Sunday, November 29, 2015

Now We Are Five!

Every year OB's birthday shocks me anew. How on earth can he be five already? FIVE!

We have celebrated in fine style with a party yesterday, and presents, lunch out at the local pile 'em high, skype to beloved grandparents and more presents today.

Every year the birthday party provides a creative challenge for me, so I was beyond delighted this year when OB announced that he wanted a 'Paw Patrol Party'. Awesome! Went on the internet and ordered a load of Paw Patrol accessories and job done!

In fact, this has been the least stressful birthday party I've ever done. All the ready-made Paw Patrol stuff was reasonably priced and did the trick for decorating the room and providing table accessories and one of the party games, and the cake I saw on Pinterest was the easiest I have ever decorated. I normally spend hours sweating over fondant icing and turning the air blue, but this year I just glued a load of biscuits and maltesers to a double-layer chocolate cake using Betty Crocker's Chocolate Fudge Spread. I love Betty Crocker.

Today I arranged a playdate for Twinkle (with some heroic friends of mine!) so that OB and I could have some very rare together-time over lunch. I had arranged childcare for Birdy too, but OB wanted her to come! It wasn't long, but it was nice to sit together, eat and 'be'.

He has had many lovely presents which he is exploring bit by bit. Particular favourites so far are a mini car racing track with a booster that shoots the car out and a track that flips over. It's hard to explain but he loves it. He also loves the toy doggy in a plastic pet carrier that he's had his eye on for ages. Another favourite is the Mr Potato Head toy which was actually a pass-the-parcel prize from the party that he inadvertently won! Actually the little girl sitting next to him won it, but before she even opened it, she passed it on to OB because it was his birthday so she'd rather he had it. That is one awesome little girl.

The favourite by far, though (I'm relieved to say!) has been his long-awaited junior drum kit - in red, naturally! I know what you're saying - utter madness! But he's had a toy drum kit since he was three, and he's played it and played it every single day until it completely fell apart, so I don't feel the new kit will be money wasted.

He had the good grace to forget that I'd already told him he could have it, and to be completely amazed when he saw it sitting there this morning. I think he loves it. He tenderly covered it with a sheet before he went to bed tonight!

Happy Birthday OB!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Too Poor to Adopt?

I am becoming increasingly frustrated with the protracted procedure involved in deciding whether I am 'financially viable' to adopt Birdy, the little girl I have been fostering since she was 4 days old.

The issue first came up at my Adoption Viability Assessment meeting way back at the end of July. I was told I'd need to fill in a financial assessment form before being allowed to begin the adoption approvals process. I had to chase them up for the form, which took over a month to arrive. When it did arrive, it was clearly the wrong form, being an application form for Adoption Allowances. I had already been told I was unlikely to be awarded allowances, but I dutifully filled the form in anyway.

Several weeks later, I was sent an email requesting 'additional information' and another form to fill in. This form was clearly the financial assessment form I should have been sent in the first place. I returned it within the week.

I heard nothing for some time.

Then I received a phone call from the Adoption Practice Manager. She had some queries about my financial viability. "We need to decide whether you can afford to adopt a second child if you don't get any adoption allowances," she said. I pointed out the currently healthy state of my finances as evidenced on the form I had filled in several weeks earlier.

Her response was to make inaccurate assumptions about the information recorded on the form and then to present me with a range of increasingly unlikely scenarios and ask me what I'd do to put food on the table in each case. It was not a great time - I was standing on the pavement in the rain trying to get the children in the car one-handed - but I didn't dare ask if I could call back later as it had taken no less than four attempts to set up this 'urgent call'.

I have three sources of income. One is fostering allowances. Another is directly dependent on my continuing to work. And there's a third. My problem is that the LA apparently considers that none of my income sources are reliable. This is ironic since they are the ones who recruit foster carers under such strange working conditions that I feel sure we could challenge them successfully in the courts if it didn't mean that we would bring the whole system crashing down around our ears.

I have provided them with all the information they have asked for. But now they are asking me to prove my financial viability not just for now and the foreseeable future, but also for the unforeseeable future. Crystal-ball like, I am suppose to gaze into my own (apparently quite dystopian) future and predict my responses to a range of disasters.

After nearly 15 minutes of this questioning I frustratedly commented that in the unlikely event of total disaster I could always get a job and go out to work like other parents do. After all, I'm still a qualified teacher. She was surprised to hear that I'm a teacher. Well, you will have these little surprises if you get involved in someone's adoption approval process without even a glance at their files from the two previous approvals they've been through with the same LA.

But earning a living isn't the right answer either apparently. "We'd have to consider whether spending all day in nursery while you were out at work would be in [Birdy's] best interests." To which I responded that if they believed that Birdy's needs were such that she needed a full-time parent at home and could not attend nursery, then this seemed to make a good case for adoption allowances to be granted.

There was some spluttering at this. Apparently the person I was speaking to has nothing to do with the award of adoption allowances. She can't comment on that at all. It's outside the purview of this telephone conversation.

Several weeks have passed since then. It is now two months since Birdy's last LAC Review at which the IRO set a 2-week deadline for the completion of financial assessments. I have heard nothing from the Adoption Team since that phone call.

However, I did arrive home from our trip to CenterParcs last week to a letter informing me that Adoption Allowances will not be granted.

I am now seriously beginning to wonder whether this is more than the usual attempt to crush the spirit of a prospective adopter. Are they seriously considering not allowing me to commence approvals for this child? Are they seriously considering letting this baby hang around in foster care for months and months after a placement order has been granted, and then sending her off to complete strangers when the foster carer is willing to adopt? Seriously?

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Old Faces, New Places

Almost unbelievably it's two and a half years since NB went off to start his life with his forever mummy. It's a whole year since Baby Girl moved in with her forever family. I'm collecting anniversaries like charms on a bracelet. Recently, we were able to meet up with both of them - two lovely, but very different experiences.

As Baby Girl's adoption has recently been finalised, we were invited to her Christening and Adoption Party. We haven't seen her in person since introductions all that long time ago, so it was amazing to see her again, and see the gorgeous toddler she has become. Obviously she had no idea who I was at all, and she was so different, running around with all her lovely curls and teeth (finally!) that she hardly seemed the same beautiful baby I handed over last year. And yet she is fearless, tiny, bubbly, full of smiles and giggles, and in some ways very much the Baby Girl we knew and loved. A strange experience, but I'm glad to have seen her again, and hope it won't be the last time.

Seeing NB was quite different. He lived with us for 18 months before moving on to K, his new mummy, at the age of 3 and a half. He and OB were like brothers, barely 9 months apart in age. I have written before about how grateful I am to K for continuing to include us in NB's life as it means so much to OB, and to me too. NB has some very clear memories of us.

K is very good with NB's life story work, and has always talked openly to him about his birth family and his foster family. We sent a handmade scrapbook of photos and other memory items with him and they would look at it together whenever he was feeling sad in the early months. When we visited, he got it out of the cupboard and brought it to me to look through with him, which was very sweet and not a little moving.

The boys played well with each other and really enjoyed each others company - even the addition of Twinkle and Birdy to the party didn't cramp their style. It clearly raised a lot of emotions though. NB had a couple of full-on meltdowns during the weekend, and K and I talked a lot about what we were doing and why. She spoke of wanting to hold together the threads of his past and his present so that he doesn't have to untangle it all himself in the future. She wants to maintain contact unless she feels that it is just pain with no gain for him. She called us part of their family. These are tricky paths to walk, but I take her lead on it - not only is she his parent, the one who knows him best, but also she is a therapist herself with extensive theoretical and now practical experience in childhood trauma.

As for OB, well he was impeccably-behaved throughout the trip, but we did have a tricky 2 or 3 days after we returned home. So many memories, so much emotion stirred up for both of them. We need wisdom indeed to choose the paths we take them along.

Twinkle, My Teacher

It would be so easy to write another moany blog this weekend about how frustrating the bureaucracy all is . . . it never ends so it's always relevant!

But actually, I'm even bored of myself going on about that all the time, so instead I thought I'd share a few things I have learned since Twinkle has been living with us. It's been quite the learning curve.

  • Twinkle is the oldest child I've fostered - well, the oldest on arrival anyway. She was just a few days short of her 3rd birthday when she arrived (cutting it fine for a foster carer who's only supposed to be fostering children aged 0-2 right now!). So for the first time I had a fully-fledged, fully-charactered, fully-speaking individual arriving. It's quite a lot to take in. It takes a fair amount of flexibility to accommodate her into our home and routines, and also throws up a few unexpected moments of confusion and hilarity. For instance, she insists on calling her knickers her "Nickynackynockynoonoos" (or something like that) which I find more irritating than endearing, I'll admit. Also there's the thorny question of what we call her 'private parts'. I won't share here what word she uses but, suffice it to say, it's not one I'd ever have come up with and it took a fair bit of getting used to!
  • I've been introduced to the world of fostering a school-aged child through Twink's sisters who are both at school and living together with another foster family. Struggling through traffic to contact three times each week at school run time, and then back to pick up at rush hour before hastily serving a meal to stave off the near starvation of 3 kids while Twinkle is practically falling asleep at the table is frankly enough to remind me why I prefer pre-schoolers and babies and their lovely daytime contact schedules!
  • This is the first time I've fostered a child with siblings, and so arranging sibling contact separate from birth parent contact is a new experience. It seems that this is largely left to the foster carers to sort out between us but I'll admit, between the sisters' school schedules, my other children's schedules and the three contacts a week with birth family, it can be a real challenge to also fit in sibling contact once each week.
  • Twinkle has taught me a lot about 'checking in', and the different ways it happens. To begin with she was my shadow, following me everywhere, crying outside the door when I went to the toilet, panicking if I even went near the stairs. Now she must be feeling safer, so she checks in verbally instead. Here are some of the 'check-in' phrases she uses, none of which really require a sensible response: "When are we there? When are we going? Is that mine? Am I having one of those? Can I have XYZ? I need a wee! I've done a poo! (Yes, really!). Whose is that's? What are you doing? I'm hungry! I'm thirsty! I'm tired! Is it my turn? Can I do XYZ first? Can I be quickest? When is it breakfast/dinner/tea? Are you making my breakfast/dinner/tea? Why aren't you making my breakfast/dinner/tea?" Obviously some of these also betray her underlying fear that her basic needs won't be met, but they tumble out of her almost constantly in a nonsensical order and sometimes totally out of context. It is not uncommon for her to announce that she is hungry while she is eating a hearty meal. She asks "When are we there?" many, many times per journey, sometimes before we've set off. Today we stayed home all day. While I was emptying the tumble dryer, she shouted "[My name]! When are we there?" from the other room!
  • Each new child brings new experiences, new challenges, new behaviours. With Twinkle, I have learned a lot about sensory-seeking behaviours, and behaviours driven by insecurity about basic needs. We have had a lot of ripping and tearing, exploratory dismantling, faeces smearing, intentional vomiting. There has also been a lot of compulsive eating, inability to leave food on the plate and, once, eating leftovers out of the bin.
  • For Twinkle's sake, I have learned to carefully ration fun, playfulness and high jinks as too much of any of these leads to dangerous levels of silliness and out-of-control reactions.
  • I have learned, or perhaps been reminded, of the difficulty of getting at the actual child underneath all these behaviours. She's there, and she's sweet, vulnerable and funny. I like her.