Posted: Friday 10th September 2021
Have you ever wondered what a typical day is like as a foster carer? What is a REAL foster care fortnight like; from the school run to bedtime.
Seven Flintshire foster carers have opened their doors to share a little-known glimpse into 14 days in the life of a foster carer.
“She wants to go to school barefoot”
It’s Monday morning and it’s a typical school day, except today she wants to go to school barefoot and is refusing to put on her shoes. At this point she is sitting cross-armed at the foot of the stairs. So I busied myself turning off the tv (making the room as boring as possible) whilst encouraging her to pop on her shoes.
Five minutes later she is in full melt down so I try not to rise to it or get cross as it is futile. Lots of encouragement and jivvying along then I left the room. I know not to get into a head-to-head. It is very difficult for a youngster to back down. It has to be their choice.
She has finally calmed but still refusing, so a bit of a change of tactic. I accepted that she didn't want to put her shoes on but explained that we couldn't go out in bare feet as it was wet and she could possibly get something in her foot. She would have to miss school and that was a shame because it was P.E day which is her favourite lesson of the week. Her friends would miss her. The class was also set to finish their project that day and she would miss that too!!
I left her with her thoughts and went back into the kitchen. Two minutes later, I was putting my shoes on. I turned around. She was behind me, with her shoes on. I praised and we went on our way.
“Well if I have to go, how many shops is it?”
Today after school I need to go shopping. We tend to go a bit later, when it’s not so busy, not so many bright lights, noise and people.
“Well if I have to go, how many shops is it?”
“Three shops” I said “and you can choose which one we go to first. I need this, this and this.”
We managed 2 out of 3 shops, she didn’t want to go to the third so we left it. Two out of three ain’t bad.
“take the dog out and fill in some diary notes”
School run is done, so it’s time to clean up, take the dog out, fill in some diary notes, paperwork and answer some emails. I need to arrange an appointment with my supervising social worker for a chat about how things are going.
Not every day is exciting.
“one ear listening while looking busy”
Today, the girl I’m looking after has a contact call with her family. I always message the family first to make sure everyone is still available. I try to leave her to chat, but I could see she was getting a bit bored and upset on Zoom not knowing what to say. I gently prompted a few things to ask them but tried to stay out of the conversation, one ear listening while looking busy. When the call finished, I gave her some positive encouragement saying how lovely it was to speak with her brothers and sisters.
“The right place for her to make her mark”
Big meeting today. We are discussing a school move. There’s a young girl who is not only finishing primary school and moving up to high school, just like her classmates, but she’s also moving to a new foster carer, me. She’s making a new start and coming to live with me long term, until she’s 18 or more. I’ve already met her, I’ve got to know her and I think we will be a good fit.
We have a video call with everyone to discuss the school options. There’s the girl’s social worker, my supervisor and the education co-ordinator responsible for all the looked after children in the local schools. They all work for my local authority who I foster with. It can feel a bit worrying what way the decision will go, but I have to be the child’s voice as I know them best.
We all share our views on the choices of high school; one nearby or one a little further away. She would need to get a taxi, that’ll make her stand out I thought. It didn’t feel like the right place for her to make her mark. She’s staying with me long term, it would be nice for her to form bonds in her local area. My supervisor is on the same page as me and I feel listened to. Let’s make things as natural and easy as possible for her to make a fresh start, so she’s going to our local high school, fantastic.
“A whole can of air freshener to ‘clean’ the floor”
My little foster child was very badly neglected and was filthy when taken into care. He loves his clean clothes and told his social worker that he likes it here because it’s clean (that’s on one of his good days).
When he first came to live here I noticed that during bath time I was using massive amounts of bubble bath and shampoo. I blamed my other half but he professed his innocence.
One night I went to get him out of the bath and the water was white. He had poured a whole bottle of conditioner into the bath. I asked him why he had done that and he said he was cleaning.
The following day I went into the downstairs loo and it stank of perfume and the floor was wet. He had used a whole bottle of air freshener and toilet paper to ‘clean’ the toilet and floor.
I realised that he wasn’t being naughty, he just wanted to keep everything clean. Now if he gets the urge, he comes to ask if he can have a cleaning job and I am always happy to oblige as you can imagine. I let him wash the dishes and give him a cloth to clean the kitchen cupboards. I also bought him a water play centre for the garden and I put washing up liquid in there so he can wash his toys.
“beautiful lemon drizzle cake in the bin?!”
When the children I’m caring for first arrived, like many children, they come with a list of likes and dislikes food-wise. They described to me what they like to eat. Their list included fruit, vegetables and lots and lots of healthy meals. So I dashed out to the supermarket acquiring their tasty favourites, prepare them and serve them up.
But the plates come back almost full? I baked a beautiful lemon drizzle cake (my kids loved it) they nibble, rejected, in the bin!? I ask myself, did I cook it wrong, weren’t they hungry? The rejection starts to hurt a bit . . . The truth can be quite different and sometimes takes many frustrating days/weeks of rejected meals to work it out.
They don’t eat it because YOU prepared it and YOU are not their Mum. They feel too nervous to eat it in front of you - you are a stranger. They don’t like your plates and cutlery – it’s a different colour. You let their beans touch their chips and that’s a no-no, but I don’t know that yet. I have given them choice and they just can’t cope with it.
When I chat this over with my social worker she says “Maybe they just told you what they thought you wanted to hear”. That’s it. They really don’t like fruit or veg or healthy stuff, they have only ever ate chicken nuggets & pasta or just plain pasta.
Over time the evidence of rejected foods scraped into the recycling bin helps you form a picture of what these children are used to being fed. So - you adjust what you give them to what they are used to - for a time.
You then introduce “taste tests” you prepare a buffet type meal and see what goes. You disguise their veg or make funny faces with it on the plate. You build up and encourage. A good tactic I got from another carer was - let them cook it themselves, start to finish, let them make the decisions, it works. Over many months new foods are introduced, lots of clean plates and everybody relaxes.
“15 chocolate bars in the middle of the night”
Food is a big issue. In the morning at breakfast, they are already asking what’s for dinner. When the children first arrived, I came down one morning to find empty wrappers over the kitchen floor. They’d eaten 15 chocolate bars in the middle of the night.
Once they knew they were having food, it settled down. We stick to the same breakfast choices every day; cereal, toast and jam and a piece of fruit. It helps to have the same routine. They would eat and eat and cry for more.
Now they will eat anything we give them and they eat fast. We learned that where they lived previously, they didn’t have meals, they lived on jaffa cakes, and if they didn’t eat it fast someone else would get it. We make sure they always have plenty; a big dinner and pudding, but they will still pinch from other people if they get a chance.
“you need to be prepared for a bit of poo and wee”
When the children first arrived, they were 3 years old and still in nappies. If you are caring for children who had never been toilet trained, you need to be prepared for a bit of poo and wee. Where they lived before, they would just “go” anywhere, so it took a few months of routine, routine, routine. It’s a problem, and there’s a reason for it, but you’ve got to get through it. You need to be ready to put the time in with little ones to catch them up on what they’ve missed.
“up and down the stairs 10 times”
When the children first arrived, they never had a bedtime or even a bed or a bath before. They used to be up all night, no routine. They weren’t use to having fresh towels. The first night I was up and down the stairs 10 times for 2 hours. But I knew if I didn’t crack it day one, I’d lose. I got them a cuddly toy each and nice bedtime stories. By the 3rd night, it was story and straight down.
“Kids in care don’t have good stories”
When my own children were learning to swim and I needed them to relax in the water, I said “pretend to be a baby seal sleeping.” As my children got older, this grew into a bedtime story. As I talked about the waves rocking back and forth, the rhythm of the waves, you could see their eyelids flutter. You can make the story go on for as long as you need.
As a foster carer, I was caring for a very strong-willed girl, quite argumentative. It was her first night in a strange house. At bedtime, I told her the baby seal story. She relaxed, she slept. Telling stories works, for all ages of children, from age 18 months old to age 10. One girl had a nightmare in the middle of the night, so out came the baby seal story again.
I tell them stories of my own childhood. Kids in care don’t have good stories. They like to hear about children having happy childhood adventures. They like to hear about my family’s ordinary life, not the life they’ve lived. “Is that real” they ask me, and they know I’m telling them the truth. They will sometimes claim my stories as their own, because they are better than the one’s they’ve got.
“Monopoly, he’d fall apart”
When he first arrived, I tried playing a game of Jenga with him. For an older boy, the winning and losing was too much and he went from an 8 year old to a 2 year old in a matter of seconds. He got angry quickly.
I also bought him a scooter, which he took outside and broke. Monopoly, he’d fall apart and knock the board accidentally on purpose. He’s amazing at chess but he’d get very competitive and overwhelmed. I’ve learnt that 1:1 games are too much.
I realised that he wanted to be looked after but at the same time he needed to have control and independence. I can supervise but he doesn’t want instructions or rules. He’s really intelligent. I kept looking for ways to bond with him, on his terms.
So I got him a “build your own volcano kit.” He loved that. Boys love something that melts or explodes. Science experiments, circuits and lego were a success. I got him a big pile of lego, but no instructions. He spent hours making his own creations with intricate detail. We all sat together quietly building and sorting. He was proud to show me what he’d made. He likes fun where he is in total control, there’s no right or wrong, freedom.
“It’s not just toddlers that wet the bed”
Bedwetting is a sensitive subject, especially for older children. It’s not just babies and toddlers that wet the bed. Some older children age 8 or even 11 and 12 feel embarrassed and feel they shouldn’t be doing it at their age.
Children are scared to tell you themselves. It’s often because of what’s happened to them in the past; they’ve been left in a wet bed, they were scared to come out of their room, they think they will be shouted at.
We’ve cared for children who were very good at hiding the bedwetting; hiding the wet pyjamas and turning the mattress over themselves.
So when they arrive, we have a quiet chat. I ask them to tell me, I promise I won’t shout and we have a plan for where they can put anything wet. They have a fresh nighty ready.
Your reaction to it is key. You need to be patient. You need them to open up about it, then you can deal with it. When they feel less embarrassed, they no longer hide it.
“He would only settle in my arms, snuggled into my fluffy dressing gown”
The hardest challenge for me was caring for toddler and a baby brought straight from hospital. We had 45 minutes notice that they were coming with the social worker. It was an emergency and Police had been involved. The baby wouldn’t settle and the hospital felt he needed a home environment.
He cried all night and half of the next morning. I didn’t sleep for 2 days. He would only settle in my arms, snuggled into my fluffy dressing gown. He would grip on to me, holding on to me and wouldn’t let me go. I couldn’t do anything. I was walking around like a zombie. I actually thought, I can’t do this.
He was beside himself, so I thought “it’s time to get in the car”. We went to McDonalds. We ate in the car, food was everywhere and at last the baby settled with the hum of the motor. The next 2 days, we watched movies together, we were able to comfort them and they settled more.
You soon forget all about the sleepless nights, when you see them eating, playing and happy. It felt so good. It’s moments like that, that keep you going. You’d hope that children wouldn’t need to be in care in the first place but we were able to do the best we could. It made me realise if we can deal with that, we can deal with anything. It’s completely worthwhile and rewarding.
Thanks to our amazing foster carers for sharing their stories.
Many foster carers with Flintshire County Council are part of a “Mockingbird” community, where local fostering families living near you, can pass on their experience and meet up with you for support.
Get in touch and we will tell you more amazing stories from foster carers. We don’t mind if you email email@example.com, call 01352 701965, facebook messenger or write us a letter.