Capstone Foster Care Blog

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to go skiing in Bulgaria with a couple of family members. Whilst there I noticed that in one of the shops they were selling ice wine from a local vineyard. I have come across ice wine before however not from this region and I was intrigued.

Ice wine is made in a very special way. Essentially the vines grow in very cold conditions and when the first freeze comes the grapes are ready to be picked. This is what the producers have been waiting for as there is a tiny element of the grape that does not freeze. This drop has sugars which is the backbone of the wine and as the bunches are collected in arctic conditions the tiniest bit is yielded from one grape. This drop is culminated with tons of other drops to bottle and ferment. The wine as a result is exquisite and sweet and unlike any other flavour you have encountered. As you can imagine this is an expensive bottle of wine. The process of collecting this nectar is gruelling, risky and only gives the tiniest of harvests. Why then do the wine producers do this? It is simple; true ice wine cannot be manufactured any other way and when it is collected, fermented and kept correctly it will bring connoisseurs of fine wine to their knees as all the work culminates in a fantastic result .

I managed to bring a bottle home from Bulgaria (it’s a lot cheaper than its Canadian counterpart!) to share with some friends and as we sipped it struck me how the production of this wine is so similar to the fostering life. Often it feels like we are operating in the most difficult of positions with such fragile material. We can feel like it can go wrong at any time. The return can feel tiny and the idea of doing this year on year can feel too tough. For many of us we worry about whether this year will be ok or whether we will see any return on our investment of love and relationship. I would encourage you however, keep going. Enjoy the tiniest return because just like ice wine the taste can be so sweet and just like the vines the longer we harvest and grow our relationships the better the wine gets.

James


I was at an event recently where a variety of foster carers were present. After all the talks were presented there was some entertainment and a lad in his early twenties stood up and said that he would be doing a magic show. He did two tricks and I can honestly say hand on heart I have no idea how he did them. They were really, really good. The other thing that struck me was how confident this young man was. He fielded the audience with ease, he was funny and could handle himself one on one with strangers as he coerced them into his bidding for the tricks.

Earlier in the day I had heard from a single male carer who spoke of having four lads in his care. It sounded like hard work but he praised them all and even made jokes about them all having girlfriends when he could not get one himself! The chap who did the tricks was one of his kids and I have to say I had one eye on the act and one eye on the carer. He seemed to laugh and clap louder than anyone else and was closer to the edge of his seat when it came to the reveal of each illusion.

As I observed I felt a profound sense of connection to that carer. He was experiencing what we all want : to see our young people not only to survive but thrive. His foster son was going places and we all knew it. I also felt drawn to the stories that he had not told that day. The ones where no doubt there were challenging behaviors and arguments, etc. Yet here in this moment was the culmination of a lad who was at university, who was bright and engaging, he was on his own path and he invited us to share his talents. What a fantastic testimony for this young man and his carer.

For those of you who have made it through and have success stories I implore you tell other carers about them. It can be really hard when the end is not in sight. Tell people even when you are not sure they will want to hear it. You are not boasting, you are celebrating. You championed them and you saw them prevail, that should be shouted from the rooftops. Equally, if you are a care leaver and are getting on with your life you need to tell your story too. I know what you are thinking, there is nothing special about you. Well, we will be the judge of that and I’m sorry to tell you but I think you are very, very wrong.

James


Louise shared with me recently about a situation which she had come across with two foster families. For one family they had been told by the local authority that they cared too much for the young person who was with them and that they ought to be more hands off and less emotionally involved. The other family were with another local authority and they had been told that they did not care enough and should be exactly the opposite of the example above!

There is, of course, much more context around these two situations however Louise knows that both the families are basically in the same place and both have the same intent and interest towards their kids. So which of these authorities is right? I have wrestled with this question and concluded that actually I think it is the wrong question to ask. The right question is more like, how come these two authorities are coming to two different conclusions?

Anyone who has been a carer for a while knows that the network around the young person they are looking after can be the make or break of a placement. If you have a particularly risk averse social worker or uncontactable manager you will really struggle. Equally if you have an advocate or team which goes the extra mile to know your kids the likelihood is that the situation will be much better read. The problem is is that we often don’t know which situation we will find ourselves in and heart ache and further trauma can be incurred if we see bad decisions being made when we desperately want to serve the kids.

Of course there is no magic wand for this but I would encourage you to try some ideas. Wherever possible try to get to know social workers and the people around your kids. Hold your ground in meetings – don’t let anyone tell you that your opinion is at the bottom of the list in terms of importance. Fight tooth and nail for what you know is right for your kids. If you know if it is right to give more of yourself emotionally don’t hold back – do it, your foster kids need to see how much you value them.

That feeling in your gut is pretty trustworthy. You spend more time with these kids than anyone else. If you really feel that something needs to be done, try and work out creative ways with your network of how you can implement it. It might be hard work but I don’t think you will regret it. Lastly, and this is an important one, try and review what goes well and what doesn’t as much. Reflect on what the network is saying and where you stand with it. Maybe there is something for you to learn and maybe there is something for others to learn. It is this stance that will eventually get more teams operating in similar ways and provide a strong place from you to operate from.

James


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