their child.

I sat down to make a plan for how we're going to pass on all the photographs and other memories we have saved for him, and in doing so went through all the notes we've made each day on Jack-Jack's progress, outings and behaviour. It made me realise how many of Jack-Jack's "firsts" we've been there for - first food, the first time he sat up by himself, starting to crawl, the first time he babbled, the first time he pulled himself to a stand, his first steps, first visit to the dentist, first holiday, first shoes, first haircut, first birthday... We were so excited about each one, celebrated it, documented it with photos and video, and talked about it with pride to family and friends. Now when I look back, although he will have the photos we took, it seems so desperately unfair that neither his birth family nor his adoptive family were there for these special moments in his first fifteen months, and I do feel disappointed for his adopters that it's taken so long to get to this point. Adoption was mentioned as the mostly likely outcome for him when he was placed with us, and we've known this specific family was on the radar from that point too. It's almost like the courts forget that you can't put a young child's life on hold whilst you wait for decisions to be made and meetings to be held, however much you might want to.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Foster carer support

Esmeralda and I are finding that time is really dragging at the moment. Fostering is not for the impatient, we've spent many weeks waiting for various things - waiting for panel, waiting for the decision to be ratified after panel, waiting for our first placement... but this is one of the hardest waiting periods of all - we're waiting to meet Jack-Jack's adoptive family so that they can get to know him and his routine, and then take him home. They've been through their matching panel and are waiting for the decision to be ratified until he is officially their son. I'm sure their wait is very hard too, but there is a world of difference between waiting for something wonderful and exciting, and waiting for something inevitable and awful. That's not to say we're not happy for them, we've received a photo album of pictures to look through with Jack-Jack, and they look like a lovely family for him. We're looking forward to meeting them and showing them what a wonderful little boy Jack-Jack is.

That said, the process isn't over yet and we already feel horrendously unsupported. We are new carers still in our first year, Jack-Jack was our first placement and sometimes carers foster for many years before going through adoption introductions with a foster child. The LA consider our social worker to be enough support for us. We like our social worker Jane very much, but we're not sure how she can support us through this as she's never been through it herself. Even aside from this, as it's summer she's been on annual leave over the period spanning Jack-Jack's matching panel, our first telephone contact with his adopters etc. and we had no one to call to talk through questions that we had.

I'm sure there are those who would disagree, but we feel that it would be more appropriate to talk to someone who has really been through it - who knows the process, can help us to work through our feelings, and above all understands how much we love these children who are not our own. In our minds, this has to be another foster carer. As we've asked to be put in touch with other foster carers before and nothing has been done, we're not going to mention this to Jane until our next supervision session, which will be after Jack-Jack has moved on, but we really hope a scheme can be put in place to help new carers in the future.

As we've said many, many times over the past year and a half, we're so glad we have each other for support and we're not doing this as single parents.

Sunday, 18 August 2013


Yesterday we decided to write a list of Jack-Jack's belongings to make it easier to pack them up when the time comes for him to leave us and join his adoptive family. It's amazing how much he's accumulated since he arrived! We figured we might not be thinking as clearly during the week of introductions with all the emotions that go along with that - better to be prepared now so that we don't forget anything. We decided it would be easier to separate Jack-Jack's own toys from those that will stay, so spent a good hour reshuffling the living room.

We filled an empty plastic box with his smaller toys and games, and as we went through the various boxes that make up our toy collection, we realised how much we've already refined our toy purchase decisions over the time that Jack-Jack's been living with us. Some toys we found on the bestseller lists we'd never buy again (there's one particular toy we'll be thrilled to see the back of), others we'd highly recommend and will be replacing. Although we have a selection of each, we noticed a real preference for wooden toys over plastic for both Jack-Jack and Andy, the big exceptions being Happyland and Wow toys which both come out every day. The very few electronic toys in our collection have hardly been played with at all.

Over the years I'm sure the toys in the house will keep changing, as different children come and go, and even those of the same age will have different preferences, interests and skills, and will have toys that challenge them and help them to understand the world. By the time we've been fostering for twenty years we'll be toy connoisseurs!

Thursday, 15 August 2013


We had a call a couple of weeks ago about a young child within our preferred age range who was from the other end of the county - I rang Esmeralda at work and we quickly decided we'd go ahead with the placement. When I called the duty team back, they told me a placement had been found - they had also put the call out to agency carers as new policies stated that the child must be placed within their home region if at all possible, to avoid them having to travel too far to contact with their birth families.

This is the first we'd heard about the change, and we think it's a massive step in the right direction. When Jack-Jack was placed with us as a 6 month old, he was expected to travel an hour each way to contact, three times per week, because we live on the other side of the county. He often arrived home starving, thirsty and with a full nappy, because of course the sessional worker who transported him each way couldn't give him a drink or change his nappy on the way, and we presume the same happened at the other end. I wouldn't like to think what would have happened if he'd suffered from motion sickness!

Of course, there are always two sides to the coin - agency carers are paid considerably more than local authority carers and as a general rule are offered the more "difficult to place" placements such as older children and teenagers, children with behavioural problems, or children with disabilities. Putting the needs of the child above the financial needs of the LA is both unusual and very welcome, but there is always going to be the argument that the money could be better used elsewhere. Cuts have meant that the children's social workers we've come across have huge workloads and are horribly stretched. The solution to this problem, as ever, seems to be that we need to recruit more local authority carers!

Tuesday, 13 August 2013


Summer is a very busy time in the fostering world. We've had a huge number of calls about placements in comparison to the average we've had since we started fostering. Summer is when most families arrange to go on holiday and foster families are no different - about half of the calls we've had have been for respite whilst the child/ren's foster carers are away. We're encouraged to take the children we foster away with us on family holidays as they're part of the family, but in some cases that's just not possible - perhaps there are issues getting a passport in time, perhaps an older child doesn't want to go, perhaps there are issues with missing contact, or perhaps the holiday was booked long before the child was placed and they can't be added in.

Summer can also be a stressful time for birth families as they are not used to having their children at home 24/7 which can exacerbate issues. We've had several calls to place school-aged children at short notice over the last few weeks.

As this busy period coincides with carers going away, the matching process for placements gets much trickier for the duty team, and we've had quite a few calls for children outside our preferred age range of 0-8 (we're approved for 0-18), or even outside our approval category of 2 unrelated children. I'm sure we'll take teenagers at some point in the future, but at the moment we don't feel ready. We've only been parenting for about 8 months, whereas a birth parent gets 13 years to prepare for those interesting teenage years!

This should all die down a bit towards the end of the summer as everyone returns from their holidays, children on respite return to their regular carers, and everyone prepares for the start of a new school year, but unfortunately it will probably get busier again shortly afterwards. Many of the referrals to social services are made by schools, so the start of the new school year is an opportunity for teachers and school nurses to keep an eye on their pupils again - perhaps a child's presentation has declined since they last saw them in July, perhaps their personality has changed significantly, or perhaps a child confides in a teacher about something worrying that happened over the summer holiday.

We've turned down a couple of open-ended school-aged placements recently as we think it wouldn't be fair on Jack-Jack for his last few weeks with us, being ferried around to activities that would interest older children, and their new school year would start around the time we need to be focussing on the introductions between Jack-Jack and his new family. We are open to taking a toddler or baby placement in the mean time though, so we'll see what happens. Around this time next month, our lives could look completely different and we might be joining the ranks of frazzled parents and carers trying to get everyone organised by 8am for the school run!

Monday, 5 August 2013

Information overload (or not)

After my previous post about how hard it can be to make the decision whether or not to take a placement, I thought I'd write a post about how the process and how much information we get.

When the duty team call, their first questions are always clarifying who we have in placement (for some reason they didn't know about Andy whilst he was here so we had a couple of calls as they thought his room was empty) and where they're sleeping. The type of house we live in, how many bedrooms we have and the sleeping arrangements are on our records. Having clarified that we have the space available (if not the actual beds - we had to rush out and buy Andy a cot!) they tell us the age and gender of the child/ren they're looking to place, as well as the timescale - emergency same-day, short notice, planned. Most placements are planned in advance even if it's just by a few days, as the duty team are informed that a case is going to court, or that a situation looks to have escalated.

If we're still interested, they tell us more information if they have it available, for example:
- the area of the county they come from
- why the child has been/will be taken into care
- whether the child is currently in care, and how many placements they've had
- what the contact arrangements are likely to be
- a little bit about the parents' history i.e. if they've had a chaotic upbringing or were in care themselves, whether they've had any previous children taken into care
- finally, a bit about the child including whether they're meeting milestones, if they're in school/nursery, whether they sleep/eat well, whether there are any behavioural or emotional concerns etc.

Unless it's respite or a planned move from another foster carer, it's never absolutely certain when the child might arrive, or even whether they will come into care, but the duty team need to have placements arranged just in case. Courts can cause delays too for various reasons and the social worker might not get the outcome they expect. It's also not guaranteed that the child would come to us even if we said yes, as it's likely that the duty team will have approached several carers at once, and may have called fostering agencies too.

When the child arrives, or within the first few days, we should receive a care plan and placement plan, which should have all the details of the case so far, the child's current routine, contact arrangements, medical/allergy details, any self-care or hygiene needs, behaviours, learning needs, school/nursery/clubs information, likes/dislikes. If it's respite or they're coming from another foster carer the information should be far more detailed to try to make the transition easier on the child i.e. that she likes a specific type of cup, singing a special song at bedtime, watching a certain tv programme to signal that it's time for bed, he'll only fall asleep in the buggy cuddling his favourite toy etc. We should also get the child's red book if they're under five.

Whether or not all of this information is available is down to each individual situation - where the child has come from, how quickly they need to be placed, how long the family have been known to social services, and ultimately how conscientious the social worker is at chasing everything down, even if it's not available on the day. From our own experiences and those of other foster carers we've spoken to, it's generally an exercise in piecing facts together over time to build up a full picture, and muddling along doing the best we can in the mean time.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Saying no

Andy's moved back to his carer now, and whilst waiting for a call about our next placement we received a request to do three weeks respite for two siblings. They are much older than Jack-Jack although still within our preferred age range of 0-8 years. Esmeralda took the call and noted down all the relevant details, but when discussing it afterwards we weren't sure what the right decision was, and neither of us had any strong feelings either way. We talked through all the pros and cons, and have decided not to do the respite as we wanted to book some time away ourselves before Jack-Jack moves on. We've found it very hard saying no to placements, especially when we have the room and know it would probably work out ok. Even though rationally you know that you have good reasons and another foster home will be found, emotionally you just want to find a way to take every child! It doesn't help that the duty team sound a bit like estate agents sometimes, like they're trying hard to "sell" the idea of the child/ren to you, when all you want to hear are the facts so that you can make an informed decision. It definitely adds to the guilt...