Capstone Foster Care Blog

I first started writing this blog within a few days of reading a ‘breaking’ story in the world’s media.  Hold the presidential election in the US, hold the plans for grammar schools in England, because Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are getting a divorce!

Admittedly, after a stressful day at work, I’d rather read about the latter than the former, in a bid to enjoy a little escapism and to focus on someone else’s stress for a change, but the downside of reading about these celebrity dramas, is that I always end up getting caught up in the comments and responses to these breaking stories.

As with the split of any couple – celebrity or suburban – everyone has an opinion, and everyone apparently knows more about what’s going on in that relationship than the pair themselves.  It’s gossip, and as with any love or sex story, there’s always more than enough scope for scandal.  ‘Brex-Pitt’, or ‘Brange-Leaver’, or whatever you want to call it, was no exception, and it was only a matter of time before the Jolie-Pitt children were dragged into media matters.

I would say it’s fairly well-known that the Jolie-Pitts are synonymous with the process of adoption, as well as having their own birth-children, bringing their total count of family infants to six.  This in itself warrants some kind of medal, in my opinion, but more importantly, I’ve always thought it’s wonderful that the couple chose in the first place to adopt during their plans to grow their family over the years.

A parental split, in particular a legal divorce, will always be hard on any children involved, regardless of age or circumstance.  I believe that all endings, no matter how positive in the bigger picture, will always carry a degree of lament, but likewise, I have never believed that a couple – married or otherwise – should stay together purely for the sake of the kids.  I should of course mention that I fully understand anybody who does indeed choose to do this!  What annoyed me in this particular instance though, was some of the backlash against the Jolie-Pitts regarding the predicted effect that their divorce would have on their children.

It seemed to me, that with exclamations such as “You can’t adopt a child and then split up!” and “Haven’t those kids already gone through enough upheaval with their natural parents?” were incredibly wide of the mark.  In reading through the comments, responses and even the journalistic takes from some of the reporters, there seems to be a train of thought that expects adoptive parents and foster parents to be exempt from the opportunity to divorce or split from a partnership should the need arise.

No matter how secure the start to their life is, all children and young people will at some point be faced with elements in their lives that are unsettled, unplanned and counter-intuitive to what a picture-perfect life should look like (if that picture even exists?), but just because a couple have adopted or fostered a child, this does not mean they are not allowed to make the same life choices that natural parents have the right to make in times of despair or difficulty.

Divorce or the break-up of parents will be hard for any child, but if done with respect for the kids in question, if it’s the best decision for the parents then it’s the best decision for the children – whether natural, adopted or fostered.

Foster parents and adoptive parents are human beings, and I hope that one day the cynics out there will realise that instead of criticising them for doing something that other ‘normal’ parents are freely allowed to do as a matter of course, they will praise them for the fact that they’ve provided a child with a loving family in the first place.Jo and Ste

We were on holiday on the south coast recently and stood outside (as we did everyday) the ice cream parlour in the local high street. Holly squinted at the various flavours and asked me what they said. It was the same question asked every day and I opened my mouth to read them all out again when something occurred to me.

As time has gone on with Holly her school have been saying about how she has progressed and how she is picking up more and more. In particular her reading is coming along and yet here I was pointing and reading out all the flavours again. It occurred to me that this was the purest version of carrot and stick I had come across. If Holly could read the words (or nearly get them) I would, I announced, get her the flavours she requested. She looked a little disgruntled but quickly overcame that at the prospect of little, no or vanilla ice cream. Dutifully she sounded out every one of those words where I would struggle to get her to read two pages of a book at home.

Holly is not so different to any of us. We tend to make things easy for ourselves wherever possible and when we have to, we work for the best. I think as adults we have learnt the ‘why’ of situations which is so elusive to many children. Even as we speak I can hear one of my birth kids complaining about the point of the particular maths homework he has to do. We can all understand that it is difficult to be motivated by a stick without any carrot that makes sense.

Over the last few months I have been thinking more and more about how we frame the real world in terms of effort for kids. As a society we tell them to do loads of stuff without telling them why. It is any wonder when kids who have been moved around and told what to do bite back and try and take control of their own destiny whether it be with an ice cream or a placement.

Although there are no easy answers I think that encouraging young people to push themselves emotionally, physically, academically when the ‘why’ question is clear is good to do when we are in good relationships with them. It equips for the future, shows the importance of the skill being used and more importantly shows that they can do it when they want to.

I really praised Holly once she has read that board and dare I say it I think she enjoyed the feeling the accomplishment gave her more than the ice cream – at least for the moment.


I’ve lost count of how many parents I’ve heard talking about how quickly kids grow up, and how you should appreciate every minute you have with them. As a teacher, I’ve always felt the same, and I’ve always been more than a little sad every time the kids I work with ‘graduate’ into a different class, school, or life adventure. For some reason though, I never really saw it coming with fostering.

I think maybe this is because when you have a placement, you have no idea how long it will last. The child may ultimately be reunited in the family home with their parents. The placement might just be a trial for all parties. The whole thing may just break down and be called to a halt for one of a hundred reasons or factors. With all of this in mind, you focus very much on the short term, at least until things begin to settle and pictures begin to form.

You also have to realise with a foster child, that just because that child has joined your family and you’re no doubt doing everything you can to integrate them into your life and home, that child may not respond in the way you may hope or expect. They certainly don’t owe you any kind of unconditional love, that’s for sure. As a result of all of this, you really don’t think about enjoying every minute – you think very much in the here and now, and you are always just a little bit on edge in preparation for something to happen that you just can’t control. It’s natural to assume though, that the longer you have that placement, the harder it’s going to be for you when it ends.

With The Boy, after just 10 months of living with us, the plan from day one had always been to work hard to ensure he had the option of going on to start at university after he’d finished his college studies. On the day he left to start that adventure, my heart broke.

I’ve since been ‘reminded’ by someone whose opinion I neither asked nor cared for, that “it’s not the same” as when other parents cry on university moving out/in day, because “he’s never been your baby”. Well I can’t argue with the biological facts of the latter half of that statement, but I still cried my eyes out when I got back in my car after spending the afternoon on campus moving him into his Halls.

Why did I cry? Was it that he was being taken away from me? No – he’s his own person and has made a logical choice to go and start a life at university. Was it that I was going to have to make the transition from spending every hour with him to not seeing him at all? No – whilst he lived with us he had a better social life and active calendar than I did and was rarely at home anyway!

Instead, the answer to why I cried was because I was caught up in a moment of transition and realisation. I’d played some part in helping this amazing lad build the structures he needed to go off to enjoy a life he’d deserved from day one; a life with a chance to succeed, a life of trying out new things, and a life of knowing that wherever and whatever he moves on to, there would always be someone back home who loves him and supports him. My role was complete.

The Boy would now need me less and less each day, after I’d tried to do in one year what someone should have been able to do for him for the previous 17. I’d done a good thing, I think, and while I was of course happy and proud, I felt an emptiness.

And so, going back to that most helpful and supportive of comments about it not being “the same”… I’d agree – it’s not the same, because in some ways, it’s so much worse.

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