Expectations of Fostering
When we made the decision to be respite foster carers we were full of expectations.
1. It will be wonderful
2. It will be hard
3. It will test us
4. We will know what to do
5. We won’t know what to do
6. They will be very frightened
7. Their behaviour will be complex
8. We will offer them a positive experience
9. We will need support
10. We can offer them enough
The list was endless and different for each of us. Having worked with children with complex needs for many years I expected that we would need to be very careful of how we spoke to them and approached their behaviour. My other half had an expectation that having raised his own children and been a football coach for years he would mostly know what to do.
My 15 year old son’s expectations:
1. Largely unknown!
2. That we would manage it all
3. He would be around if needed
4. They would keep out of his room!!
Then there were the expectations of our assessing social worker:
1. That we would do work hard to do a good job
2. We would need to read as much as possible on the effects of trauma, attachment and brain development
3. That we would need her support
4. We brought the right mix of life experience and willingness to learn
Then most importantly there were the expectations of the children who came to us, which I cannot know so, can only guess as they ranged from 10 months up to 6 years:
1. They will hurt me
2. They will be cruel to me
3. They will scare me
4. They will be upset by me
5. They won’t know me
6. They won’t feed me
7. They won’t like me
8. They will send me away
9. I will get things wrong
10. I will upset everyone
11. It might be OK
12. They might not have any food I like
13. They might run out of food
14. They might shut me in my room
15. They might not know I need the light on at night
16. I might wet the bed
17. They might get cross
18. They might not let me go home again
I remember on the first training day we went on to become foster carers being asked what we thought it would be like and several prospective carers saying they thought all the love they had to give would make it alright, also that they expected to treat the children as “one of our own”. These were seemingly reasonable expectations, yet may be not realistic given that many of the children in the care system are there because it is not safe enough for them to stay with their birth parents at that time. The care they had known may have been inconsistent, inappropriate, ill-matched to their needs, even cruel and often abusive in a range of ways. Therefore, they would have experienced a level of trauma which could mean that being able to accept and absorb kindness and affection was alien, uncomfortable and difficult for them.
The great thing about expectations for everyone is that:
1. They can be wrong
2. They can change
3. They can be explored and reflected on
4. They can be recognised, revisited and revised!
Having had the privilege of caring for several children in the time we were respite carers this would be my revised list of expectations:
1. To feel confused at times
2. To be wrong footed by my expectations and the children’s
3. To feel I have got it wrong some days
4. To be constantly surprised
5. To hugely value the right support
6. To be constantly learning, learning, learning
7. To always be wondering
8. To know it was as good as it could be on that day for that child
Expectations can be both friend and foe!
Lifting us to great heights and taking us to the lowest of low,
Expectations are needed,
Yet that inner voice should also be heeded,
Expectations can trip us up or help us step up,
They can sometimes overfill our cup,
Expectations should leave room for the scary and the wild,
They should be there to inspire not hinder us or any child.