Am I Spoiling Them?

An article I read recently in Community Care Magazine has got my cogs turning. The premise of the article was simple, and summed up in the headline: By spending too much on shoes and phones, are we setting up children in care to fail?.

The writer, a children's home worker, told stories of young people finding life extremely hard when they left their residential children's homes and moved on to independent living, perhaps on benefits or in low-paid employment. Suddenly, there would be nobody to replace their mobile if they lost it or broke it or dropped it down the toilet. Suddenly the branded trainers they had previously taken for granted were way out of the reach of their wallets. For some, it means a real crash down to earth.

I have no experience of what goes on in residential homes, and the children I care for will certainly not be experiencing independent living any time soon. But, in the majority of cases, they will be moving on somewhere else. I wonder how well I am preparing them for what they might face? Is there any way in which I'm setting them up to fail?

I've always taken the view that the children I foster deserve good things. Sure, I gratefully accept gifts of second-hand items where appropriate, but there are regular shopping trips for clothes and toys, meals and snacks out in cafes and restaurants, holidays in the UK and abroad, trips to museums and activities and soft play centres, a house full of toys and craft items and comfort, not to mention the 3-6 monthly visit to Clarks for foot measuring and, if necessary, new shoes. This is all heightened when a child first comes into care, often with next to nothing in the way of possessions. The first few days and weeks must seem like an endless disorientating roller coaster of acquiring and acclimatising.

It's hard enough to prepare a child for moving on to an adoptive placement. I have no idea what kind of parents the new people will be, or what kind of home the child will be living in. Occasionally I'll hear or read something an adoptive parent thinks about their child's foster carer's parenting style, habits or lifestyle and I'll raise my eyebrows and wonder what is said about me! But I do at least feel certain that in the home of prospective adoptive parents there will be regular food, a comfortable, warm, safe home, and some thought put into appropriate activities, whatever form they might take. A child's new home and family will certainly be different to mine, but the basics will probably be similar enough.

More uncertain is the transition back to birth family. None of the children in my care have actually had a successful transition back to birth family, although it has been attempted in two cases, but I know that eventually I'll find myself one day taking a child back to their home and their family, and dropping them off with their suitcase of recently-purchased clothes, toys, books and shoes. I wonder how that transition will feel?

Of the children I have fostered, none of their primary care givers have been working. None of them have had a car. I have to presume that money can be tight, and opportunities for day trips and holidays more limited. I do not wish to rush to judgement about birth families. I know there is love. I know that in order for children to return home, progress should have been made in overcoming any previous issues. It's not that I think the child won't have what they need. But I wonder if they notice if some of the little luxuries they have become used to are no longer possible at home. I wonder if they mention it to their families. I wonder if they blame them, complain to them, resent them because of it. And in turn, I wonder how birth parents feel if their child returns to them with a bag full of toys they couldn't have bought, and clothes that would be out of their price range.

We are warned as foster carers not to overload children with too much new 'stuff' when they arrive with us, but over the course of their time with us, they can't help but acquire new things. Maybe they will have a birthday, or it will be Christmas, and there's always the need to replace worn clothes and shoes, and deal with all that growing that they do!

It's hard not to spoil them. It would be counter-intuitive to give them less or to withhold things, and I don't think I could ever do that, but it's yet another huge factor in the dramatic transitions from one life to another that some children will experience over and over again.


  1. [Typing doesn't allow for tone. Please read the following in god humour!] I wonder how old you are, and how well you remember leaving home yourself? I think the transition from being at home with (whatever natural relationship they may be) parents to being out in the big wide world is a shock to everyone. My siblings and my siblings-in-law got into debt, and have been helped out of it, or worked hard to get out of it, or are still working on it. I think it is a shock to every teen to suddenly have all their own money and have to make decisions about how to spend it, however much the amount is. I am certainly still learning. I hope you can take comfort that the children you are carefully raising will have that shock too, whatever family they are leaving at the relevant age!
    I too struggle to balance loving my children against spoiling them. The don't get branded clothes but I do like to take them out for coffee and cake (usually at the Methodist church, for less than £1, but still!). It is a hard balancing act, for all parents I imagine, whether natural or adoptive or foster. At least you are thinking about it.

    1. I think you're right that independence is a shock for everyone - I had it easy leaving home to go to university, sort of a half-way house! The difference with kids leaving care, I suppose, is that if things do go wrong they can have absolutely nobody to turn to, nobody to advise them, nobody to help them to get out of it. Hard balance between preparing them for 'real life' and not giving them the impression that we think they won't make much of that life!

    2. Forgive my ignorance - how come they get brands and iPhones whilst in care? Is there not a limited budget, which allows carers to say, 'If you break this thing, we aren't getting you a new one'?

  2. I get why you worry about 'spoiling' them but to be honest they need the love and care that you're giving - and part of that is clothing, trips and gifts.

    Certainly with older children have you thought about pocket money and getting them to save for certain things they might want but aren't essential.

    A great post by the way.

  3. I think there is a flip side to that which is that by exposing kids to the "nice" things in life, via foster care or a residential home, you are creating aspirations. If you spend two years getting holidays and having new books and meals in restaurants you might not have them again for a while- but if you enjoyed those experiences you may want to aim for a job and a life that allows those things.

    There are lots of people whose circumstances have changed (materially) for the worse during childhood- parents lose jobs or have to give up work due to ill-health etc. I don't think many parents would recommend limiting their child's exposure to "nice" things on the basis that they might not always be able to afford them. So why apply it to children in care?


Post a Comment

Popular Posts