Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Me and the PASW

My contact with social workers over the past five years has been sometimes frustrating, sometimes fantastic. It's not an even split. But for today at least, the balance has tipped towards the fantastic.

Today, a social worker from post-adoption support came to my house. I'll be calling her PASW for short! She was great.  Here's why:

  • She listened to me
  • She asked me what I already knew and so avoided 'prof-splaining' everything to me
  • She had prepared in advance
  • She let me tell our story
  • She respected my knowledge and experience, both of my child and professionally
  • She did not mention 'boundaries' or sticker charts or say "all children do that" or make any other patronising comments about how all parenting is challenging
  • She did not confuse my child's situation with 'behaviour problems'
  • She did not give me a blank look when I mentioned things like cortisol, sensory-seeking, hypervigilance, trauma
  • She validated my concerns and did not try to minimise
  • She did not make a weird face when I mentioned home education
  • She had already printed out information sheets on various options
  • She showed me four options that she thought might work for us
  • She prioritised the options - we should try A first as without that, B, C and D might not have much effect
  • She said she'd get it all sorted out
  • She promised to email me to keep me updated

Seriously, if the emailing thing actually happens and the promised appointments are booked, I will probably nominate her for some kind of award.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Adoption and Fostering: Not a Competition

It's the FA Cup final tomorrow. Being one of a family of MUFC supporters I will be taking a keen interest of course. It might be a few years now since I've been in a position to actually get hold of tickets and go to a game, but I still find myself tuning into Match of the Day most weeks to keep up with the latest news, and cheer (or, more recently, gnash my teeth!) at the results.

Funnily enough, when Match of the Day is on, I don't notice that my twitter feed explodes with people feeling cross that the BBC is not talking about the rugby, or the snooker, or the golf, or the horse racing. There doesn't seem to be much complaint that showing a programme about football implies that other sports have no value.

Followers of other sports may wish that they could see more of their favourites on TV, but they can accept that the existence of Match of the Day does not denigrate their own favourite sport. During Match of the Day, they talk about football. During the Super League Show, they talk about rugby league. When they say that football is exciting, they're not saying that rugby league is not. When they say that football is a game of two halves, they're not saying that rugby league is not. Could they do more programming about rugby league? Probably. But that's not Match of the Day's fault.

And yet whenever there is a pronouncement about adoption from the powers that be - and lately there have been plenty - there seems to be a sense that even talking about the positives of adoption is somehow denigrating all other forms of permanence. Even when the phrase "when it's in the child's best interests" is added, the concern is still there.

Recently, I had a conversation with real life people about adoption. We were specifically talking about adoption. And yet every time I said something nice about adoption, I felt compelled to say "and other forms of permanence", or something similar, in order to ensure that absolutely nobody got the impression that I think that adoption is the only good option.

Can't we just assume that my enjoyment of Match of the Day does not mean that I think the Super League Show is not worth the airtime? Can't we just assume that if I say something nice about adoption, the phrases "when it's in the best interests of the child" and "other forms of permanence can also be excellent" are implicitly included?

It's Foster Care Fortnight. I'm a foster carer. I have chosen not to assume that when a Government Minister, or a NGO representative says something good about adoption, they are implicitly criticising fostering (and other forms of permanence!). It's not a competition. At various times we can promote one option without it necessarily being at the expense of another. The existence of Fostering Fortnight does not imply anything negative about adoption, any more than National Adoption Week does about fostering (and other forms of permanence).

If we say that adoption provides a stable and loving home, we are not saying that fostering or kinship care does not. I provide a very loving home, and certainly in long-term fostering (and other forms of permanence) there is stability. But I foster children who are waiting for permanence. By definition, this is not their stable home. It might be stable from one day to the next, but there's no long-term stability until permanence is achieved.

So, when people say there are children waiting for a stable and loving home, they're talking about the children that come to live temporarily in my home. And I choose not to be offended. I don't think they're saying my home is not loving and, inasmuch as it can be, stable. I share the hope that the children I care for will one day find their permanent stable and loving home. In many cases, that will be through adoption.

National Adoption Week has its place. Foster Care Fortnight has its place too. Recruitment is an issue in both these areas. And recruitment for fostering is not so different from the sugary-sweet approach of recruiting for adoption - room in your heart and room in your home, anyone? Adoption made the headlines after the recent Queen's Speech. It always does. But adoption was only one part of it. It may only be right for a very small number of children, but it makes the headlines (and sells papers) because of the warm and fuzzy feelings. I prefer to ignore the headlines. Most people who know the score do the same.

Could more be done to improve the situation and status of other forms of permanence? Probably. Could more be done to address issues within families before children ever come into care? Probably. Could more be done to ensure proper post-placement support for all families caring for formerly-looked-after children? Probably.

Do we need to stop talking about adoption in order to address these things? I hope not.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Older I Get . . . .

The older I get, the less I apparently care .... about all sorts of things! Some things are, of course, always worth caring about, but I find that list gets shorter and shorter as the years go by.

In particular, in recent years, I've found myself caring less and less about what people think about how I look. These days, if I look in the mirror and feel reasonably happy with what I see, and I feel comfortable and not self-conscious with what I'm wearing, then I'm good to go. I actively avoid reading or listening to advice on how to dress and how to look and how to 'make the most of myself'. The fashion industry has never had much to say about people with my BMI anyway!

So, yes, I wear leggings out of the house. Sometimes I go out and about in my crocs (with, as a friend once said jokingly, handy holes so your dignity can leak out!) because they are comfy and don't make my poor flat feet hurt. I don't wear make-up except on very special occasions because it makes my face feel weird and itchy. I don't enjoy going to the hairdresser so I let it grow longer and longer for months and months and then have inches chopped off in one fell swoop.

If other people don't like what I'm wearing, or don't think it looks good then, really, I'm fine with that. I wasn't dressing to please them. I was dressing to please myself. I have heard it said many times that fat people should not wear leggings. I strongly advise people who think that to be true to themselves: if they ever get fat, they should definitely not wear leggings. As for me, well I have no such opinion, and leggings are comfy.

But the thing is, I know lots of people who dress and present themselves very differently from me, who wear make-up daily, who arrange their hair in beautiful styles, who wouldn't be seen dead in leggings. Do I think they are doing it wrong? Do I think their values are skewed or their priorities are out of kilter? Absolutely not! If they look in the mirror in the morning and feel reasonably happy with what they see, and feel comfortable and not self-conscious with what they're wearing, then they're good to go.

Funnily enough, these days I actively avoid reading or hearing most of the advice on how to parent too, with a very few notable exceptions. I've had quite a few children through my home now and I've noticed something: they're all different. And so the way I parent them is different. Some babies nurse to sleep; some don't. Some sleep through the night; some don't. Some wake up full of smiles; some wake up mid-meltdown. I have long since stopped believing that I have any special formula for anything.

The thing is, I know lots of people who parent quite differently from me, whose ideas on nutrition, playtime, screen-time, education, sleep training (or not), discipline, and a whole host of other things are different to mine. Do I think they are doing it wrong? Absolutely not! They are different to me. Their children are different to mine. We are parenting for our children and our families, not for anyone else. Parenting can be hard work and the last thing parents need is to feel judged. I've experienced the judgement of strangers who don't understand our circumstances too many times.

I'm too old for all of that.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Rewards System Reset for Me

I have found that most efforts at reward systems fall totally flat in this house, usually because it's not so easy to find a 'reward' that OB actually cares about. However, about 18 months ago, I hit on our 'jar of beads' system (which I blogged about here), and in the months since, we have come back to it periodically, whenever I've felt as though some aspect of OB's behaviour is actually well within his control and could be improved with a little purposeful effort.

We only ever do it for two or three days at a time. I choose a couple of very specific behaviours or actions I would like to see happening, discuss it with OB, and every time I see those positive behaviours through the day, he gets to pop a bead in the jar. At the end of the day (or earlier if he chooses) the number of beads in the jar equates to some reward - whatever he's into at that moment.

Recently, OB has discovered that he can download and play free games via our Amazon Firestick. I'm not particularly stressed by this as I enjoy games myself, and we have whiled away some enjoyable hours together, but it has had the side effect of leading to exponentially increased requests for screen time so that, for the first time ever, I've felt the need to impose some limits.

We have also seen an increase in some non-serious, but niggling, low level 'attitude' problems, My voice has become so much white noise in the face of it and, to be honest, our days were starting to feel long and a bit miserable. Crucially, I had a hunch that some of what I was seeing was entirely within OB's control and, if he chose, with support he could make some simple changes and hopefully break some habits.

So we have had two days of the jar. Two beautiful, calm, polite, loving days. OB has been civility itself. And each bead has resulted in 10 minutes of screen time for him to use whenever he chooses. I love it when I can kill two birds with one stone.

At the end of the second day, we talked about how lovely our time together had been. He had noticed the calmer atmosphere (i.e. the lack of irritated nagging from me!) and seemed to like it. We agreed that our home would be a much more pleasant place if we could continue to speak and behave respectfully to one another. And then I put the jar away because I want OB's motivation to be his own appreciation of the lovely atmosphere, and not the promise of beads in a jar.

The more I use it, the more I realise that the jar is as much about me as it is about him. If the first few conversations of our day are fractious (as they are wont to be if they take place pre 6am!) then it can set the tone for the rest of the day. I find myself far too near the edge of irritation, super-sensitive to every 'tone', quick to react, to nag and to see the worst.

The jar forces me to appreciate the good. It makes me notice when OB is being respectful, using his manners, doing good listening, doing his home ed learning without complaining, or whatever else I've decided it will be used for. I am constantly looking out for opportunities to praise him instead of nag him. It provides me with a much-needed reminder of all the lovely aspects of OB's character. It's a gentle two-day reset button for both of us.