Whilst trying to find an envelope I was searching through an old box in our stationary/junk/peculiar kitchen utensil cupboard and I pulled out an old and dusty exercise book. I recognised it immediately, it was my 2nd year humanities book from secondary school (or year 8 as it is known now!).

I flicked through it and had memories of some of the work in it. I remembered the face of the teacher and their tone when they spoke. I remembered how I felt about the subject and how I reacted when I saw the dreaded red pen that scrawled itself across my work. I looked at my handwriting and my cuttings from magazines. It was a journal of a portion of my life.

I hasten to add this book was made a long time ago. I guess I only remembered about 10 percent of the items in it, the rest was presumably without any inherent importance to me. As I scanned my eyes over the contents it occurred to me that actually I can probably only recall about the same percentage of my whole life if you asked me to. The rest is made up of the rainy Tuesday afternoons, the slog of homework, the 9-5, the general trudge of life and yet ALL of this goes to make up who we are.

My humanities book reminded me that there were peaks in my subject that intrigued and inspired but the rest was graft and keeping going. That is what life is all about. It got me to thinking about how I am with the kids. What are the overall themes and arcs of narrative I have with them? I already know they pull out events that I would never had guessed are important as being pinnacles for them. What about the non-memorable bits though? What is the feeling and projected message in the everyday?

Mr Palot, inspired me as a humanities teacher and I can remember far more about the way he was than all that he taught. I am so guilty of making sure things get done with the kids rather than being conscious and fully present inside every moment with them. If I had one wish it wouldn’t be that they remember everything that I said but that when they reflect, their whole being knows that they were admired, inspired, championed and loved. That is the formation I want to be involved in – maybe Mr Palot knew and wanted that too.

James


I remember when we started fostering I chatted with a lady who worked for Capstone and had fostered herself over the years. We were talking about the effect that the life of fostering had had on her own children and how they reflected on it now they were adults. For her, some took to the same kind of life themselves and started a second generation of carers. Others flew from the idea as far as they could and went to the city and got jobs way outside of social care because they did not want to live like that again. Some had stayed away from drugs purely because of witnessing what some of their foster siblings turned into when they did them. The birth children were deeply shaped by what happened in the foster children around them and somehow it contributed to a map for their own life.

Opening the post this week I found the yearly monetary reward for our two kids for being part of a fostering family. It is a lovely thing and they love getting it, it makes them feel valued which, of course, they should! If is easy to forget that when birth kids are young they trust us that fostering is a good idea and go along with it because we think it will work. It is a tremendous thing to journey with these young souls as they not only are brothers and sisters to strangers but also do a much better job than we do of helping other kids feel safe.

Recently, we have been helping our two by trying to get them to remember that they don’t have to be the adult to Holly. Because their understanding of situations is much better than hers they will often take our roles by telling her what is acceptable or not which often ends with Holly getting very frustrated! Although the kids aren’t meant to be telling her what to do I guess it is only learnt behaviour. They are emulating their parents, they are trying to be good carers even though their language is misplaced! During a whole family discussion over tea last week, Holly wanted to raise the fact that she doesn’t have to share certain things that belong to her. We agreed and also took the opportunity to remind us all that our birth kids are great at sharing. They share their toys, their home, their parents and they do so readily. It made me feel proud but also reminded me that occasionally professionals involved with us forget this – rightly, much effort is afforded to the child in care be it advocates or Easter eggs but birth kids can be a bit invisible. They contribution is often astounding.

These kids that go along with us are magnificent and even though they may have a hard time they bring so much to the metaphorical fostering table. I know for myself I can take them for granted and when we go on holiday in a couple of weeks I have mentally made a note that I’m going to tell them of all the good that they do and reward them with copious amounts of ice cream. Maybe if you are in our situation you could encourage yours too!

James


“I couldn’t do what you do”, “how do you hand them back – doesn’t it break your heart?’, “aren’t you frightened of allegations?” – these are all phrases seasoned carers are used to. I have noticed that the longer that we care and the more people are aware of our situation and life style, the more likely people speak about you in a demi-god like way. For many of the right reasons foster carers are starting to take their place in society as robust change makers who are doing a hard job.

Of course we are happy to accept this praise! Who wouldn’t be. It is nice to be held in peoples esteem at this level. Who doesn’t like to feel that they are involved in a special work that has a legacy like few others. I do feel however that it is important that we out ourselves here though.

I have had moments of profound therapeutic influence which I have been really proud of but there have also been times where I have hit the absolute roof and shouted and screamed just like any parent. I have been calm as young people have unloaded on me and wondered about what’s going on for them and I have been on the verge of throttling them after more abuse at the end of a hard day at work.

Foster carers are not superheroes they are normal people who have decided to go the extra mile. We are fallible, just as likely to make rubbish decisions and can be triggered into the worst version of ourselves just like anyone else. The people who get better at this are the ones who reflect and analyse their behaviour – it’s that simple but there are plenty of falls, trip and encounters along the way that can make us embarrassed and feel like any other parent.

So don’t treat foster carers like saints but do treat them like human beings who are thinking about tomorrow. Support them, let them shout and scream, let them cry, let them laugh, let them be people. Any good carer knows that they are no different to anyone else so the phrases above will never hold water for them. There are no saints in my house, just people figuring it out along the way. The best people I have around me are the ones who know that I’m a goon but love me anyway and say things like “do you want the afternoon off?, “you’re looking tired, are you ok?” or “I know it’s hard but keep going you are making a difference, I can see it”. They are the people that foster carers need and those are the kind of comments that do us good!

James


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