Capstone Foster Care Blog

When Holly came to us she was always a bit worried when our two birth kids would clear off on their scooters or bikes and wait for us to catch up. The anxiety was real for her. The distance could mean calamity. They might fall, lose sight or somehow become unsafe and in her mind it would take too long to make them safe. This similarly happened with another of our foster kids. For her it was actually far more pronounced and involved her staying very close to us for ages during walks and excursions.

We explained to Holly that it was ok that the kids were a few hundred feet in front of us. We told her that we knew that they would stay on the well ridden track we had walked so many times. We reassured and said that they would always come back if they needed us and that actually they would only go as far as they felt safe from us. She assessed this explanation and accepted it. She rode within twenty feet the first few times and little by little she expanded the gap.

On Christmas day she was presented with a brand new bike from us. It was lovely and fitted her a dream. On boxing day we got some exercise before gorging ourselves again and went down the cycle track which we frequent. This time all the children whipped off as soon as we got on the straight and before we knew it Holly was a speck in the distance. That distance felt so allegorical of how kids we look after feel safe. The more time she has spent with us she safer she feels. The safer she feels the greater the orbit of adventure she has.

I can remember leaving home when I was 20. I packed up my car in London and headed for the west country. I had never lived anywhere else but I wasn’t too worried. Why? Because I knew I could come home. It was the greatest distance of adventure I had ever done but I felt safe doing it because I knew my mum and dad were there.

Maybe this is a helpful image for you. How far do the kids you care for orbit? Can they play in the street or go out feeling safe? Are you even their point of safety yet? I remember being taught that children who are traumatised can need literally one to one structured close activity with their carer during the early stages of placement. Such is their ‘distance of safety’. Maybe this is your story too? My hope is that you will notice their field of trust and adventure widening as they feel safe with you and that one day you will have the joy of hearing about their adventures when they return back to you as they explore the world knowing that you are there.

James


I had a comment recently from someone who read a previous blog. The observation was a fascinating one since it made me reflect on the way I write about Holly. Often when I tell a story about how she is getting on or when she has been creative I pose it in terms of her disability and how great it is that she managed to do whatever it was. Thinking about this I have realised that my mind seems to come from a place where all those things are great somehow because of her condition and that is just not right.

I guess I’m not the only one who might feel like this. We all have a part of us that applauds someone who prevails inside what can be difficult circumstance but there is a difference here between a solider who has had an injury and has learnt to walk again and a young lady who has had learning difficulties since birth. The distinction is that the soldier is returning back to the way he was but Holly is never going to be anyone else. Why then do I write about her in comparison to what ‘normal’ is? It is cultural, it is human and it is my upbringing to some extent however she is a stand-alone beautiful and unique human being. She, like the rest of us, should not be compared in achievement but rather celebrated as an individual in whatever she is or does.

I remember playing cards with Holly a few weeks after she joined our family. She immediately connected with the game. She had a mind that seemed to follow the cards and could easily follow the maths and ideas. Once again I put this down as part of her condition but this time not in relation to disability but rather her ASD giving her benefit due to autism often being linked to those kind of skills.

This framing of her life is not helpful though. Thinking about people in terms of what they are or what they have done is not a good way to be about each other. Would you want to be thought of in terms of your intellect or the worst thing you have ever done? Are we not more somehow? We are who we are inside each moment and it is in a moment that our whole being is in the picture. Our experiences, thoughts, abilities and disabilities can influence those moments of course but as carers we are not here to frame everything around this. We are here to love and care and see, as my pedagogic friends say, the diamond in everybody.

James

 


After tea tonight Holly complained that one of her ears wasn’t hearing very well. I suggested that she use a couple of cotton buds to have a clean when she had her bath with Louise and Louise raised her eye brows and smiled. I asked her what she was smiling about and she said that she had chatted to Holly earlier about using a nasal spray which clears sinuses and can help with blocked up ears. Holly had flatly refused to use this however had never done so before! I laughed and asked Holly how she knew that it was a bad idea when she had never tried it. She shrugged and I shrugged back. We laughed and then she asked me to do my impression of a baby crying (apparently one of my specialties). I told her I would do her a deal in that I would do my impression five times (something which she apparently finds beyond hilarious) if she would try the nasal spray once. She thought for a second and then said “DEAL” and we shook on it.

In the past getting Holly to do these things has often be constructed around a deal. If she wants more cake we ask her to do a bit more exercise as it is our job to keep help her body healthy. If she wants more screen time we broker a situation where she might have more today but less tomorrow because the world offers so much more than YouTube. Having made a few of these deals over the months it has occurred to me, just like in business, that it is a great strategy if both parties are in it for something. Now, I fully accept that you may be fostering a child or young person who it appears you cannot do this with and that any deal is very one sided. Whether someone wants to do a deal with you is a good indication about how they feel about sharing power back with you. If you find the strength to persevere I would argue that it is something that you should continue to strive for. There is a simple reason for this: that it promotes relationship and it shows that you want to give power to someone in a safe way. When we barter with Holly it comes from a recognition of each others needs and a want to give the other person their request through our respect to them. Once a good deal is done a fresh understanding of each others needs is available and the bond of reciprocal appreciation to help each other is firmed up.

I was encouraged to hear a carer in training last week speak about what time her teenage foster daughter should come in from a night out with friends. Rather than giving an answer the carer instead asked her what time she thought was reasonable on a school night. This simple but brilliant move meant the power was handed back to the young lady and she actually offered a time half an hour before the one that the carer was going to suggest! This approach meant that both parties were satisfied and the young person felt like they had met the carers need and their need also. Winner!

For many foster carers, when we reflect on our own upbringing we recognise that we were usually told what to do rather than having a mutual power divide in which we could learn through making choices and mistakes. How much more oppressive it must be then, for many of the children in our care since they have never had any power and how wonderful it is for them to have some through simple techniques like this. Certainly we are seeing the benefits and I hope as you think about your next negotiation that you find the right words to build your relationship.

James


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