Thursday, 7 April 2016

Why respite care is such a bad idea!

When I was in foster care I was never taken on the annual family holiday. It hurt then, it hurts now and it will hurt for ever and ever. Instead I was dumped - I use that word because that is what it felt like - with people I hardly knew for two weeks respite care.

If you a teenager who is even fairly articulate you know exactly what "respite" means! It means temporary relief from something distressing or trying. So having me living in your home is such a burden that you have to be given a respite from me.

Many foster children suffer from low self esteem and nothing about the concept of respite care will do anything to improve that. In fact I can be almost 100% certain that two weeks respite care destroys most of the positive things achieved in the previous 50 weeks.

My foster family wanted to go to Disney World in Florida. For a whole range of reasons it was decided that I wasn't going to be included in the trip and my foster-parents had the "interesting" task of convincing me that two weeks in Malvern with strangers would be as much fun as two weeks in Florida with people I knew. I don't think they ever knew how sad that conversation made me. I was superb at hiding my emotions because I thought that if I made a fuss I would be sent away. And so I bottled up the sadness because somehow I thought if I did God might eventually find me a forever family. I wasn't stupid - I knew respite for me just meant another set of house rules I didn't know and having nobody I knew to play with.

I can never visit the Worcestershire town of Great Malvern without remembering one particular spell of respite care. Not because it was bad, it was as good as I ever had, but because it proves that even at its best respite care just isn't good enough.

I was lucky because the weather was warm and sunny almost every day. This was a blessing because most mornings my Respite Foster Mother (RFM) would take me for a walk. A long walk around this only moderately interesting town or up into the nearby hills. We would take a sandwich lunch and we would talk about all sorts of strange things like church history or wild flowers. There seemed to be an unwritten rule that I wasn't supposed to talk about me - so I didn't. My RFM tried hard but I wanted to be in Florida or at least with my friends but didn't feel secure enough to share that with anybody. 

Eventually the 2 weeks came to an end and I went back to my foster family. Just as I knew would happen they had returned home with loads of happy shared memories and photos. Of course the pictures were admired and some were put on show - and I left feeling excluded and marginalised and third rate.

I am not saying that respite care is always wrong but it needs to be handled extremely carefully if it isn't to do serious harm to the foster child.

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A little while ago I wrote a much shorter piece on the same subject as a blog comment.

The blogger then wrote "Look, I've just read Eve's comment for about the tenth time. If anyone in fostering wants to know how to do this job they have to ASK PEOPLE LIKE EVE."

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