Recently I have found myself using the phrase, "Ummmm . . . I don't know" quite a lot. NB's new mummy is preparing herself to receive her new little boy and she's doing it by asking lots and lots of questions.
This is, without doubt, a Good Thing. It is in everybody's best interests that new mummy has as much information about NB as possible and I'm extremely keen to furnish her with whatever she needs to know, but so often over the past couple of weeks I've found myself unable to do much more than look thoughtful and scratch my head both in person, by email and over the phone!
None of new mummy's questions have been in any way unreasonable - certainly they are questions which she might reasonably expect that I would be able to answer. But sometimes, I just can't. NB's social worker phoned me the other day with a list of questions new mummy had sent her in response to receiving NB's medical information, and I'm afraid I was woefully inadequate to the task!
I feel bad about it, partly because I want new mummy to feel increasingly secure in her decision to adopt NB, and it seems to me that good information must help with that, and partly because I worry that my inability to answer questions makes it look at bit like I haven't really been paying attention to what's been going on with NB for the last 16 months! How must it seem to you as a prospective adopter to realise that the foster carer can't seem to answer what, from your perspective, are the most obvious and basic questions?
Unfortunately, prospective adopters might need to be aware that, when it comes to getting good information from the foster carer, what they might experience is a little bit of information underload. I think there are two main reasons for this:
1. I didn't know you'd want to know about that, so I haven't mentally filed that information!
Different people look for and value different things in life and in parenting. NB's new mummy is an art therapist, so she had loads of questions about how he responds when given art materials and suchlike. Well, it's not as though he's never done any arts and crafts, but I'm not particularly arty myself, so I probably haven't really paid that much attention to the intricacies of how he responds and what he does in these situations. I really had to rack my brains! Now, I'm a musician, so I'm very aware of how he responds to rhythm and song, whether he sways or dances, whether his singing is approximately in tune, whether he's keeping a steady beat on his little drum, whether he holds his toy guitar like a real guitarist (he does!) and so on and so on. To me these things are obvious and as natural as breathing so I have to remind myself that other people might not be so aware. Of course, now I know that this is important to new mummy, I'll be paying more attention in the future!
It might not be something so specific as this. People's lifestyles are different - what might be very important in your lifestyle might not come up at all for someone else. NB's new mummy asked whether NB minds getting dirty and playing in the mud. Honestly, I've no idea - I'm not a terribly outdoorsy kind of person, and our garden is totally unsuitable for the children to play in at the moment (permanent swamp!), so I can't honestly remember a time when he went outside and covered himself in mud. Let's put it this way, NB might not mind getting covered in mud, but I'm not so keen on the idea!
2. As a foster carer, I'm not necessarily given as much information as you might think
While many professionals are capable of seeing foster carers as another link in a professional chain, others insist on seeing us as little more than glorified babysitters and therefore leave us out of the information-sharing, not understanding that the more information we have, the better we are able to fulfil our roles. This annoys me, but it's the way it is.
I know virtually nothing about NB's life before he came to me; the only information I have is the events that occurred immediately before he came into care. I know that this final crisis was at the end of a long process of involvement by professionals, but I haven't been given any real information about that and only know what I've been able to pick up, or have been told because I've insisted.
I know nothing about what happened during NB's contacts with his birth family as I was not present at any of them. The contact supervisors would occasionally share some tidbit with me as I picked him up, but as the family where always standing right there, and I had OB in the car waiting, these conversations were necessarily brief and actually, I don't really see it as my right to pry, unless something in NB's behaviour leads me to believe that there has been a problem.
I don't know as much about NB's medical situation as you might think. Although I have taken him to LAC medicals and a pre-adoption medical, and the doctor has said various things in front of me (but not to me as they usually address the SW if present), it has really been on a need-to-know basis, i.e. I get told what I need to know in order to get him to whatever medical appointment is next on the list. New mummy received NB's medical information this week and asked whether the ENT referral that is mentioned in the paperwork ever happened. I didn't even know that a referral was being made, and no, it hasn't happened. I have never seen NB's Red Book and know nothing about his medical history prior to being placed with me.
My feeling is that foster carers are very much seen as being at the far end of the chain when information is being shared - we are lucky if things filter down far enough to reach us. This is a shame because it means that new mummy gets a pile of information from the SWs that, in its formal and institutional language, seems far removed from NB as a person, and at the same time, she gets a real-life picture of NB from his foster carer that is incomplete because it is almost entirely anecdotal and without much context.
In an ideal world, given better information, the foster carer would be ideally placed to give new parents a fully contextualised account of the children they are adopting. Sadly, in the real world, we have to do the best we can with information underload . . . please be patient with us!