The waiting game

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged. For those of you who were following my family’s journey into foster care, you’ll know that we were approved as foster carers at the end of April this year, and I’ve been indulging in a little radio silence since then.

The truth is that on the surface not much has changed; we are still awaiting a child. On the other hand, as I hardly need to point out, so much around us has changed beyond recognition, which has brought every one of our motivations into sharp relief. We all know that there is a desperate need for foster carers and one might be forgiven for assuming that as soon as you’re approved you’d up to your eyeballs in requests to take children. But the reality is that placing children takes careful matching, something that is made more complex when you have young children at home as we do.

Worth its wait in gold

I believe that waiting is a very constructive place to be in. Of course, it’s completely counter-cultural; we’re taught that we don’t need to wait, that everything is here and now for the taking. When it comes to fostering, we have felt desperate to provide a home for the child we know is coming and yet in the waiting, we are being prepared. In some ways, it would be easy to rescue the next child that comes along but it wouldn’t necessarily be right.

There are lots of things to consider when placing a child: are we the right family for them? Are they the right child for us? Can they be placed alongside younger children? Is the location right? Do we have everything possible to make this placement stable for the child? Do we have the right skillset or personalities for the child in question? We’ve yet to have welcomed a child for whom we could say yes to all of the above. But that’s ok.

In the waiting, we have discovered things about ourselves. We have come to accept what our limitations are, we better understand our vulnerabilities, we know that we can’t, sadly, help everyone. We’ve had interesting family discussions about what fostering is going to look like, how we might have to modify our behaviour and what we might have to sacrifice. We’ve been able to regroup as a family and prepare ourselves for what we know is coming. We feel more robust for the waiting. I can’t speak for my husband Jim, and my boys, but I have a huge sense of peace about the whole thing.

As a family, we have seen the events of recent weeks and realised that we need to reach out more than ever, to be the difference that we want to see in the world, and we hope to encourage others who are also waiting. We are resolute - both in the doing and in the not-yet-doing. In the waiting, we have also learned some practical lessons.

A few weeks ago, we had a referral for a 15-year-old Afghani boy. The local authority received our Form F (our fostering credentials) and was keen to place him with us. ‘We’re just waiting for the age assessment,’ the placements officer said. Some time later, we got a message that he was not Afghani after all but Iraqi. A further phone call, an hour later, revealed that the age assessment deemed the child to be above the age for foster care.

Practice drill

On one hand this illustrates the shocking lack of even the most basic information you sometimes receive on unaccompanied asylum seeking children. His nationality and age seemed to be something fluid. The cynic in me felt for this child, who was not a child, who must surely be a child. I know from my research and through my work with these children that the age assessment process is not without its flaws and might not be without its ulterior motives. I have to confess to shedding a tear for this lad.

What I also learned was how quickly you can get everything together when you think a child might be with you that very night! And so, unwittingly, we were thrown into a practice drill that would build our confidence in our practical ability even if we are still in the dark as to our fostering capability.

The call came on one of our busiest evenings – the boys both had activities going on, Jim was out at work and the house was a tip (no huge change there). Immediately I phoned Jim who was, as ever, the voice of calm. He asked if I needed him to come home. It felt important though to just take it in our stride, so I reassured him that I’d call if he was needed. I then cleaned the house and put fresh bedding on the spare bed. I spoke to the boys and told them what might be happening. I watched as they grabbed a duster and a dustpan and brush and started excitedly helping to clean (hitherto unheard of). They chattered about who this mystery boy might be and how he would feel on arriving here. I learnt something from my children that night. They accepted everything at face value, and were willing to make it work. This was just who we were now.

I can’t pretend we weren’t all disappointed when we learned he wasn’t coming. We were, the boys especially. But we’d been given a new sense of wanting to do this. And of being able to rely on one another to make it happen – however mercurial this faceless child might be.

When I asked my boys to describe what it feels like to wait for a child, Ben said, ‘tantalising.’ It is the expectation of something wonderful in that word that sums it up so perfectly. And so, with renewed determination, we wait, hopeful there will be gold at the end of it all.

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