Saturday, 23 November 2013

The right thing to say

We were doing some shopping in Sainsburys this afternoon, and were just at the till packing up, when Esmeralda noticed an older gentleman tutting behind her. She apologised and moved to the side as she thought maybe she was in his way.
"Oh it's not you that's bothering me, it's whoever that belongs to," he said, gesturing to the side and sneering.
"That" was Peter, sitting beautifully, strapped into one of the trollies made for older children, staring into space and tapping his foot gently on a sign.
"Oh, he's mine," said Esmeralda, completely shocked.
"Oh it's a boy is it?" the man replied.
The man then leaned down to Peter and stared into his face. "Smile!" the man said. Peter ignored him.
"It's not even going to smile then," the man said to me, sneered again and walked off. I wanted to run after him and punch him or have him arrested for just being a horrible person, but in the moment I had no words.

It was one of those situations where you can think of a hundred things to say after the event that would have been appropriately cutting and witty and showed the man up for who he was... but the moment passed, the man walked off and we'd said nothing.

I still don't know what the right thing to say would have been - something to set a good example, that would have shown Peter that it's unacceptable to treat people like that, and that we will always be there to stand up for him. Hopefully he doesn't remember it, and hopefully these moments and ignorant people will be few and far between.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Age appropriate behaviours

Peter has been living with us nearly five weeks now, and we're really proud of how much progress he's making. He's very delayed in most areas but it can be difficult to judge some things, as even some "normal" four year old behaviours can have very different meanings when taken in the context of Peter's past experiences, additional needs and high stress/anxiety levels when he arrived. We're now starting to see:

Pushing boundaries - he's testing Esmeralda and I to make sure that we always react the same way to his behaviour, so that he feels safe and secure. Unpredictability, inconsistency, anger etc. from adults are all very frightening, so he needs to know we're going to be calm, consistent and in control.

Refusing main meals in favour of pudding - this is actually a massive breakthrough for Peter (although can be annoying for us!) and means that he now trusts us enough that we will continue to provide him with food.  In common with many children in care, food has been one of his big anxieties and he's taking a risk refusing a meal, but he feels secure enough in our daily routine that the next meal will appear as usual.

Running off in the park… and returning! - this is another huge breakthrough and is still nerve wracking each time we test it by continuing to walk and pretending that we're not looking to see where he is. He's getting to know that we are "his" safe adults and wants to return to us.

Independent play when out of the house - this has only really started in the last week. He now no longer needs to always keep us by his side or in sight, and will go off and play by himself for short bursts at soft play. When he wants company or help, he will come and fetch us (usually both of us) and lead us by the hand. He likes to walk with each of us holding one of his hands, it's very sweet!

Imaginative play - this is a big thing for Peter specifically, as his diagnosis of severe autism means this sort of play would usually be unlikely. We've seen him pretending to cook and taste his concoctions on a toy kitchen, he pushes cars and trains around, flies helicopters, planes and rockets in the air and gallops toy horses across the floor.

And the big one… tantrums! Progress is being made here too as he settles. We're noticing a shift to less "meltdown" type tantrums, and more "goal oriented" tantrums, which are completely age appropriate. I never thought I'd get excited about a child shouting and screaming before, but when it's about something he wants but can't have or something he's not allowed to do, he responds to the behaviour being ignored, calms relatively quickly without assistance and accepts a natural consequence (i.e. the TV stays off until all the toys you've just tipped out are tidied up), then we consider it a success!

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Long term fostering

Peter's social worker has been in court for the past week discussing Peter and his siblings' futures, and has now confirmed that he'll be staying with us as a long term placement. Long term fostering is completely different to short term fostering. There are many positives, not least of which the fact that it gives the child stability and a permanent home, as there would have to be an extreme reason for a child to leave a long term placement.

Contact with his birth family will be greatly reduced to help him settle. As a comparison - Jack-Jack and Andy as short term placements both had contact three times per week, whereas the average child in a long term placement will see their birth parents around 2-4 times per year. This will give us far more freedom, as we can make normal family plans without worrying about working around frequent contact.

We will be able to move Peter to a local school which will open up opportunities for local friendships, play dates and birthday parties for him as he gets older, and will drastically cut down his travel time, giving him the chance to participate in after school activities.

Many support services and therapies such as CAMHS will only accept a referral once a child has either been adopted or is settled in a long term and stable placement, as the levels of heightened anxiety in a child who doesn't know what the future holds make working with them to help them understand their experiences and feelings very difficult.

We as foster carers will be able to make more decisions (this is known as delegated authority) without checking with Peter's social worker, or getting his parents' permission. Things like school trips, sleepovers at friends' houses, trips to see family, holidays and haircuts become easier as we won't need to wait to get a form signed.

We had an unusual reaction yesterday when someone asked us how long Peter was going to stay with us. They said how sad it was, as once he reaches 18 he'll be kicked out and on his own. I reassured them, as we will reassure Peter as he grows - I very much doubt he'll move out at 18 unless he's off to university, he definitely won't be kicked out, and when he does move out he'll always be welcome wherever we are!

It's not adoption - we're not Peter's parents, his social worker is still heavily involved, and we will continue to be paid an allowance from the local authority towards the cost of caring for him (I'm not going to pretend that this covers everything, because it doesn't!) We will work with Peter to encourage a continued and positive relationship with his birth parents, siblings and other relatives. However, this is where he will spend the rest of his childhood and adolescence, this is his home, and our network of family and friends will love and support him alongside us as he grows up.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Life with our 4 year old

Just as I was starting to write this post, I thought I'd check something in my "Fostering" folder on the computer. This is where we save all our meeting reports, training certificates, finances, diaries etc. relating to fostering. Cue a massive panic - no sign of the folder and we have a meeting tomorrow that I need to prepare for. Five minutes later I discover that Peter has somehow renamed the folder "bvbv" and moved it to the other side of the desktop. Panic over, time to password-lock the computer!

We had a great half term together building trust and making memories. Peter is a funny, creative, independent, playful, determined little guy with a cheeky sense of humour! He is sensory-seeking, which for him means that he likes very loud sounds, licks random things, chews his fingers/cuffs/zip pulls, and loves for us to stroke his skin. We're getting to know his likes, dislikes and triggers, and he's learning our few house rules. He really wants to communicate and his speech is coming on in leaps and bounds with words getting clearer all the time and new words being added to his vocabulary every day, it's so exciting to watch. We've felt privileged to be part of all our foster children's lives, but with Peter even more so as we hope that he'll be with us long term, and we'll be able to see him grow and progress into the adult he's meant to be.

I know it's cheesy to say, but this really is one of the most rewarding jobs on the planet.