Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Kiwifruit - a guest blogger. Part 1.


BACKGROUND - I have been backwards and forwards to New Zealand more times than I care to remember chasing up names from my past life as a foster parent. I’ve spoken to scores of young, and now not so young, people who came into my life during those years of fostering teenagers with the support of my now sadly-departed husband. I’ve even managed to speak to some of the social workers who crossed swords with me during my chequered career. Many of these social workers have now retired from the profession and consequently they feel much more relaxed about commenting freely about those years.

I am very grateful to all the people who have met with me over the last 18 months. I have visited New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Ireland and the UK to speak to people: spending a fair percentage of the inheritance I received from my former husband in the process! But I’ve no doubt that he would have approved of me spending “his” money this way as many of the painful memories (and minor frustrations) of “The System” don’t seem to have been reported before.

A few people on my “need to see” list declined to speak to me in any detail and I respect their wishes. Almost inevitably they felt that what happened in the past should remain in the past and they didn’t want to re-open (a phrase a number of them used) old wounds. A tiny number, in the low single figures, couldn’t be found or were in some remote corner of the globe where it just wasn’t feasible to “travel in hope rather than expectation”. Two had died.

On Being Grateful - How often would you say to a young person, one you hardly know who just happens to have been raised in a stable nuclear family, that they should be grateful? I expect the answer is, “Never, of course not!”

Yet many foster children report that relative strangers, on hearing that the young person was fostered, frequently blurt out some variation on, “You must be very grateful to them for taking you in.” In truth, especially in the early stages of the fostering process, is that gratitude is one emotion that doesn’t feature very much in the adolescent mind! There might be relief at being removed from an abusive or neglectful environment or sadness at been removed from family and friends or the school they attended. There might also be anger and resentment directed towards those around them but there will not be gratitude!

And in a sense why should the young person feel gratitude? Imagine a teenaged girl who has regularly been battered by her Birth Father. Should any of us really expect that gratitude for being rescued will rise up and swamp the sense of bitterness, the sense of unfairness, that she was battered in the first place? Of course not!

It is almost as the unknowing or inexperienced in society feel that by putting the child into foster care all the damage that has been done in the past has magically been undone. Foster Carers know this to be a myth but the need to educate the wider audience remains. It is a curious observation that the expectation of teenage gratitude doesn’t seem to exist to nearly the same extend if the young person mentions that they spent time in a Care Home or Children's Home. Is the public perception of such children that they have far less to be grateful for? It is almost as society at large feels that the elite get adopted, the best of the rest get fostered and the dregs go to a Home because nobody wanted them.

JULY 2013

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