Thursday, June 26, 2014

The A-Word

We've been talking a lot about adoption in our house recently, and it's all been led by OB, who is obviously going through a whole new level of processing.

"When I was a baby, I was in your tummy, Mummy."
"No sweetheart, you were never in my tummy. You were in another lady's tummy."
"What's she called?"
"She's called *****"
"I don't know her."
"No sweetheart. You did live with her at first but she couldn't keep you safe, so you came to live with me and now I'm your forever Mummy, keeping you safe and looking after you."

I've always used the A-word around OB. Well before he could talk or understand I'd tell him a bedtime story about how he came to me and how so many of us worked so hard to make us a family. He still keeps the teddy in his bed that the adoption social worker gave us on the day of our Celebration Hearing.

So he knows he's 'dopted (as he calls it) but, as yet, he's only got the beginnings of an understanding as to what that means. And now, at three and a half, he's grasping for more.

"All my friends are 'dopted, Mummy."
"Not really, sweetheart. Most of your friends aren't adopted like you are."
"Who's 'dopted then, Mummy."
"Well, NB is adopted now isn't he?"
"Who else?"
"Our friend ***** was adopted too. And ***** and ***** have just adopted a little girl, so she's adopted too. And Baby Girl will be adopted too, when we find her a new family. So we know lots of people that are adopted, but not everybody is adopted."

I think there are a few things that have triggered this new exploration. I've been talking a lot about how we're looking for a new family for Baby Girl, in preparation for her eventual departure. Good friends of mine have just adopted, and although he's not seen them in a while, he's obviously heard me talking. We had a visit from our own adoption social worker last week, and then the dedication of a good friend's baby, which triggered memories of OB's own dedication (which followed hard on the heels of the Celebration Hearing) and, perhaps more importantly, the cake we had for that event!

"Is Baby Girl going to have a new mummy?"
"Yes, we're looking for a new family for her."
"Am I going to have a new mummy?"
"No sweetheart. You're always going to have me!"

So far, the "couldn't keep you safe" explanation seems to be working well. I probably need to start preparing myself for when that no longer cuts the mustard.

Saturday, June 21, 2014


I had a lovely and unexpected visit this week from the social worker who handled both NB and OB's adoptions. She is marvellous. I can't speak highly enough of her. So I was delighted to find that she'll be having any sort of involvement, however small, in BG's process as well.

There was an official reason for the visit, but we also found time to catch up over our coffees. She was delighted to see OB again, although he only had half-formed memories of her. On our Celebration Day, she gave him a gorgeous teddy bear which he still sleeps with. He knows who gave it to him and why, but he did struggle to connect the person in our living room with the giver of the gift.

She was also full of questions about NB, so I was glad to be able to give her the most up to date information after our recent visit. It was clear that she felt a real personal involvement in the lives of these children, and a genuine affection for them.

So I was very sad as, standing on the doorstep about to leave, she told me that she would be leaving our LA in the next few months as she had secured a new job at a neighbouring LA. She was very professional, but just for a moment she let her guard down and I could see the genuine pain that the enormous structural changes at our LA, coupled with endless criticism and poor and incompetent management in some areas had caused her.

She named a name.

I knew the name and the person. We had one run-in during OB's adoption and I was left feeling hurt, angry and patronised. This person has moved on now, but the legacy of their poor management and apparently uncaring attitude has left its mark on this lovely social worker. "I just need a change," she said, with a note of sad resignation in her voice.

It is not the first time that a person who has insulted, patronised, ignored or misled me has later turned out to be universally disliked. But when these things are happening, there has been nobody to support me because the 'professional' face demands that all members of staff publicly support their own, regardless of how ridiculous they are being. It does me no good when, once a person has left the organisation, I hear "Oh yeah, that *************, what a $&£%!"

I'm a supporter of the public sector, I really am. But unfortunately, there is a tendency to either demonise or canonise those who work in it. It was a standing joke in teaching for years that mere incompetence was no bar to holding down your teaching job for decades. I don't know if things have changed now. The more the 'outsiders' criticise public sector workers, the more the supporters insist that they are all saints.

They are not all saints. And there really does need to be more accountability when individual, incompetent staff members have the ability to make life a misery for all they encounter, not to mention making a mess of the services they are supposed to be providing to some of the more vulnerable members of our society. It is not good enough to simply close ranks, cover mistakes and then sigh with relief when that person leaves (or is promoted as happened in one case I know of!).

Staff turnover at my local LA is outrageously high. I have had three Supervising Social Workers in three years. The children's social workers swap and change with depressing regularity as well. It is unsettling for me and for them. I received an email this week telling me about the re-organisation of the fostering service and the names of the new managers. Every time a new person comes, you have to explain everything all over again, familiarising each one with the nuances of a reality that doesn't come across on paper, not to mention explaining the 'system' to new staff and ever-rotating agency staff. Thankfully, my children are very young, but for older children in long-term foster care, the loss of a wonderful, supportive social worker must hit hard.

I am very sad about my lovely adoption social worker. I had hoped to work with her for many years, transitioning fostered children to forever families. I had secretly hoped that, one day, she would take me through the process of adopting again, saving hours of the re-hashing that will be inevitable with a stranger in charge.

All that is not to be. I hope she is appreciated, supported and valued in her new LA.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Saturday, June 14, 2014

On a Sunny Morning

"Mummy, I brought my blanket for you!"

A gargantuan effort results in one of my bleary eyes opening. I reach for the phone. It's 4.53am.

OB is bouncing about at the side of the bed, shoving his blanket into my face. The morning sun is streaming in through the alarmingly ineffective curtains and there's a mobile trailer in the corner of the room with two women in it, cooking and selling IKEA meatballs.

Ok, I might have dreamed that last bit.

But they do smell good.

Of course, I should get up, take OB back to his own room and gently explain that, although it's clearly as light as midday outside, it is still actually the middle of the night and he should go back to sleep for at least three hours.

But I don't. Because I can't seem to speak or move. So instead I drag him into the bed with me and we settle down together.

That lasts five minutes. What follows is 20 minutes of OB wriggling, climbing over me, getting in and out of bed repeatedly, standing at the window shouting "Look at this Mummy!" and generally ruining any chance of getting back to sleep.

During this time I may or may not have purchased a steaming portion of meatballs from the two women in the corner. They were delicious.

It's nearly 5.20am. At this point OB strikes up a new clamour. He is starving and thirsty. I heave myself out of bed and down the stairs and return with a snack and some water in a no-spill cup. 

I see that the meatball women have gone.

OB is keen to go downstairs and begin the day, so I put the TV onto CBeebies for a few seconds to demonstrate that, yes, indeed it is still night time - look CBeebies hasn't even started yet!

Then I lay down the law. It's 5.30am and I think we all need a bit more sleep. OB can either settle down and try to sleep in my bed, or go back to his own bed. He chooses my bed. So we settle down and I drift off again.

Seconds later I am woken by the annoying sound of someone's baby crying and crying. Why doesn't someone see to that baby? Can't they hear how loud it is?

Oh, wait, it's my baby. 

I reach for the phone again. 5.45. OB is fast asleep next to me, completely undisturbed by Baby Girl's fantastically loud morning chorus right next to the bed.

I get up and feed her and change her. Then I settle her back in the basket. She smiles at me and goes back to sleep - that's not a dream, it's just what she's like! When I turn back to my bed I notice that OB is now sprawled across two thirds of it, still fast asleep.

With supreme physical effort I manage to arrange myself prone in the oddly-shaped space left to me by my son, who has apparently morphed into an octopus. It's surprisingly uncomfortable. I think there's probably no chance of falling asleep again and, at nearly 6am, maybe I should just give in and get up.

Suddenly, OB is standing next to the bed wearing one of my t-shirts like a maxi dress and saying something about a swimming pool. I look over to the corner - the meatball ladies aren't there. This is not a dream. It's 6.45 and time to bow to the inevitable.

Good morning everybody!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The End of the Fruit Cake Section

It would be more fun if this blog title was a witty pun but, in fact, it is a very literal reference to the fact that, after weeks and weeks of baking slogging, I have finally reached the end of the fruit cake section in Mary Berry's Baking Bible.

Well, I say I've reached the end - in fact I haven't done the very last bake in the section as it's a cherry cake and I hate cherries. I might be baking my way through the book, but I'm not heroic enough to bake a cake I know I'm not going to like at all!

The final two cakes, then, were Marmalade Cake and Strawberry Dessert Cake. Honestly, I can't remember much about the Marmalade Cake as it's so long since I baked it and I don't seem to have taken any photos of it. So I probably won't be baking that again!

But the Strawberry Dessert Cake was very nice indeed, and could have been better had I followed Mary's suggestion and served it warm as a dessert.

It's basically a rich sponge cake with a layer of fresh strawberries baked into the middle of it. When baked, the middle stays fairly dense and soggy, probably because of the moisture from the strawberries, but the top goes a little crunchy. This would have been helped along by the sprinkle of flaked almonds on the top if I had remembered to put them on! This means that it is fairly messy to eat once cooled, and a bit claggy (which I love!). But I did have a little bit while it was still warm from the oven and it was absolutely lush.

The only slight disappointment was that the strawberries weren't as tasty as I expected. They lost a lot of their strawberry flavour in the baking and made more of a moist, sweet layer than a real flavour of strawberries.

I almost certainly will make this again sometime, but serve it warm, with whipped cream and a few fresh strawberries. Maybe for Wimbledon!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Rarer Than Unobtanium: A Foster Child's Passport

Saw this article this week in the Irish Times: Children in Care to Have Holiday Abroad Without Parental Approval. It struck a chord with me after facing so many difficulties getting passports for children I have fostered.

When I started fostering, I was very clear that, with family living abroad, I would be taking holidays abroad and would prefer to take fostered children with me. I was told that wouldn't be a problem as long as each trip wasn't too long - say two weeks at a time. I explained that it was a deal breaker. Again, I was reassured that it wouldn't be a problem.

More than three years in and the memory of those conversations evokes a cynical smile. Getting passports for fostered children is a total nightmare. And, to add insult to injury, once I was approved and trying to get one of these elusive documents, everyone pretty much agreed that I might as well whistle into the wind. Other foster carers laughed out loud when I told them I was asking for passports, and told me they hadn't been out of the country in years!

I got my first placement in April 2011. I asked for a passport immediately but was told it would be unlikely as he was on a Section 20. As soon as he went onto a care order, I asked again, hoping to travel in July. They agreed he could have a passport and said they'd get on it straight away. July came and went. So did August. In the end we managed to get away in October. Not exactly a summer holiday.

I was also promised that if I wanted to visit my family and a passport wasn't forthcoming then respite care would be available. This is not what I want for my fostered children. Apparently, it's not what social services want either as last year I was refused two placements on the grounds that I was planning to go away for a week's holiday and they didn't want the child in respite. This resulted in me only having 2 weeks work in six months.

Getting parental consent, though sometimes problematic, is only part of the problem. Court documents must be sent off with each passport application. But these documents are only valid for a few weeks, after which they must be renewed. The application must be granted while the documents are valid. If the court takes a month to send the documents through to social services (as apparently is often the case) then there is often not enough time left on them to get the passport application done before they expire.

Not only that, but, to be honest, getting a passport sorted is way down the list of tasks that social workers need to do. In our LA, children have one social worker when they first come into care - a sort of emergency team - and are then transferred to another to get them through the various processes. Sometimes, children are waiting with the emergency team for weeks and weeks before getting transferred. Social workers on these teams are dealing with high pressure  and serious child protection issues. I can understand why getting a passport sorted is not high on their list of priorities. I've been told as much, in as many words, by a frustrated social worker when I called for about the millionth time asking about a non-appearing passport.

I totally understand why the passport isn't important to that social worker. But it is important to me and to the child. We are supposed to include our fostered children in all aspects of our family lives - make them part of our families. I take this seriously. So does my family, who are willing to purchase equipment and provide bed and board for fostered children when we go to stay, out of their own pockets. Travelling abroad a couple of times a year is what this family does. I was clear on this from the beginning. I wish they had been as clear with me as I was with them.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Here We Go Again

Baby Girl is officially waiting for a new family. We're on that roller coaster again. Already we have had the pre-adoption planning meeting (two of them actually - but that's a long and infuriating story!), the pre-adoption medical, filling in of forms etc. etc.

As a person who has the unbridled pleasure of caring for Baby Girl day in and day out I know with complete certainty that she will make somebody's dreams come true. I can't sing her praises enough. Beautiful, good-natured, smiley, infectious laugh, squidgy toes, loves tickles and kisses, patient, easy-going, good sleeper - it just goes on and on.

But I also know that, as far as her family finder goes anyway, she is, almost unbelievably, veering towards being 'hard to place'. So hard to place, in fact, that professional photos and DVDs have been ordered, and a referral to an adoption activity day has already been made. I know as well that a couple of expressions of interest have already been made, but dropped very quickly.

It reminds me that there is a huge, unimaginable gulf between what how the paperwork might present a child, and how that child presents in reality as a living, breathing person. I feel sure that any prospective adopter looking for a child in Baby Girl's age range would find it impossible to resist even one gorgeous smile. But the paperwork must tell a more sobering story. It is incredibly sad. And unfair.

It reminds me as well that we foster carers can be in danger of presenting a skewed view of the children we care for. Because we love them. Because we find it hard to reconcile the paperwork with the person. Perhaps because we will not have to face a future that will become a reality for an adopter.

I know what Baby Girl's paperwork says. I know that many of our fears have already been proven to be unfounded. But I know that, unless something changes or predictions are confounded, her adopter will likely face challenges ahead.

But, and most importantly, I know that there are prospective adopters out there who are more than equal to those challenges. I have confidence to hope for a bright future for Baby Girl and for the family that is blessed enough to welcome her. And I love a good roller coaster!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Little Big Things

OB has been having swimming lessons since November. I knew it was going to be hard work for him as he hates water so much, but it really has been a nightmare. The first week he cried hysterically for the whole half hour. We parents have to watch through a glass wall and I could see his mouth forming the words "I want my Mummy!" over and over again. Not pleasant.

The following week was much the same. After about five minutes, the teacher came out and asked me to leave the viewing area. I obeyed, much against my better judgement. After a few minutes I crept back in and watched where he couldn't see me. He was still crying just as much. So I had broken my promise to "be right there" and to no avail. I vowed not to leave him again.

As the weeks went by, it was clear the teacher was struggling to stay patient with his continued crying. I don't blame her, but her irritated tone did nothing to reassure him or help the situation. Each week, OB would sit on the steps, clinging to the rail, and barely allow Dawson, the in-pool assistant, to lead him around the water a couple of times a lesson, screaming loudly all the while! The sheer terror on his face was awful to watch. Other parents commented on it weekly, sometimes sympathetically, sometimes not so much!

But over time, OB built up a good trust relationship with Dawson and became more and more willing to allow himself to be taken further and further, with less and less support. Then, in January, the lady teacher left, and OB's beloved Dawson became the class teacher with a new guy, Dave, as the assistant. At this point I took Dawson to one side and explained to him a little of OB's past, making sure he understood that it wasn't clinginess that was making him cry, but terror.

Well, since then we have had a few setbacks, most recently when we had to move to a new swimming pool, and lots more tears, but the kindness and patience of Dawson and Dave have been outstanding. I'm not going to claim a fairy tale ending - OB still cries most weeks and still clings to the rail - but recently he has allowed himself to be taken around the pool holding one side of a float while Dave holds the other. To be in the water and not in actual physical contact with another person is a big deal for OB!

And then, last week, OB finally got his Penguin 1 Swimming Certificate!! To put it in some perspective, NB got the same certificate after ten lessons. We have been working towards it for over six months! It isn't much - just basic skills around the pool really, like recognising the teacher and holding onto the side - but it's OB's first ever swimming achievement and he's had to overcome so much to get it. We're both very proud.

I'd love to be able to post a picture of OB proudly holding his certificate, but I can't - even the certificate itself is covered in identifying information (the scheme is run by our local leisure service so it has their logo in about seven places!), so you'll just have to imagine a beaming little boy and his first ever swimming certificate and badge!

I have shared this post with The Adoption Social's Memory Box linky.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Where We've Been

It's been a while since I blogged, and we've had a busy old time. With a family trip to the south coast planned, it seemed an ideal time to fit in a visit to NB - an overnight stay this time. It was fantastic to see him and K again - he is growing up so well, and his speech is really improving. It felt strange but wonderful to hear him talking in complete sentences, especially in his marvellously refined southern accent!

In fact, the trip went so well that K insisted that we make a return visit the following weekend as we travelled north again. I've blogged before about her incredible generosity as an adoptive mum, and she demonstrated this lovely heart again as she opened her home not only to me, OB and BG, but also to my parents. We had a whale of a time (although sadly shortened by the awful delays on the journey up from the coast) and I'm only sorry that I didn't have enough presence of mind to take any photos where the boys weren't identifiable!

In between we spent a relaxing week in a beautiful bungalow on the south coast with my parents. A well-deserved break for all of us . . . well, not so much for my parents who bore the brunt of the early mornings and nappy changes for the duration! It was another opportunity for OB to spend time with his south coast relatives, especially the huge gang of beautiful girl cousins among whom he seemed quite the novelty!

The weather was good enough, even warm and sunny on some days, and we made it to the beach pretty much every day. I was very proud to see my son overcoming his terrible fear of the water to dip his feet into the rock pools and search for crabs. He couldn't be persuaded anywhere near the proper sea, but that's an adventure for another time.

I was also won over by the pebbly beach. Sure you can't make sandcastles on it, but frankly, the pleasure of eating uncontaminated picnics, and simply packing your things away at the end of the day without a mass sand-removal exercise made up for it! Or maybe I'm just getting old!

My parents came north with us, via NB's of course, and spent a further week here, again, bearing the load. OB started veering off course a bit during this week, to be honest, perhaps because there were two birthdays celebrated (mine and my Mum's) and all the excitement, fun and some later nights.

I also think that seeing NB, wonderful though it was, has been unsettling for him. Since NB's visit here a few months ago, OB has been asking to 'go home'. He means our old house and I'm sure part of him pines for the times when we all lived there together and NB was like his brother and live-in playmate.

But these are just bumps in our road, and there are no roads without bumps. We will learn to ride them together and find a way to relish the journey as well as keeping our eyes on the destination.

My parents are back home now and I'm having to re-learn how to make a cup of coffee and how to open my eyes at 6am! A quick return to routine will help OB settle down no doubt, but he already misses his Mamy and Papy and I won't deny that I'm looking forward to our trip to their place in the summer!