The Power of a Phone Call
Three afternoons each week, her day is finished by a contact session at the nursery with her mum, and her two sisters who are brought over from their school at hometime. On the afternoon when she doesn't see them, we go to McDonalds. It's a well-established routine. We like a good routine.
When I dropped her off at lunchtime today, she was expecting the day to end with time with her family. She asked about it several times on the way. But when I arrived at 5pm to pick her up, I knew straight away that something had gone wrong. Normally they are all waiting outside in the car park, the girls running riot. Today the car park was empty. I waited a few minutes to see if anyone turned up, but eventually I unloaded the other two from the car and went inside in search of her.
There had been no contact. I managed to speak to one of the teachers before I found Twinkle, and she confirmed that there had been no contact, and they didn't know why. Nobody had called them. When Twinkle was finally reunited with all her possessions (somehow her socks are always missing!) and brought to me, her face absolutely crumpled.
"I didn't see my Mummy!" she wailed, tears rising in her eyes.
Twinkle is definitely one for a dramatic display, and often her wails are merely noise with little substance behind them, but not today. She was very upset, and clung first to her teacher and then to me, sobbing. I felt bad for her, but also mad for her. This cancelled contact must have been planned and known about or else the two sisters would have turned up at the nursery with the contact supervisor and the staff would have known about it. The sisters had never been there.
It didn't take me long to find out what had happened. They have been in court. Something they would have known about for weeks. Clearly they managed to tell the contact supervisor that contact was cancelled, and the other sisters' foster carers. But they didn't tell me.
I can imagine why. Some time ago there was concern that a forthcoming contact might be missed. This posed a problem for me as I had a commitment which made it impossible for me to pick Twinkle up from nursery at 3.30 instead of 5pm on that particular day. It was agreed that she could just stay in nursery until 5pm when I could get her. I imagine that this has set a precedent. Perhaps they felt they didn't need to call me as Twinkle would be fine in nursery and I wouldn't have to alter any plans.
Unfortunately that has meant that instead of preparing Twinkle gently for her mum's absence today, I actually reassured her on the way to nursery that yes, she would be seeing her mummy later. We managed the aftermath of it all very well in the end, but proper preparation would have avoided all of that crushing disappointment. And as yet I don't know how much the incident has damaged Twinkle's fragile trust in me.
Recently we were asked as foster carers to contribute ideas towards a new training session being devised to help social workers understand the role of the foster carer. My response was that any social worker could find the role of a foster carer in two minutes with a Google search. My own LA's website has a pretty good summary as a starting point. Knowing our role is a start, but it's not enough. I would like social workers to be given better guidance on how their decisions and actions can help or hinder us in our roles. And vice versa for that matter. We should understand that we are a team and each member's actions impact on another member's ability to fulfil their role.
I don't really blame the social worker for not calling me. She probably found a logical reason for not doing so and I expect she had a million calls to make that day. Or maybe she had to deal with an emergency. Or maybe she just forgot. We all forget things. But in the aftermath of a seemingly small error or decision like that, I have difficulty explaining to people how big an impact it has had on the child and our home. This is where I think things could improve - helping each person in the team around the child to understand the full extent of all of our actions or inactions on the child, so that better decisions can be made next time.
I picked Twinkle up from nursery after a contact one day last week and found her fizzy, defiant, almost manically flipping from one mood to another. Only the next day when I dropped her off did I learn that the Guardian ad Litem had attended contact that day and spoken to the children and their mum. Coincidence? I don't think so. I knew the Guardian was planning a visit but I didn't know when so I was unable to prepare Twinkle for it. Again, we managed it quite well, but I would so much rather prevent fires than fight them.
I am acutely aware of the pressure on everyone who works in children's social care. I know that there is a lot to remember, many appointments to be made, and crises to be attended to. Twinkle's social worker is a child protection social worker so she often has to cancel things at the last minute to deal with an emergency. I don't want to make more work for people. But I wonder if it would be possible to bcc a child's foster carer in on every email that is sent about the child? There should be no issue of confidentiality as we foster carers are supposed to be in the loop anyway, Much of what is written might be of no interest to us, but it's just possible that we might be able to flag up events and decisions that will have an impact on the child that nobody else might have foreseen. Proper information is the foundation of proper preparation. Preparation is better than cure. If there even is a cure.