The heart of the matter

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If you’ve been following my blog you’ll know that my husband and I are going to panel to be approved as foster carers on 20th April (or not as the case may be).

In this blog, I’ve charted our journey from its inception when we first made the decision to foster. I’ve tried to share our motivations, our hopes and our fears. I’ve described the depth to which the assessment process probes and how we as a family have all reacted to such exposure. In short, the blog has been very much about us. And that’s only to be expected; the assessment process is all about understanding the applicant - what drives them, how able to reflect they are, their strengths, their weaknesses, the gaps in their understanding and knowledge. It’s a process that focusses most of your attention on you. And yet these last couple of weeks, as we await panel, my thoughts turn outwards once more, onto the child who might soon be joining our family and the other children we look after at the agency I work for. My thoughts are on the very heart of what has brought us this far.

So, to give you a break from the interminable me-ness of this blog, I thought it might be good to shine a light on the children, the challenges they face and the staggering resilience they often display.

The whys and wherefores

Children come into foster care for many different reasons, some are very dramatic and others much less so. I’ve seen children in care because they have somehow got lost in a relationship breakdown, because of poverty, drug and alcohol addiction, domestic violence, child abuse, because they are challenging to care for, because their parents need respite, because they are orphaned, because they are caught in criminality, or their parents are in prison, because they have been neglected or given up on, because adoption has broken down, because they are fleeing war or persecution, because they have been trafficked or because there are simply no other options open to them.

Whatever the reason, children find themselves in a scary predicament when they find themselves in foster care. What are the carers going to be like? What will the house be like? Will it smell like home? What house rules are they going to have? What is the food going to be like and when will I be fed? Where am I going to go to school and how am I going to get there? Am I going to like them? Am I going to let myself like them? Will they like me? When will they have enough of me? Will they stop me seeing my family? Will they be able to protect me? How can I escape if I need to? What do they expect of me? What if I can’t be who they want me to be? How do I know I am safe here?

Many adults couldn’t cope with so many unknowns and yet these children somehow do cope. And on those occasions where the match between carer and child is spot on, these children flourish. Where a match is poorly made, a child can find themselves in a downward spiral of relationship breakdown and upheaval resulting in severe damage to self-esteem and mental wellbeing. This has far reaching consequences.

Match ready

One question that I often get asked and that I am sure panel will ask us too is why we want to specialise in fostering unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC). There are many reasons but perhaps the most relevant one for everyone concerned is the importance of matching, especially as we have two young boys.

Let me rewind a bit and explain how the process of placing children and young people in foster care works. As a small independent agency, we receive “referrals” from the local authority. They have their own in house foster carers but any children that they can’t place with them will come to independent agencies. This means that the children we try to accommodate can be quite challenging to care for. Sometimes they have endured years of abuse, neglect or dysfunction and can be deeply traumatised. They might exhibit challenging behaviour, which can mean that it’s not wise to place them with other children.

I’d like to be clear that unaccompanied asylum seeking children have also often undergone deep trauma. I know children who have lost family members, seen war and bloodshed, travelled on foot for months and months, spent time in horrific camps and witnessed things no child should have to witness. There is definitely trauma. And yet, my experience of many of these children is that they have had a good foundation. They are polite, good with other children, they are hardworking and ambitious and they have the capacity for great joy and enthusiasm. In fact, one of my biggest concerns is how we go about understanding what some of these children are really feeling and thinking. Culturally they may not be used to talking, they may not get the best out of therapy, they may just bottle things up. This can lead to depression, nightmares, flashbacks, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other behaviours that we are only just beginning to understand.

In other words, it is not going to be plain sailing but perhaps we can at least stay in the relative dryness of the boat. It’s my hope that when the boys are older and we are more experienced that we can help a broader range of children. Until then, as we near another milestone on our journey, I wonder what other journeys are being travelled out there and when and how our paths will meet.

I wonder if there will be relief for us all when they do.

The Fostering Network is currently in the process of developiong resources and training around fostering unaccopmanied asylum seeking children which will be available in the latter half of 2016.

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