Friday, 30 September 2016

Supporting former foster kids - The Blackpool Pub Meet

We thought it might be useful to have another look at the Blackpool Pub Meetings as an example of the support structures both needed and wanted by former foster children (and former Children's Home survivors)

Blackpool depends heavily on tourism and conferences to support the local economy. This means that Blackpool has large numbers of hotels and guest houses all competing for employees. Many former foster children seem to end up in this sector - probably because many of the larger employers offer a room as part of the employment package. This gives the young person a base and the opportunity to work and job hunt at the same time.

The regular social gatherings that took place were a lifeline to many young people living away from home for the first time. It wasn't just the meetings it was also the gradual putting together of a social network of familiar names and faces that was important. Some gatherings seem to specialise in overseas workers, some seem to attract the sporting element (mainly lads) and the Blackpool Pub-Meet has been a regular feature of the Care-Kids scene in Blackpool for the last 5 years. November 2016 will be the 61st such gathering!

There wasn't some great master plan behind the Pub Meet. It just seemed to happen. Happily the attendance sheets for every meeting have survived intact and many of the names will be familiar to regular readers of this blog.

As an example the very first meeting had just 7 people present but three of them are still prominent in the former care kids scene five years later. These three were Didi, Charlotte and 38DD. Two other girls lasted for a few months before their circumstances changed and they, separately, left the area and the last two, both lads, only attended three meetings between them.

For the first couple of years the attendance varied between 7 and 17. There was a small group who almost always would turn up, a rather larger "sometimes attend" group and a whole mass of people who would only come once or twice before they would disappear never to be seen or heard from again.

The attendance sheets are quite sad in their own way. All those names and contact details of people that came into our lives for a short time and then left - who knows where? I expect that they are spread all over the world by now. 

Over the last month I (Didi that is) emailed a random selection of 20 of the people on the attendance sheets. It became an "interesting experiment".

6/20 - The email address was no longer recognised and an error message was the only thing I received back.

5/20 - The email appeared to get through but no reply was received.

4/20 - A short reply - a maximum of just 2 or 3 lines - was received. Usually the person was surprised to hear from a voice from their past. Three of the four were living outside the UK, mainly back in their country of birth.

3/20 - A lengthy update of what had been going on in their lives. All three seemed happy enough and offered to stay in touch.

2/20 - Were still in Blackpool, still in the hospitality sector and both said they would come to the next Pub Meet

By any fair measure the Pub Meet was a great success. Many long-term friendships were made and many problems solved via a listening ear.

Eve, Ella and I have made a lot of friends through the Blackpool Pub-meet. In no particular order there was -
  1. Charlotte - Her long-term foster parents live just down the coast and she sees them for Sunday lunch about once a month. She works for a catering company and shares a flat with 38DD.
  2. Dawn P who was adopted after being orphaned. She had a horrid falling out with them in 2009 and her only regular contact with them is a letter at Christmas.
  3. Di from Leeds - she now lives in Preston but decided to keep the same user name. She has been a monthly email correspondent with Ella and I for several years and we speak on the phone every few months.
  4. 38DD is a combination of a saint and a star. Within a week of moving to Blackpool she had three jobs and when most people would have grumbled like mad about living in a caravan until the worker she was replacing worked out his notice she just got on with it. Eventually she found a flat to share with Charlotte and they got married in 2016. 38DD always phones us at the same time, 10:30AM on a Sunday, so if the phone rings then we always know who is calling us.
  5. Northpier1 is something of a “man of mystery”. Didi first met him when she was on a course at the Blackpool and the Fylde College. He seems to have spells of looking affluent with a decent car and smart clothes and spells of riding a bike to work looking distinctly the worse for wear. He claims to have spent two years (15 to 17) in a Children’s Home and there is nothing to suggest that this isn’t true. When Didi and 38DD visited him, unexpectedly, at his bed-sit there were zero family photos on show and this is fairly typical of a young person from the background he claimed to have had.
  6. Northpier2 and Didi met not long after Didi arrived at the seaside. Like Didi she had been fostered so they had lots of things in common. At that stage Northpier2 was working just along the prom from Didi and they used to meet up most days. In June 2011 she moved to a job well south of the south pier rather than north of the north pier so Didi didn't bump into her nearly so often. She then disappeared for a while before unexpectedly emailing Didi from a cyber cafe in Berlin to say she was coming home. 
  7. Spiders Web comes along to a few meetings - it seems to depend on where she is in the relationship cycle with whoever is her current boyfriend!
  8. Wobbly is a long-time friend and work colleague of 38DD. She has a background in finance – via her foster Dad. 

Friday, 23 September 2016

Words of wisdom - Didi's

“Perhaps it isn’t just a coincidence that Old Timer (in a letter) and my fostered friends from Blackpool (in a phone call) all used the word “rootless” to describe how they feel.

I find that I have strong links to my friends but no sense of belonging to any of the many places I have lived. For reason that some of you know it would not be sensible for me to visit where I was brought up. The few school friends from those days that I have kept in touch with use an email address that only they know and use. None of them know where I live now or what I’m doing with my life.

I check the address quite often but usually none of them have been in touch. And why should they want to have contact with somebody who will not reveal anything about what they are up to?

But being rootless isn’t just geographical. Many of the fostered adults I know have few photos of their childhood and the few photos they do have sometimes have no indication of who is on the photo or where it was taken. I have exactly three photos of my BF, but none of his brother (my uncle) or his parents (my paternal grandparents).
One thing I thought I might share is that not one of the former foster children feels that they have the slightest chance of ever owning a home. And I think this is so sad! The reason isn't hard to find. No "Bank of Mum and Dad" to help out with the deposit combined with the perpetual problem of foster kids timing out of care at a crucial time in their education. But the good news is that many/most of the people I ate/drank/partied with are in happy and long-term relationships and there isn't nearly as much loneliness as there was when they first timed out.
When you are a foster child happiness can be hard to find. The sense of having no roots and no family history to share with friends and co-workers and the, sometimes overwhelming, sense of loneliness can almost unendurable.
"It has been mentioned elsewhere that many foster children and children raised in Care Homes have very little enthusiasm or interest in family history. Too right even seeing the photo of my BF makes my skin crawl. The few photos I have are locked up in a box and I don't have the slightest idea where they are or why I keep them.”


Friday, 16 September 2016

Six months in Germany - AC/DC returns

<AC/DC's section> It feels strange for Robbie and I being back in England. We are living again in my old foster parents "granny annex". They seems pleased to see us back "safe and sound" after our big adventure.

I am very pleased that I went but I am also very pleased that it was only for six months! You can put up with most things if you know exactly when it is going to end. I think there were 3 main parts of our time in Germany.

The first few weeks were quite sad for us. Our German language wasn't very good and the flat where the catalogue publisher put us to live wasn't very nice. We didn't know enough German to complain to the owner and we didn't know what our rights were either. We did wonder if we had made a big mistake coming to Germany but then one evening the boss of the modelling contract came round with some papers for me to sign and she was shocked where we were living. Three days later we were moved somewhere much better that matched the lease I had signed.

The next 4 months were very busy. Sometimes 6 or 7 days a week. I made quite a lot of money but not as much as I had expected as there are all sorts of taxes. The last few weeks were spend counting the days until we flew home and the days went by very slowly.

Neither of us know what we are going to do next. There are always overseas contracts for models but I don't think I want to do the same sort of work again as I have just been doing. I will need to decide quite soon though! I don't really want to go back to boring shop work.

<The back-story, written by Ella>

I thought I would tell readers a little bit about this wonderful person! AC/DC is what I call a feisty girl. If you ever wanted a role model to show that being fostered can be a positive and life-changing experience then I think AC/DC would be hard to beat.

AC/DC came into our life during the final days of the on-line Adoption and Fostering forum. It was back in early 2013 when she posted about her money troubles and how her former foster family had come to the rescue. As the months went by we found out about her dysfunctional Mother and how AC/DC had ended up in Care.
By June 2013 Ella and I invited AC/DC to become part of our blogging group. This was partly because she wrote such interesting content and partly because I was worried that she would be left stranded if Honey suddenly shut the forum down.

She and Robbie are two of our closest friends
<What AC/DC wrote just before she left> 
I work as a model. Sometimes I'm a nude model for colleges but usually I appear in clothes catalogues for companies based in Germany and Poland. When I first met Eve and Ella I mainly worked in shops on minimum wages. I basically didn't have any spare money so when I saw a life model job at the Art Centre that paid lots more than shops paid I applied. I got that job and ever since then I have done more modelling and less shop work each year.

In 2015 I was earning enough as a model to give up working in a proper job. I did about 2 or 3 days a week for the last 6 months of the year until suddenly I was offered a 6 month contract in Germany. It was for lots of money and with a firm I had worked for before so I decided to take it. My boy friend Robbie is going to come to Germany with me so I will not be on my own in a strange country.

I am a bit scared about going there because I haven't done any German since I left school. I wasn't very good then and I bet I am even worse now. Robbie doesn't seem scared at all so that is good.

I live in what was the Granny Annex of my foster parents house. They have said that we can move back in when we return to England in September so that is kind of them. I passed my driving test last year, at my second time trying, so we will drive to Germany. That will be the first time I have driven on the right rather than the left side of the road.

I think my Foster Mum and Dad are a bit sad and worried about my going away but I'm getting grown up now and I need to be able to do this sort of thing.


Thursday, 1 September 2016

Foster kids - On feeling ignored

Three things matter quite a lot to most bloggers - the number of readers, the number of other blogs that include a link to your blog and the number of comments your individual blog entries receive. Nothing demotivates a blogger more than not getting any readers but bloggers who don't swap links and readers who don't bother to comment on what they have just read are creating secondary problems.

When I joined the wonderful "Weekly Adoption Shout Out" my number of visitors shot up and the site gave me access to a wide range of useful blogs. So was everything in the world of Eve and Ella wonderful? Not quite!

For the first few weeks I regularly commented on 3 or 4 of the blogs - I also put in a link from my blog to the other blog. Virtually nobody returned the compliment which made me feel quite sad.

Not getting any feedback on a blog post can be very demoralising. Like many bloggers Ella and I put our heart and soul into what we write and we spend a lot of time thinking about what we are going to publish so the deafening sound of reader indifference can be quite hard to live with. I am not suggesting that every reader should feel obliged to comment on every individual post in every blog they read. But when a blogger is attracting 200 to 300 readers per blog entry without motivating a single person to comment then surely there is a problem?

I know that the traditional blog software doesn't encourage spontaneous answers like you would receive on social media and that blog comments aren’t designed for instantaneous feedback. As well as the delay due to moderation and the barriers imposed due to combat spam, blogs are no longer the right kind of breeding ground for that type of comments any more. Commenting on blogs takes up time and it sometimes feels to me that foster carers are particularly time-poor and that I will have to be satisfied with having readers rather than creating a community of people sharing a common interest. Some say the older the reader, the less likely they will want to express their feelings or expose their problems as comments on a blog. 

I wonder if anybody will comment this week?