Capstone Foster Care Blog

Last weekend I walked into a sweaty, loud and energetic sports hall. It was the kids Tae Kwon Do tournament and my little girl was already on the mats sparring against a larger boy. As I walked closer I could see that there were tears on a face but she was still fighting. Within a few seconds the combat had ended and her arm was raised as the winner. There was a big cheer and I went over to see how she was. Louise told me that a minute before she had been punched in the face (which is not allowed in the rules) and the shock and pain, as you can imagine, really upset her. As a result, she was allowed a few seconds off the matt to compose herself and then she came back on swinging. Of course it made the victory extra sweet and we took photos and video of her as she stood on the podium to receive her trophy.

I guess there is never a formula for perseverance. One person seems to give up at the first hurdle, whereas another appears to be unrelenting in life to get what they want. The situation made me reflect on why she decided to come back on the mat when she was given the option of stopping altogether. I wondered whether it had anything to do with the tireless message that Louise and I give her that she can achieve anything she wants. It appears, at least in this moment, there was fruit to our mantra in her little life.

What about our foster children however? I can remember Alice would say things like ‘This will probably happen so there is no point bothering’ or deciding that she would not fit in with a group of people without giving them a second look. She made me start to understand how loud the societal, parental and social voice can be for foster kids in our nation. It is not one of affirmation but rather a shrug of the shoulders where the glass ceiling has already been set.

Of course, as carers we want to instill the same affirmation that we give our birth children but we need to be very mindful of how long that can take. It often will require a massive amount of trying different experiences and approaches to bring out the point of perseverance to a child that has been battered by life. It requires just as much resolve in the persistent message as it does for the kid who gets back on the mat.

I chatted to the kids’ Tae Kwon Do teacher who told me he went through long periods of his training and tournaments without winning anything. His teammates did not watch him but he just kept training and one day with no one looking he won the British Championships. I got curious and asked him if he could do it all over again, whether he would have the same experience or whether he would prefer it to be easier. He explained that when he looks back it was those moments that made him realise two things. Firstly, you have to keep going to get what you want and secondly, that his training academy that he has setup is based on encouragement and mindfulness of the students. As the man who grades the kids says “A black belt is a white belt that never gave up”. May you be the black belt of encouragement to your kids!

“The greater the struggle, the more glorious the triumph”

The Butterfly Circus

 

James


During one of our social pedagogy course days we were asked about a ‘sparkly moment’ in our lives. The question was asking us to recall a time in our lives when life was just right and if you had the choice you would not want to be anywhere else. People shared various experiences. Often it was a holiday experience or a family moment. It was an experience with a child who struggled to connect or the a great meal with good company. As we delved a little deeper we found that we could describe the room we were in and the details of the environment. We had a visual capture of the beauty of the time that we had had.

This exercise was used to learn how to listen to each other and how often we can miss what really is going on for people in an experience. For me however, I bought something else away as well. These moments are not always sparkly. Sometimes they can be moments of trauma. Maybe you remember where you were when you learnt of 9/11 or the death of a family member. These moments can be just as visceral but from the opposite end.

Not all memories are made quite as consciously however. For a lot of the children we look after these defining moments were about sensations, feelings and high anxiety but the details of what happened were not stored clearly or sequentially. I remember learning early on how powerful this stuff can be with Alice. Every February we noticed a massive change in Alice’s behaviour. She went into severe anxiety and reclusiveness. We could never figure out what the trigger was until we looked over a couple of years of our recording notes which we then compared with her background. We found that Alice’s there was a time (February) and environmental (snow) correlation between Alice’s behaviour and the historical event of her Father’s death. Alice had shown no emotional reaction at the time the death occurred or apparently since yet the link seemed obvious. So perhaps when the cold weather came and there was the crunch of snow underfoot the trauma was retriggered.

I don’t know if you have ever encountered this but I hope that you might find this a useful observation. For us, we were able to bring some words to what Alice might have been feeling. Maybe you have seen particular things that happen with your kids which don’t seem to make any sense in their behavioural change. Remember that they won’t know why they are acting out either. It comes from deep in their subconscious and it is our job to help give it words and work through what the memory means. It is not our job to tell our kids what they should do with the memory necessarily but at least we can give it words and meaning by recognising it in their lives just like we do in ours.

James


I know, it is a bit of a provocative title isn’t it! I write it because I just heard my birth children’s Tae Kwon Do instructor sit the kids down and explain why he was apparently being hard on them. It got me thinking about shouting as it is something I have been struggling with recently. I have to confess I have shouted way too much at my kids. It’s either the level of noise that they are making or the fact that they are about to do something dangerous. Mostly however it is just because I feel ignored. The Tae Kwon Do instructor felt the same and with the kids grading just around the corner he was not happy with how much the kids were mucking about.

There are so many levels to adults shouting that I cannot get into all of them but I do want to start with what it is in us that makes us feel that we have to shout. If I feel undermined or like my time is wasted I tend to shout. If I feel like the instructions were clear but they are being ignored, I shout. Shouting is about control and to some extent shouting is often about winning.

The Tae Kwon Do class took the shouting well. They all have a good relationship with the instructor and most of the time he is a good humoured and speaks at a normal volume. The kids feel safe because they know the instructor is safe. What about our foster kids though? In their past often a shout can be followed by violence. Maybe shouting is a reminder of how worthless you are because of your birth parents frustrations about the fact that they despise their own lives and they want you to feel that pain too. Maybe, for them, shouting is the normal violent communication response from adults.

What happens then when safe adults start using the same tools as those who have been unsafe to our foster kids? In the least part it provides a mixed message and a contrary one. “I only shout because I care” could well be a paradox to these kids. In the most extreme we are pushing them into a reliving of trauma or anticipation of a horrible event. Either way we have to be more creative and gentle.

We are going to drop the ball on this, of course we are. Shouting can feel like all we have sometimes but I would encourage and challenge you to try other options that are going to change your kids’ worldview. I hope that you can find a language that is powerful without shouting and that is gentle but life changing. When you get a moment reflect on this is in your own life. Hopefully you will find that you can then empower rather than control and that your relationship will blossom as a result.

James