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What’s good about Fostering?

Published 11 Mar 2020

Our secret blogger looks at the joys of fostering and what makes it a job worth doing.

Fostering can be a whirlwind of drama in which fear and fury are followed by crisis followed by emergency services. Happily, this is not the usual way of things – otherwise, long ago we foster carers would have all been marched off by the men in white coats over the hill and far away.

What’s good about Fostering?

 

 

Mostly, fostering is pretty straight-forward. In the morning you get your foster children ready for school, give them a breakfast if they’ll eat it and then get on with your day until they come in from school. You advise them to do their homework – which they assure you is not required – and then you let them go out until curfew, by which time you have a meal waiting for them with some  ‘family time’. You then persuade them to go to bed and you disconnect their internet connection in an effort to encourage them to go to sleep.

And so it goes, weekday in and weekday out, with weekends punctuated by some DIY projects, if they are so inclined, or a trip out together, if such is their desire.

It’s not quite so simple, of course. Each foster child is a multi-faceted character whose flaws and virtues have been fired in the kiln of their troubled pasts, and those very characteristics seem purposefully designed to keep us on our toes. It may be said that of all the 24/7 jobs out there, and this job is pretty much 24/7, being a foster parent is among the most varied and, shall we say, exciting. And while it can be punctuated by a series of clanging alarm bells, it can also be the source of joy, comic delight and rich reward.

For me the tiny moments of joy, they come in the banter and the laughter you can have with a foster child. Like when you are teaching something that they’ve not had the opportunity to learn before, like flipping a pancake, cooking a lasagne, fixing a bicycle, even good table manners – how to eat peas with the back of the fork because that’s what you’d do at Buckingham Palace…

‘Ok, that’s right, now just jerk the pan upwards…. Ah. Well, the kitchen taps now look like a piece of art – Salvadore Dali’s melting clock comes to mind…’

‘(Snap). Yes, well, that pasta might need a little longer…’

‘Yeah, you gotta really put your back into it – lean on that spanner. Oh (scream) - it’s come off. Gotta have blood on a job to make it a good one…’

‘I know, it takes practice, but really, you can’t use your fork like a spoon at a Royal Banquet.’

I’ve also found that football is an excellent force of bonding and joy, even in the pain. There is something about this catchment area that means an unfair percentage of boys coming to this placement support Arsenal, which, of course, is a dreadful thing. I support Spurs, which, as you all know, is both wise and brilliant. So the merciless banter coming from Ben when he crows over a Tottenham loss, and the merciless returns when Arsenal’s dodgy defence ruin their lead by late goal concessions, is a source of much mutual mirth. Football forges its lifelong bonds in the white heat of mock hatred.

I never had this football banter with my children – I was always neutral on their football choices, but it’s a different dynamic with foster boys, and the swings and roundabouts of the beautiful game mean that as often as you can dance around with joy at your foster child’s team’s sorry performance, they know they’ll most likely have their sweet revenge the next week. It creates a sense of equality, and I’m all for that. For me, making a child feel like an adult is an important part of the fostering process, and encouraging a growing skill in banter and joke-making is, to me anyway, as vital an education as any other part of the school curriculum.

Another source of joy is succeeding in persuading foster boys that the state of their room reflects the state of their mind. That if they are living in a pig sty, then their mind is in a pig-sty-state, and that’s a pretty miserable state to be in. And the key to this, and it takes time, is to start from the get-go. When they arrive, I use Affinity’s requirement for a full inventory of their possessions to lay everything they own out on a table outside their room, and then to get them to fold, with my guidance, every article of clothing. I then make a place for everything – underwear goes here, t-shirts here, tracksuits here, shoes in the shoe rack, personal stuff in this draw – trophies and pictures here and here.

Over the next six months, I encourage them to keep it tidy. Sometimes, if they are out and it’s a mess, I’ll tidy it myself, but always with the message that they should do it themselves. I have found generally, that they prefer it tidy, but the key is to make tidying it easy, and that’s why you need to have the perfect spot for every possession – if they don’t know where it goes, then it goes on the floor. So to see them learning this, and then tidying their room conscious that it is a form of therapy, like tidying up their own head, is another little joy.

After this comes training them to use the washing machine and hang up their laundry, and then fold it and put it away. In fact the ultimate aim is to have the supreme joy for a foster parent, that moment, those final years, when you don’t actually have to do anything for them at all – neither cook nor launder nor even tidy their room. Because that means they can fend for themselves domestically, and that, for the foster parent, is something close to nirvana.

My next cunning plan for mutual joy and benefit is to encourage them to make their beds in the morning. This I plan to do with sage advice from a US Navy Seal – some teenage boys respond to this is sort of role model:

‘If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task, and another, and another. And by the end of the day that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed.’

So the joys of foster care are many and varied, but to sum them up, the principal joy comes through helping them make progress towards the goal of self-sufficiency. If you can see, in spite of the odds, a child moving forward, becoming less troubled, more secure, more self-confident and more self-reliant over the months and years they spend in your care, you know you are doing your job. And what job is there other than fostering that can offer such a rich and satisfying reward? I cannot think of a single one.

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