Sunday, 27 December 2015

It's the most overwhelming time of the year!

It's been a strange Christmas this year. Esmeralda's mum has been staying with us as usual, but we spent half of Christmas Day with Russell in his hospital room, and the other half travelling to and from the hospital (on lovely quiet roads though, that was a definite plus!) Russell enjoyed the experience and we took some lovely photos of him with his stocking full of presents, sitting in his new jumperoo, and surrounded by shiny wrapping paper! Even though we only took five presents to the hospital for him Peter became overwhelmed after about two so we stopped there. The room is sweltering and small, the lights are very bright, there are so many different smells and nurses coming in and out so we can't even keep the door closed and dim the lights. He also absolutely hates it when young children or babies cry, and unfortunately there are a lot of crying babies in hospitals!

Peter did very well considering but spent much of the time on high anxiety alert staring into space and talking nonsense, zoned out watching Tractor Ted and having mini meltdown after mini meltdown. He has barely slept since Christmas Eve and hasn't really been able to enjoy anything. He really needs life to return to normal so we'll be having some quiet days, taking down the decorations, ignoring the rest of his presents until he is better able to cope, and eagerly awaiting the return of his clubs (he does running, horse riding for the disabled and swimming lessons) in a week or so when term starts again.

We're looking forward to next year when we'll all be together at home and we'll be able to relax and celebrate in a way that meets all our needs. We've had enough of hospitals - Russell included!

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Mary, did you know?

We have two Pentatonix Christmas albums in the car at the moment, and a song that has particularly struck me recently (whilst belting it out at the top of my voice on the motorway to and from the hospital to see Russell) is "Mary, did you know?"

It makes me think about the little ones we're privileged to care for, and their futures. I feel for the birth mothers who were the first to hold these newborn bundles of potential but won't be there for the rest of the journey. We don't know what the children's special skills will be, how they will make a difference in the world or anything about the men and women that they'll become, we just try to do the best we can whilst they're with us. I'm sure Mary wasn't a perfect parent all the time, but she raised an amazing man!

Monday, 30 November 2015

Another special one year old

Little Russell is nearly one! This is a huge milestone for all babies, but especially for Russell as there were more than a few moments in his first year when no one was sure whether he would make it through. He's stable and doing well now. The doctors would like him to put more weight on but he's not underweight for his corrected age and he's stopped frightening everyone when he gets a cold! He's still in hospital, but we hope to have him home in the New Year and then his life can really begin!

We have presents, bunting, banners, helium and normal balloons, a wooden cake if he's not in the mood to play, a chocolate cake if he is, a big foster brother keen to "help" with the cake, a birthday vest for him wear and a builders tray to contain the mess. All the ingredients for a memorable 1st birthday party! A good friend of ours with awesome camera skills is coming to the hospital to take photos. Russell won't remember any of this of course but he will be able to look at the photos in years to come and know that we celebrated his special day in the best way we could!

Monday, 9 November 2015

Buying for a disabled or developmentally delayed child

With Christmas approaching I thought I would do a post to help friends and family of children who are not developing typically choose a Christmas present. So here's how we like to choose gifts for our special little ones.

1) Forget about the age it says on the box!

This can be hard as it's so ingrained in us that baby toys are for babies, but at six years old Peter loves many toys and books aimed at babies or toddlers. They are designed to stimulate senses and use simple language which is exactly what he needs.

Russell will be one year old by Christmas but isn't rolling yet and doesn't have any sitting balance, so many of the toys aimed at the 12-18 month age group will not be appropriate for him. He also has a visual impairment so we are looking for toys to stimulate his vision and encourage him to start moving.

2) Don't automatically ignore items aimed at older children or adults.

If an item relates to Peter's current interests (space, cars, maps, trains and butterflies), it's a big hit - especially coffee table or encyclopaedia type books.

As Russell hasn't left hospital yet, and in fact has only been outside three times, we're looking for gifts with mirrors or real-world imagery rather than lots of bright colours and cartoon characters.

3) Remember that many children have a "spiky profile" where their skills may be age appropriate in one area but delayed in another, so for example Peter can easily complete a 100 piece puzzle but wouldn't understand the simplest board game aimed at pre-schoolers.

4) Don't worry if you're asked to do something out of your comfort zone or that seems unusual!

Peter doesn't like wrapping paper as it makes him anxious, so we ask for unwrapped gifts for him (or unwrap them ourselves before he sees them). We've also heard of families wrapping gifts in transparent cellophane or sticking a photo of the gift on the outside so there are no surprises.

As Russell has a tracheostomy we need to insist on no glitter, sand, or soft toys with fine fibres that may go into his lungs.

5) Have fun choosing! These are all gifts that Peter and Russell would love to receive this Christmas:

Ravensburger 100 piece Snowman puzzleDiscovery 50mm astronomical telescopeB SymphonyPintoy Tower SlopeTidlo Double Sided Easel with PaperDebenhams Space RailFuntime Newton's Cradle Executive Desktop ToyPaladone Scrabble LightScience Museum Magnetic Sand TimerDisney Cars Book

Baby Einstein Playtime Explorer Gift SetBright Starts Roll and Glow MonkeyTomy choo choo loopBright Starts Light and Giggle DrumBaby Einstein Neptune Magical Lights MirrorDebenhams Party Bulb

This post was written as an entry to the Debenhams "Dear Santa..." competition. Five lucky bloggers will each win £100 vouchers to spend on toys from their range.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

A family update

Peter has had a great Summer and has just gone back to school into year 2. He has put up with a lot of change as one of us has been at the hospital with Russell most of the time, and has thrived with all the challenges that have come his way. He's getting stronger and fitter all the time - he now regularly runs 1km at our local running club, his confidence has increased: this Summer he's tried rock climbing for the first time and has climbed right to the top of the biggest climbing frame at any of our local playgrounds. He's taught himself to read, he's constantly experimenting and enquiring, his speech has improved, he loves imaginative play and he's developing a real sense of humour. He has a keen interest in butterflies so we've been providing him with resources, he can now identify 6 or 7 different species and will spend half an hour at a time sitting in the garden watching all the butterflies visit our buddleja. He's such a little character!

Russell has also started thriving since he became part of our family. When we first met him he was seven months old but like a newborn in terms of his development, except for his utter disinterest in whether anyone was with him or not. He's now 9 months old and about 3-4 months developmentally, but his whole demeanour is different - he's interested in us, wants our attention and is starting to demand it which is great. We've completed our training in his care and do everything for him whilst we're at the hospital. We're hoping to be able to take him on outings soon (accompanied by his ventilator and all his equipment!) and work up to day leave, overnight leave, and then hopefully he can be discharged home by November. We have a lot to prepare at home before he comes, and it will completely change our lives (again!), but we're looking forward to it. He's definitely worth it.

We were really pleased to receive an email from Belle's adoptive family recently, telling us how well she's doing, with some photos from their busy Summer. It's so lovely to see how happy they are and hear about their new life as a family of four, it sounds like Belle is keeping them on their toes and is making loads of progress!

We have more change on the way as we've decided to move house to give Russell a downstairs bedroom, Peter more space to play, and our dogs Lady and Nana a bigger garden to run around in! We're in the process of packing boxes, and since we're moving over county lines we're visiting new schools for Peter too. Our local authority accepts foster carers from neighbouring counties so we don't need to change fostering agencies thankfully.

It's a busy time but we're sure everything will settle down by Christmas... perhaps it will then be time for us to go back on the lists for a third placement!

Saturday, 11 July 2015


We were approached a few months ago about a little boy who's been in hospital his whole life with various medical needs, and will probably be there until the end of the year whilst he gets bigger and stronger. Many of these issues are likely to continue once he comes home, so we've gone through all sorts of risk assessments to check that our house is suitable, that we know what we're taking on in terms of daily care and supervision, and that we have room for all of his medical equipment.

We accepted the placement, met Russell for the first time a couple of weeks ago and he feels like part of the family already. It's so important for babies' brain development to build up attachment with primary carers (especially as in Russell's case he has none at the moment), so one of us has been staying at the hospital with him most of the day and night. It's hard work as we miss spending family time with each other, and it's a lot of driving as the hospital is over an hour from our house, but little Russell is worth it and we can't wait to have him home.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Six years old

Peter is nearly six! Here are six things we love about you, Peter.

1) You truly follow your own interests without an awareness of the outside influences of "gender" or "age". Your favourite colour is pink, and you count butterflies and Tinkerbell amongst your favourite things, alongside cars and trains. Many of your toys have an age guide of 12-36 months on the box, but they make you happy and you couldn't care less.

2) How much you love books. "Read together?" you say, and when I agree, you skip off gleefully and return with a handful. "Five stories mama! This one first!" I have no doubt that the hundreds of stories we've read together (including several hundred repetitions of the same ones!) combined with your incredible memory have contributed to your awesome word recognition. You're starting to read before you can speak fluently - that's skill!

3) You still love to sing and can now hold a tune which is so lovely to hear (although maybe not at 5am at the top of your voice...)

4) You have no understanding yet of winning or losing, you can still just enjoy the race.

5) You find the world a confusing and frightening place much of the time, but you're happy to go to new places and try new things as long as we're with you. We're so proud of you!

6) You have no idea how significant every one of your achievements is when we think about the dismal prognosis you were given when you first came into care, and you continue to amaze us daily. We were asked in a meeting recently whether we understood what your limits would be in terms of what you could achieve and what your adult life will look like. For a moment we didn't understand the question as to us you have no limits whatsoever! We hope you will see yourself the same way as you grow up and will never allow another person to tell you what you cannot do because of your disability.

It's a privilege being your mummy and mama, and we couldn't ask for a better foster son. We look forward to the next year with you!

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Unexpected news

This morning we took down the photos of Alice from "her" bedroom door and have officially gone back on the duty boards as having a vacancy.

We were first approached to take Alice as a permanency placement in August last year. We agreed in principle, but despite lots of conversations back and forth between our social worker and hers, nothing ever happened. We found out in October that her current carer had decided to keep her permanently. In February 2015 we were approached again as Alice's carer had again decided she could no longer keep her, so they were looking for permanent carers. We spoke to her social worker, the team manager and Alice's OT came out to visit us, and we all agreed that we could provide an excellent home for her. Introductions were planned, and although we heard a rumour that her current carer had changed her mind, we were told the local authority were definitely moving her to us as the constant change of plans meant that the placement was no longer stable. We decorated her room, bought personalised bits and pieces, and purchased equipment we were told she needed but didn't have. We met Alice on the first day of introductions and fell in love with her. Permanent fostering is a step down from adoption but is similar in many ways - it's committing to a child until adulthood and beyond - they're part of your family. We had mentally welcomed Alice into our family, prepared Peter for her arrival and were looking forward to our future together watching them both grow up.

On the Monday of the week she was due to move in, we were told that her current carer had registered a surprise interest in adopting her so although the local authority didn't support their application, legally Alice cannot be moved until the assessment is complete. We don't know why this has happened. The carer had been given so many opportunities to express her interest to adopt, and she chose the first day of introductions after we had met Alice to do so.

The impact of this on our family has been huge as you can imagine, and we've had to grieve both for the little girl we'd been thinking of as our daughter, and for the life we won't have with her. We've lost our enthusiasm for permanent fostering for now as we'd emotionally invested so much into this match and are nervous about it happening again. This experience will change our approach to placements - there will be no assumptions and minimal preparations until the child walks through our door and the paperwork is signed.

Friday, 1 May 2015

The urge to nest

Pregnancy and parenting magazines talk about the urge to nest all the time - giving the house a spring clean, washing, organising and reorganising piles of baby clothes, buying furniture and decorating the nursery (even if they plan to keep the baby in the parents' room for the first year!)

Adopters talk about fighting the urge to nest - knowing that it's logical to wait until after matching panel before mentally moving a child in, buying things for them and decorating their room, but finding it extremely difficult!

It's a good thing - apparently nesting comes with great bursts of energy in what would otherwise be a tiring, frustrating waiting exercise, and it's not irrational in the slightest - it is all about the desire to protect and prepare for the child who's about to arrive, so that there's a safe environment to facilitate bonding between the child and it's primary carers. This bonding and attachment is crucial whether the child is born to you, arrives through adoption or as a foster placement.

As foster carers we definitely get the urge, and these days we just tend to go with it rather than fight it. We are desperate to rearrange Belle's room ready for Alice, and have already bought her a few bits even though we don't know what will be coming with her from her current carer. We also may or may not have purchased some adorable baby vests the other day for a baby who we're having discussions about, and they haven't even gone to court yet. We've kept the receipt so we're not completely crazy…

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Forever families

We're in the middle of a very busy few weeks where two stories are playing out simultaneously in our house, as two little girls are meeting and moving in with their forever families.

Belle is meeting her new parents tomorrow for the first time. She has gone to sleep in her cot tonight oblivious, but tomorrow is the start of a new life for her. She'll spend more and more time with her parents as they gradually take over all her day to day care, and then in about a week she'll go to live with them and their lives will never be the same again.

Another little girl, we'll call her Alice, is also oblivious to the changes that are about to happen. We haven't met her yet, but in just a few weeks she'll be living with us. It might be a tough transition as she's been with her current carers for several years, but we're going to be her final move as she'll stay with us until adulthood.

Even though the legalities of permanency for the two children are very different, the process from the child's perspective is very similar - once plans are made the child is prepared in advance as much as their age and level of understanding will allow. We have received a special talking photo album for Belle from her new family to help familiarise her with their faces and voices. They've also sent videos including all family members and pets, and taken her on a virtual house tour - technology is a wonderful thing in preparing a child for permanency! We've done a similar photo album for Alice and are thinking about recording a bedtime story for her carers to play for her.

There are quite a few good products to help out there, here's a selection:

Whoozit photo album

Lamaze hear me see me photo album

Sparkup magical book reader

We'll all miss Belle but her new parents are lovely, and hopefully it will be a good week. It would be awkward if the foster carers and adopters didn't get on at all, since most of the "action" is in the foster carer's home, for the first few days at least! Once Belle has moved on, we will take down the cot, rearrange the furniture, put away the baby toys and start decorating the room ready for Alice.

That's something we've learned in fostering - there's always another child who needs a safe home, so rooms are never empty for long.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Speech update

I thought I'd post a little update on Peter's speech as we recently noticed how much he's progressed. He came to us 18 months ago aged 4, able to count to ten and say circle, square, monkey, water and car. None of it was clear, but you could just about work it out. Apart from that he communicated only in screams, or by leading us by the hand to whatever he wanted.

We recently decided with the lighter nights it was a good time to make his bedtime later as part of a new “grown up” routine now he’s nearly six, and he now gets a couple of hours of play time after tea rather than going straight up for his bath. My wife puts Belle to bed and then goes to work, and we do Peter’s choice of activities with my undivided attention until it’s bathtime. The chosen activities have ranged from reading stories, to rolling back and forth together on the trampoline for half an hour giggling, to building an awesome train track or marble run, but more often than not at the moment he wants me to draw on his magnadoodle. It’s fascinating getting an insight into his mind and the things he thinks about, and his speech is getting better and better as he has to find the words to describe what he wants me to draw. He looks forward to this all day and we spend at least half an hour every evening with me drawing whatever he asks, often things from books or from his own experience with a happy rectangle taking the place of himself. There’s a lot of imagination going on there too.

Examples to test my drawing skills have been:

– Caterpillar on a skateboard. A big fat one. No, now a little one. Five little caterpillars on skateboards. And then chocolate cake. Caterpillar eats it! Ha ha ha!

– Rectangle in the sea. Feet. Eyes and mouth. Armbands on. Swim pants on. Splashy toes. BIG SPLASH! Good swimming, rectangle!

– Thomas and Rosie and James and Percy. Eyes. Happy mouth. Wheels. Tracks. Tracks round the corner this way (gestures). Now left. Tunnel. Clouds. Stars. It's night time, goodnight Thomas. Thomas going to bed in Tidmouth Sheds.

- One hundred beautiful butterflies! (I think we got to about 20 before the magnadoodle screen was full.)

Amazingly, he has had no direct speech therapy as the school therapist has been unable to engage him, although we may find a private one in the future. We put him on fish oils early on to help his concentration and focus, and we believe that weekly music therapy has had a positive effect on his communication. Other than that, it has been mainly about finding what he wanted to talk about, following his lead and providing the vocabulary for him. A lot of his speech has come from echolalia - repeating phrases from books, TV programs or things that he's heard us say. Over time he's been able to adapt these, adding in or replacing words to fit new situations.

We're meeting Belle's adopters tomorrow and she'll be moving to her new family at the beginning of May. We're not sure yet how Peter will take this, I gently broached the subject for the first time tonight and we'll do some visual photo work with him to prepare him, and hopefully reassure him that he's staying with us. He's clearly fond of her and calls her "my Belle", but she's been going through a phase of crying a lot lately so he might just appreciate the peace, who knows! It won't last for long as we have more than one potential placement on the horizon. Watch this space!

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Mixing foster carers and adopters

Friends of ours who foster are going through the assessment to adopt and have shared some of their experiences so far with us. It's interesting to hear about things from the other side, as of course Jack-Jack was adopted from our care, and Belle's placement order has been granted so family finding for her is underway.

Our friends have said that one of the strangest parts of their assessment was going on the adoption training course and being the only foster carers amongst a sea of fresh-faced adopters. It struck us as odd to have adopters and foster carers on the same course (foster carers are not invited to adoption training to speak and share their experiences, so the only time foster carers would attend is if they were themselves adopting.) As foster carers we know the system. We've cared for the traumatised children they're talking about, we've met birth parents, we've heard countless histories of abuse and neglect, we've gone through adoption introductions ourselves.

Foster carers, as a group, can be somewhat cynical and matter-of-fact when we get together at training or coffee mornings. We have so many shared experiences, we understand what each other are going through, we're quite difficult to shock, and foster carer coffee mornings usually involve a lot of moaning. It's a frustrating job - we work extremely hard for the children we care for and come up against so many barriers as social workers are overworked or services are oversubscribed. Sometimes it's a case of laughing otherwise we'd cry, and we need a safe place to unload and vent.

The adoption training usually comes before the full assessment starts, so the adopters may have little to no understanding of trauma, loss, abuse and adoption at this point.

Our friends said that one of the group exercises was "write down as many examples of physical/emotional/sexual abuse or neglect that you can think of." An upsetting exercise, but the point of the session was to make the adopters think about what their future child may have gone through before they were taken into care. In their small group, the adopters wrote down a few examples such as not keeping the children clean, not giving them enough food, hitting them etc. and then the foster carers joined in and rattled off twenty or so examples from the various histories of children they'd cared for, ranging from relatively minor to extreme. They suddenly noticed the adopters faces going ashen and toned it down, stepping back from the conversation.

It must be extremely hard as a social worker or experienced adopter delivering adoption training. You don't want to scare off the group of keen and eager adopters in front of you but it would be doing the children a disservice not to tell the truth and pretend that life was going to be rosy. Adoption is not for everyone and it is so different to parenting a child born to you - the child's past is always going to be their past and adopters need to feel comfortable sharing it with the child at an age appropriate level throughout their childhood. Most adopters these days are expected to write letters to their child's birth parents, grandparents or siblings once a year and there may be face to face contact with the child's foster carers if they were with them a long time, or with siblings who have also been placed for adoption. Relatives and friends may not understand and may even unknowingly undermine the child's placement with their forever family at first, and it can feel extremely isolating needing to parent a child in a different way to meet their needs.

I do think it would be a good idea to involve foster carers in the delivery of adoption training to give another view point, but perhaps separate training sessions should be held for foster carers who are adopting - taking out all the information we are already well informed on and focussing on the future - letterbox contact, talking to your child about adoption, the differences between caring for a foster child and an adopted child, and continuing to foster after adoption. Time for a letter to BAAF perhaps!

Sunday, 15 February 2015


Fostering is definitely not a career to get into if you're a private person. The assessment process is long and intrusive, asking every detail about your life - including very personal matters such as past partners, health issues, IVF journey or miscarriages, reactions to traumatic events or bereavements, finances including any debts or bankruptcy, and if you're in a couple they will even cover your sex life. These are not matters anyone is used to discussing with someone they don't know well, and it can be very uncomfortable. Any skeletons in the closet will be uncovered and laid open, and although your social worker will be sensitive, it can be awkward at times.

You'd think this would be the end of the intrusion, but it's just the beginning!

With two children in placement and space for a third we barely have a week go by without a professional at our house. Our social worker Jane visits every 2-3 months, the children's social workers visit every 6 weeks, we have visits from health visitors, portage, dieticians, speech therapists, independent reviewing officers and court appointed guardians. Any of these can also bring a student at any time!

Contact is an intrusion on family life whether it occurs in the family home or not. We organise our lives around our children's contact sessions and are scrutinised by the birth parents and the contact supervisors on the clothes we send the children in, the car seat we've provided, the snacks we send for them, the information we choose to write in the contact book, even down to the brand of nappies and wipes.

We had a lady from portage come to see Belle recently. She arrived on a day when Peter was unwell and off school, and Peter and I were building a marble run together. The portage lady came into the living room, looked genuinely surprised, and said "oh it's lovely that you take an interest in the children." Excuse me? What on earth was she expecting?

Above all, there is the constant scrutiny and feeling of being judged by everyone - social workers, parents, health visitor, therapists, school, and even random people who know that the child is looked after. For some reason, when a child is looked after people feel that they have a right to comment on their upbringing as part of some sort of shared social responsibility. You wouldn't believe the questions and comments that are said to us with the children standing right there.

The good news is that local authorities have a policy that fostering shouldn't interfere with family life, as a stable family life is exactly what looked after children need. We are allowed to, and have, requested for meetings and contact sessions to be rearranged to fit in with family plans. We have a LAC review for Belle at our house this week and because it's half term, Peter will be present. We've warned everyone that we don't know how he will cope with having his living room full of strangers, and if it looks like it's having a negative effect on him we will end the meeting early and rearrange.

Having a lack of privacy is one thing for us as adults, but we still need to advocate for the children we care for and make sure that being in a fostering family and having our lives open for surveillance is not negatively affecting them.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

You can pick your friends...

...but you can't pick your social worker!*

The longer we foster and the more social workers we meet, the more grateful we become of our wonderful supervising social worker Jane. We were really fortunate that Jane was also the social worker who assessed us, so she has known us since we first did our "Skills to Foster" training and has been alongside us right through our fostering journey. She does everything in her power to make sure we feel listened to and supported. She's patiently sat through many a rant and has always managed to stay sympathetic - quite an achievement! Of course she's limited by the policies and budgets of the local authority, but we understand that and are able to separate her support of us from the "no" she unfortunately has to say quite often.

For a short term placement we don't have much say in the matter - duty phones us, we discuss the child's needs and details, and we make a decision. We don't usually speak to or meet the child's social worker until the child is placed. It's a lottery - we definitely drew the short straw with Jack-Jack's social worker but have been extremely blessed with Belle's. She gets back to us quickly, is on the ball with organising things that Belle needs, and it's clear that she genuinely cares about her.

For long term/permanency placements we're able to be much more discerning as there are (should be!) multiple conversations and meetings with the child's social worker before the child is placed. This is a person that we will potentially have to work with for the next 15 years so it's important that we feel that they're going to do basic things like reply to messages quickly, work with us to provide things that the child needs, and that they really care about the child achieving and progressing. As we are planning to specialise as disability carers this is even more important as the child's needs are greater, their social worker is not a specialist in their condition, and children with additional needs typically stay with their carers until they're 24 rather than 18, so the relationship with the social worker can be even longer!

Some social workers are a bit like salesmen. We met with one recently about a potential permanent placement who has a disability. He stayed for nearly two hours, and by the end of this we didn't know any more about the child than the basic details we had found out over the phone from Jane. The conversation was peppered with "she's a lovely child", "she's beautiful inside and out", and "people are drawn to her". Any detailed questions we asked about her condition and how it affects her day to day were deflected - he clearly didn't know and hadn't taken the time to find out from her current carers. We've decided not to pursue the placement for several reasons, but this was definitely taken into consideration which is sad for the child as it's nothing to do with them and could get in the way of a great match with the right carer.

*Of course as a carer if you don't get on with your social worker you can request a different one, and if a child's social worker isn't doing their job correctly there is a complaints process that the child, parent or carer can follow.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Belle turns one

We had Belle's 1st birthday last week, and although she spent the majority of the day at contact with her family, we had time to help her open her presents and take some lovely birthday photos. She of course had no idea what was going on but very much enjoyed the attention and the cake!

So Belle, on the occasion of your 1st birthday, here are the things we love about you:

- Your determination. You already get cross with yourself when your body doesn't move the way you want it to yet, and you definitely don't want our help. You practise and practise, getting stronger each day, and were very pleased with yourself recently when you started to crawl.

- Your independence. You decided when you wanted your feeding tube out, we listened to you, and you've been in control of your feeding ever since. We're amazed by the way the tiny tube-fed baby with an oral aversion has embraced eating every flavour and texture that comes her way!

- Your voice. Belle, you are LOUD! Nobody really likes being shouted at, but for you we'll make an exception because we're so proud of how far you've come. You were silent when you arrived, but you are now more than able to make your needs and feelings known, with great gusto.

It might sound strange but although we'll miss her, we're really looking forward to Belle's adoption. We know she's not destined to stay a part of our family and we're looking forward to introducing her to her parents and telling them all about her. Belle's social worker is particularly fond of her, and we're confident she'll take extra time finding just the right family for her. Our part to play in her life will soon be coming to an end, but we know with the foundation we've helped to give her, she'll go from strength to strength.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Peter's new friend Nana

Esmeralda and I are booked onto a course run by Dogs for the Disabled this year, where we can learn how to train a family pet to become an autism assistance dog for Peter. The dog we already had, Lady, unfortunately is completely unsuitable - we love her very much but she's too easily excited to be the calm presence we need from an assistance dog. We've been looking in various rescues and shelters for the right dog on and off for about a year, and a couple of weeks ago we found her. She's a one year old labrador husky cross, amazing with children, very bright, still very much a big puppy but surprisingly unflappable (which is important because in our house there's certainly a lot of happy flapping!)

I'm going to call her Nana for the blog, (it would be wonderful if she learned how to make the children's beds like her namesake on Peter Pan!) we're sure she'll do well with her training, she's already an integral part of the family.

After a bit of a rocky start, she and Lady became best friends. They whine when they're separated and they play beautifully together.

Peter's reaction to Nana came as a bit of a shock to us. It took him months to even acknowledge Lady when he moved in, it was like she wasn't even there and he hasn't ever spoken to her directly. He hasn't been interested in animals whatsoever - zoos and farm parks are the worst places ever in Peter's opinion, unless they have a good playground! Imagine our surprise when after less than an hour in the house we heard hysterical laughter coming from the bathroom where Peter was eating his pudding in the bath and found Nana with her paws up on the side of the tub being fed spoonfuls of yoghurt by a giggling Peter saying "one for Peter, one for Nana"! (Not something we would normally encourage but it was so lovely we turned a blind eye.) That night, and every night since, she fell asleep at the end of his bed during his bedtime story, much to his delight. The first thing he says every morning is a cheerful "Good morning Nana!" and he's keenly interested in watching Nana's routine and the commands she's learning. We're sure this is the start of a lifelong friendship.

Thursday, 15 January 2015


I'd just like to highlight how powerless and overlooked we feel as foster carers sometimes.

Although we live with them 24 hours a day and know them best, we don't have any parental responsibility for our foster children, this is shared between their parents and their social worker. We have what's known as delegated authority, so can make day to day decisions like when they have a haircut (although not a change of style), what they have for dinner, taking them to the doctor or deciding whether they can go on a school trip. We cannot sign consent forms for medical procedures, complete a passport application, change the child's name, take them out of the country without written permission, cancel a contact session with parents (even if the child is unwell - we have been appalled at the reluctance of duty social workers to cancel the contact of vomiting or infectious children) or authorise a change of school.

Peter's school is completely wrong for him and is not meeting his needs. We've known this since before the Summer and have put the relevant wheels in motion, yet we do not have the authority to remove him, nor to look at other schools to find a suitable alternative. The more we get to know him and understand the sources of his anxieties, the more we think that home education would be a good option for him, yet foster children are not allowed to be home educated.

Unfortunately as foster carers, our opinions are often not seen as having the same weight as either parents or professionals, we seem to be in limbo land in the middle. In a meeting with Jack-Jack's social worker, the health visitor was referring questions about his development to the social worker rather than us although the meeting was taking place in our living room with both of us present! We have experienced Peter's school phoning his social worker behind our backs to check up on us, and also assuming that as carers we wouldn't care about him and his achievements in the same way as parents. When he received an award for gymnastics, all the other parents of children in his group were phoned to attend the award assembly; we were not.

We understand that social workers have a full workload and although our foster children are a priority to us, they are one of many to their social worker, and if they are safe and the placement is not at risk of breaking down there are other children and other issues that must jump to the top of the list.

Peter won't be continuing at his school long term, but a decision that would have been made the same day by parents has already taken over 4 months since we first raised concerns, and may not be concluded before the end of the academic year. These frustrating elements of fostering certainly aren't explained during the assessment process!