The ‘Big things in life’ with foster carers ‘who know!’

The Big things in life for children, especially children in care, are not necessarily what we know, but foster carers know the big things in life for children, and it’s why they do what they do. The big things in life for children are not important to grown-ups. However, foster carers with children with additional needs ‘just know. These foster carers understand children’s behaviours because of lived experience; they know meltdowns and tantrums are not always what they seem. Often, meltdowns and kick-offs begin from sheer frustration.

Children are very astute. When they’re not happy, they let us know, and if we don’t listen, they find other ways to achieve their goals. Sadly, trust is a huge issue for children in care, and there are few people they trust with the big things. As a result, they turn to ‘strangers’ and are unaware of the potential dangers they face.

Sadly, some children don’t understand the importance of boundaries and rules 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. Thankfully, support networks from Not for Profit charities like Childline and NSPCC and web chat operators from Children’s services have people who know the Big things in life for children and understand when they need their voices heard…

I was sitting at my desk, and the web chat came on. Mentally I prepared myself for a conversation because you never knew who the caller was or the reason for the call.

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 if he was okay and where was he. His answer was blunt, and he didn’t sound pleased; he wrote, ‘I hate it here, I’m not going back, and you can’t make me.’

Foster carers understand the Big things in life.

I called the child’s social worker, who told me the boy was fourteen and was autistic. Also, he should be with a respite carer. She was trying to contact him; however, he wasn’t answering his mobile. The social worker said the child wasn’t with his usual respite carer, but his Mum needed a break. She knew he wasn’t happy and asked me to tell him to pick up when she called him. She knew he had her number and said, ‘he’s probably ignoring me because he’s angry?’

I told him I had spoken with his social worker and said, ‘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 Big thing in life was respite care, tea, toast and Steve.’

Steve was the boy’s regular respite carer. I asked him what the best thing was about being with Steve? He said,’ 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. He knew that Steve knew the big things in his life, Steve just knew, 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; thankfully, he said the child could stay with him until his Mum returned. I told the boy what Steve had said, immediately, he said, ‘Thank you, I knew you would help. Bye.’ Just like that, he had gone. The call had ended. I found out later that he picked up immediately his social worker, exclaiming,’ It’s okay, I’m going to Steve’s. Will you come and pick me up, please!’

Children need foster carers who know the Big things in life!

The Social worker later told me the boy was with Steve; today was Friday, 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; they are foster carers who know.

More importantly, for children who don’t do change, this relationship with someone they trust and who just knows is crucial. The familiarity of ‘tea, toast, and a chat on a Saturday’ is important for children; it is a ‘big’ thing in life for them, and when someone else ‘knows, the ‘big’ things, they don’t seem that ‘big’ after all!

‘My mum shouted at me; it’s not fair!’

The web chat email read, ‘My mum has shouted at me; it’s not fair!’ I checked the mobile number on my system; it was one of our foster children. So, I asked him what had happened. Was he okay? He told me he had come home from school and ‘kicked the ball’ (like you do!) in the house. The ball ‘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 said, I am in my bedroom talking to you and ‘keeping out of the way until Dad comes home.’

The child was ten years old and was with a long-term fostering family. I rang his social worker and told her his story; she was unfazed by it. However, she had been his social worker for a long time; if anyone knew this child, it would be her! Naively I said, ‘maybe it’s how he feels he can get his voice heard?’ She said, ‘he’s very good at that!’

‘Dad knows best.’

The email read, ‘Dad will come home; he’ll put the wires back in the telly like he always does!‘ My vision of a smashed-up television on the floor was gone. He’d knocked the cables out of the back with his football again! He said, ‘Dad’s home now; he’s fixed the television.’

I suggested it might be a clever idea to keep the football outside. He said, ‘Got to go now, Mums shouting me, and my tea’s ready, Bye!’ I knew he had been killing time chatting with me until his dad came home and made everything right; he was keeping out of the way. Also, keeping out of the way meant Mum could cook his tea. He knew what he was doing, and he was okay.

These conversations inspire me because the logic that children apply adds to the simplistic view they hold in life. Subsequently, listening and understanding when children tell you about the big things for them is vital to understanding children. We often regard the ‘big’ thing as trivial, but it is ‘big‘ for a child. Therefore, I have resolved to recruit foster carers who ‘just know’ the importance of the big things in life” for children; because I know how upset they get when we don’t.

little boy playing with toys. the text reads the big things in life matter for children in care.
The big things in life matter for children in care.

I knew the big things in life were missing.

I have worked with children and young people in my hospitality and business career for many years. However, at 45, I decided on a radical career change. I gave up my career and began to study Level 5 Childcare & Child psychology. Also, I was the oldest person in my class. I was older than my teacher, but I was undeterred. Something was missing, and I knew I had to find it.

My placement was at a Waterford, Ireland preschool where the children were labelled as ‘difficult.’ My tutors and friends said it might be too harsh for me; maybe a Montessori school would suit me. They thought it would be more refined, and they were worried the experience would put me off.

However, I was having none of it. I soon realised that the ‘labels’ in the textbook bore no reflection on the children I taught daily. My life as a Mum and experience of working with children and young people; far outweighed my lack of academic learning. 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.

I felt a huge sense of achievement; I knew the Big things in life, too.

Every staff member worked together with dedication to giving the children a happy learning environment. Our learning outcomes are designed to meet the needs of every child and get their voices heard. As a result, they flourished, and the children graduated from ‘big’ school fully prepared for their next adventure in life. I had never felt such satisfaction from a job done.

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. More importantly, we knew the children were ready for their next step.

Foster 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 will I manage for money?’ Or ‘How long do I wait for ‘placement’ when I am approved?’

Sadly, some children don’t have the best start in life. They deserve safe and loving homes with people who don’t think of them as placements.

Foster children are not ‘placements’. Children who have moved from one foster carer to another soon learn. They know which foster carers are genuine and which are in it for the money. As a result, they manage their behaviour accordingly.

Children in care need consistent care in a safe and loving foster home with foster carers who understand. They don’t need a bed in a home. They need love and consistent kindness, even when they struggle to be heard. However, over time, they learn that you just know, which is priceless.

If you want to arrange a call to see if fostering is the right choice, please get in touch on the form below. There’s no cost or commitment, just straightforward advice on the fostering role and process. After all, you’ve made it this far; why stop now when maybe you just know the big things for children, too?


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