Monday, 30 September 2013

Why I love babywearing as a foster carer

Esmeralda and I are big advocates for babywearing. We own a variety of different slings and carriers - Jack-Jack was carried in one almost every day that he was with us, and had at least one of his daily naps in the carrier for the first few months as he found it difficult to settle in his cot. Even as he got older, if we were out over nap time the only chance we had of getting him to sleep was to pop him in a sling - on my front to start with, and then on my back as he grew too tall to see over. He loved it. From very young, as soon as he saw me pick up a carrier he'd squeal with excitement and crawl or walk over to me in expectation. Andy was also carried - firstly out of necessity on dog walks where we couldn't take the buggy, but he too obviously liked it, he'd come over and raise his arms to be carried if he saw me pick up "his" sling, and would occasionally ask to get out of the buggy and into the sling if we were out.

Neither boy was that fussed about standing still but were both happy to be carried for miles - Jack-Jack arrived in January and I spent hours of my life pacing up and down in the hallway at home when it was too cold to go outside and he was napping. I became quite adept at reading whilst walking, holding the book behind his head as he slept. The rocking motion of walking is so soothing to little ones, it never took him very long to drop off but he'd always wake up the moment I stopped walking!

Being in a sling doesn't have the same forced intimacy of a cuddle, hold or cradle, but at the same time it's fantastic to provide comfort and promote trust, attachment and bonding, particularly for a confused and anxious little person who has recently moved primary carer. There's no expectation of eye contact, or any communication at all, but it really does encourage little ones to engage much more than being sat in a buggy facing away from the carer would do. They're up in your eye line, so can see what you're pointing out as you're talking to them, and can communicate as much or as little as they feel comfortable. Even when on my back, Jack-Jack would be chattering, singing and trilling away to me constantly, whilst pointing over my shoulder to get my attention focussed on whatever he was looking at, or to let me know there was an interesting texture he wanted to reach out and touch. When tired, overwhelmed or over-stimulated, he would rest his head against me and shut out the world for a few minutes or fall asleep.

It was invaluable during separation anxiety or illness (it was the only way we could get any housework done at all at those times whilst giving Jack-Jack the security he needed), and for toddlers and preschoolers, particularly those who are fostered or adopted, it can help when they're going through periods of regression and need extra nurturing. Even though Peter's older, due to his additional needs we still intend to offer a carrier as an option for him, although it will be his choice of course.

Modern ergonomic carriers are so comfy and well designed, there are really no downsides to it. As an aside, although the child's weight is spread comfortably, a long walk is still a great workout for the person carrying which has got to be a bonus! I fully expect to have muscles of steel within a few months if I do end up regularly carrying a 4 year old...

Friday, 20 September 2013

No news is no news

We're still waiting to hear whether the logistics have been sorted out so that we can start planning Peter's move to us. In the mean time, the other day we received a call to take an emergency placement of three school-aged siblings. After a few deep breaths we said if needed we'd take them for a week or so until they could be found a suitable longer term placement. We were told that they could arrive at any time, so with Esmeralda at work I spent the afternoon running around like a mad thing preparing the house and putting together enough beds of the right sizes for the three children. When everything was ready I received a call from the duty team saying that other arrangements had been made and the placement was no longer required.

It's only been just over a week that we haven't had a child placed with us but it feels like such a long time! We've been spending our time going out for breakfast, doing online training courses and reorganising cupboards. Hopefully we'll have more news on Monday.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Fostering before having your own children

When we initially looked into fostering, we wondered whether not having previously had our own children would count against us in the assessment, but in reality we found the opposite was true. Our social worker Jane and her manager both seemed quite excited by us - here was a couple who could focus all their attention and energy on fostering as they had no other children to distract them. We were convinced of the benefits too, and looked forward to a new life as foster carers whilst planning to add to our family by other means later on.

Now that we're getting on for our first annual review and have said goodbye to two foster placements our outlook is somewhat different, and at the moment we would caution anyone who was considering short-term fostering without also having had their own birth/adopted children, or without any foster children on permanency.

There's very little I can say that can accurately describe how it has felt since Jack-Jack has moved out. Of course we miss him, but it's much much more than that. The house feels empty and too quiet. There's no one shouting at us to wake up in the morning so we keep oversleeping, we've both been absolutely shattered (the intros really take it out of you) and haven't had the energy to cook so we haven't been eating as healthily as usual, plus there's no one to set a good example for! Without a child we both feel a bit like frauds right now and we've been avoiding the friends with children we've made since starting fostering.

Of course there's the practical aspect too - fostering is my full time job so between placements I have not only nothing to do, but no income, which makes it rather more difficult to do the things we haven't been able to do with a baby in the house, like going out for dinner, to the theatre or the cinema.

We didn't have any of this when Andy left. It wasn't easy and we missed him, but our routine didn't change as we still had Jack-Jack and his routine to focus on. It's made us want to look at bringing forward our plans for starting a family so that as we continue to foster and placements come and go, we'll have our own children to hold that bit tighter and appreciate that bit more.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

An end and a new beginning

Jack-Jack has now moved to his new home, and although it hadn't been planned this way, we ended up meeting the little boy we hope will be our next placement the same day. Peter is four years old and has a high level of additional needs, but we're confident that we would be able to help him blossom and reach his potential. He's lovely, sociable and talented, and at the moment is functioning at around the level of a very young toddler, with all the frustrations and tantrums that go along with that. It's not definite that he'll move in with us yet as all the social workers are still involved in negotiations around the arrangements for school, contact and support services if the move was to go ahead. Fingers crossed, we have his room ready for him.

When Jack-Jack left, we started to get the house ready for the next child. With Peter in mind, we packed up all the baby toys, got out bits and pieces for older children like jigsaws and imaginative toys and reorganised the living room. We cleared out the larger spare room upstairs (it had been Andy's room but had turned into a bit of a dumping ground over the Summer,) made up the bed and put out a few books and ornaments to make it look welcoming. We took down the blackout blind from Jack-Jack's window, aired the room and moved the furniture. Overnight the house felt strange and empty, but it really helped that when we woke up, Jack-Jack's room wasn't just how he left it and there weren't loads of reminders around.

We've coped surprisingly well - we held it together throughout introductions and the final handover, and had a big cry whilst sorting through the old baby toys once it was all over. I'm sure we'll have many more over the next few days and weeks, but it's lovely to have someone new to focus on. Lady has actually been the most affected in the household in many ways as we couldn't explain anything to her - she was extremely unsettled over the last few days of introductions, and has been moping since Jack-Jack left. It feels very odd having so much freedom again (we took Lady for a walk after 6pm today which was absolutely unheard of whilst Jack-Jack was here as we were all about the bedtime routine), but we're trying to enjoy it and rest as much as we can before we embark on the next great adventure.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Moving on up

Jack-Jack's introductions with his parents are underway, and are going very well. His parents are honest, open and friendly which has made the process so much easier (they say the same about us!) and we're stepping back gradually to allow them to take over his care and start forming a bond with him. He's going through a wonderfully cuddly phase at the moment and Mummy and Daddy have both been treated to cuddles already which was so sweet to see. Everyone acknowledges that the situation is a bit awkward at times (who jumps up if he's touching something he shouldn't or is about to fall off something?) and will be hard on all of us in different ways, but we can already see what the life he'll lead might look like, and it's full of love which is ultimately all we ever wanted for him. Jack-Jack will meet his older sibling for the first time today and will spend the day together as a family, which might be a bit of a shock for both of them!

It turns out we didn't need to worry about having an empty nest - we've already had a call about another little boy who we think could be a very good match for our family. It would be a planned move as he's already in foster care, but he has various additional needs so we've got lots of questions for his social worker and current foster carer before we agree to take him - we need as much information as possible to ensure that we could make the placement a success and do our best to avoid any unnecessary moves.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Lives touched

Lately we've been having to tell people that it's probably the last time they'll see Jack-Jack. We chatted about it a while ago as so much in fostering is on a "need to know" basis, but decided that it would be unfair in most situations to tell people after he's gone, to give them the opportunity to work through their feelings rather than just saying out of the blue that he's left us. It's amazing how many people have been involved in his life since he's been here, even people we wouldn't previously have thought of. Most of these know we foster, but hadn't really put two and two together and truly realised that Jack-Jack would have to leave one day.

Our neighbour who has a child of a similar age was moved to tears when we told her, our cleaner who's known Jack-Jack since he was six months old was quite upset, our hairdresser who's been rooting for us since our first visit from our local authority and who did Jack-Jack's first haircut was shocked, Esmeralda's manager who's never even met Jack-Jack got emotional when she authorised Esmeralda's annual leave for the week of introductions, and friends and family who've welcomed Jack-Jack into their lives and love him as we do are obviously very affected too.

It's pretty awful every time. There seems to be an even split between people who try and put a positive spin on it - they look horrified and don't make eye contact whilst saying things like "oh how lovely, a new family", and those who have pity in their eyes and say "oh no" and "it must be so difficult". To the last comment we've just started saying "yes it is" and leaving it at that.

We've got the planning meeting for the introductions coming up, I think we'll both feel much more at ease after we know exactly what's happening and when, but right now we're a bit all over the place.