Jo is back with another blog for us…

Ours is a loving but busy home, and even though the house is trashed with cat-scratched furniture, insurmountable wads of laundry, and paraphernalia relating to every family member’s various hobbies and enthusiasms, we thought it was about time we threw that chaos into turmoil.

So, last month, we adopted a dog.

We’re regulars at the local animal shelter. We’re forever donating bedding, food and toys, and making sure that on every visit we stop in at each of the cages and kennels to make a fuss of the cats and dogs that have been brought in or found. On one of our most recent visits, my other half fell in love with a two year-old Husky named Akira. Her owner had recently passed away, and a relative had taken on Akira and her brother, Blue, before proceeding to do a fantastic job of neglecting them both to the point of starvation.

After the necessary bonding sessions and home visits led by the shelter, it was time to bring Akira home. As we led her away from her kennel, it destroyed me that we were leaving behind her brother. Akira howled, Blue pined, and I sobbed my heart out. It always upsets me whenever we visit the shelter that we’re leaving those animals behind, but this time it was more intense, because we were actively taking Akira away from Blue; the brother who I truly hoped she had shared some wonderful times with as well as the horrible ones.

It’s now a month later, and I still feel awful.

Where am I going with this, and why have you clicked onto this blog expecting to read about fostering?

When you take a foster child into your home, you’re thinking directly about them; what you can do for them and how you can positively involve them within your family. I have to be honest and say that the last thing on my mind is the family that child has left behind. It’s very much an ‘out, away and move on’ philosophy. I don’t know if this is how all foster carers feel, if any, but the hope with all of my blogs is that they will resonate with someone.

I joke that getting the dog has systematically destroyed several elements of my life, but in all seriousness it’s also taught me a hard lesson. Just because you didn’t see that child’s family at the point of the separation, or the child’s reaction to it, it shouldn’t render it ‘out of sight and out of mind’ when it comes to everything that results from that separation.

They say dogs are loyal, but so are children. They can be a part of some of the most abusive and neglectful homes and still scream for their mums and run away to find their dads. What’s worse, is that even when you take the parents out of the situation, you have to think about the siblings. Chances are, if one child has been mistreated, their brothers and sisters will have been, too. I can’t tell you how much adopting Akira, and still mentally picturing Blue pining for her in the shelter, has shocked me into thinking about that now on a constant basis.

I realise this blog is a little more downbeat than my previous ones, but I felt compelled to write it to share it with anyone who may be thinking of fostering. You WILL make a positive impact on a child or young person, you WILL change their lives for the better, but you WILL also face a past as well as a future. When your agency actively tells you all of this in the training stages (and they DO if they’re worth their salt), listen to them! Trust me, it’s much better to prepare for these situations early on, rather than have something blindside you later on when it hits you out of the Blue.

Jo and Ste facebookJo is back with another blog, this time she gives an update about the realistic requirements all foster carers must have! (All views are Jo’s own!)

You may remember my blog from a few months ago, where I’d expressed my distaste for the way that many Fostering agencies advertise the initiative to become a foster carer. That blog focused on money. This blog focuses on resource.
More than one agency I’ve heard radio adverts for boasts claims along the lines of the fact that “all you need is a spare room and a place in your heart”. As a cynic and an English teacher, this line makes me cringe anyway, but it also annoys me because it’s incredibly misleading.

Of course you need a spare room; that should really go with saying. But what about the other things you need? I’m not talking about a kind heart and a listening ear and all that kind of stuff that’s a marketing department’s dream within a care-based organisation. I’m talking about the other elements that I never fully anticipated I’d need to be in possession of in this role.

I’m of course swayed more here to talking about life with teenagers, but this is my list of essentials you need as a foster parent – after you’ve cleared out the spare room:

1. Spare room in all your other rooms.
Going from ‘couple with kitten’ to ‘trio with turncoat tomcat’ overnight means that mess piles up quickly. Everyone’s stuff is everywhere, yet somehow, no-one can find anything. Clear out.

2. The strength to hold your tongue every time the birth parent or a relative of the child does something incredibly un-parent-like.
Smiling throughout, you know you have to battle the anger and the incredulity and hand out some sort of positive spin on the situation. Deep breaths.

3. A car (and the ability to drive it).
By now, I’ve lost count of how many situations have been sorted, dressing-downs have been dished out and much-needed advice has been administered whilst driving around in the car together. This is because in that situation, nobody has to make eye contact, nobody can escape, and if it gets really awkward, you can always just throw on the radio. Do NOT let the child choose the music.

4. The sense to know that all the things that have been broken and gone missing since the child moved in may not actually be their fault.
You’d be forgiven for thinking these occurrences are more than just a co-incidence with the sudden addition of a youngster, but experience has shown me that all damages, write-offs and losses are much more likely the fault of your other half, who hoped that the introduction of another person to the family home would take the heat off them when stuff goes wrong. It doesn’t.

5. The ability to ignore the person who mutters something along the lines of, “yeah, but they’re not really your kids, are they…”

6. A passion for interpretive arts.
Without doubt, you will need to hone your skills in mime in order to execute and understand a full-on argument with your partner about whatever it is that’s caused an issue, without once uttering a full audible sentence for the child to hear. They’ll learn eventually that you’re normal and you shout, but in the early stages…

7. The humility to be the person in need and ask for the child’s help.
I’m talking quite large scale here. I can’t tell you how hard it was for me to ask to borrow The Boy’s hairdryer after my husband had blown mine up drying his socks. The fact that he owns a hairdryer is another blog entirely, and don’t even ask about the socks.

8. An unfaltering resolve to fight any organisation, institution and establishment that claims to help kids and young people, yet somehow manages to further restrict and confine their life chances. Young person’s housing ‘schemes’ – I’m talking to you.

And finally, what you certainly need above all…

9. A grasp on reality.
Congratulations! You’ve just become a full-on parent to somebody else’s child. Therefore, it’s okay not to have a clue what you’re doing! I know I don’t, but I’ve kept us all alive so far…

Jo is back with another update about ‘The Boy’ she has recently looked after!

I recently wrote about my decision to foster teenagers, and opened up about my justifications for doing this. Much like a teenager, I feel the need to be defensive about my decisions!

I remember a good friend who had a teenage son of her own telling me that once we had a teenager in the house, our food bill would go through the roof. This of course didn’t come as a shock, and I was prepared with stocked cupboards, but it’s safe to say that there were certain things about taking on The Boy that even with our experience of working with teenagers, came as a bit of a shock.

Firstly, the biggest bill increase wasn’t the food, but the WiFi. My husband and I had previously been on a set plan of around a few quid per month, given the fact that we only really used the WiFi for messing around on our phones, or bringing home the occasional bit of research on the laptop for work. However, the friendly warnings from our provider about data usage came early and came often as soon as The Boy moved in. An extra £5 I think it informed us it was debiting from our account – per DAY! I don’t even know what The Boy is doing up there in his room (best not to ask), but I can only assume the drain on the WiFi is linked directly to the fact that he’s hooked up to the damn thing via IV and that it’s physically keeping him alive.

Next up – issues of a more personal nature. Upsettingly, these days, the cat has cut us out of its life. Once there was a time when Barry (the cat) could not bear to be separated from his mummy and daddy (yes I know) and would curl up on our laps, sleep at the foot of our bed and pine when we couldn’t give him direct attention. Since The Boy’s arrival however, I’m fairly convinced that the cat wouldn’t even notice if we packed up and moved out. He sleeps on The Boy’s bed, stares at him longingly, and even chooses a chaotic evening of bedroom DJ-ing over a peaceful nap on the sofa. Sometimes, I watch the cat sitting next to The Boy on the sofa, and see my former furry friend glaring back at me, at peace with his new ally, plotting my removal from the family home. There’s a chance that last part may just be in my head, though.

I’m embarrassed to admit that, lately, I’ve realised just how dull my mail is. As a homeowner in my thirties, I’ve accepted for a while now that the letters I get are mainly bills, infused every now and then with the excitement of a flyer promoting a new takeaway that’s opened up at the end of the street. This was compounded however, when The Boy started getting post delivered to the family home. Amazon, Nike, TicketMaster… since when were your kids allowed to have a better social life and wardrobe than you? It’s his money from his part time job, but I’m the one out earning a proper salary and I haven’t treated myself to anything for months! Why is that? I understand now what parents mean when they say they live vicariously through their kids. I imagine this includes the excitement of their mail.

As I write this whilst tidying around the house, I’m pondering the fact that teenagers can Snapchat their mates, live stream their night on Facebook, upload a DJ set to SoundCloud and guide Burnley to the Champions League on FIFA – all at the same time – but they still can’t work the oven. I’m pretty sure that The Boy operates in the same way as my husband here – claims lack of knowledge when trying to complete a household task, knowing full well that for an easier life I’ll respond with, “Oh just leave it – I’ll do it myself!” Sneaky.

When I consider all of these things, I guess they do make me smile a little amid the frustration. This humour is absolutely needed, because there are always bigger things at stake to claim your worry and your nerves. Without doubt, the biggest thing you are hit with every single day is the fact that you are doing your best to instil a positive culture, routine and way of life for the young person in your care, but in the case of a teenager, you’re doing this by fighting against literally years of someone else’s guidance – or lack of it. It’s hugely frustrating and upsetting, but you just have to remember one thing:

You can’t change their childhood, but you can certainly change their path to adulthood.

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