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.