I’m not going to lie to you. The application form? It’s a brute.
My brother has a bit of a phobia of application forms and if he caught sight of this specimen, he’d be running to hide behind the sofa quicker than he did when he first saw Michael Jackson’s Thriller.
How have I gone two years working for Eastern Fostering Services without truly studying the application form? Careless, that’s what I’ve been. Well, this week I’ve had my eyes well and truly opened. There I was serenely thumbing through the application form when my eyes fell upon four relatively harmless words: Every. Address. Since. Birth. For about three seconds my thumbing continued unabated until… What?! You want what?! Every address since birth?! This filled me with horror.
I barely knew where I lived when I was living there! Such things were a mere distraction to the real business at hand – having a good time. All the time. Remember the details now, over 25 years on? You have got to be kidding me! Apparently they are not kidding me.
A trip down Google lane
All I can say is thank God for old friends, Google maps and postcode finder. Also thank God that what started as the world’s most arduous task actually turned out to be a lovely little virtual trip down memory lane. I (virtually) stood outside many a front door that I had long since forgotten about and reminisced about what a great time I’d had.
In contrast, I began thinking of the address histories of many looked after children. How on earth can many of these children keep track of where they’ve lived? Many of them have moved so many times that by age 10, it’s not impossible for a child to have moved more times in a single year than I have in my entire life. That shut me up.
So I completed my part of the form, giving all the required information: details of employers, details for referees, experience of volunteering or working with children etcetera, etcetera. Then I handed the form to my husband, Jim. I watched as he casually thumbed through the form and I counted: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 (he reads more slowly than me)…. “They want what? Since birth?”
I left him to it and chuckled my way into the kitchen. Two days later, Jim finished the application form and I gave it a good once over. Something towards the end of the form caught my eye. “Jim,” I casually called out to him. “I never knew you’d been arrested ….”
Well, EFS want real families and that is definitely what they’re going to get with us. We’ve made mistakes. The thing is, we haven’t really thought about those mistakes for years. Our mistakes were made privately. Stuff happened. We learnt, we moved on. We did stupid things like get drunk, act like a prat and get ourselves arrested (well Jim did). But those things didn’t follow us everywhere and we weren’t constantly reminded of them. In fact I don’t think you could say that Jim was ever held back because of his mistakes, and neither was I. And there’s no photographic evidence either.
Not like teens today, who grow up in an online arena where their mistakes are catalogued and shared and preyed upon. Not like the young people EFS look after, who are under additional scrutiny by social workers, therapists, carers, teachers. These are kids whose criminal records really might count against them in a way Jim’s never did. It’s another sobering thought. Pardon the pun…. So as I hand in the application form, that’s what I’m hoping we can provide: a safe place to mess up. A safe place to make a mistake and move on from it. Safe for the child we take in. Safe for our children. Safe for us. We know we’ll make plenty of mistakes along the way but that’s how we’ve always done it.