NB is going to be adopted . . . perhaps quite soon. His profile is on various databases, and already one family has requested further information about him.
So I am delighted that this week we had two important developmental assessments and in both of them, NB demonstrated that he has made such progress that his Health Visitor is ready to state that it is unlikely that he will need special educational needs support when he starts school.
I blogged a while ago (during a bit of a rant about David Cameron) about the important job that foster carers do in preparing children for adoption.
Unlike many adoptive parents, foster carers receive specific training about caring for traumatised children, are often highly experienced in childcare and development, and are usually at home with the children full time. This means that we are able and expected to bring a certain level of professionalism and commitment into our role as the primary carers of children who have experienced varying levels of abuse and neglect.
I take my role of preparing children for adoption or rehabilitation very seriously. When NB came to me just over a year ago, he scored below his chronological age in all but one of the eight assessment criteria on the Schedule of Growing Skills Assessment, and over a year below in some areas. Now he is significantly under on only two - his locomotor (he has a non-serious medical condition that accounts for this) and speech (very delayed due to neglect - but catching up!).
In four of the areas, he has scored significantly above his chronological age, and, significantly, the Health Visitor assessed his cognitive skills to be more than 6 months ahead of his chronological age.
Not bad for a child that was thought highly likely to have special needs. Now it seems that NB will be able to grow up a normal, healthy child, able to achieve, fulfill his potential and live independently.
I'm not saying this to garner credit for myself. All over the country, foster carers are welcoming children with a complex range of needs into their homes and working hard behind the scenes to turn their lives around. They learn new skills, identify needs and formulate plans to meet them, work with other professionals, and make a huge difference just by providing stability, and a safe and healthy environment.
As far as NB is concerned, I have taken advice on diet and nutrition, since he was extremely overweight and iron deficient, and have worked through all the difficulties of completely changing his dietary habits. He is now on the same centile line for height and weight!
I have bought books to teach myself some basic Makaton signs and have taught these to NB so that he could begin to communicate on a basic level as he could only say one word (yes) when he came to me.
I have spent ages choosing age-appropriate and stimulating toys and activities as he did not know how to play. I have worked with his Playgroup teachers to support and build on his learning there.
I have taken him to countless audiology, orthoptic, physiotherapy, orthotic, health visitor and doctor's appointments. I have become a regular visitor at speech therapy and completely changed my pattern of speech in the home in the hope of encouraging his fledgling attempts at communication.
I have taught him to feed himself, potty trained him, weaned him off his ever-present bottle, and encouraged him to dress and undress himself. Soon I will move him into a big-boy bed in preparation for moving on to a new family.
I have entertained many, many social workers, special guardians, reviewing officers and other officials in my home for the multitude of meetings that are required. And I have taken him to contacts with family members who have sometimes turned up, but more often have not.
I have been trapped in the car on the street while a non-approved person attempted to have an impromptu contact with NB through the car window, even though they had been forbidden by the Police from having any contact with him.
It goes on and on.
It's not that I don't think an adoptive parent wouldn't do all of this, it's that I'm glad that now they won't have to. It's hard enough adopting a child. Actually, it's hard enough for most people even going through the process needed to come to the realisation that they will become adopters, never mind the assessment and approval process.
If adopters are going to go through all of that in order to give NB a forever family, then it seems that the least I can do is to pull out all the stops to give that adoption the best chance of success it could possibly have. And in NB's case, that has meant spending the last year working hard to release the beautiful, playful, bright, loving boy I could see was in there.
Now, when his family finder is looking for somebody for him, she won't need to focus only on those who feel able to take a child who could have significant difficulties. This means that the pool of potential adopters has suddenly opened up wide so that he has a much better chance of being adopted more quickly and getting on with his new life without delay.
Like I said, I'm not looking for a medal. I'm writing this because I think that the vital role that foster carers play in the lives of looked-after children should be recognised and supported. We are not glorified babysitters. We are not some kind of kiddy storage area. We are a vital pivot between the sadness of what went on before and the joy that is to come, and any attempts to reduce or remove the part that foster carers play in the care of looked-after children will only place more pressure on adopters, with, I fear, the result that the already high rate of failed adoptions could increase.
I've read that if one family in every church in the UK fostered one child, then there would be no children waiting in inappropriate care settings. In case you ever doubted it, it's an incredibly worthwhile thing to do.