Capstone Foster Care Blog

We recently began doing some regular respite care for a child we will call Sophie. Sophie’s background, like almost all Looked After Children, was one of neglect and abuse. She has multiple needs and gifts. She needs regular daily help with her physical needs and has a number of emotional and developmental difficulties. The description of this child upon coming into care is a far cry from where she is now. She had no ability to regulate herself and operated at an age far below her chronological one. Many of her needs were masking her innate intellectual and relational capacities.

When we were introduced to Sophie we spent a good amount of time getting to know her foster parents and trying to understand her likes and triggers for anxiety. It was immediately apparent that Sophie had formed a significant bond with her foster parents in the relatively short time she had been in their family. In fact, it was hard to imagine how Sophie could have ever resembled the child that whizzed around our house while the grown-ups chatted. We were particularly struck by a very endearing method that the child had come to employ (with the guidance and support of her foster parents) in order to get attention in a positive way. Whilst Sophie still interjects conversations and has little capacity to ‘wait’ until the person she needs has completed their interaction with someone else, it was amazing to see how a small learnt behaviour enables her to get the help/attention she requires in a reasonable, regular and very cute way! We found ourselves marvelling at how much time and patience must have been necessary on the part of Sophie’s foster parents in order to enable this, let alone the other achievements. Sophie is funny and fun. She is clever, engaging and curious. She has a fantastic imagination and capacity for playing and games. Wow. What a testament to the care that has been afforded this child after the most sad and scary beginnings.

We felt compelled to write this blog to let other carers (and those a part of the fostering world) know how thrilled we were at seeing what great foster care can do for a child. We have no doubt that such care has come at some personal cost to the foster parents, their nerves and their grey hair count! However, we, like them, are happy to trade those things in for the joy of seeing a child thrive and flourish. We are very excited at the prospect of being a small part of Sophie’s journey and are equally privileged to get to know some brilliant carers and give them a well-earned break from time to time.


Holly is good as gold most of the time but we do have an ongoing concern as we journey and that is food. Holly is too big for her age and it comes from years of being able to eat rubbish and watching too much TV. It is very much a way of life for her. She even came to us with a slight American accent such was the amount of TV consumed and sedentary lifestyle lived.

As part of her care we have committed to help her lose weight and she has agreed that this is also something she wants to do. Great, we thought, we are on the same page. As time went on we realised that this was too big a commitment for Holly as pudding and large portions made her feel safe (familiar, comforting old friends I suppose). Nevertheless we employed quite a few techniques to help Holly progress. We removed the pans on the table for second helpings and kept them in the kitchen, we made smaller portion sizes, we encouraged exercise heavily (even bought her a bike for Christmas to get out more), spoke to school about more input from them and less cakes being made in cookery but more healthy stuff. This is to name a few. Holly looked like she was engaging with some of it which was great.

This kind of thing however has a creep factor. When Holly lost a bit of weight we celebrated and encouraged her to keep going she however saw it as permission to eat a bigger meal as she had somehow made space for it. If she gets to one pound below her target then there is no need for exercise. The fact of the matter was that this seems to matter more to us than it does to her.

This of course creates a predicament. On one hand we have a duty of care to Holly to keep her healthy and just like the rest of you who have a child who struggles with this, don’t enjoy the raised eyebrow from the LAC nurse. On the other, this really is one of a few things that Holly does which could be classed as unhealthy. How much pressure should we put on it?

We are currently trying to help her in a way that employs a common third idea. She loves horses and the animals can only carry someone who is 11 stone. This seems to be a good goal for her which she is connecting to so we shall see how it goes!

In all of this however Louise and I are in turmoil about whether we should major on food. Once you have said about listening to your body and asking whether it is hungry a few hundred times is there much point in banging on? In my own personal reflection I ask myself: Do I only take the calories I need? Certainly not! I am becoming more conscious that if we get this wrong that this could affect relationship and that cannot be worth it.

We will continue to be creative but I am aware that there is a reason why this means so much to me which I cannot put my finger on. This needs properly reflecting on as it may perpetuate and at worst produce shame in Holly. I don’t know if you have a conversation or situation like that in your lives but maybe you can see yourself somewhere in all this. This is very much ongoing for me and maybe I will blog about it when I have figured it out however if you know you are being played but actually it’s you that needs to stop then take a breath and work out if this is a fight worth having.

James

 


Wow. This is the 50th one of these! Thanks for those that read regularly and our hope is that you can take something away from each one.

Recently I was asked what foster carers could do inside their organisation to retain other carers. I had never really thought about the question. I guess the pastoral care of other carers is left to social workers and managers in fostering situations and it is always sad when we hear of people leaving. I guess it happens for a number of reasons however I think I have heard too many times that people did not feel supported or their situation was too difficult. I hope like us you are supported well in your situation however I know that it is not the case for everybody. I’m sure you know people who have waited for a young person for ages without explanation as the importance of good matching. Maybe you know people who have had allegations against them, and left apparently out to dry. Maybe over time some of the people you know are just too fatigued or don’t feel like they are cut out for the work.

Regardless of the reason why, I am becoming increasingly aware of the power of other carers’ voices. Social workers and other key network figures are often great and can fulfil all kinds of practical needs and maybe even be a shoulder to cry on. There is however something special about having dialogue with someone who has walked the same path whether it be a carer or someone who has been through care and come out the other side. I remember a dear friend who had a calamitous upbringing and went through loads of pain and it was her who bought me through the lowest points with Alice a few years ago. When she said “I know” I knew that she knew! It wasn’t from a text book or from afar. She had really felt it and that made all the difference when it came to persevering.

So, the question is: How much time and dialogue do you have with other carers. Are you a positive influence starting from a place of strength and advice or have your chats become a bitch and a moan? Do you strategise to meet with other carers so that you can support and grow or does the very thought of it fill you with dread at the prospect of one more thing to do.

Wherever you are on that scale, I would remind you that one day your arm or your voice could be the difference between make or break for someone. Of course behind of all of this is that young person who needs stability and perseverance as we all know. For these reasons I would encourage you to network and have strong relationships with other families and carers because you never know when you might save or need saving.

James.

 


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