We know that children can be very astute at finding ways to get their voices heard, and often when they’re not happy, they let us know! However, for many children, there can be a lack of people that children feel they can trust, especially with the ‘big‘ things in life.
These children often turn to ‘strangers’ to have their voices heard, and they are unaware of the potential dangers they could face.
Sadly, some children don’t understand the importance of boundaries and rules, often because they have never had them. For other children, the rules change frequently and depend on the people caring for them, and subsequently, children will make their own rules up to survive.
‘I hate it here, I’m not going back, and you can’t make me’.
I was sitting at my desk, and the web chat came on. Mentally I prepared myself for a conversation because you never knew what the caller wanted.
The message read,” I hate it here, I’m not going back, and you can’t make me!’ I looked at the caller’s name on our system and realised it was one of our foster children. So, I emailed the child to ask what had happened. Was he okay? Where was he?
Understanding children with additional needs.
I called the Child’s Social worker, who told me the boy was 14 and autistic. He was supposed to be with a respite carer, and she was trying to contact him; however, he wasn’t answering his mobile.
She said the boy wasn’t with his usual respite carer; however, the boy’s mum needed a break. She figured out that the child wasn’t happy, and she was getting worried. Would I tell him this and ask him to answer his phone?
I told him I had spoken with his Social worker and asked, ‘Do you have missed calls from her?’ He replied, ‘yes, but I’m not speaking to her because I’m not going back.’
The boy told me he wanted to go to Steve because he always went to Steve. However, Steve had gone on holiday too.
He said, ‘I know I am hard work, and my Mum needs a holiday, but why is Steve away also?’
‘The best thing about respite care was tea, toast and Steve.’
Steve was the boy’s regular respite carer. I asked, ‘what do you like best about being with Steve?’ His reply made me smile, ’Steve makes me cups of tea, we have toast, I don’t go to school, and then we chat about football’.
And that was his world, his routine, which had no changes because he didn’t like change; he wanted Steve, and he wanted his voice heard.
I told the boy’s social worker, and she called Steve on the ‘off-chance’ that he could help? Someone was watching over us because Steve had come home early, and consequently, he would let the boy stay with him until Mum came back. I told the boy this, and he said, ‘Thank you, I knew you would help. Bye.’
Then he was gone; the call had ended.
Consistency and continuity of care are essential.
The Social worker later told me the boy was with Steve; today was Friday; therefore, tomorrow was Saturday, and they would have tea and toast in the morning and talk about football. All was well in their world.
Foster children need consistency and routine, especially children with additional needs. Consequently, consistent respite foster carers are invaluable because of the existing relationships they have built, and more importantly, a relationship for a child who knows that they ‘just know!’
Recruiting respite foster carers that ‘just know‘ the importance of routine and consistency is vital for a child that doesn’t ‘do’ change.
The familiarity of ‘tea, toast, and a chat on a Saturday‘ is important for some children, and it is a ‘big’ thing for them, and when you ‘know’, the ‘big’ things don’t seem that ‘big’ after all!
‘My mum shouted at me; it’s not fair!’
The webchat email read, ‘My mum has shouted at me, it’s not fair!’ I checked from the mobile number on my system, and this was one of our foster children. So, I asked him what had happened. Was he okay?
He told me that he had come home from school and kicked the ball’ (like you do!) ‘in the house’, which then went into the telly, and now it was broke’.
He said his mum had ‘gone mad’ and shouted at him. I asked him where he was? He told me he was in his bedroom talking to me’ and was ‘keeping out of the way until Dad came home.’
The child was ten years old, and he was with a long term fostering family, so I rang his social worker and told her the story. She seemed unfazed by it; however, she had been the child’s social worker for a long time; if anyone knew this child, it would be her!
Naively I said, ‘maybe it how he feels he can get his voice heard?’ She replied, ‘he’s very good at that!’
‘Dad knows best.‘
The child emailed me, ‘Dad will come home and put the wires back in the telly like he always does!‘ My vision of a smashed up telly on the floor was gone; he’d knocked the cables out of the back; again!
He emailed me again. ’Dad’s home now; he’s fixed the telly;’ I suggested that maybe it would be a good idea to keep the football outside?
He said, ‘Got to go now, Mums shouting me, and my tea’s ready, Bye!’ It was tea-time, Dad was back home, he’d fixed the telly, and therefore, it was time to go back downstairs! His ‘big’ thing was having his voice heard!
Also, he was killing time until Dad came home and made everything right while keeping it out of the way. This subsequently meant that Mum could cook his tea; he knew what he was doing, and he was okay.
These conversations inspire me because of the logic children apply to the simplistic view they hold in life. Subsequently, listening and understanding when children tell you about the essential things for them is vital.
We often regard the ‘big’ thing as trivial, but it is ‘big‘ for a child. I make it my resolve to recruit foster carers who can ‘just know’ the importance of ‘big’ things to children.
When you know something is missing…
I have worked with children and young people in my hospitality and business career for many years; however, it was about to be now if I had ever faced a challenge in my life. At the age of 45, I decided on a radical career change.
I gave up my career and began to study Level 5 Childcare & Child psychology. I was the oldest person in my class, I was older than my teacher, but I was undeterred; something was missing, and I ‘just knew‘ I had to find it.
Finding the missing piece in my life.
I worked in a Nursery school in Waterford, Ireland, as a placement whilst studying, and our children were labelled ‘difficult.’ My tutors and friends suggested that it might be too harsh for me?
Perhaps, I would be better in a Montessori school where it would be more refined?’ Maybe my genteel English manner made them think that the experience would put me off?
However, I was having none of it. I soon worked out the ‘labels’ in the textbook bore no reflection to the children I taught every day.
The experiences I had from my life as a Mum to my grown-up daughter more than compensated for the lack of academic achievements in this field. I also knew I had been missing something in my life; children.
Many children were from ‘minority homes’ and ethnic and cultural backgrounds, making the role diverse. The job was challenging because of cultural and language barriers, and many children did not speak English.
We adapted the learning to ensure that we met every child’s needs and enabled their voices to be heard. Subsequently, they flourished, and each child graduated into ‘big’ school totally ready for their next adventure in life; and I had never felt such satisfaction from a job done, ever.
Every staff member worked together with the dedication to giving the children a happy, learning environment. The children were safe and loved, and we watched them develop into confident and unique children, and we loved them unequivocally.
However, we knew we had a job to do, and once done, they moved on. I felt a sense of pride and job satisfaction I had never felt before; we knew the children were ready for their next step.
Children are not ‘placements.
I have recently noticed that more people who inquire into foster care refer to foster children as ‘placements‘.
They ask,’ What happens if I don’t have a ‘placement’, how would I manage for money?’, or, ‘How long would I wait for ‘placement’ after being approved?’
Sadly, some children don’t have the best start in life; they deserve safe and loving homes with people to protect them and care for them.
Foster children are not ‘placements’. Children in care need consistency; they need to know they are with people who can better understand them. Children are resilient; however, understanding boundaries and feeling safe is vital. And, for a child who might never have known these feelings, they bring stability and love on a pathway leading to a brighter future.
We need safe and loving homes for children who need your support on the ‘big’ things for them. Children need people who know how to make a difference and won’t give up on them, even when they push your buttons!
If this is you, please send your details on the contact form below, and we’ll contact you back. Together, we can make a big difference in the lives of children in care.