2 03 2010

I was really sad to read Darrow and Juan’s news regarding their foster son, T, and also filled with a familiar anger and frustration that goes with my growing awareness and knowledge of the systems within which “looked after children” have to survive.  I hope they will forgive me for referring to them here, and that I cause them no pain or offense.

There seem to be some significant differences between the UK and US systems, so for example, foster to adopt doesn’t exist in any formal sense at all in the UK.  Foster-carers do adopt their foster children sometimes of course, but it is often those children that have been labeled ‘not suitable’ for adoption.  These are the children that are too damaged by their past experiences (often within the care system as well as with birth families), or ‘too disabled’ or ill.

In the UK the term ‘foster carer’ is used, not ‘foster parent’, in recognition that a parent is very different to a paid carer.  It seems that this ‘line’ is much more blurred in the US, that foster parents like Juan and Darrow are expected (and expect) to take on the parental role for their children.  In neither the UK nor the US are the foster carers actually given parental responsibility though, and have very little (if any) control over the decisions made by the state, on behalf of the children they care for.  I think this is where the trouble starts for me, but I really don’t know what the answer is.  I have seen and heard about so many children now though, who clearly have not been at the center of the decision making process, and have heard foster carers grumble about the naivety or inexperience or boredom of the professionals involved with their children.  The detachment of some professionals just isn’t helpful, unless they are prepared to take on board the opinions and views of the people that really care about these kids.

How can it possibly be in the best interest of T, to be ‘reunited’ with birth parents who have never cared for him, when he is settled, beloved, cared for and nurtured in a family already?  How can it be justified to take four years to make the decision that this vulnerable child should be returned to parents that have not even managed to comply with the basic standards that the court previously ordered.  I find myself asking over and over how this sort of situation can be in any child’s best interest.  Of course, it isn’t;  It isn’t supposed to be.  In the US, it seems that the emphasis is on keeping families together, and that this often comes into conflict with the ‘best interest’ of the child/ren. In the UK the child is absolutely supposed to be at the center of decision making, but we often see that this is not what happens in practice.  It can be far more expedient, cheaper and easier to keep a child within a family that is not functioning well, than to make an early decision that the child should be freed for adoption.

The more I learn about the lives of ‘looked after children’, the more I become convinced that the drive to keep dysfunctional, failing, inadeqaute families together is just wrong wrong wrong.  I know that amongst many, this is not a popular view, but families come in all shapes and sizes and genetics is not the be-all-and-end-all.  I truly believe that taking that little boy away from his current family, to place him with his biological family, will do him nothing but harm.  It will probably reduce his life chances and options, cause him long term emotional and psychological damage and deny him the supportive therapeutic  parenting he will need after such a major upheaval.  Adoption is not the only answer to the issue of generation after generation of dysfunctional families, but it is probably the best one in the current climate.  There is little appetite amongst politicians to put the resources that would really make a difference into the marginalised, poorly educated families and communities that produce such a high proportion of the children that end up in the care system.  Indeed I was reading a foster/adoptive parent and teacher only yesterday, bemoan the fact that the recession means significant cuts to the already tight  education budget, which will further disadvantage these very communities and children.

I know that some reading this might want to remind me of the brilliant work that foster carers, Social Workers (SW’s), Guardians, Family Court officials etc do every day; remind me that it is not all ‘bad news’; that some families just need a little help and we should do everything we can to keep them together.  But then I look at my lovely 2 year old, crying in a car seat and wonder how on earth her SW ever thought it was a good idea to put her in a taxi with a stranger for a journey of an hour, over and over again, so that her birth dad could see her in a secure family center, having been banned from those less secure ones closer to her home.  I feel such regret for my dear friend, who has not been able to adopt the sister of her son, because the birth mother was in rehab, and ‘making a go of it’ with this (6th) child, and by the time it was decided that birth mum was not coping, the child had been so neglected, hurt and damaged that my friend did not have the capacity to help her.  I feel such sadness for T, that he will loose two parents that love him very much, and will have to get to know the other two parents that may love him, but are unlikely to have the level of understanding, empathy, skill or commitment to provide him with the support he is going to need, and would most likely get, were he to be adopted by his daddies.

I’m feeling all ‘ranted out’ for now, just left with the sadness.




19 06 2009

Introductions have their own momentum .. foster carers, adopters and social workers may be able to steer the introductions some what .. but ..

Oh dear. This morning there seemed to be a lot of ‘head banging’, hitting out, stropping, terrible twonesss, from the 3-year-old LML. Taking into account her general sunny disposition, she wasn’t in a particularly happy place.

Anyway .. Aunty five arrives to look after LML whilst the mostly functional parents scoot off to spend the afternoon with Little Sis. CD and GM take Little Sis to the local play park, they finally get some good pictures to email to their family and friends, have a lovely half hour playing on the swing and in the grass, have a look at the local shops and make their way back to Pat and Fred’s, for another half an hour of play (or ‘interaction’ if you want to get professional about it!).

As GM begins to give Little Sis her tea (sweet potato mash, banana & raspberries), CD leaves to get home to LML. Tea goes well, although the sweet potato ends up being mixed with her pudding because she has such a sweet tooth. After her tea, Little Sis plays a bit, but is obviously tired, and eventually GM scoops her up and cuddles her whilst she chats with Pat. Little Sis fiddles with GM’s face, they face pull to each other and have lots of eye contact and smiles, as GM chats, but gradually Little Sis falls asleep. It feels wonderful to GM, the beautiful open face, the ‘dead weight’ in her arms, the trust and confidence that Little Sis demonstrates, simply by falling asleep in her arms. WOW.

However .. GM knows, without having to ask, that this really is too close to bedtime, for Little Sis to be sleeping for any significant time. GM and Pat continue to chat, and as they do, GM is served with some tarte-tatin. She gently wakes Little Sis, who then eats most of the apple from the tarte!

Meanwhile CD arrives home to find LML and Aunty Five racing up and down the hallway on hobby-horses. Once the horses have been ‘stabled’ Aunty Five says, “Right, I’m off. She’s run me ragged.”

As Aunty Five is getting her stuff together LML walks up the stairs. WALKS up the stairs!! For weeks, no months, the mostly functional parents have been trying to encourage her to do this, but she’s resolutely refused. Not only does she do it once but in the period up to bath time she does it three times. So pleased with her action she stands at the bottom of the stairs and shouts “ook” to CD before she makes her final accent.

Back at the Pat and Freds, GM tries to entertain the increasingly tired and grumpy Little Sis. The infant has recently formed a strong attachment to a particular blanket, and this helps no end in calming, comforting and entertaining her – GM is aware that this blanket will probably be a very significant and helpful item over the next few months!

Eventually it is bath time. Pat pretty much leaves GM to it, from undressing Little Sis to washing her hair, to drying and dressing the child for bed. All goes well, barring a little tired whining as Little Sis is dressed, and she snuggles into GM’s arms again, as she is carried down stairs. Little Sis resolutely refuses to have her bottle of milk, from GM or Pat, and she shows GM just how loudly she can squawk in anger and frustration. She soon calms down and has another snuggle with her mummy and then it is off to bed.

Little Sis allows GM to put her in her cot and gazes up at her with a slightly puzzled, but accepting look on her face. GM has seen a similar look on LML face – saw it for months after she came home – this ever diminishing look of confusion. “We’re going to be fine sweetheart” she tells her daughter as she closed the door.

A bath for LML, some crackers for supper, Robots on DVD and it’s nearly bedtime. “Why don’t you get a book to read before you go to bed” suggests CD

LML gets her ‘photobook’ detailing her move home. They look at it and CD talks about meeting LML for the first time, moving to her new home and the people involved. After they had finished LML gets the family photo album out. They spend 10 minutes looking through the photos as CD explains who’s who and outlines the mostly functional parents respective families and some of the key events captured right up to LML’s move home, the day we first met all her siblings, her adoption day and the first pictures of Little Sis.

Later, as CD puts LML to bed she says, “nigh daddy. Nigh”.

Resistance is futile – part two

15 06 2009

… Little Sis twiddled her toes and smiled and pulled faces at her Daddy as they travelled home, whilst GM and Pat exchanged family background information. When they arrived Pat stood back and let GM take Little Sis from the car, and carry her into the house. GM’s heart was beating fast – Would LML be up? How will she cope, seeing this little person in her mummy’s arms? How will Little Sis cope with her Aunty Five (one of GM’s many sisters), who is home with LML? The questions tumbled through her head as they went into the house.

Little Sis didn’t bat an eyelid at the sunny “Hello” and big big grin from Aunty Five, and looked around with interest at this new environment. LML was in bed, and had been for nearly 2 hours. “She’ll be up soon then” said CD.

Little Sis explored the living room, the dinning room and was drawn to the open french doors leading to the garden. GM carried her into the garden and let her crawl around on the grass, showing her some of LML’s favourite things, and then carried her back into the house. CD was just going up the stairs, having heard LML moving about up there.

LML walked into the living room, saying hello to Pat, who she could see from the door. As she came into the room she saw Little Sis sitting at the other side of the room playing with LML’s spinning top … LML beamed, sing-songed Little Sis’s name and pointed at the picture she has been looking at for so many weeks. She went straight to Little Sis and tentatively gave her a kiss and a pat on the head, and then played together with her for a few minutes, showing her sister how to spin the toy.

Over the next 20 minutes, LML did what she does, which is flit from activity to activity, person to person, but all the time, keeping an eye on Little Sis. She was clearly drawn to her, and often reached out to touch her – her head or face, a pat on the back, gently pulling her toes. As LML rough and tumbled with Aunty Five Little Sis watched with fascination, and followed LML around as she went from one thing to another, observing everything, occasionally laughing at her antics.

Eventually Pat gets up to go, scooping up Little Sis and her special blanket. LML waved from CD’s arms shouting “bye bye Little Sis” as they walked up the garden path.

As GM was taking her for a bath later in the day, LML called out her sisters name and “bye bye”. “Yes sweetheart, Little Sis has gone to Pat’s, but we’ll see her again soon.”

Resistance is futile – part one

14 06 2009

It was much busier at the foster carers today. They have two brothers that they are fostering and a young teenage daughter that is adopted as well as five or six grown up children that are now providing them with grand children. GM had been thinking that it had seemed to be too quiet on their previous visits, given the size and obvious closeness of this sprawling family.

Half way through the visit the two boys got picked up to go to contact with their birth mum, and ten minutes later the teenage daughter goes horse riding, leaving the house quiet and calm. GM and CD played with Little Sis as Fred looked on, whilst Pat busied herself elsewhere in the house. GM retrieved Little Sis, as she made a break for the open front door, and as she picked her up, Little Sis snuggled into her shoulder and arms, and contentedly sucked her thumb. This lead to a blissful 10 minute cuddle, and a dawning realisation that this child is by far and away more solid and weighty than LML, who is a willowy waif by comparison.

During the last visit it was suggested by Pat that she would drive the mostly functional parents home with Little Sis. She reasoned that it would be beneficial for Little Sis to have a brief experience of her new home, and to meet with LML sooner rather than later.  As contact with Little Sis has gone so well so far, the mostly functional parents couldn’t resist …

Big Sis meets Little Sis

12 06 2009

Day two of introductions and it’s time for Big Sis to meet Little Sis.

As the visiting party are about to leave the house GM says to Big Sis, who has taken ages to get up and then even longer to get dressed and put on her make-up, “You not going on a date, you know!”

It doesn’t take long, once they are at the foster carers for Little Sis to start engaging with Big Sis. They sit opposite each other pulling faces and pressing foreheads together. Little Sis is fascinated with Big Sis’s jewellery and soon has her bangles and bracelets off, pulls out her earrings and puts her necklace in her mouth.

The time flies by, before the mostly functional family know it the hour that they had planned to stay turns into one and a half hours and then, as they are about to leave the foster mum says, “Would you like to take her for a walk around the block.” Of course they would! A twenty minute walk and they return with Little Sis contentedly sitting in her chair not the least bit fazed by being taken off with these strangers.

Ten minutes later the mostly functional family are saying their goodbyes and Little Sis is clearly falling asleep in Big Sis’s arms. The foster mum says to GM, “She’s really tired. Would you like to put her down.”

Little Sis disappears upstairs head snuggled into GM’s shoulder and is laid in her cot without any murmur of complaint.

Another successful visit concluded with the foster carers enthusing about how well it is all going.

Young Hearts…

10 06 2009

It went better than expected or even hoped for.

Earlier today the mostly functional parents met Little Sis for the first time. Arriving at the foster carers house, nervous and slightly apprehensive, they were greeted at the door by Foster mum with Little Sis in her arms. Wow! Their hearts skipped a beat.

There has been much comment over the past couple of weeks about how wary Little Sis is with strangers, so for the first 15 to 30 minutes they held themselves back, GM sitting on the floor and CD taking a seat at the end of a settee. Little sis sized them up and by the end of the hour long visit, she had sat with both, had a dance with GM, a face pulling competition with CD and had generally crawled all over, prodded and poked both. As they were leaving she gave both a goodbye kiss and waved and waved.

CD and GM left the house buzzing ..

It really couldn’t have gone better

Meet the Foster Carers

7 06 2009

Pat and Fred arrived at the agreed time did, all smiles and handshakes. Pat, who has built up a strong relationship with GM over the phone, wasted no time in gushing, “you’re going to love her”.

For two hours they sat on the sofa and praised the girl that has been dubbed ‘Little Sis’. Having fostered her since she was a week old they are clearly smitten by her. All the problems and issues which have delayed GM and CD making a decision, just seem to have melted away in the carers eyes.

It is clear that they are lovely, genuine, people. It is also clear that even though they commented on Little Sis’s developmental delay they were not offering an objective assessment of the little girl and her needs.

Trying to get them to articulate more than just generalisations about Little Sis was almost impossible. For instance, Little Sis has been fitted for special shoes that support her ankles but when CD and GM asked for details about why this was and how long she would need them all they got were vague and imprecise responses.

At one point Fred started to talk about how Little Sis seems to have a problem with men. He began to tell  about how she cries and gets upset when she comes across men with certain features (dark hair for example) and, in particular, men wearing a hat, any sort of hat. Pat literally ‘shushed’ him and then, realising what she had done, laughed about it and acknowledged that there are some things that Little Sis’s new family need to know that are not full of sunshine and lightness.

The other thing that was a bit odd was that there was a complete lack of recognition that one of the main concerns for CD and GM would be LML and how she is going to cope with this new person in her life.

The meeting with the foster carers has been completed. The foster carers obviously adore Little Sis and having looked after her for 15 months they are clearly anxious about moving her on to her new family. It is going to be a major wrench for them and Little Sis.

So what’s next? On Tuesday there is the meeting to plan introductions. The mostly functional parents can’t wait!

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