Sunday, December 16, 2012

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

We had Christmas at our house last Saturday!  Yes, I know that's all wrong, but we're due to spend the actual Christmas Day in France with my family, so I decided that we'd be a family of two Christmas Days.

This is the first Christmas Day I have ever experienced as a 'parent'.  Last year, OB was rehabilitated back to his birth mother over Christmas, and NB didn't come until January, so I was free and single for the holidays.

There's a lot of pressure in doing something for the first time, especially when that something is as tradition-laden and significant as Christmas.  I knew that I definitely wanted to begin establishing traditions that will stay with our family, while at the same time making the day appropriately special for two very young children who were unlikely to fully appreciate what was going on!

In the end, we did it quite simply.  The night before I decorated the tree (it's been up for a while but with only our Advent decorations on it, so I added baubles and tinsel) and arranged the presents in piles around it.

Then, on 'Christmas morning', we all sat on my big bed while I read the children the Nativity story out of one of their toddler Bibles.  I explained that it was Jesus's birthday and we sang happy birthday!  Thankfully, OB's recent birthday meant that they at least had a vague idea of what a birthday is.

After that, we went downstairs and attacked the presents!  I was a little torn about how to do the presents, because I really don't want Christmas to be all about that at our house, but at the same time, I vividly remember the thrill of seeing the presents waiting under the tree on Christmas morning and I didn't want to deny that excitement to the boys.

I expected them to be overwhelmed by the presents and take ages to open them, but actually, they attacked them with gusto and soon littered the floor with wrapping paper, boxes and toys!  And, surprisingly, they did completely ignore the boxes and concentrate on playing with the toys, so I was happy with that!

Of course we also filled the day with a variety of unhealthy foodstuffs as well as a visit to friends. In the evening we watched a children's Nativity film with some hot chocolate and sweets.

All in all I think it went pretty well for a first attempt!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Gymnastic Fantastic!

I have recently started taking the boys to gymnastics classes.  Yes, they do have this for 2 year olds!  And frankly, it's hysterical!

Firstly, it's full of earnest, full-on, yummy mummies - the sort of parents who call their little boys "Tollow" (I kid you not!).  These mummies are very keen for their offspring to become the next Louis Smith.  As a result, they spend a lot of time loudly encouraging, cajoling and prompting their toddlers into balancing more perfectly, tipple-toppling more elegantly and generally shining like stars in their respective universes.  A couple of weeks ago one particularly intense mummy had a melt-down because her little darling hadn't been invited to join one of the 'proper classes' next term after several months in Groovy Gibbons.  The coach pointed out that the princess in question was completely incapable of listening to or following instructions, which would be difficult or even dangerous in the proper class when parents aren't helping, but this didn't wash with mummy who not only cancelled next term's subscription, but asked for the remainder of this term's money back as well.  We haven't seen them since.

Secondly, although the coaches are friendly and the sessions are quite well-planned for little ones, I get the impression that the main coach isn't all that comfortable with toddlers.  It's not that she's mean or unpleasant with them, quite the contrary.  It's just that she's rather brusque, expects them to understand what she's said immediately, and seems confident that all the kids will be completely happy to be manhandled by her regularly.  Not so OB, who goes stiff as a board (and wails quite loudly) whenever anyone so much as guides him in a direction he doesn't want to go!  At one point last week, after she had scared him to death by suddenly lifting him up on top of the vault, coach asked me if he was "always like this?" *sigh*

Thirdly, I'm the only person there with more than one child.  As this is a heavily hands-on session for parents, this leaves me at rather a disadvantage.  OB is extremely young for the sessions and basically just wants to run up and down the springboards (he likes slopes) while the other poor kids stand at the end of the runways waiting patiently for him to move so they can do their running jumps!  Also, OB can't really jump.  Neither can NB if I'm honest, but at least he can be persuaded to have a go at some of the activities as they are meant to be done, although no amount of asking, begging or threatening will get him to join the obstacle course at the beginning!  The only part he likes is climbing the sloping bench on his tummy and balancing on the beam!

There are other issues as well, to be honest.  The class is at 2pm which means that both boys, OB especially, are very ready for their naps.  NB can overcome this, but poor OB is really running on empty.  It's quite a long drive to the sports centre and it's all I can do to stop him falling asleep on the way!

But having said all of that, we've paid up to the end of term and I've recently renewed for next term.  Yes it's a bit of a nightmare, and yes, it leaves me exhausted (and a bit patronised!) at the end, but it's so worth it for the confidence that NB is visibly gaining, and the improvement that I hope it will bring about in his balance, co-ordination and muscle strength.  Even for OB, I've seen him join in a little bit more each week.  Our goals are quite basic - to enjoy ourselves, to get used to listening to voices other than mine, and to engage in a little healthy and controlled exercise.  We're well on our way I think!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Adoption Panel Day!

Well, I'm brimful of excitement today as I went before the adoption/matching panel this morning and they approved me as an adopter and also approved my match with OB!  Hooray!!

I must say I was pretty nonchalant about it beforehand as my adoption social worker had reassured me several times that I had an excellent application and it would really be a formality, but I surprised myself by being pretty emotional when I actually got into it.

At one point they were lamenting that they didn't have a better photograph of us on file and I said, light-heartedly, "Well, I can assure you that he's beautiful!"  And as I said it my tear ducts got away from me and went and did a brimful thing of their own!  Not only that, but OB's social worker went suspiciously pink and started doing some surreptitious dabbing as well!

OB is beautiful, and pretty soon he's going to be my beautiful SON!  I've already downloaded the application form that I have to send off to get our adoption order and after that it's just a case of waiting for the court date to be assigned.

I must say that, as with all my other panel experiences, I found this morning very positive and encouraging.  The panel members were wonderfully forthcoming with compliments, praise and their best wishes for us and hearing all of their comments only made me more thrilled and excited about the whole thing.

OB woke up early from his nap this afternoon, so we sat on my bed for a snuggle and looked out of the window at the hills and the lights and the sunset and I told him that he was no accident and even before he was born he was picked out to be my special son and be loved and wanted always.  I think he understood.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Jesse's Tree Advent - Starting our own traditions

As this is the first Christmas I have spent with OB (he was rehabilitated to his birth mother over Christmas last year) I have decided to initiate several Christmas traditions, some of which I hope will stand the test of time.

We're starting out with a Jesse's Tree Advent tree.  I bought the little wooden decorations and accompanying book from 'Embrace the Middle East' some time ago.  The idea is that you carry out a little advent devotional each day and then hang the appropriate symbol up somewhere.

I didn't really have a 'somewhere' so I have decided to use our Christmas tree.  Once I had tidied up the last of OB's birthday party detritus last night, I unearthed the tree and the lights and brought it downstairs, ready for the ceremonial ornament hanging today.

This is the earliest that I have ever put up my Christmas tree.  When I was teaching I didn't used to bother until the weekend before we broke up for Christmas, and then I'd take it down again the last weekend of the Christmas holidays, so putting it up on December 1st seems quite strange!  But somehow it did seem appropriate to have the end of OB's birthday heralding the beginning of the festive season.

This morning I had the tree ready with the lights twinkling away when the boys came downstairs for breakfast.  Their little faces were well-worth the effort!  "Tree!" and "Lights!" they kept saying.  Then we said a little prayer and hung the first decoration on the tree.  Very sweet and very simple.

Admittedly, the decoration does look at bit like a Halloween scary face!  But it's actually meant to be a representation of the world (as created by God!).

I think this tradition will run and run.

OB is 2!

This week we celebrated a birthday I never thought I'd see, and it was a complete delight!

To commemorate the occasion I thought I'd make a cake in the shape of OB's favourite thing - a guitar.  In preparation, I went on the internet and researched other guitar-shaped cakes, finding out how different bakers had created the shape and what they had used for their decorations.  Lots of methods were shown, including baking one huge cake and cutting out the shape with a knife (!!) as well as baking lots of little cakes and assembling it bit by bit.

I found these tutorials so helpful that I thought I'd write my very own guitar-shaped cake tutorial.  Here's how it goes:

1.  Go to 'Sugar Flair Cakes' in Oldham and hire a guitar-shaped baking tin for £1.50
2.  Bake cake.
3.  Roll out fondant icing and throw it over the cake.
4.  Add bit of decoration and you're basically done!

Hope that was helpful! :)

I used marshmallows for the tuning pegs, and strawberry laces for the strings, held in place with bits of mikado biscuits!  It's not cake-shop quality, but OB was pretty happy with it :)

Sunday, November 25, 2012

On Politics and Parenting

A media storm was created recently when three children were removed from their foster care placement because the foster carers are members of UKIP.

Since then, someone has asked me, "Where do you draw the line?  What if non-white children are placed with foster carers who are members of the BNP?"  I can see where this question comes from, but to me, it somewhat misses the point.

Prior to being approved as foster carers, applicants go through an extensive screening programme, including training sessions and a multitude of interviews in the home.  References are taken from employers where the applicants have worked with children, nominated referees are interviewed and written references are completed, the applicants are assessed on their interaction with children.  And a big part of this assessment is probing into the views of the applicants on those of different cultural, religious and ethnic backgrounds to themselves.

Personally, I had to come up with examples of times that I had worked with people from different backgrounds to my own, and demonstrate my willingness and ability to cater for the needs of children whose cultural needs might be completely different from my own, including cooking for special diets, providing for particular religious observances and so on.

Once carers begin fostering, social workers visit regularly and complete a checklist including evidence that the children's cultural and ethnic needs are being met.

I guess my point is this: it's not being a member of a certain political party that makes you racist, it's being racist that makes you racist!  And the proof of the pudding is in the eating.  The carers in this case were described by Rotherham social services as providing a good standard of care.  As far as I can tell from what I have read and heard, there was no actual evidence that these children's cultural needs were not being met in this placement.  If that turns out to have been the case, then what does it matter what their political affiliation is?

Of course, we know that there had been problems before.  Rotherham social services had previously been criticised in court for not taking the children's ethnic background into account during previous proceedings.  Maybe the kneejerk reaction to the "tip-off" about UKIP is more understandable in the light of that information.

And by the way, what level of busybody do you have to be to "tip" social services off about such a thing?!

But I digress . . .

At face value, this decision seems to me to be a ridiculous one.  Of course, I don't know all of the facts, and we never will, because details of individual children's cases are not discussed in public, quite rightly.  But the truth is that as long as maintaining children's links with their cultural and ethnic identities is part of policy surrounding children's social care, and as long as individual branches of social services are expected to interpret that policy in the way they see fit, then we will continue to see decisions like this.

No doubt there will be changes now - Michael Gove is already trumpeting new guidelines that will alter the way ethnic and cultural identity is weighted in fostering and adoption.  I hope he doesn't throw the baby out with the bathwater.  Cultural and ethnic identity is important to children and young people.  While I agree that children shouldn't be left languishing in inappropriate care settings while waiting for foster carers and adopters that fit the right profile, some attention should be paid to maintaining children's cultural identity wherever possible.

In the meantime, I hope that those who have authority to speak in this area can press home the need to assess the ability of foster carers to provide for children by the quality of that provision, rather than by checking out their political affiliations and making assumptions.  It is dangerous to assume that you know what someone believes based on who they associate with.  It is even more dangerous to assume that you know exactly how those beliefs will influence their behaviour.  I believe it's called prejudice.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

To boldly go . . .

I've written 60-odd blog posts on Suddenly Mummy and I'm pretty sure the title of this one is my first Star Trek reference!  Not bad for me!

But I digress . . .

I wrote recently about some of the difficulties we have had getting a decision on NB's future, but at long last, we know . . . we have a placement order, which means he'll be going up for adoption.

And so we set off together into uncharted territory.  As OB was originally rehabilitated back to his birth mother, and then matched with me for adoption, I haven't had the experience of fostering a child up to external adoption before.  I've been trying to prepare NB for this possibility for a while, notably by persevering with the potty training (which is going on well by the way!), and pushing to get all his medical screening done, but now we need to step it all up another notch.

The process as I understand it, is quite a complex one.  NB is not a straightforward child and is likely to have some additional needs, although exactly what and to what degree can't be established yet.  Add to that the fact that he is rapidly approaching his third birthday, and we have a child who is not necessarily all that easy to place.

He has already been assigned a social worker to oversee his adoption, and she profiled him and began initial searches for matching families before the placement order was granted.  The next stage is for a working group to narrow down possible matches to a shortlist based on all the matching criteria.  At this point, the family at the top of the shortlist will be approached, and if they are interested, they will be given all the information that exists about NB.

If they decide to proceed, a lengthy matching report needs to be compiled, demonstrating the suitability of the match.  This used to be presented to a matching panel for approval, but I understand that this has recently been changed to speed the process up, so now the reports are approved by the service head alone.

After that, I suppose transition begins.  I have heard various accounts of introduction and transition, but the common theme seems to be speed - some that I have heard about have happened in as little as one week!  But I think it usually takes around two weeks.  And then NB will be gone, off to be a wonderful son to his new Mummy and Daddy.

I may have missed some stages out of all of this.  It's quite hard to come to terms with the processes and protocols that thread together to make the bag of tangled wool that is social services! 

NB's contacts with his birth mother have already been halved, and will soon be halved again before a final contact not long after Christmas.  NB's mother has responded by cancelling the next contact.  I can't blame her.  It must be absolute agony.

And so we move on into uncharted territory.  As far as we're concerned at this house, that means getting a big boy bed, persuading NB to take his iron medicine, and enrolling him in gymnastics to encourage his physical development!  I'll keep you posted on how that goes, but there's no big rush.  Apparently, with Christmas in the way and NB's particular profile, the social worker reckons it'll be a good result if we move to transition by Easter 2013!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Birth Parent Dimension

Tomorrow a judge will make a decision about what will happen next for NB.  I don't know what that decision will be, but his particular circumstances have got me thinking that in all the writing, talking and comment (informed and otherwise) about adoption and child protection procedures, there is one role that seems to be ignored far too often: that of the birth parent.

The types of neglect and abuse that can lead to a child being taken into care are manifold.  It is easy to demonise the birth parents whose children end up in care, but in reality their circumstances are often complex and threaded through with tragedy.  Media concentration on extreme cases like that of Baby P certainly focuses the public's attention, but tends to allow us to forget that many parents who find their children being taken into care are not actually dreadful monsters, but perhaps people whose own lives have been blighted by a terrible upbringing, or who are trapped by long-standing addictions, or who struggle to care for their children competently because they have learning disabilities and no family to support them.

A recent report called for social services to act more quickly to remove children, and to offer birth families fewer chances to get their children back.  It seems that too many children are waiting for neglectful parents to make improvements that never seem to actually happen.  It is hard to disagree with their assessment that children's needs must be put before the needs of the parents.  But at the same time, if a parent could make the necessary changes with the proper support, is it not right to allow them time to attempt it?  And if so, how long do we wait?  How long do the children wait?

It's a hard balance.

Once children are in care, the role of the birth parent is still a significant one.  Birth parents share parental responsibility with social services as long as the child is being looked after on a court order.  This means that foster carers must seek permission from the parents for all sorts of things, including taking a holiday and getting a new hairstyle.

When a child becomes 'looked-after', and whole series of events are triggered.  Assessments are carried out on birth parents to determine their potential ability to provide adequate parenting for the child.  If these assessments look likely to be negative, further assessments are carried out on other family members.  Only if all of these assessments are negative is the child considered for adoption.

And throughout this process, birth parents are given legal representation to enable them to put their case at the many court appearances.  So, all along the way, birth families have the power to significantly delay the process.  In all the talk about cutting red tape and getting social services to be more efficient, nothing is ever said about the power of birth families to cause delays time and time again.

In NB's case, after his first set of assessments were negative, his birth mother's solicitor successfully challenged the assessment process itself, causing the judge to determine that it should be carried out again.  These assessments take place over a number of weeks, after which a care plan is drawn up and presented at court.  Re-doing the assessment has added months to NB's time in care.

During the second round of the assessment, social services decided to 'double-track' NB in an attempt to expedite matters.  While re-doing the assessment on his birth mother, they also carried out family assessments in case his mother's assessment was negative again.  They also carried out pre-adoption preparation (e.g. medicals, paperwork and searching the databases for potential matches) in case all assessments were negative.  Just the sort of efficiency we should be looking for you might think!

And yet, the decision we are waiting for tomorrow is still a delayed one.  Everybody prepared for court last week, expecting a decision to be made that day, but just a few days before they were due in court, NB's birth father, who had previously refused to be assessed and hasn't seen NB for months, suddenly contacted social services and requested an assessment.

I don't go to court and I'm not privy to the details of what passes there, but when I heard that the judge had decided to delay a week before approving or rejecting social service's new care plan for NB (which is for adoption) I couldn't help thinking that his father's request was at the bottom of it.

I won't go into details, but NB's father claims that he's started a new life and is now in a position to care for NB. Is it true?  I don't know.  Nobody knows.  And that's the point.  The choice is between dismissing the father's request out-of-hand and destroying any chance for NB to grow up with his own blood family, or allowing the assessment, delaying NB's progress again, and risk it all being for nothing in the end.

I've written many times about the complexities involved in settling the futures of individual children, and I may be getting boring, but the longer I spend in this job the more I realise that there are no quick fixes or easy ways out, despite what some might lead you to believe.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Good morning!

It's around 9am and the boys have been up for 90 minutes (yes, they're pretty civilised in the morning!).  Here is a summary of our morning activities so far:

  • playing with the cold water in the bathroom sink and complaining that it's cold!
  • pulling out all the play food and creating a hearty fake breakfast including lemons, pizza, slices of cheese and the ever popular toast
  • a car race in the hallway
  • breakfast (1.5 Weetabix, 1/2 banana, yoghurt)
  • OB insisting that I draw several 'nanos' (pianos), 'tars' (guitars) and men on his magnetic drawing board
  • OB handing out the toy guitars to everybody and insisting that we all play them while he dances
  • an impromptu concert in the hallway by NB, using the hoover's plug as a microphone
  • reading our Mr Tumble magazine (OB's favourite page is the advert for the Rastamouse magazine with a big red guitar on it!)
  • giving the blue guitar a kiss and a cuddle after OB bashed its 'head' on the table!
  • group readings of 'Pum' (Each Peach Pear Plum) and 'Ni-saw' (Usborne Touchy-Feely Dinosaurs) - we read each one twice and on every page of the Dinosaur one, the boys pretended that the dinosaurs were biting their fingers and I had to tell them off!  
  • a group reading of 'Maisy Tidies Up' - much yelling of "Cakes! Cakes!"
  • playing in the tent
As I write this, NB is playing with the annoying train ('Come on board the animal train la la la laaaaaaaa' etc etc) and OB is drumming.

And to think not so long ago I used to think I'd been hard done to if I had to get up before 9am!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Pinterest Inadequacy

I have recently discovered Pinterest.  This is both a Good Thing and a Bad Thing.

It is a Good Thing because the whole place is absolutely chock full of truly brilliant ideas for kids.  Blog after blog of lists of things to do with your kids on rainy days, snowy days, sunny days . . . any type of day you can think of!  And some of them are actually good ideas that look as though they might be worth doing.

It is a Bad Thing because it has given me a severe case of Pinterest inadequacy.  Oh yes, at first you go on there, enthusiastically re-pinning those wonderful craft ideas and awesome educational materials, but after a while, you realise that the chances of ever actually doing any of them youself are minimal and instead, they just sit there on your boards . . . mocking you!

And it gets worse.

After a while comes the realisation that people that posted these things not only thought of them (a feat in itself in my opinion) but actually went ahead and DID them.  I know they did them because, as if it's not enough that these women (and they usually are women) are complete domestic superwomen, it turns out they also have the time to photograph their children doing the activities and then spend their evenings posting all the instructions and photographs in blog form.

So let's get this right.  These women, many of whom have several children, plan activities in advance, collect all the materials in preparation, complete the activities with their children (pausing several times to take photos along the way), clear up after it all and then sit down at their computers to write an informative blog.

I'm exhausted just thinking about it!

Seriously, we are not at all in that kind of league.  I feel like I should get a pat on the back if I get the paints out once in a while, and even then I usually end up deciding that the effort expended in clearing up the mess didn't really justify the benefits of the activity!

And I feel as though we don't have the time.  And by 'we', I mean the children, not me.  If I'm honest, I do have time some evenings to plan exciting activities, but the children are not so fortunate.

NB, for instance, spends 3 mornings each week at Playgroup.  Twice a week he has contact with his family.  Every afternoon he has a decent-length nap and he goes off to bed at 7.30pm.  Add to this the time spent eating and the seemingly endless trips to the toilet, and the poor kid doesn't have much time to pursue his own interests.  I tend to think that in his few precious minutes of free time he probably ought to be allowed to have some self-directed play, rather than being chased around the house by an over-eager woman with a glue stick and some autumn leaves!  I already ruin most of his playtime anyway by constantly 'narrating' it as instructed by the speech therapist!

Ah well, I shall no doubt continue to collect pins, and they will no doubt continue to mock me mercilessly until I actually do something about them.  So, I have decided to just pick one, do it, and hopefully put an end to their scornful voices for a while.  Watch this space for pictures (oh yes!) of a forthcoming Christmas tree activity!

Sunday, November 4, 2012


A while ago, blogging about our trip to London, I said that there had been a swan as big as a horse in Hyde Park.  I kid you not.  Here it is!

Sharing makes the heart grow fonder

We've had my parents staying with me for the last week and it's been fabulous!  I'm not just talking about the extra help with the boys, which has included me having a lie-in every single morning, and the fact that I haven't had to make a meal or even brew my own coffee for the whole visit, but also, and more importantly, the fact that sharing the boys with others makes me appreciate them on a whole new level.

Of course I find them cute and often marvel at their little ways, but when we're mired down in the mundanities of everyday living, it gets easy for all the days to blend together so that I miss little milestones or fleeting moments of loveliness.  When I'm actively sharing the boys with someone else, though, all these things are noticed and marvelled over with appropriate delight.

I know I've blogged about this before, and I don't want to seem boring, but it really is a lovely thing to see your children through the eyes of others.  As my parents only get to see them every couple of months or so, they are in a great position to notice all the little (and sometimes monumental!) changes that have taken place since their last visit.

Both of the boys are learning new words daily and growing up in so many ways.  It all happens far too fast, but each time we visit my parents, or they visit us, it's like we take an extended snapshot of where we are all up to.  My parents notice and comment on all of their cute little ways, and in that act of noticing, they record them orally for posterity.

When my nephews were little, we only got to see them infrequently as they lived abroad.  I can vividly remember each of those visits, especially for my oldest nephew.  I can even remember which clothes were associated with each visit when he was a baby.  He had the green striped body suit when he was 5 months old and we took a beautiful picture of him lying on his tummy on the sofa.  By the time he was 9 months there was a grey suit and he could pull himself up against the furniture in our living room.  I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have remembered these things in such detail if I was seeing him all of the time.

Now we all have digital cameras and video cameras so we can easily create permanent records of our children's early years but, in my mind, nothing beats memories, and nothing creates memories so well as special times that have been set aside for noticing and appreciating one another.  My hope is that these visits with my parents will act as milestones in our lives as time passes, and that by remembering each visit, we will remember more clearly those beautiful details that seem so unforgettable at the time, but are nevertheless in danger of being dulled by the passing of years.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Our 'Gallery' - Pics

I'm aware that this blog has never had so much as a single picture on it.  This is because I am not allowed to post pictures of the boys on the internet in order to preserve their anonymity.

So, I thought I'd liven the place up with a few shots of the boys' "art"!

This mixed media work is entitled "Out From The Crowd" and is by NB.  Notice how all the fish line up obediently except for the one pink sparkly fish above the others?  A moving comment on 21st century childhood I think :)

This is OB's work on the same theme.  We call it "Maelstrom"!

This final piece in today's gallery is by NB and is, as yet, untitled.  We would welcome your suggestions!

The Baby Whisperer and I

I have only bought one book on toilet training.  I bought it because it was the shortest and the cheapest - possibly not the best way to make these decisions, but there you go!

I have also read quite a few blogs and articles online and I've discovered a common theme.  Most of these writers (The Baby Whisperer included) not only believe that they have discovered a great way to toilet train toddlers, but believe that they have discovered the ONLY WAY.

I'll admit that I quite like The Baby Whisperer's basic premise: that toilet training is just another milestone that you can work towards with your child, just like sitting, walking and talking.  If you start preparing your child early enough (she suggests at around 9 months) it should be more of a natural transition that happens when a child is ready, rather than a massive hurdle to be overcome.

I say I like the premise.  I'm less certain about how well I'd like the practice!  Not sure if I've really got the time, patience or, and let's be honest here, diligence, to take a 9-month-old to the toilet several times a day in preparation for a far distant event.

Anyway, it doesn't matter, because both of mine are well past that magic age.  So, while storing up the 9-month-old idea for any future children, I have to work out what to do with mine now that I have missed that starting point.  I needn't worry though, because The Baby Whisperer is there to reassure me that "even at this age, your child will learn to use the toilet."  Even at this age?  I didn't actually have any doubt that both the boys would eventually be able to use the toilet, but now I'm worried that they're at a near-impossible age!

Anyway, her method is pretty simple.  Prepare the child in advance by changing nappies frequently so they get used to feeling dry, a special trip to buy underpants or knickers, and teaching them the words they will need, e.g. poo, wee wee, toilet.  I also taught 'wet' and 'dry' with demonstrations.  She doesn't recommend using a potty, but with our household going upstairs to the toilet so frequently really would be a major upheaval in our day, so potty it is, with toilet training seat after naps and in the mornings.

Then you start paying taking note of they fill their nappies.  Apparently, if you've been paying attention to your child all along, you'll already know their nappy-filling behaviours.  Big fail there then!

And then one morning, you get them up, put them on the toilet, and then put them in underwear instead of a nappy.

That was a terrifying day!  For me, not for him!

At this stage, the adult takes responsibility for ensuring that the child is taken to the toilet regularly.  She suggests around 40 minutes after eating/drinking, and straight after waking.  I also take him at 'junctions' (as we're going out, when we arrive somewhere, etc.).  Wait on the toilet no longer than a few minutes to see if something happens, and if it does (and the child responds to rewards) give rewards.  If there is an accident, get the child to co-operate in removing their own clothes and helping to clean up - taking responsibility is all part of growing up.

Well, we started about a week ago, and it was horrendous!  There was crying, tantrums and lots and lots of clothes changes.  There were several occasions when a clearly desperate boy sat on the potty for several minutes and then wet himself immediately upon being allowed off.  I'm not saying we had no successes, but it was hit and miss enough that I sent him to Playgroup in pull-ups (a big no-no!) because I was certain of not one but many accidents.

But then I introduced a new factor - CHOCOLATE!

If I'm honest, giving food as a reward goes against a dearly-held principle of mine.  I have enough food-related issues of my own without passing them on to the kids I care for, but it became clear after a few days that the stickers (shiny and star-shaped though they were) just weren't cutting it in terms of motivational reward.  He liked them, but he didn't like them enough.

So, two days ago I went out and bought 16 mini Kinder bars.  They are tiny, with 5 minuscule chocolate pieces on each bar - one piece per potty success, so probably about one bar per day, I reckon.  I tempted him with them yesterday and we suddenly had willingness . . . nay eagerness! . . . to use the potty.  We did have a couple of accidents, but last night he voluntarily went to the potty twice to do a poo!  It is currently 2.45pm, he is sleeping, and he has been dry all day!

When the bars are finished, the chocolate reward will be finished.  I'm hoping that by then he won't need that sort of motivation, or perhaps we'll change to a sticker chart with a chocolate reward for every 5 stickers.  I'm optimistic :)

So, on the whole, I'm pretty happy with The Baby Whisperer's approach.  I can definitely understand why many parents would prefer to wait longer until their children are ready on their own, and if I was dealing with my own children, I may well do that, but as these are looked-after children, I have to balance my personal preferences with the realities of the 'adoption market' - it might be mercenary, but it's probably true that a toilet-trained 3-year-old is a more attractive proposition than a nappy-wearing one.

What I am uncomfortable about is the insinuation, as I said earlier, that this really is the only method worth trying and if it doesn't work it's because you're not doing it right.

"I've found that toilet troubles are caused, at least in part, by parents' lack of follow-through."

"When problems persist, it's usually because of something the parents have done, or their attitude."

So, there you have it, a decent helping of toilet-training advice, with a hefty side dish of patronising put-down!

I'll keep you all updated - I'm sure you're dying to hear more toilet-related details!!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Recipe: Pizza Rolls

Far be it from me to advertise myself as a culinary genius - a surprising amount of my cooking turns out burnt or inedible!  So I have my friend Amanda to thank for this simple recipe that the boys love and even I couldn't ruin!

Pizza Rolls

300g self-raising flour
1 tablespoon caster sugar
30g butter
180ml milk

Plus passata/tomato puree and a small amount of grated cheese (about 50-60g) for the topping

Mix flour, butter and sugar in bowl, and rub together thoroughly
Add milk, mix and knead to a smooth dough
Roll dough out to a roughly rectangular shape
Top with tomato puree/passata and cheese - at this point you can add other topping (like 'hidden' vegetables!) - as if you were making a regular pizza
Roll the dough up into a sausage shape (it helps to cut it in half first) and cut into evenly size pieces (I made 18 from this recipe but expert bakers might make more)
Place the rolls on a baking tray on their sides (so that you're looking at the roll pattern from above)

Bake in the oven on a medium heat for around 15 mins or until it looks done - watch it for catching on the bottom.



Sunday, October 7, 2012

Speech Therapy, or Homework for Parents!

NB has been seeing the Speech Therapist.  This has led to several people (including professionals involved with his case) asking me how the sessions are going, or when he's having some more sessions.  They obviously don't know, as I didn't, that speech therapy is basically about having an assessment and then giving the parent/carer a load of homework!

I'm not trying to criticise the Speech Therapist - she was excellent.  She had a wonderful rapport with NB and, during our three assessment sessions, gave him her full attention and really took the time to find out what he can do.

Unfortunately for me, it seems that after the assessment takes place, goals are set, a massive pile of leaflets is given to the parent/carer, and then you are basically sent away to do your homework for three months!

The purpose of the homework seems to be to completely transform the way we speak in the home.  For instance, I've been told that I ask NB too many questions.  Apparently this is A Bad Thing because it makes him feel like he's being tested and might put him under pressure to say things which could cause him to feel uncomfortable about speaking.  I should only ask questions that I genuinely want to know the answer to, and give him plenty of time to respond.

She was right about the questions.  In fact, when I stopped and thought about it, I realised that practically everything I say to NB takes the form of a question.

"Where's your train?  Is it on the table?  Do you want it?  Are you playing with your train?"  And so on, and so on.  And not only would I construct entire conversations out of questions, I would ask the questions with little or no expectation of a response, so our conversations were completely one-sided.

I'm going to blame my habit of asking questions on too long spent as a teacher.  In the classroom you're perpetually asking questions, and you hardly ever really need to know the answer.  In fact, you almost always already know the answer to the questions you're asking.  If you don't you probably haven't prepared your lesson properly!  Of course, even in the classroom, it's better to ask questions for other reasons than just getting students to demonstrate their grasp of basic facts - to encourage higher order thinking skills, debate, investigation, for instance - but all too often, we resort to a barrage of questions as our main attempt at 'interactivity'!

Of course, once you are told you have a bad habit that you didn't know about before, it is suddenly all you can think about!  For a couple of weeks I became completely unable to speak like a normal person.  I would start saying something, realise it was a question and then try to change it half-way through.  This sort of thing doesn't lead to natural conversation!

And adapting to the way I am supposed to speak to encourage NB's language development has been even more tricky.  Instead of asking questions, I am supposed to offer commentary on what he is doing.  For instance,  "Your train is on the table.  You're pushing the train. Push!  Push!  Push the train!"

Yeah, you're right, it makes me sound like an idiot!

But, it takes the pressure off him, allows him to hear short conversational phrases and individual words repeatedly (repetition is the key!) and, most importantly, it appears to be working!

We are due for review in about seven weeks, and I'm under pressure.  Since it's up to me to do the homework, then it really does feel as though I'll be the one under scrutiny at our next session.  I'd better get those leaflets memorised!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Toilet Training - not our favourite activity!

Right, so, with NB now almost certain to be put up for adoption I have decided that it really is time to start toilet training in earnest, on the grounds that it will make him more adoptable.

I know that sounds awful, but that's how it is.

At his age, not being toilet trained would be a bit of a red flag to prospective adopters.  I know that NB is a wonderful, loving child with many positive qualities, but I also know that you'd have to meet him to appreciate all of these qualities, and prospective adopters don't really get that opportunity.  Instead they get a load of paperwork that, with the best will in the world, hardly presents a three-dimensional picture of a young child.

So, toilet training it is then!

So far, I'd say it's going quite badly!

Having read a couple of books and talked to a lot of different people I've noticed that there are very strong opinions on the single best way to approach toilet training.  Unfortunately there seem to be as many 'single best ways' as there are people with opinions!

So, bearing in mind that NB has toddlers diarrhoea that would make a grown man weep, I've opted for a mix of big boy underpants and pull-ups.  I don't mind dealing with wet pants at home or out and about, but I don't want to deal with poo running down his legs while we're out shopping, and I don't want him to have to deal with that either.  The kids at Playgroup might only be little, but they're not blind, and their noses work just fine!

So far, I'd say it hasn't been a roaring success.  NB is completely happy to sit on the special big-boy toilet seat, or the potty (he's sitting on there now, reading a book!) but he isn't so happy to actually do a wee wee in either of those places.

In preparation for toilet training I made sure he could say and understand 'wee wee' and 'poo', 'wet' and 'dry'.  I'm so glad I did that.  Because now, after a massive cup of juice and ten minutes on the potty refusing to wee, he can quite confidently inform me that his pants are 'wet, wet' when he wees all over himself 30 seconds after getting up off the potty!

So clever!!


Yesterday he stored up his drinks like a camel from 9.30 until 3pm, despite repeated trips to the potty and toilet.  And then he let them out all over my friend's kitchen floor.  

It's day three and I'm already thinking I might not have the patience to stay the course!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Cars and Ducks

Wouldn't it be awful if, three miles into a 200+ mile journey, one of the toddlers was copiously sick all over himself and his car seat?

I daresay this is something that more experienced parents expect and have come to be prepared for, but not so this parent.  No.  We were reduced to screeching off the urban clearway onto some side street and trying to sort out the mess with Pampers wipes.  And then, of course, we had the unadulterated pleasure of driving the rest of the way in a car that stank of vomit.  Nice.

Mind you, I can't complain.  We had driven down to London the day before, and the boys had obediently had a good long sleep on the way, waking up just in time to stop for tea at a service station on the M40.  Then they had done a pretty good job of sharing a strange room and sleeping in strange cots, before spending a fair amount of time in their pram while I faffed about at the Romanian Consulate trying to apply for a certificate of good conduct.  Yes, really.

Of course, they were loving it all because my Mum had come with us for the trip and was totally spoiling them, playing with them, singing to them and feeding them a regular supply of the compressed fruit things she eats which the boys think are "teeties"!

Of course, they had no idea we were in London, so there was little point taking them to see anything.  Instead of sightseeing, we went for a nice long walk in Hyde Park along the banks of the Serpentine.  Having some bread left over from lunch, we thought it would be a nice idea to feed the ducks, and it was then that the boys realised abruptly that they weren't in Kansas anymore!

You see, up here where we live, you can feed the ducks without fear.  They are polite, northern ducks who wait patiently for the bread to be thrown before pecking it up and tilting their bills in thanks.  Not so in the big city.  No, big city ducks are pushy, impatient creatures.  As if it wasn't bad enough that there was a swan as big as a horse (I kid you not!), the ducks were like a horrifying swarm of zombie ducks, crowding out of the lake with their snapping zombie beaks, slapping their webbed feet on the ground as they moved relentlessly towards the tiny chunk of bread that OB was inexplicably holding in his tiny fist instead of throwing.

And then one of them bit him!  Several times!

Now, you might say it was only trying to get at the bread that was in his hand, but I maintain that this huge child-eating duck made a beeline for the little lad's fingers with a beady glint in its ducky eye and its mind on a meatier meal than the crusts on offer.

I only hope he's not scarred for life - I might well be!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

On being 'maternal'

Recently, and not for the first time, somebody I hadn't seen for a while asked me how I was managing with the boys because, "Ya know, you weren't . . . well, what I would call 'maternal' when you were younger, were you?  I mean you didn't come across as someone who liked kids."

This is a sentiment that I have heard surprisingly often since I started fostering - this idea that people are surprised at how well I seem to be getting on with the boys because they never thought of me as maternal - and it's left me wondering what it was about my former life that was so UN-maternal!

I would have thought that somebody who spent 12 years teaching, 15 years involved in voluntary work with children of all ages and years volunteering with orphanage kids in Romania, culminating in a two-year stint living there to work with those very same kids would have managed to establish pretty good credentials when it came to proving their aptitude for and like of being with children.

Admittedly, I have my favourite ages - under 5 and over 12 - but still, I'd have thought I'd done enough!

Perhaps it's to do with the way I related to those children.  Of course I was always the teacher or the youth worker and never the parent.  I usually related to them in larger groups and was probably more often concerned with managing those large numbers as I was with forming intimate, nurturing relationships with individuals.  But at the same time, I spent time with the children of friends, babysat and played with them.

I think the problem boils down to one of opportunity.  I wasn't a mother, so I didn't have much opportunity to be maternal.  In all my dealings with children I was aware that my role was very different from that of a parent and that to lead children to view me in a parental light would be wrong and even damaging.  In short, it's hard to show your maternal side when you aren't a mother!

Perhaps what people mean is that they didn't see me go all soft-hearted or gooey-featured around little kids.  They didn't hear me talk about how much I wanted children of my own or how I longed to cradle a baby in my arms.  Of course not!  For sure those feelings were in me, but what's the point of going on about it when it isn't happening and might never happen?

I have always known I was maternal.  Before I started fostering I had no doubts about my ability to love and nurture little ones, and was far more concerned about other people's reactions and their uncertainties about whether I would 'manage'.  People worried about my busy lifestyle and all the things I was involved in and my commitment to work, and wondered how I would cope when I had to give up most of that.  What they didn't know what that I would have happily dumped all of that in a heartbeat if it meant that I could devote myself to the awesome and beautiful task of raising a child of my own!

I think people who are most comfortable with themselves have learned to live the life that's necessary for the season they are in.  When I was alone with only myself to worry about I focused on work, on my social life, on church meetings and activities.  Now I am in a different season, I live a different life and I allow other strengths and aptitudes to come to the surface.  Before, my job, my status and my education were very important to me.  Now, not so much!

Before, when other people talked endlessly about their children's doings I had absolutely nothing to contribute so I felt left out and a bit irritated.  I would offer stories about my friends' children just so I could join in a bit, but it wasn't the same.  I must have once commented to a friend that I "hated it" when people talked about their children all the time - a comment that this friend now regularly throws back at me when I mention things the boys have been up to! - but really what I hated was that I couldn't join in.  Now I can, and I don't care if it makes me boring!

Recently I read an article where a journalist decried the habit of using pictures of our children as Facebook profile pictures.  She was pretty strident in her opinion that doing so is the equivalent of a mother abandoning her identity and self - hiding behind her children so that she doesn't have to bother to dress nicely, put on make-up or have a life.  Her view was that this was bad for the mother and therefore bad for the children.

I couldn't agree less.  If I was an artist and sculptor and created something awesome, I would probably be proud and pleased enough to use it as my profile picture.  Children are our greatest work - it's not becoming a doormat or a shadow of a person to love them, prioritise them and celebrate them!

For me, being a parent is a far more important role and achievement than anything we could do at work or elsewhere.  When I didn't have the opportunity, I focused on other things and showed the aspects of my personality that suited those roles.  Now I have the boys, a different side of my character has come out.

Am I 'more maternal' now?  Or, as others have suggested 'softer'?  No.  I was always exactly this maternal and exactly this soft - I just didn't have the opportunity to show it!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Interesting article on socialisation

This blog post links to a rather interesting article on socialisation for the early years child and the role of early years education settings. Nice to see there's been some research that supports my own views!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Sharing the love makes it grow!

We're just back from a two-week holiday in France with my parents and it was absolutely lovely!  The sun shone, the pool was warm and inviting and the 'hotel' was 6 star quality!

The best part, though, was sharing the boys with someone else.  Far be it from me to ever imply that caring for the boys is anything but a pleasure and a joy, but sometimes, when I'm at home with them on my own, their foibles and tantrums become magnified to such a point that it often seems like days have gone by since anything fun happened.

Not so when doting 'grandparents' are around.  Watching my parents cooing over their cute antics, marvelling at NB's bravery in the pool and OB's daily word acquisitions, and looking out for ways to create fun times all conspired to remind me what utter treasures these little ones are.

And having someone else share the early mornings, mealtime woes and occasional tantrums didn't hurt either!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Fun and Games at Manchester Airport

Travel to France by plane with two toddlers?  Am I crazy?  Maybe, but since we were going to France anyway, I figured that flying would be less hassle than, say, driving, or pushing the pram through the channel tunnel!

I knew something of what to expect.  Last year I travelled with OB and was pleasantly surprised by how easy they made everything for us at Manchester Airport.  It was a lot better there than at Basel on the supposedly 'child-friendly' continent where they stood impatiently by while I struggled to collapse the complex pram and hoist it up onto the conveyor belt while holding a grumpy OB who could not yet stand unaided.

This time, however, Manchester Airport let me down badly! While the fast lane through security was awesome (especially since the queue for non pram-pushers was snaking its way out of the main terminal doors!), other things did not go so well.

Having been shepherded round a back route to the gate to avoid the two staircases (no lift apparently!) on the way to the gate, I was surprised when it came to boarding time that there was absolutely no pre-boarding at all.

No worries, I thought, I'll just push in!  Pushing in with two cute kids in a double buggy is surprisingly easy, and I was soon at the front of the queue to show our boarding passes and passports.  But, no! The lady on the desk wouldn't even look at our documents and instead insisted that the buggy be collapsed and the boys set free to cause havoc in the airport before we'd made it onto the gangway.

Of course, while I juggled OB's reins, NB's hand, the hand luggage and the buggy, the queue continued on past me, which meant I had to push in again!  Thankfully, the other passengers were sympathetic.  Then the lady wanted boarding passes and passports - again, not an easy task when your hands are full of children.  Why she couldn't have let me collapse the buggy on the far side of the desk after she'd seen our documents I can't imagine, especially as I know for sure that someone will have had to carry that collapsed pram down to the end of the gangway anyway.

By the time we managed all that, the plane was half full of people taking ages to put their huge suitcases in the overhead storage so it was all fun and games getting to our seats (on row 30!), and of course the poor soul with the aisle seat in our row was already seated, necessitating some awkward dancing in the aisle before I could get us all in place.

All airlines everywhere should realise that people with babies in prams need PRE-BOARDING!  If Easy Jet can manage it, why can't national carriers like Swiss?

As we descended into Manchester on our return flight, I was feeling pretty relaxed.  The boys had been pretty well-behaved and although one of them had filled their nappy in a timely (and very smelly) fashion just after the fasten seatbelts light had come on, I felt that things were going well.

Of course, sometime during our final descent they both, quite unexpectedly, fell asleep.  This meant that when it came to getting us all off the plane I had two tired, whiny, barely-functioning babies to handle.  We waited almost until everyone else had left before we stumbled down the aisle to the door, but I wasn't worried because I knew that the pram, complete with its 'delivery at aircraft' label would be waiting for us at the end of the gangway.

Except it wasn't.

"Where's my pram?" I asked the ground staff member at the door.  "I was expecting delivery at aircraft."

"We don't do that in Manchester," she replied.

I know this to be patently untrue, but I'll not go into details about the ensuing conversation, about how unhelpful and rude she was, about how I was refused any kind of assistance in getting to baggage reclaim, or about how I stormed off with the boys throwing words like 'disgrace' over my shoulder!

At the top of the gangway, I asked the same question of the two staff members there, who tapped on their computer keyboards in a concerned way and then said we'd have to wait for 'Lee'.

Lee turned out to be a burly guy in a hi-vis waistcoat who assured me that they don't do delivery at aircraft at Manchester.  When I pointed out that this seemed strange as last time I had travelled into Manchester the pram had been ready and waiting for me, he amended his comment to "Well, we don't do it at this gate."  Oh, right, thanks.

Once again, special assistance of any sort was refused to I had to carry/drag the two wailing, half-asleep boys the four hundred million miles through passport control (where of course she wanted to see my letters of permission to travel with the boys - if I was kidnapping them, why would I be bringing them INTO the country?!) and down to baggage reclaim, where we had another unsightly juggling experience as I tried to retrieve our baggage and pram without either of the boys getting swept away on the conveyor belt.

Not good, Manchester.  It's experiences like these that cause people to have the (mistaken, in my opinion) impression that they are so much more child-friendly on the continent.  While I've been abroad, I've had dreadful experiences in airports, trips to supermarkets where twin-trolleys simply don't exist, and kids' meals served on plates so super-heated that adults have been warned not to touch them.  It's not hard to make airports a little easier for people travelling with children, and even if we can't, a helpful attitude and smiling face goes much further than rudeness and lies!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

A bit of a week!

Well, it may only be Thursday but I'm ready to classify this week as 'a bit of a week' already after a trip to the hospital with NB on Tuesday night.

It started with a temp and not wanting food on Monday but, by Tuesday evening, going over 24 hours without food and a persistent temperature had resulted in a floppy, lethargic, unresponsive baby with a raging hot body, freezing cold feet, mottled skin and, most alarmingly, blueish toenails!

With my first port of call for medical advice out of reach on holiday, I went straight to my second choice: NHS Direct.  I must say, I can't recommend this service highly enough.  Every time I have had to call them they have been thorough, reassuring, helpful and a real calming influence.  The lady on the phone took my details and a registered nurse called back within 15 minutes.  As the symptoms had worsened a little in that time, she booked an ambulance for us and put me on the phone with the paramedic who must already have been on his way, he arrived so quickly!

The paramedics assessed NB at the house and decided he needed a trip to the hospital.  Around 40 minutes after we made the first call to NHS Direct, they were speeding away down the road, blue lights flashing, with me and OB following in the car behind.

It seems fashionable to complain about everything that is wrong with the NHS and I know that things do go wrong and could be improved.  I know from experience that everybody does not have the same quick service that I was lucky to have with NB this week, but I can't help saying that I really love the NHS.  Some of the changes they've made recently to make healthcare more flexible and more available in the community have really made a difference for me and the boys, and our experience on Tuesday night was superb.

So, we followed the ambulance at a respectful distance and on arriving at the hospital I had a secret hope realised when a paramedic friend of ours met me and OB in the car park with expressions of concern and offers of help.  How wonderful to see a friendly face at a stressful time!

NB was admitted overnight, but in the end he was discharged the next day as he improved so much.  None of his tests showed any infection or anything wrong at all, so I suppose I'll just have to chalk it up to 'one of those things' that happens when you have toddlers around!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Martin Narey is controversial . . . for a change!

When Martin Narey, the Government's Adoption Advisor, wrote in the Guardian recently that there should no longer be a presumption that siblings be adopted together, there was a predictable furore of negative comments.

The article, which also questioned the amount of contact that children who are to be adopted have with their birth families, ignited debate amongst those who work with looked-after children, including foster carers, those who have adopted, those who have been through the system, and of course, those who have no personal experience or knowledge but plenty of strong, mostly unfounded opinions.

"Martin Narey should never be in a position he can effect [sic] the outcomes of children in care due to his lack of humanity and non existent empathy towards those in care," said one commenter.

I blogged recently on David Cameron's announcement about babies being placed with potential adopters rather than foster carers which I am sure was prompted by Narey.  I was underwhelmed with that suggestion, but I have more sympathy with this one.

Narey is not saying that children should not be adopted as sibling groups.  He is saying that the policy of presuming that this should always be the case needs to be changed and, instead, each case taken on its own merit.  I would have thought that taking each child's case on its own merit would have been the least that these children deserve from us in all circumstances. 

In some circumstances it really is in the children's best interests to separate siblings when they come into care.  The BBC report on Narey's comments lists a few of the reasons. But, and this is what people don't want to hear, the nasty truth is that there just aren't that many people out there who are willing to adopt sibling groups - separating them would almost certainly get quicker adoptions.  

And before you rush to judgement like so many of the Guardian's commenters who were prepared to villify these apparently selfish adopters, just try to imagine taking three or four strange children into your previously childless life - children who may come with a plethora of emotional, behavioural and learning needs.  In some cases, there are sibling groups of five, six or more children.  Is it really reasonable to expect anybody to adopt all of these together? Is it really better for these children to grow up in care, probably separated anyway, than to find a place in a forever family?

Objectors usually cite cases from the bad old days when people were adopted in secret and often didn't even know that they had siblings until they traced their families as adults.  And yes, the trauma these adoptees experienced musn't be ignored.  But adoption today is open, with regular letterbox contact with birth families and, usually, direct face-to-face contact with siblings.  Sibling groups adopted separately may not grow up together, but they will at least know and spend time with each other, while at the same time, enjoying the security of a permanent adoptive family.

If everybody wants to jump on the bandwagon of speedier adoptions, then we are going to have to swallow the bitter pill that there are sometimes good reasons why children are waiting to be adopted, and the struggle to find adopters prepared to take on sibling groups is one of these reasons.

To be honest, the idea that we split children from their siblings in order to make them easier to adopt doesn't sit well with me at all, unless there are specific problems that mean it is in the children's best interests, but we can't clamour for increased speed without being prepared to sacrifice some of our long-held principles.

Back in May, I blogged about my concerns over the new adoption targets, worried that we would be sacrificing quality of process for speed:

"Maybe at this point it's too simplistic to say that in the frantic push for speed and action, little thought is being given to maintaining and improving the quality of placements.  Virtually nothing is being said about a programme or plan to increase the number of adopters who are prepared to take on older children, disabled children or sibling groups, and these are the ones who are languishing in the system for years."

As I said, I don't like the idea of splitting siblings to make them easier to adopt, but if we're going to push for speed without dealing with any of the underlying reasons for the lack of it, then I think we're going to hear more and more of this sort of thing.


Sunday, July 22, 2012

It's harder to dress boys!

Today the boys were making a guest appearance at a fancy dress party.  No problem, I naively thought.  I'll just nip into town the day before and buy a couple of little firemen or police outfits.

Yeah, not so much!

Believe me, I scoured the town centre looking for something affordable and sensibly-sized before heading out to one of the out-of-town places where I was sure I'd get fixed up at the massive toy shop.  Nothing doing. I tried bargain stores, charity shops, pound shops, Mothercare, Boots, the toy shop, Argos, Asda Living - you name it, I tried it.

The problem was that the cheap little 'top and hat' outfits that I was looking for no longer seem to exist.  If I wanted a full body-suit Spiderman costume (in a size that was sure to be enormously too big) or some other ugly-looking, muscle-bound creature, I would have been fine.  But I didn't want the boys to go dressed as some creature from the black lagoon - they are cute and I want them to stay that way!

Can't see either of the boys looking cute in this!

I could have had a fireman helmet, but it had to be a Fireman Sam Helmet with a massively inflated price tag.  I could have had a builder's hat, but it had to be a Bob The Builder builder's hat, again, hugely over-priced.

I couldn't help feeling wistful as I scanned the plethora of princesses, fairies and nurses lined up on the girls' racks.  It just reinforced my idea that it's far easier (and more fun!) to dress girls!

For a start, in pretty much every shop, the girls' clothing racks outnumber the boys' by a significant amount.  In our local Asda there are rows and rows of girls' clothes, and then two little racks for little boys, tucked away at the back - they're not even next to each other, but arranged at a 90 degree angle with an aisle in between.

Then there's the choice in boys' clothing.  Once I've found the elusive rack, I'm nearly always disappointed by what's on offer.  In affordable (by which I mean cheap!) shops, the t-shirts are nearly always incredibly gaudy colours.  I don't always want to dress the boys in bright primary colours.  Sometimes I want them to be able to go into a room together without everyone reaching for their sunglasses!  But if you want something more classic and restrained you're probably going to have to spend some real money at Next, Gap, or even Vertbaudet or Jo Jo Maman Bebe.  I resent forking out double figures for a sweater that's going to last 6 months at the most.

And then there are the logos and motifs on the clothes.  Fair enough, there are a lot of diggers and other vehicles, but then there are also a lot of monsters, skulls, aliens and scary-looking creatures, even for very little kids.  And the words! Maybe I'm being overly sensitive, but I don't want to dress the boys in clothes which advertise character traits that I don't particularly like - cheeky, naughty, etc.  Dress a kid in a t-shirt that says 'I'm a Little Monster' and you pretty much deserve it if he starts doing exactly what it says on the tin!

Mind you, I did recently buy NB a t-shirt that said 'I do all my own stunts'!  Rather appropriate I thought!

Now, I know that all is not peaches and cream in the world of little girls' clothes either.  There is definitely an overload of pink, and also the thorny problem of modesty.  I cringe every time I see a little girl walking around with 'Princess' or 'Gorgeous' embroidered across her bum!  But it seems to me that there is so much more choice in the shops that it should be relatively easy to avoid these issues.

And girls' clothes also have the advantage of being more flexible.  Take a little summer dress, add a long-sleeved t-shirt and a pair of tights and hey presto, you have an outfit that is perfectly suitable for winter.  On the other hand, boys' summer outfits involve shorts and you can't put a pair of tights under them to make a snazzy winter ensemble.  This means that you go out enthusiastically (and with misplaced optimism) to buy shorts at the beginning of the 'summer', and by July, you are so desperate to get some wear out of them before the 'summer' ends that you force the boys outdoors to freeze their legs off in the shorts every time the sun so much as peeps out from behind a cloud.

Ah well, such is the world.  We did manage to solve our fancy dress dilemma though - I dressed them in swimsuits, poncho towels, sandals and sunglasses and told everyone they were the Beach Boys!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Thinking About Loss

The idea of 'loss' and what it means has been insinuating itself into my consciousness more and more recently as so many stories of great loss have been in the news, not to mention in the real-life experiences of some of my friends and acquaintances.

When facing impending parenthood, people will often be told how having a child will change your life and blow your priorities out of the water.  This has certainly been true in my experience, although I need to stress that most of the changes have been welcome ones!  Recently, after a long catching-up conversation which mainly consisted of stories about the boys, a friend of mine said, "But what about you?  How are you doing?"  I didn't really have an answer.  The fact is that with the boys around there often isn't much 'me' - their needs always seem so pressing that there doesn't seem to be time to think about anything else.  This is something I'm going to be working on from now on!

So, yes, on a practical level my life and my priorities have completely changed.  This was always expected.  What I didn't expect was the sudden shift in my thinking that has taken place since I decided to adopt OB.

Of course it has radically changed any plans I might have had for the future.  It has also made me take a look at my present and re-evaluate some of the choices I made when there was only me to think about.  Suddenly I am very aware of the way I live from day to day - it's one thing living as you please when nobody's looking, but quite another thing when you're supposed to be setting a good example 24/7!

None of this has taken me by surprise, however.  What has come as a shock is the sudden realisation that I now have something very, very precious, the loss of which would cause irreparable damage and grief.  Now, when I see a news story or even a fictional TV drama about a child who dies, or is sick, I find myself in absolute floods of tears, heartbroken about the loss, my almost subconscious fear brought out into the open, magnified and reflected back to me by the TV screen.

Is this normal parent thinking?  I've never really had anything to lose before and I'm not sure it's entirely healthy to be afraid of losing him before I've even properly got him - that's another thing I'll be working on from now on!  But I do hope that the experience of learning to cherish something so precious will make me a better friend to those I know for whom the experience of loss is a daily reality.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Foster-to-Adopt: Cameron's bright idea doesn't light up my world!

"New-born babies being taken into care should be fostered by people who want to adopt them, the prime minister has said."

Seems to me that David Cameron wakes up pretty much every morning with some new bright idea or other.  I have to wonder how many of these pronouncements are based on anything, or likely to come to anything, or whether they are just soundbites designed to distract us from all the things that are not being done or said!

Let's take this new 'foster to adopt' idea for instance.  At first reading, it sounds like a wonderful idea.  Why should tiny babies spend months in foster care when they could just be moved straight into the home of a prospective adoptive family?  It's hard to see the bad side of such a suggestion isn't it?

Unsurprisingly, however, I have reservations.  Although supporters could, rightly, argue that this option would potentially provide the most stable pathway for the child, I think it's important to remember that although the child should be at the heart of the process, they are not the only ones who are important to the process.

It's also important to remember that stability is not the only necessary factor in ensuring that a looked-after child gets a start in life that is as good as possible.  The issues surrounding looked-after children are complex and require the collaboration of a number of professional services.  Caring for a looked-after child is manifestly not the same as bringing up your own child.

I suppose my main points of concern are as follows:

*  According to the news article, 50% of one-month-old babies who come into care are eventually adopted.  This means that adoptive parents face a 50/50 chance that the child they have been caring for will eventually be returned to the birth family - not particularly good odds for a couple desperate for a child.

*  Fostering a baby is a full-time job.  It is not acceptable for fostered babies to spend their days with childminders or in nurseries, so at least one of the potential adopters may be required to give up work to care for a child that they might never get to adopt.  This is a big ask.  Will adopters who are not able or willing to do this be told that they stand next to no chance of being approved?

* When working parents adopt, they can receive adoption leave and pay.  They will not receive this if they are classed as fostering.

*  Fostered babies can have as many as five contacts with their birth families each week.  These can take place in a neutral location or at the foster carer's home or the birth family's home.  How many potential adopters will be comfortable with facilitating these contacts?

*  There are a lot of meetings between professionals that foster carers are expected to attend, including 6-weekly visits from social workers (both the child's and your own), regular formal reviews, and a whole host of medical appointments.  Again, these would require a carer to be available during office hours.

*  Foster carers receive training that adopters do not get.  The initial Skills to Foster training is different from the Preparing to Adopt sessions, and foster carers also receive training in safeguarding, record keeping, food hygiene and first aid, and are expected to have evidenced their achievement of the CWDC standards by the end of their first year of fostering.  Are potential adopters going to be expected to receive the same level of training, or will a lower level somehow be acceptable for adopters who are fostering than is required for professional foster carers?

*   Babies often come into care in emergency circumstances with little or no notice - both my boys arrived in my home less than two hours after the initial phone call.  As a foster carer, I am on call for this sort of emergency, but would potential adopters be ready to receive a child into their home at such short notice?

*  Children are carefully matched to potential adopters.  This matching process takes account of the needs of the child and the skills and experience that the potential adopters are able to bring to the mix, and can take some time to finalise.  If a child is coming into care with just a few hours notice, how will social services be able to complete the matching process as rigorously as needed?  This is particularly important if the child is likely to have special needs, which may not yet be known if a child is as young as one month.

*  Foster carers have absolutely no parental rights over the children they care for.  This means that I can't so much as change a child's hairstyle without permission of the parents!  The parents can deny permission to take the child on holiday, for instance, and even if they agree, getting a passport is a total nightmare (literally takes months and months) and you need a special letter of permission to travel with the child - not exactly a new parent's dream!

*  Most local authorities prefer to place children for adoption some distance from their birth families.  This would make it incredibly inconvenient for adopters acting as foster carers to facilitate contacts, meetings, etc.

*  There is no indication that the foster-to-adopt scheme would actually reduce the amount of time that it takes for a child to be formally adopted after coming into care.  Children in care are not just sitting in cupboards waiting to be adopted - there is a necessary process to be followed to ensure that children are not being wrongly removed from their families.  If this process is truncated then we run the risk of rushing babies into adoption who could actually have successfully been raised by their birth parents or other birth relatives, opening the floodgates for complaints of abuse of power by social services.

*  Since the likelihood is that foster-to-adopt will not shorten the process, adopters are running the risk of being asked to give up their jobs to care for babies who need lots of extra help, who may have complex medical and emotional needs and who will need ferrying to endless contacts, only to find after 12-18 months that the child is to be returned to their birth families and they are now that much older and no nearer to having a family of their own.  It's hard to imagine how heartbreaking that would be.

Cameron's announcement, and so many of the ill-informed comments that followed it have demonstrated to me once again that many among the general public (not to mention the government!) have very little idea about what it is that foster carers actually do.  As a foster carer for babies, I take my role of preparing a child for its forever family very seriously.  I hope that, with the skills, experience and training that I have, I can use the time the child is with me to overcome some of the sometimes overwhelming disadvantages that the child has previously experienced so that by the time the child is adopted, they are no longer carrying the crippling emotional baggage of their early experiences.

One in five adoptions fail.  I believe that foster carers play an incredibly important role in dealing with some of the issues that are common in looked-after children (e.g. attachment disorders, food anxiety, etc. etc.) so that adoptive parents don't have to.  We have the training and experience to do this, and most adoptive parents do not.  So let's stop treating foster carers as some sort of unnecessary expense and start treating them like the professionals they are.

Friday, July 6, 2012

David's Journey

Hearing the raw emotion in David's voice as he told us about his reunion with his birth family over 45 years after his adoption has probably been the single most worthwhile moment of the three days of adoption prep I have now completed.

David's story was probably very similar to that of many others who were adopted back in the 50s when the whole subject carried much more of a stigma than it does today.  Told that he had been taken in from a rescue centre as a baby, he had never had much curiosity about his birth family until his adoptive mother admitted out of the blue that she had always lied about his origins, that he had never been in a rescue centre and in fact he had been three years old when adopted.

By this time, he was married with three children of his own.  His relationships with his adoptive family (parents and two siblings who were also adopted) had become gradually more strained over the years, especially after the death of his adoptive father, and now a family which had always 'functioned like five individuals' had virtually broken down completely.  This remark of his adoptive mother's was enough to send him off on an epic and sometimes madly-conincidental journey towards finding and eventually meeting his birth family.

I have to admit that I really do have a not-so-secret dread of the day that OB tells me he wants to meet his birth mother.  I am very close to completely resenting the letterbox contact that I will be required to do because there's a big part of me that just wants to take him away from his past and never mention it again.  After all, he will be my son and I will be his Mummy and I don't want anything in the way of that!

Intellectually I know that it's important for people to understand where they have come from.  It helps them to know who they are, to establish their identity.  But this was brought home to me in a much more meaningful way by David's honest re-telling of his story.

By the time he managed to trace his family, his parents were already dead, but he did discover that he had been the second youngest of seven children of whom five, including himself, were still living.  He had been the only one that had been adopted, although several of the children had been in care at some point as their mother had tried and failed for years to improve her circumstances to the point that she could actually have all of her children with her in a decent home with enough money to feed them.  By the time this actually happened, it was too late for David who, purely because of poverty, had been taken into care and then adopted.

His story was by turns surprising, shocking, amusing and heart-breaking.  Even though he had had no recollection of any family other than his adoptive family, he was amazed to discover that his eldest sisters were called Helen and Mary - his own daughter had been named Helen Marie.  As he said, it's impossible to know what's buried in a young child's subconscious mind.

What struck me most, though was the effect that his adoption had had on his siblings.  One of his sisters spoke of her vivid memory of the day when she was told that David was never coming back - she was only 4 years old at the time.  Another had carried a burden of guilt and grief for years as the last time she had seen David she had been angry with him, not knowing that next time she went to visit him at his foster carers' home, he would be gone forever.

Even though David never considered finding his birth family until he was well into his 40s, it is clear that doing so has radically transformed his life for the better.  He has found himself welcomed into a large, loving family where he feels as though he really belongs, despite having grown up in very different circumstances.  Somehow, he is so much more complete as a person because of the journey that he took.

I know that not every effort to trace a birth family will have such a fairy-tale ending, but I hope that if that day comes when OB decides to make the same journey I will be strong enough to walk with him.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Adoption Prep

I have been on Adoption Preparation training this week.  I was supposed to have spent two full days there, but due to OB throwing up in spectacular fashion five minutes after I left him with the minder on Thursday, I only made it to Friday's session.

It was rather a strange day.  The 15 participants are an odd mix of foster carers (two couples and me), one couple with a child, and four childless couples.  This makes for a very wide range of preparation needs when it comes to adoption when some of the attendees already have their child living with them, and others have never even changed a child's nappy.

Early on there was a challenge on child development - we were given a list of milestones and asked (in groups of course!) to write down when we thought these should take place for the average child.  Massive advantage to those with children!  Lots of arguing between those who consider themselves experienced and lots of silence from those without children.

And so it went on in the same vein.  Every time one of the two social workers who were, nominally at least, leading the course mentioned something about what adopted children might have experienced before their adoptions, the foster carers couldn't help chiming in with their lengthy stories.  I am delighted to say that, despite my natural inclination to tell tales at length, I managed to keep quiet on this subject!

The couple who already had a child treated us to a long description of pretty much every aspect of their child's life, as well as regular installments of an incredibly complex tale of their friends' adoption of a little girl to go with their adopted son.  I think I must have missed the introductory chapters of this the previous day as I couldn't make head or tale of the story!

All this made me feel very uncomfortable on behalf of the childless couples.  After having spent my adult life as a childless woman I know only two well how difficult, upsetting and downright annoying it can sometimes be listening to people's endless stories about their children.  Now I have children in my life, I also understand how much pleasure, frustration and joy they bring and how sometimes you just have to share it (and sometimes you literally have nothing else to talk about!).  Nonetheless, monopolising an adoption prep course with stories about your kids, whether your own or fostered, seems just a tad insensitive considering the company we were keeping.

There were a few scheduled activities which were predictably touchy-feely, but at other times the sessions seemed to veer from one subject to another based mostly on which participant was talking the most.  The course leaders weren't brilliant at managing the discussion, allowing some to dominate and others to spend the whole day in total silence.  This wouldn't matter so much except that notes on the level and quality of our participation will form part of our portfolios, so it is really important that everybody gets the chance to join in.

I've got to be honest, I'm a bit of a killjoy about these things anyway.  I'm not interested in 'bonding' through 'shared experiences' with people I'll never meet again.  I don't enjoy ice breaker activities and can become quite attached to my ice when forced to participate.  I particularly dislike groupwork when the task is vague and there are no designated roles.  I won't fight my corner, even if I know I'm right, when the outcome is irrelevant or purposeless, because I simply don't need to be right that much.  (Some people who know me well might raise their eyebrows at that one, but context is everything!)

Actually, I should re-word that.  I do need to be right quite a lot, but I don't always need everybody to see that I'm right - sometimes it's enough just for me to know it!

Anyway, I have two more days of this next week. I might take something good to read next time!