Friday, January 27, 2017

Our Sensory OT Assessment

Last week, an Occupational Therapist came to carry out a sensory assessment on OB. I had little idea what to expect, which was worrying for me as OB needs a fair amount of preparation if he's going to deal with the arrival of a stranger in the house who actually wants to interact with him. When he goes to his best friend's house it takes him ten minutes to settle in enough to take his coat off. 

Several people I had spoken to described going to a therapy centre where the OT had watched their child use the equipment there and observed them. I knew this wasn't going to be the case with this meeting as there's no equipment at our house! So, just in case anyone reading this ever has something similar coming up and needs to prepare their LO, here's what happened for us . . . no guarantees it'll be the same for you!

When she arrived, OB was installed in front of the TV, working his way through a very crunchy bag of rice cakes. I know. Not his best look. But I wanted him relatively calm as he tends to work himself up waiting for things to happen. After a quick introduction and chat with me, she set about engaging a reluctant OB. 

She was brilliant. I don't know exactly what she did, even though I was right there in the room, but within 5 minutes my boy, who wouldn't even look at her when she arrived, was roaring at her like a dinosaur, joining in with tickling games, and attempting to throw a blanket over her head. She had him playing on the floor and jumping around and laughing as if she'd known him for years!

After about 10-15 minutes of that, we went into the adjoining room to talk, and he busied himself with the TV and occasionally peeping at us through the french windows. She took a history and asked questions about when he sat, crawled and walked. Not for the first time I felt grateful that, unlike so many adoptive parents, I was there for those milestones. We also talked about his general behaviour, areas that I was concerned about, his sleep patterns, reactions to noises, food habits, sensitivity to clothes and a few other things along those lines.

She told me that in the time she spent with him she could see there were some areas for concern, particularly regarding his core strength and stability, sensitivity to touch, and proprioceptive feedback. Apparently we should consider getting a footstool for when he sits at the dining table, some specially-shaped cutlery and a crawl tunnel. That's for starters. There will be more recommendations in her full report, which should be ready in about three weeks.

And that was pretty much it. She will be recommending a course of therapy (with the actual equipment this time!) as well as things for us to do at home no doubt, but the wheels turn slowly in post-adoption world, so the wisest course would be to prepare ourselves for a longish wait and be pleasantly surprised if things move quicker than we expected! 

Friday, January 20, 2017

Pause. Or maybe 'The End'.

This week I spoke to my fostering supervising social worker and asked her to take me off-list for a while . . . maybe a few months, maybe longer.

If you've been reading along, you'll know that I was expecting a placement of a newborn baby last week. It didn't happen. Just as I was packing up the car to set off to the hospital for the discharge planning meeting prior to bringing him home, a neonatal nurse phoned to check whether I'd been told that the placement was cancelled. I hadn't.

It turns out the social worker had managed to find a concurrent placement for the baby, which is really good news for him. For those of you not in the know, a concurrent placement is where a child is placed with prospective adopters who are also approved as foster carers. If he does end up going for adoption, he'll be able to stay with the family who have cared for him since he was a few days old. This is great for the child as it means fewer traumatic transitions.

So, I was pleased to hear about this plan for him. I was not pleased that nobody had mentioned to me that this was a plan they were actively pursuing. I was not pleased that this concurrent match had been decided in a meeting two days before his planned discharge from hospital, but not mentioned to me. I was not pleased that the social worker had asked me to go down to her workplace the day after that meeting to sign the placement paperwork for his prospective placement with me (so that I could give consent for his newborn hearing test) and still, she had not mentioned it to me.

I receive allowances from the agency to cover the costs of caring for the children I look after. These allowances begin when the child moves in and not before. At the social worker's request, I have visited this little one daily in hospital for a week, sometimes twice each day. At the hospital's request I have bought and provided clothes, nappies, bottles, dummies and cotton wool for him. I have fed him, rocked him, clothed him, changed him and given him his first bath. I have deliberately taken my children there to meet the baby they would soon welcome into their home, because I knew no different.

I will likely receive no recompense for my expenditure. I will definitely not be compensated for my time - a foster carer's time is given freely even when they do have a child living in their family. I can't even take the new bottles back to the shop as they were already in the steriliser when I got the call.

But worse than that, there has been no acknowledgement of my role as a human being in all of this. It's not the first time I have expected children that have not arrived, but this time I feel as though I have been led along and used. I don't regret a single moment I spent ensuring that this precious baby had extra cuddles and love while he was in hospital, but I feel frustrated that the real situation was not communicated to me.

Not for the first time I am reminded that, for some, foster carers are basically resources, like toasters. They come out of the cupboard when you need them, and once they've done what you wanted, you can forget about them. I get that this child's social worker was prioritising the child and he will be one of many children she is working hard for, but I saw her face-to-face the day after the decision was made and she still didn't say anything.

My supervising social worker was indignant on my behalf, urging me to at least claim mileage. I had to remind her that under the new rules no mileage allowance is given for individual journeys under six miles. I made the run between my house and the hospital maybe 20 times last week. None of those trips were six miles.

This comes at a time when allowances have been cut, retainers (such as they were) have been scrapped, mileage has been cut, routine replacement of equipment has ceased, I haven't had a child living here in four months and I don't know when the next one might come. Fostering has never been exactly financially rewarding, but now it's looking increasingly untenable.

And that's the conclusion I have come to after much soul-searching. Right now, I have to admit that continuing to be a full-time foster carer is financially untenable for our family at this time. And if it was just the finances I might soldier on, but it is also reaching the point where it is emotionally and practically untenable too. All the waiting by the phone, the uncertainty, the inability to plan, the frequency with which we just have to drop everything at someone's request, the difficulties we have planning trips abroad to visit family, the months that can go between placements. It's not just the effects of all this on me, but on my children and wider family too.

I have loved the children, loved being a foster carer. I am proud to tell people what I do. I look back on the last six years with a lot of joy, but I have been applying for other jobs for a while now, and I have been offered an exciting new role. Unlike fostering, I will receive a regular monthly salary that takes account of my time and my expertise. I will be able to plan ahead. I will have a regular (albeit flexible) working week. I will have a pension, an employment contract, employee rights and protections. And, most importantly, I will still be making a difference in children's lives.

I sincerely hope that I will be able to come back to fostering in the future, perhaps when our circumstances are a little more conducive to dealing with all the uncertainty. I sincerely hope so, but time will tell.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Best-Laid Plans

When you become a short-term foster carer there's a very real sense in which you hand over your life to Children's Social Care. This is even more apparent at the beginning and ending of a child's time with us, when the flurry of meetings and arrangements, often organised at the very last minute, seems to overwhelm normal life.

For just over a week now, we have been waiting for a new little one to join us. It's a bit of a complicated situation which I can't go into here really, but it means that from day to day, we are living with the uncertainty that our family life could radically change with just a few hours notice.

It began with phone calls. Lots of phone calls. And then I started preparing, getting out the baby equipment, washing tiny bedding and spare baby clothes, buying nappies, formula, wipes, more clothes, a new set of bottles and, most importantly, getting my two children mentally ready for the arrival of a needy, tiny baby.

Then there were delays, postponements, more waiting. The appointments I had cleared from last week's calendar were re-instated and I started working through next week's, wondering what I could cancel, rearrange or postpone.

Meanwhile, Birdy came down with a dose of winter vomiting. She managed her very first day at Playgroup, but the rest of her sessions that week had to be cancelled. Then the baby's social worker called: baby was alone in hospital. Could I visit?

So followed a time of reaching out to my support network. I couldn't take Birdy with me to the hospital as her illness would be a huge risk to the fragile babies in neonatal. My friends rallied round, my mum offered to fly over to help. We added daily hospital trips into our week's routine.

The contact centre phoned me, to give me a list of probable times and days for baby to visit with his family. It will be three times each week. None of the times are terribly convenient for us, and one of them clashes with the time I have to pick Birdy up from Playgroup. We negotiate a new time for that visit but the rest stand as they are because the service is busy and fostering means being flexible.

This weekend we are in limbo. It is highly possible that a decision will be made to discharge him from hospital any day now, but that can't happen until a Discharge Planning Meeting has been arranged. That can't be arranged until we know the date of discharge. It can't be arranged over the weekend because nobody is in the office to make the arrangements. I am mentally preparing for a phone call early next week asking me to get to the hospital in a few hours to meet professionals and bring baby home. I am wondering what I will do for childcare if I get that call.

I am not yet 'on the clock' with this baby, but I am already totally committed to him, time, energy, money and heart. I have cuddled him, rocked him, sung to him. I have taken photographs of him and shown them to my son, preparing him for the appearance of this little one in our home and our lives. We are a fostering family.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Return to Speech Therapy

Years ago, I got well-acquainted with the local Speech and Language Therapy service through NB, a little one I fostered who had no speech as he turned two, and not much more a year later, despite my best efforts. My memory of that experience is that it involved a lot of homework for me, and repeat visits to a group therapy session where NB steadfastly refused to say anything at all. We made some progress, but eventually he was adopted and it was out of our hands.

Our most recent visit has been for OB's benefit. I asked for the referral myself, partly because OB has turned six now and is still having trouble with 'r', 'w', 'l' and 'th', and also because he has developed a strange habit of stammering at the ends of his words. Since OB isn't at school I felt aware that nobody else was going to pick up on any potential problems except me, so I made the call.

We got off to an unpromising start. On the way there in the car, I was reminding OB of who we were going to see and why. I explained that the therapist was going to help us with some of the sounds he finds hard to say, like 'r'.

"Oh," he said, "Like this . . . 'r'?"

He said it perfectly. In the car. On the way to the Speech Therapist. Cue a load of eye rolling from me.

It is perhaps not surprising then that the Speech Therapist found no concerns with his sound production. In fact she said she wouldn't be concerned about those particular sounds until he reached seven anyway, and even then, they might decide not to take any action.

His stammer, though, was another story. Of course (of course!) he didn't replicate it at all in front of her (despite giving me two fine examples in the car on the way home) so she was having to go purely off what I was saying, but it seems as though this is an actual 'thing'. I'd assumed it was probably some sort of 'place-holding' noise he was making while he worked out what he was going to say next, and she did say it could be that, but then she threw around words like 'palilalia' and 'anxiety' and 'sensory feedback'.

We have an appointment pending to see an Occupational Therapist for a Sensory Integration Assessment, so the Speech Therapist advised us to bring it up there and see if anything comes of it.

In the meantime, I'm just going to have to get used to being regularly called "" and hearing random words in the middle of sentences being repeated over and over again. Apparently, I'm supposed to stay calm and ignore it, which will be no easy task for a person that needs all her mental strength to avoid finishing the sentences of slow-talkers for them!

Oh, and a little postscript . . .

During the lengthy process of asking OB questions and making notes about the way he pronounced his answers, the therapist saw fit to ask him about the best thing that had ever happened to him and . . . wait for it . . . the WORST thing that had ever happened to him!

Thankfully, OB came up with a memory about falling over at a friend's house and skinning his knee, but be aware professionals, don't ask a child a question like that unless you are fully prepared for the range of possible answers you may receive!