When I tell people I don't really know that I'm a foster carer, I often get to hear about their aunt/cousin/friend or whoever who is also a foster carer. This is not a complaint. I'm pretty rubbish at small talk generally so I'm happy to find some connection we can turn into chit chat.
People's description of their relative or friend that fosters usually boils down to two factors: length of time in the job and number of children fostered. Like this: "Oh, my aunty and uncle were foster carers. Yeah, they did it for 20 years and had over 150 different children." I don't know how accurate these figures always are, but the message is clear - it's all about quantity.
I occasionally measure my progress against these anecdotal fostering heroes. I've been fostering for nearly three years (pathetic!) and had a total of four children. At this rate I'm really going to have to ramp up my turnover rate if I'm to catch up with some of these others! Or maybe start taking children in groups?
I don't mean to be facetious, and I'm not criticising. Short term foster carers, of which I am one, do a necessary and worthwhile job. The shortest placement I had was two weeks, and the longest was 18 months. Different children . . . different circumstances. But it saddens me that so often it is quantity that is noted and celebrated, when in reality all that huge numbers of children passing through your house means is huge numbers of children living through a period of instability.
Another family I know who started fostering at about the same time as me have had only one placement. This little girl came to them in need of somewhere stable to call home for a while, and as time has gone on, it has become clear that neither of the traditional options of rehabilitation or adoption are quite right for her. So my friends have decided to make a long-term commitment to her. I wonder whether acquaintances of theirs will boast about their career in fostering at the hairdresser or the supermarket? "Oh yeah, my friends foster. They've fostered one child." Doesn't have quite the same ring.
But those who make the long-term commitment should be celebrated. Whether it's by kinship care, long-term fostering, special guardianship, adoption or some other route, the willingness and ability to make a long-term commitment to an individual will be life-changing for that child. All those who enter into such a relationship should be championed.
This week's #WASO theme is 'A Year On', in celebration of #WASO's first birthday. As I thought over the past year, I could think of lots of things that have changed in my life. But I was more interested in the thing that has remained the same: a year ago, OB was here with me. In a year's time, OB will still be here with me. And when the time comes when OB is not literally living here with me in my house any more, he will still be with me.
There's a Velvet Underground song, "I'm sticking with you." I don't know where I heard it - probably on an advert or something. The first part goes,
"I'm sticking with you, 'cos I'm made out of glue.
Anything that you might do, I'm gonna do too."
I often sing that bit to OB, and we pretend to be made out of glue, sticking together. It's one of our things.
This is my commitment to my boy. I'm sticking with you. Whatever you do. We'll still be here next year and for all the years after. I'm made out of glue.