Harrowing situations - Cathy Glass

I was recently asked by a woman’s magazine to write a short article about some of the most harrowing situations I had faced. It’s reproduced below. It was only when I’d written the article and reread it that I realized my most harrowing situations all related to fostering. 

As foster carers we learn to expect the unexpected, think on my feet, and face harrowing, difficult and upsetting situations. 

Take for example Jodie (who I write about in my book Damaged) who’d been dreadfully sexually abused before coming into care. Here is an excerpt from our first visit to the psychologist:

… Jodie’s anger turned inwards, upon herself. She grabbed a clump of her hair and tore it out. At this, I got up and restrained her. It might not have been the correct approach in the doctor’s eyes, but I wasn’t prepared to stand by and watch her self-harm. I held her wrists, then crossed her arms, enfolding her as I did at home. She struggled, spat, and then finally went limp. I led her over to the sofa and put my arms around her. Whether Dr Burrows approved or not, I couldn’t tell. She was sat opposite, and the room was quiet. I looked at the mess; the floor between us was covered in debris, a sea of destruction. 

Later, when Jodie told me the details of her suffering it stayed with me forever. 

When I fostered Michael and his father died making him an orphan (The Night The Angels Came) it was a different kind of upset and affected us all.

I enfolded Michael in my arms as he wept. Adrian and Paula, my son and daughter, stood close, either side of me; I held Michael and we all cried openly. Usually, I try to be brave for the children, but at that moment our grief was raw and overpowering, as only the news of a death can be. 

‘He died peacefully in his sleep,’ I emphasized as my tears fell. ‘He’s at rest now.’

I held Michael and kept Adrian and Paula close; huddled together in a small group on the landing we all cried, oblivious to the time or the routine we should have been following.  

‘My daddy is with my mummy now,’ Michael said through his tears.

‘Yes, he is, love. They’re together now.’

However, when I was first told about Melody (Where Has Mummy Gone), I thought I’d heard it all before during my 25 years of fostering, so similar was her background to many other children I’d fostered: 

…. neglected for years by her single mother, who was an intravenous drug user and alcohol dependent. The social services were going to court later that morning to bring the child into care. Melody was eight years of age and had been sleeping on an old stained mattress on the floor of a damp, cold basement flat with her mother, and they were about to be evicted. She hadn’t been attending school, and despite the social services putting in support, there was never any food in the cupboards and she and her mother were often hungry, cold and dirty.

But once Melody came to live with me a different story began to emerge, one that the social services hadn’t been aware of, and was even more harrowing. 

I think there are some harrowing situations in fostering that we never truly get over.  I was wondering if it would it be helpful if we were all offered counselling on a regular basis? 


Cathy Glass


Members of The Fostering Network might like to read our Big Issue about foster carers' wellbeing on page 10 of the Spring 2017 edition of Foster Care magazine.

Blogs written by external contributors do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of The Fostering Network.

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