Last week I went on a home visit to a lady who had enquired about fostering through our agency. She’d been on our website, liked what she’d seen and dropped us an email. I’d been the one to call her and answer her questions. I’d been the one to book in a suitable time to visit her at home to talk in more depth. And, along with my colleague, I’d been the one to go to her lovely home. For an hour and a half we chatted and she asked us lots of questions, which we answered honestly. We gave her a realistic picture of what she might expect from fostering. We also asked her lots of questions about her family, their experiences and motivations. We’re not sure if she’ll apply to foster with us but we left her with an application form and lots to think about.
The tables have turned
The following day I had a little visit of my own.
Our home visit was booked in for 1.30pm. My husband, Jim, rocked up at 1.28pm. He is the master of cutting it fine. But wait. Was I nervous? Did this walking aimlessly up and down the hallway qualify as pacing? Yep, I was definitely verging on the anxious. I picked up the list of questions that Ben and Theo, my two sons, had helped me put together the night before.
“What if the child doesn’t like us?” Theo, aged six, had asked with a look of great consternation.
“What if they can’t understand what we’re saying? How are we going to communicate?” asked Ben, aged nine, clearly thinking about the nature of child we’d like to welcome into our family.
You see, we feel we’d like to welcome an unaccompanied asylum seeking child and this comes with a list of very specific questions as well as the more generic ones.
“What if they’re not nice to us?”
“Will we have to change the house?”
“What school will they go to?”
Once the boys had asked their various questions I had one for them: “How might a child feel, coming into a strange, new family?”
“Terrified,” suggested Theo. “Very anxious,” said Ben. “They might be trembly.” “Their heart would feel like a stone.”
It was fast becoming a competition.
Time to see what Jim wanted to know.
In other words, how long will it take to be approved? How does the referral process work? How long before a child is placed with us? What is the matching process? What support is there? In short, all the questions I had breezily answered at the home visit the day before.
The reality hits home
Sitting at our dining room table with our cups of tea, listening as the home visitor, Elle, answered Jim’s questions, I was struck by the oddness of it all. I started to ask a few questions of my own. Let’s be clear, I wasn’t asking questions as some sort of gesture to prove that I didn’t think I knew it all, or as a mere show of solidarity to Jim, who knows relatively little about the technicalities of fostering. The only way I can describe what happened is to say that the answers to all those questions suddenly morphed from something flat and one dimensional, something that trips off the tongue to something concrete and tangible and very much 3D. Suddenly, it was about our boys, our home, our routine, our sanctuary. And I was both disturbed and reassured to feel just how much difference that made.
Of course, we also had some additional questions around how I can foster and continue to work at the agency. I’ve said before that the agency is small, energetic, creative and willing to think outside the box. There should be no reason why I can’t continue to work there. But we have to make sure there is no conflict of interest. Elle is keen to set out ways to make sure that our information is kept private at work. And of course I’ll have to stop being on Panel. Lots to think about and work out. But we know it’s all possible if everyone is willing.
Warts and all
So, if we go ahead, it looks like we’ll have an independent form F assessor to take us through the assessment process. I listened as Elle explained that she’d probably make about eight visits and would interview us separately and together. She explained the background checks that are needed and the work that will go into presenting us as a family to panel using the infamous form F. I could tell Jim was thinking, ‘eight sessions! My life’s really not that interesting.’ I know from experience that that’s what they all say!
But I was thinking something different. It’s funny because I thought I might feel a bit odd about sharing my life, warts and all, to a group of people I’ve worked with for two years. I’ve read many a form F and I know that a good one leaves no stone unturned. But I also know that our panel is made up of people who are human, who are warm, who are real and who want real families to look after these children. So what I was thinking was that there is no other group of people I would trust more with my warts. So to speak.
At EFS, we aim for around three to four months from application to approval at panel. So we could be approved and ready to go by February. Then it will be a question of waiting for the right match. As I said, we’re looking to welcome a very specific child into our family. It is crucial for that child and for our birth children that we give the arrangement the best possible chance for success. Because Ben and Theo are relatively young, we will most likely need to be patient for that child to come along. It could be a long wait. There was a twinkle in Elle’s eye when she placed the application form on the table.
“Well?” I asked Jim when she’d gone. “Let’s go for it,” he said. Yes, let’s.