Thursday, 25 August 2016

Heaven, hell and death

Far too many foster children have experienced the death of somebody near to them and I can think of several of my friends who ended up in care because of parental death. If they are like many of us they must wonder sometimes if they will see their parents again or if death is really the end of everything.
Now I am a parent myself the idea of losing a parent isn't as frightening as the thought of losing my own child. Indeed one of the very few sentimental things I have ever heard my "hard as nails" Birth Mother say was her theory on what happens to babies who die.
She has no doubts that they go to Heaven - even if they have not been baptised - and there they are looked after by young mothers who have died until the babies own Mummy and Daddy also come up to heaven. I was so shocked when she came out with this that at first I thought it was a "wind up" but she really does believe it and in a strange sort of way it is reassuring that she does, sometimes, depart from her logical approach to life!
Over the years I have attended church services representing many different denominations and it feels that there are as many alternative views on the death of a baby as there are theologians. For years and years the famous statement by Erickson was the closest to my own view:
"If a child dies before he or she is capable of making genuine moral decisions, there is only innocence, and the child will experience the same type of future existence with the Lord as will those who have reached the age of moral responsibility and had their sins forgiven as a result of accepting the offer of salvation based upon Christ's atoning death."
In 2012 I had my first experience of a baby dying. Cert in a Skirt's baby Rosie died aged 12 weeks. I had known for a while that Rosie had been diagnosed with a minor heart defect but as more and more tests were carried out it became clear to us all that the situation was very serious. The only good thing about this horror story was that they were both with Rosie when she died. She died very peacefully, her heart just stopped beating.  
Ella and I both know “Cert in a Skirt” quite well – she and Ella worked together for 18 months when I was away at university – and while we don't see her that often she is very much one of our circle of  friends. Two of our blog readers (Goodie Two Shoes and Pinkie) went to the funeral to represent all of Cert’s foster care and Children’s Home friends scattered around the UK.  
As I said at the time - "Fly with the angels, darling Rosie."
I do struggle with organised religion but I would like to think that Rosie is being looked after and loved in a way that Ella and I were not when we were children.

Friday, 19 August 2016


We have just returned from a three night break over on the Welsh coast. We being Ella and I plus husbands and children together with Didi and Magda. We stayed in the B&B owned by our long-term adult friend and subscriber Old Timer and his wife Rosemary. As a bonus our friend Sally and her boy friend drove over just for one day to join in the fun. Rather strangely we know Sally via 2 quite different routes. She lives just down the road from Didi and Magda but she also shares the same adult mentor as Ella and I - it is a small world isn't it?

The B&B has six rooms and so we filled up the entire top floor which worked out well. The rooms and the breakfasts were excellent and were certainly worth the 5 star rating we gave on Trip Advisor. Nicola and Alice behaved nicely throughout although having six adults to look after them probably helped. I wish I could say the same about some of the children we saw while we were eating out!

The weather wasn't brilliant. Not cold but not sunny either and we had odd bits of rain most days. Of course the little ones enjoyed playing on the beach and paddling in the sea and we did all the usual beach games with them. About half of every day was spent on the beach.

We also visited assorted castles and had a fantastically expensive trip on one of the many tourist railways that operate in the area. We thought the railway would be crowded but once we saw the prices we realised why it wasn't! To make up for this on the day our two extra visitors came over we had a longish trip on a pleasure boat. This was super value for money and we saw dolphins right next to the boat.

Is it just me or has eating out got quite a lot more expensive recently? We ate out each evening in three different places and each time we felt that the prices were rather high for the rather small portions served up to us. At least eating early meant we avoided the worst of the queues that developed later on.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Why respite care is such a bad idea - revisted!

I posted this blog entry back in April 2016 and it stirred up a firestorm of comments. Ignoring for a moment the comments posted by my friends - they were as you would expect friendly and supportive - there were very much two violently opposed "camps".

Some foster carers explained at considerably length why their birth family "needed" and were "entitled" to time on their own. Others criticised me for being ungrateful, without really explaining what I was supposed to be grateful for!

Against them was ranged the former foster kids who had experienced respite care first hand. They agreed with my opinions as did some of the foster parents who contacted me.

"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."

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

How I survived in and out of care - a review

The book is available through Amazon in the UK and the USA.

If you were fostered or if you spent time living in a Children’s Home you need to read this book. Many books have been written and many websites have been created that discuss fostering from the perspective of the foster parent. Virtually nothing, until now, has been written from the point of view of the child.
In the book Ella and I share a wide range of survival strategies that, quite literally, can make the difference between being happy or sad or between life and death.
If you are a prospective or current foster carer you also need to read the book. Your foster children are clients of an enormously expensive system yet virtually none of the “movers and shakers” seems to have any interest in their views or experiences.
You owe it to them and to yourself to have this knowledge because as you know – knowledge is power.

Not enough is known about how it feels to be fostered.

So a book that starts like this:

"I wrote this book to repay a debt. Not a financial debt, although money does come into the story, but an emotional debt to two groups of people. Those who helped me survive 18 years of living in foster care or in a Children's Home and those who subsequently helped me to recover from those difficult times."

Is gold.

The author is Eve Higgins. She was abandoned as a baby and went through a series of foster placements before ending up in a Children's Home as being impossible to place. 

If you don't know, the word "place" means be put into a foster home. 

The book contains a number of carefully observed home truths. For example, the author notes that;

"The average quality of foster care declines as the age of the child increases"

You could probably write a book about that observation alone, it gives you an idea of how sharply some foster children see what's happening around them.

The book isn't structured like a conventional book, it's built along the lines of how the world must seem to children whose lives are fractured. That's the genius.

You get to read the conscious musings of a young lady who has been somewhere we foster carers need to know about, as well as a sense of her swirling emotions and the clutching at relationships to make up for the massive absences of good parenting and a solid home. Clutching at relationships with other young people who have also endured.

These young people come and go, people called Angel, Queen of the World, Twinkle, Goodie Two Shoes, Miss Peanut and Tiger Tim. The author uses the psuedonyms partly to protect people who, she says, don't want anyone from their past to be able to track them down.

I think the names she has for them speak volumes of lost childhoods.

A big gist of Eve's book is tied up in the fact that all the attempts to bind her into a foster family didn't work, and she was moved to a Home. To read her words is a great chance to up your game as a foster carer. 

She had plenty of good fostering experiences, but always felt different. I think, it seems to me, she wanted to build a piece of her own family rather than be given a strange one on a plate, one which had already formed before she arrived. She wanted to create a piece of family for herself.

In the Children's Home she clicked with the girl in the next door room, Ella.

There's stuff every foster carer should know, just for background. Do you know where a foster child might hide contraband in their room? I do now.

But the book offers much much more than tips and hints. It's a precious insight into how coming into care is for the child, and how we carers have to be at the top of our game, with all our love and strength and powers of understanding and intuition, kindness and humanity. 

Having read the book the new thing I have to bring to my future fostering is that the child wants and needs to build her corner of family. She needs and deserves to be the creator, the constructor, the developer of relationships that she finds rewarding because they help the other person. She, or he, wants to be useful, like we all do.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Going into battle on your own

If you were fostered or brought up in a Children's Home you will one day realise that you will be fighting most battles on your own. No help from a birth family and, usually, no help from an allocated social worker either. Just you against the system. It is a really important survival skill to recognise that if you don't fight for yourself then nobody else is going to bother fighting for you.

Leaving school is a really important landmark for most young people. Looking back perhaps I shouldn't be too surprised that neither of us came through this phase of our lives with happy memories. But I did get the grades to go off to university so my time wasn't wasted: it is more that the social part of being a normal 6th former was not something that I ever experienced and that seems a pity. Neither of the stories here are strongly unjust but they are good examples of where pushy parents would probably have managed to arrange a better outcome than we managed!

Ella's bit

Up to Christmas of year 13 we were both at school. But then things went wrong. League tables mattered more than me to the Head. With nobody to stick up for me it took about three weeks to go from having no problem to a “cause for concern” pupil to goodbye Ella. With no parents to offer advice and support and a social worker on maternity leave I was doomed.

As ever it was money that was the problem. Eve will tell you that I can be a stubborn person. I wanted spending money and I was going to have spending money. So there. It was easy to get cash in hand jobs and after only a few weeks I was hooked. So my school work suffered. That is why I got booted out.

The first day that Eve went off to school on her own without calling to collect me first was horrible and weird. I sat waiting around with nothing to do (I was still only in part time work at that stage) feeling pretty cross with myself and the world.

Eve's bit

It felt very strange and lonely going to school without Ella especially at break time and at lunchtime. I worked extra hard at school and was exhausted by the time the exams came. I didn't see much of Ella in the week but we always waved at each other as I walked past her flat on the way to school. We always managed to meet at the weekend and sent showers of emails either way.

The end of the summer term was a mess. There was supposed to a Prom for the leavers but I didn't have the money for the fancy clothes the other kids had and so when they said same sex couples couldn't attend Ella and I boycotted the whole thing.