We’d been approved. Yeah! I packed my job in and we waited for the referral.
The referral: it's here. OMG, I read it through and thought no, no, this is not us. Then I read it again, and again. I called my Supervising Social Worker who said leave it with me, referrals are never as they seem, I’ll do some research. He was in emergency care, he had been there too long already and the Local Authority were desperate to place him. He was delightful; shy, reserved, good looking and very compliant. The first lesson - read between the lines of the referral.
Settling in: we were lucky, we had a transition period over a couple of days. He was quiet but even after our initial meeting where he couldn’t look us in the eye, he had become quite chatty. I hadn’t expected food to be so difficult, his diet: no fish, no meat, no cooked vegetables. I got creative and put all the things he could eat into a risotto. He just looked at it, he only ate food separately and only bought from a shop, nothing homemade. He was obsessed with XBOX, we bought one for the family, on the strict condition that it stayed here when he moved.
School: initial panic because his school was too far away. He’ll have to move schools, the traffic in the mornings, it will take hours. We had a guided tour of the local junior school, where he reverted straight back into his shell. When the teacher proudly said, “Do you like our school”? he just said “No.” So, taxis were organised daily to collect at 7.30am and return him by 4.30pm. It worked well, he missed the rush hour and there was some continuity in his life.
Homework: we were new foster carers, we wanted to do the best we could for him, or were we doing this for us? He was under achieving at school, although he was bright, we can do this, we thought, everyone will be so pleased. I took over English and grammar and my partner dealt with the maths. There were some good results initially, but he hated every moment of it, and sulked! It got worse and we found ourselves getting more and more stressed. I called my social worker, she said, don’t worry, you need to build an attachment with him. His brain is not in gear for learning, he is concentrating on surviving. Let the teachers teach him. So, we took a step back, and carried on supporting him where we could: stability, nurturing and left the teachers to teach.
Meetings: our assessment had been particularly gruelling as we were childless and therefore had no parenting skills to show. At our first Looked after Child meeting, the Reviewing Officer turned to us at the end of a two hour meeting and asked how long we’d been fostering. I replied 12 days, to which she replied, repeating four times, “I can’t believe you are new.” We were doing it, and it was going well, what a great feeling.
Holidays: Easter came round quickly, two weeks to fill. I had a young boy who had no friends nearby, was not interested in clubs or football, all he wanted to do was play XBOX. I went overboard trying to please him, thinking the more we did the more he would be grateful. I took him everywhere. We went to the seaside, to the cinema, to The Little Welly Festival, Rowing on the River, Swimming, Tenpin Bowling, a Scarecrow Festival. He never said thank you, he never got animated, he mostly looked bored and depressed. The reality was I was trying desperately to please him but he never once tried to please us, there was literally no empathy, he didn’t know how.
After a particularly active weekend I was at his school one evening for a parent’s meeting regarding an upcoming residential trip. As we were walking back to the car at 7pm he said, “what are we doing now”? I said, “we’re going home, it will take an hour, then you need to shower and go to bed”. He said, "I don’t want to go, its boring”. I said, "so what would you rather do?", he said “Go back home”. I hadn’t been prepared for that one, I’d done so much, I’d done it all for him. I called my mentor, I was upset and angry, she was very good, she just said, don’t worry they all use that one.
It was only then that I realised I could entertain him as much as I wanted but what he was really missing was his friends after school, kicking a ball around, chasing each other, just playing. He was bored of being around adults, he had no one to play with. The next night I bought a ball, a frisbee, a foam pellet gun and a bag of satsumas that we threw at each other. It wasn’t ideal but it was something.
He stayed with us four months. We all relaxed into a routine as the months went by. He treated our house like his home, he helped himself to drinks and food. We talked, especially at bedtime, about life, his worries. We built a close bond. His favourite thing was to lie in wait for me to come into his room and then bombard me with his rubber animals, which I would quickly pick up and hurl back at him, much to his delight. He started drawing, omg, that was a breakthrough. I saw the child coming out which was wonderful.
When he left it was hard. He didn’t want to stay with us, because he said quite openly that he’d rather be nearer his friends and his school, he didn’t want to move to the new placement. Unfortunately, the Court at this point had already made a decision to send him there for a three month trial. I wasn’t prepared to cry, although my Supervising Social Worker warned me. It was hard, he tried not to cry, he tried so hard, but as his tears came, so did mine and they didn’t stop for an hour…and we miss him.
Having him live with us was hard, it taxed us in all the ways we never imagined and could never have thought possible but it was equally rewarding. Especially when you have a child that shows you no emotional attachment, no hugs or kisses, but cries when he leaves, it's powerful stuff.