I don’t know if it’s the same for everyone, but I always feel very excited when a placement call comes through. The snippets of information you get about a child or young person that could come into your home and heart always get me thinking. The problem is that the referral that follows usually include a history and information that can be overwhelmingly negative, the highlights are the risks and problem behaviours. This is necessary of course, if you, like us, have children at home you need to know these things, in order to make an informed decision. Everyone that chooses fostering as their vocation does so to help children, but in with this we must safeguard against harm for the children already in our care.
So our latest referral came through, including information about social, emotional and behavioural difficulties, drug use, absconding and overall what sounded like a very troubled and challenging teenager. I already had many thoughts running through my head. We then got a call to say that rather than meeting this young man first, and having a planned transition period to see how everyone gets on, this young lad is at the police station and had been in a cell all night and would we be willing to pick him up straight from there.
I had very mixed feelings. The thought of a 13 year old lad spending a whole night and most of the morning in a cell made me profoundly sad, I imagined him feeling alone, scared and with no idea where he would end up next. I’m not sure how I, as a fully formed adult would have coped. Of course I was also apprehensive, I, like many other foster carers, had not intended to foster teenagers and to be honest felt a little out of my depth.
But my overriding feeling was to get this lad out of those cells and into our home, and that’s what we did. It was scary as a police officer was dropping J off to us, there were no social workers available so after a brief chat with the officer it was just us. J loves animals and everyone needs food, so I introduced J to our dog Bill and went to the kitchen to make lunch. That was the ice broken and we then went on to chat for hours about anything and everything.
We are now foster carers to a ‘teenage boy’. If you had asked me in the beginning what would have been my least likely placement, this would be it! Two weeks in I’m glad J’s referral made me think twice. I would be lying if I said it was plain sailing, we have had our ups and downs. But what they didn’t tell us about is J’s amazing sense of humour and his willingness to try hard to be part of the family, his cheeky grin and willingness to talk. The other thing the referral can’t tell you is the feelings behind the bravado.
When you’re 13 and feel abandoned by pretty much everyone that was supposed to care for and protect you what do you do? Do you have the emotional ability to express and display these complex feelings of being scared, sadness, rejection, ostracism? Possibly but it’s unlikely! These feelings come out in other ways, mainly as anger and frustration (fight) or by absconding (flight).
It is difficult sometimes to understand, but understanding makes it so much easier to accept, and hopefully once you accept a child for what they are you can earn their respect, and once you have that you may be able to begin to change risky or inappropriate behaviour.
Another issue we have had is that J said to me that we can’t love him as this is just a job. Now this is a logical assumption in many ways, some people do a job to earn money, others do a job because they love it. How do I convince J that we can? The honest answer is right now I can’t. My response was that we can and will love him, but that it will take time for him to trust us, the only thing I can do to prove this to J is to show him by being there for him, talking things through and fighting his corner when he does make the right choices.
I started writing this blog two weeks ago and just before I sent it in I thought I would add a little. Our first 4 weeks together have been a bit of a roller coaster to be honest. That sinking feeling I get when J makes the wrong choice, the worry when J does not get back on time, followed by driving round and round the town hoping to spot him and bring him home. But this is all mixed in with real moments of joy when J let’s me see who he really is, opens up and allows me in. In these moments I know why I became a foster carer. In these moments, when the anger and the bravado are gone I see a scared child, not a teenager, but a younger child seeking reassurance. In these moments J knows he behaves in ways, he himself doesn’t like, but he does not know how to stop, how to manage all these thoughts and feelings that are running round inside. In these moments J astounds me with his clarity and maturity. In these moments I see his vulnerability and my heart melts, I know I can drive around again, or mediate another issue, be called into school or attend a court hearing, because here I see the kind, caring but scared and confused young man behind all those behaviours.