It’s Saturday morning and the house is now (reasonably) tidy. This is unusual for any day of the week but particularly for a Saturday. Today, however, is no ordinary Saturday – today is the day our assessor is coming.
The assessment form is a document compiled by an assessor (who is usually also a social worker) which presents you as foster carers to the approval panel. Once approved, the document is also used to present you to the local authority when you’re being put forward as a potential carer for a child. It highlights your motivations, your family dynamics, your strengths and your weaknesses. Our assessor will visit us approximately eight times to gather all the information she needs to present us accurately and will be asking us many in-depth questions about our lives, loves and limitations.
She starts straight off by asking us about our motivations for fostering: Why? Why now? What do you hope to offer? What do you expect the impact to be?
I begin by explaining what has happened to bring us to this point. I explain that I have worked at Eastern Fostering Services, an independent agency, for a while and that I have wanted to do more. I explain that as a couple, our faith calls us to feed the hungry and clothe the poor, to provide a refuge to others in stormy times. As we want to foster unaccompanied, asylum seeking children, I explain how Jim and I have been moved by the plight of adults and children fleeing their countries of origin. How we have lamented the likelihood that this will all be old news soon, once the media has a new focus, how many people will effectively be left to rot. I explain that we had to act. Not just a short term, sticking plaster approach but something long term and tangible – something practical. I also explain that it was only once Jim realised you could be so niche in terms of the profile of child you foster, that the conversation had turned more serious.
‘What held you back from considering fostering before then?’ the assessor asked Jim.
I mentioned last time that Jim has a wicked sense of humour. I also told you how we met at work. What I omitted to tell you was that Jim was very nearly fired from this job when he set up his own internal “Dear Deidre” advice column. Staff could email Jim with spoof dilemmas and Jim would advise. Needless to say, the “advice” Jim elected to give was not always received in the spirit he intended. Sometimes his humour is a little out there. The Dear Deidre debacle was one such occasion. Watching Jim prepare to answer this question is a bit like watching the Dear Deidre truck collide with a wheelchair bound pedestrian. I know he’s about to come out with something leftfield and I have no way of stopping it. I can only watch.
‘I don’t like other people’s children very much,’ he says.
See what I mean?
Thankfully, Jim has learnt to read people’s reactions a little over the years since Deidregate and he quickly claws back the ground. Jim comes to life as he talks about what he feels he could offer an asylum seeking child. He talks about how much he enjoys tutoring A Level students and how a lot of this work is around building confidence and equipping young people to solve problems themselves. He talks about his passion for science, for carpentry, for coaching sports. His voice betrays the fact that he likes other people’s children perfectly adequately.
Not the Von Trapps
I explain that as a family, we are far from perfect. There are many things that we could probably do better as parents. But one thing I know we can offer is a stable, structured and consistent base and that this will be provided in the context of a loving family. And that’s the essence of what we have to offer: love. Love is bandied around a lot as if it’s something that’s easy to do. During my time at EFS, I have seen that it is not easy to love every child. I am aware that a child may well come to us who is tricky to love. But I also know that love is not just about the heart. Love is about doing. Love is practical and consistent. It’s about perseverance; about sticking with it. It’s warm and it’s safe. And sometimes it’s a little leftfield.
‘You poohead!’ comes a scream from upstairs as I draw my impassioned speech to a close.
Ben, aged nine and Theo, aged seven are swiftly given a talking to. But the reality is that they have not been to football this morning and are therefore like tightly wound springs. I don’t particularly want to shout at my children in front of the assessor. Instead, I turn and give her a look that says: This is us. More Von Krapp than Von Trapp. In that look, I try and communicate a little thumbs up emoticon but I resist the urge to actually extend said digits.
Thankfully, the assessor is warm and friendly and does not make us feel that we’re under scrutiny (though of course we are). She allows the boys to give her a tour of the house so that she can do her health and safety check. Her check reveals a consistent lack of both. Theo has a cold and his constant old-man-hacking cough follows them around the listed home we live in. The safety glass is conspicuous in its absence. Medicines are not locked away. There is no fire blanket. We’ll need to fix some of these things and a few others but that’s ok. It’s much less painful than I was expecting.
A quick check of our birth and marriage certificates, MOT certificate, insurance documents and driving licenses and we’re done.
We’re told that we’ll be getting some homework to do over Christmas. We’ll be sent questions which we’ll need to provide written answers to. We’ll then discuss these in more depth at her next visit.
This is good. Writing we can do. For one thing, since Deidregate, when Jim writes, he has at his disposal, a very effective editing system.
Her name is Lucy.