Being Unique

Being unique is great. Embracing  you’re own special traits and standing out from the crowd is something we should encourage our children to do. Isn’t it?

What if being unique meant that you were the only teenage girl at school with your school top tucked into your track pants and the pants pulled up so high you can’t help but think of Steve Urkel from “Family Matters”? What if being unique meant that you were the only teenage girl wearing a school uniform that was at least 2 sizes too large for  you? What if being unique meant that you go to school reeking of garlic because your parent put so much garlic in your food it takes 2 days for it to get out of your system? What if being unique meant your school jacket was so big it fitted a 6 foot tall man and you were only 5 foot 3?

Kelly is that child. We try to help her, but we can’t buy her new school uniforms just because her foster dad buys the wrong size. I know he means well by buying something she will grow into, but Kelly is 14, so doesn’t have a lot of growing left to do, and her uniform is so big she would have to put on about 30 kilograms to fit it properly. Her school jacket fits MM perfectly and looks like she borrowed it from her dad and then tonight she arrived for respite with her shirt (which is so long it comes halfway down her thighs) tucked into her pants, so you can just imagine how that looked, all that extra fabric shoved into a pair of track pants.

Last respite she arrived and smelled so strongly of garlic you could smell her from the opposite side of the table, and it was 2 days before she didn’t smell of garlic. Imagine being the kid that has to sit next to her in class?

I have no idea to help her. I mentioned the oversized school uniform to her social worker, but I don’t think there’s anything they can do about it either. When she shows up with greasy hair I suggest she wear it in a pony tail. She’s just the kid in class that’s standing out for all the wrong reasons.

Sigh.
I wish I knew how to make it better for her. The saddest part, I’m not even sure if she realises that her clothes are way too big for, other than that I comment on it. Her clothes have never really fit her in all the time she has been coming to respite. We’ve taken to buying her clothes to wear when she is here so she has clothes that fit and are age appropriate. Yes, some of her clothes look like they came from her grandmothers cupboard.

What’s the most frustrating part, is her foster dad’s biological daughter never looks like that. She has trendy clothes that fit correctly and there is a clear double standard going on in the house.

I wish I knew how we could help her just be a normal teenage girl, but sadly with her foster dad and her disabilities she is never going to be that. She will always be unique, for all the wrong reasons.

 

 

 

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Boys, Boys, Boys

Teenage boys.

Teenage girls.

Argh!

When I began on my fostering journey I applied to care for children from birth to 12 years of age. I didn’t want teenagers. Then Kelly was turning 13, so we extended our age to 13. Now Kelly is 14, so we are registered for 14. And then along comes Indiana. A 15 year old girl needing respite.

Our support worker approached us about providing a night of respite for this lovely young lady to start with, and gradually build up from there as she is quite an anxious young person and they wanted to make sure that she coped ok with one night before having any longer respite.

It was going well, until just before bed time she checked her phone, and there it was. A long message from her boyfriend. Her long distance boyfriend. She was so excited as he had been on a cruise with his family and she hadn’t spoken with him for a week. That excitement quickly changed as she left the room to read the message in private. He was breaking up with her, without actually saying he was breaking up with her.

To our surprise she asked if she could talk to us. Indiana had only been in our home for a short meet and greet visit a few weeks earlier, and this was just 4 hours into her respite placement. We spent the next two hours sitting on the couch talking with Indiana about her text message, which she shared with us, and talking about boys and long distance relationships. It really was an honour to have her feel safe enough with us to talk to us. I really thought she would ask to go home to her carer.

We eventually got Indiana settled enough to go to bed, and in the morning she seemed better. We had a lovely day. Did a little bit of shopping in the morning while Kelly was at her dance lessons and in the afternoon we all went to an adventure playground for a couple of hours.

Indiana was collected later that afternoon by her foster carer and to our surprise that evening I got a text message from her. She wanted to know if it was ok for Indiana to call us. She wanted to talk to us more about her problem. MM and I were so surprised, but it felt really good that she wanted to talk to us again even though she was now back home.

I must say a big thank you to MM for being a part of the conversations with Indiana. I don’t know that I could have handled it on my own. Teenager problems. I felt I was way out of my depth, but together, we helped a young lady in her time of need. It will certainly be interesting if she comes back for more respite!

2014 – the year that was

And what a year it was.

We applied to also do emergency care and found out with “Hey, congratulations. You’re approved for emergencies. So what are  you doing today?”

In this year we’ve taken 2 sets of siblings as emergency placements. “Mork and Mindy” and “Thelma and Louise”. Our ability to take in emergencies is restricted a bit due to us both working and quite a bit of time is often needed for taking the children to access visits or court appointments so we only take them when one of us is available to be home for them all day.

We’ve continued our respite with “Kelly” every other weekend and managed this year to also provide respite for “Blake”, “Catelyn” – the gorgeous baby that got me to wanting our own bubby, “Amber”, “Johnny” and “James”.

In the course of time after many discussions we asked what we had to do to get an emergency baby placement. It was simple, we needed to also be short term carers as baby placements start at 6 weeks. So, there was only one thing to do….become short term carers. Then it was a matter of letting “Angel” know when we would be able to take in a baby. Within a week of that meeting arrived cutie pie “Jade”.

To finish out the year we took in one more emergency placement “Kylie” who is now a short term placement as it’s taken longer to find a long term family for her.

I couldn’t write this post without talking about the challenges and highlights of each child.

“Kelly”

Biggest challenge would be communication with her foster dad , but with “Kelly” herself it’s keeping her motivated to do things. It took us 11 months to knit her Nanna a scarf for Christmas. Just as well we started last January.
Highlight has to be seeing how much she has progressed with her ‘healing’. Seeing those brain cells repairing pathways and watching the improvements in her is amazing.

“Blake”

Most challenging child we’ve had to date. The screaming at bedtime was a real test, but this was balanced out by the good kid that he is during the day. Hope that the little man finds some stability and peace so he can settle.

“Catelyn”

The challenge with that gorgeous bubba was giving her back. The highlight, just her. She was a beautiful baby, so easy to fall in love with. Feeling blessed that we’ve been able to see her at foster care functions.

“Mork and Mindy”

The heat wave we had when we had these little cuties made their time here more difficult as we were stuck indoors out of the heat. Unlike “Blake” and his screaming, these two treated us to the silent treatment which is even more difficult to deal with as you have no idea what the problem is or how to fix it. The highlight for me is at some stage in their short stay here, they both told us they loved us.

“Thelma and Louise”

It had to be the stealing of the clothes that challenged us most but the highlight was definitely them taking so quickly to MM. The girls who at home slept with knives and scissors under their pillows and shared a bed for safety came to depend on MM for safety. The wouldn’t go to school without him driving them and taking them in and talking to the principal. So nice to see them feel so safe so quickly.

“Johnny”

The little boy who took no talking to a whole new level, often going a couple of hours a day before words would come out, knowing that this was about him feeling safe and comfortable and not because he had a problem was helpful for us in dealing with this. Highlights, getting him to speak and finding inside the shy little man a chatterbox and the other highlight was catching up with him at the agency Christmas party and him coming and spending time with us.

“Amber”

What a delightful little lady and so smart. In the four days of respite we provided for her she was a delight the whole time the only challenge was seeing her at the Christmas party and her foster mum not allowing us to take a photo of her to add to our scrapbook of “our babies”.

“James”

Ah….the little card player and “Let’s play again”. We had such a lovely weekend with him and his super infectious giggle.

“Jade”

The only challenge is getting used to less sleep and worrying about ‘am I doing ok’ all the time. Highlight is just having the gorgeous little lady with us for such a long time. She is a delight and I spend so much time just watching her and talking to her.

“Kylie”

A super smart girl who has an amazing imagination which is our biggest challenge as she embellishes things (a lot) and makes up stories to have some life experiences, so we’re working on reinforcing that she is special as she is and she doesn’t need to be anyone but who she is. We’ve also given her a book to write her own stories so she can use that amazing imagination of hers.

Such an amazing year. I can’t wait to see what 2015 brings us.

You can say No

What’s the best opening line from your agency?

That has to be mine.

I had that call yesterday and now we have another young lady here with us.

Actually we had many calls yesterday.

It began with “Hi, you can say no, but I just thought I’d ask if….”

The first was to explain there is a family of 3 that needed a placement at which point my brain went into overdrive. Yes we’re registered for 3, but baby would make 4 and “Kelly” is due on the weekend and that would make 5, and that’s a LOT more than our registered 3.

I was reassured we were only being asked to help with taking one, so, of course, that’s a yes from me, so the next question, which one do we want. Seriously, I got to pick. With 3 to choose from I had to choose who I thought would fit best into the house taking “Jade and Kelly” into account.

The 5 year old wouldn’t really work, 2 car seats we can do, but I don’t think “Kelly” would fit in the car in between them.

The 11 year old wouldn’t work, too close in age to “Kelly” so I didn’t want to deal with any potential pecking order problems on the weekend.

So that left the 8 year old as being just right. Too big for a car seat, but small enough to not be a threat to “Kelly”.

Then we were told that another family had offered to have the 2 older children, could we take the little one and as terrible as it sounds I said no, it just wouldn’t work in my car. So, I was told thank you but they probably wouldn’t need us at this stage.

Next it was, the other people would take the eldest and youngest and could we take the middle child after all.

Then we got the, actually they are going to try to keep them all together in residential care rather than splitting them up, but again, thank you.

So in all of this, I’ve rung MM to see that yes he’s ok with taking in a munchkin and then I haven’t kept him updated with all the changes. We know that this happens, so I waited until the call that says they were going to put them together. And then…….

10 minutes later the phone rings, and I answer with “I’m just going to call  you troublemaker from now on” as I knew it was the lady from the agency, and guess what….There were no residential care placements available that could have all the children together, so could we please?

So this weekend we will have “Jade” (11 weeks old, short term placement) “Kelly” (12 years, ongoing respite placement) and now “Kylie ” (8 years old, emergency placement)

And almost all of the calls start with, “you can say no” because for one reason or other we probably should have.

“Jade” was a 9 day respite that changed, and because of work we could have said no when requested to keep her, but, seriously…how could we?

“Kelly” was a one off respite that became monthly and is now fortnightly and at any point in there when things changed, again we could have said, no, no to monthly or no to fortnightly.

“Kylie ” we could have said no to because we already had “Jade” and with “Kelly” due for the weekend, that would mean 3 kiddies, but, again…how could we?

How do you say no?

How often do you say no?

Role Reversals

How strange it is to be the carer with a child at respite rather than the carer providing respite.

Why are we having respite from our gorgeous little bundle?

Well, not because we want it, that’s for sure.

It’s so “Jade” and her brother can spend a weekend together, and they are with a family friend who will support mum when they family is reunified.

I’ll be honest, I’m struggling with this decision made for us.

I’m struggling to understand how it’s the best thing for “Jade” at this point in time.

I’m struggling with not having any contact details for the carer.

I’m struggling not knowing if tummy mummy will also be spending the weekend there, and yes, that is a very real possibility.

I’m struggling with not knowing how bubs is going to be when she comes ‘home’ to us.

Will she remember us? Will she be out of our routine? Will she be our normally settled baby or unsettled?

 

Finally, an answer

How many social workers does it take to approve a sleepover?

If it wasn’t so annoying it would sound like a joke wouldn’t it?

Here’s the funny part. Foster Dad can approve without permission from the department for “Kelly” to have friends over for a sleepover, or for her to go to a sleepover. As her respite carer I have had a battle and a half to get permission for her to have a friend over.

How much of a battle? you ask.

Well…..it’s taken 17 months, 3 social workers, 3 support workers and 1 supervisor to get approval for this.

In the end, the supervisor said we just had to have permission from foster dad and then we have to let them know when it’s taking place.

Seriously. How hard was that?

Once the supervisor chimed in, we had an answer within 48 hours!

Can’t wait to tell “Kelly” next time she is here for respite and to start planning her sleepover.

I see a trip to the movies, shopping, nail painting and if it’s before Christmas maybe card making or present making.

So excited and frustrated at the same time.

Frustrated that it’s taken sooooooooooooo long to get to this point.

Excited because we’re FINALLY at this point!

 

 

Sleepovers

They’re a part of growing up aren’t they?

Going to sleepovers. Having your friends sleep over at your house.

Giggling until late at night.

18 months ago I asked “Kelly’s” social worker if she could have her best friend sleep over at our house on a respite weekend. Her Dad wouldn’t let her have a sleepover, saying the department wouldn’t permit it, so the poor little girl still hasn’t had a sleepover.

“Kelly” has now slept over at her friends house a couple of times, which is nice, but still hasn’t had a sleepover at her house.

Since the first time I asked, “Kelly” has had  2 more social workers.

I asked “Kelly’s” last social worker who at first said no, but said it was because the child isn’t a child in care the department wouldn’t ‘pay’ us for her to stay here. So, I finally had a reason. A reason I could argue against. I explained that we weren’t expecting to be reimbursed for having the extra child, we just wanted to be able to provide “Kelly” with an opportunity most little girls have. The answer…talk to your agency and if they approve of you doing this, let me know and we’ll see what we can do.

So, I emailed “Angel”, who emailed the social worker saying that we had their support for hosting a sleepover and that we understood we wouldn’t be reimbursed for the second child.

The reply….I’ll check with my supervisor.

Next….”Kelly’s” case is reallocated to a new social worker and we’re back at square one!

ARGHHHHH!!!

Now, I have a new support worker, known for now as PSW (until I come up with a code name for her…sorry new PSW) and she has jumped right into the deep end and is chasing this up. What a girl!!

The answer she has been given is NO as well!

What the…??

This time the reason is the most ridiculous yet. It’s because the department do not have a relationship with the girl or her family. But, they would talk AGAIN to “Kelly’s” dad about facilitating a sleepover at his house.

New PSW…love this reply…lets them know that they have already, more than once, approved “Kelly” to sleep at that child’s house and has let them know I have picked “Kelly” up from their house following a sleepover.

It’s really quite bizarre.

How hard can it be?

What’s your strangest experience as carers”

 

Be careful what you wish for

It might just come true.

“Angel” came last week and we discussed what we would be prepared for in terms of a baby placement and of course, these things take time.

Unless….

“Angel” goes on Holidays.

Over Christmas “Angel” went away for a month and in that time MM’s registration came through, our emergency placement registration came through and we got “Mork and Mindy” as our first emergency placement.

Now, “Angel” has gone away for 10 days. and guess what!

Yep, we’re getting a BABY!!!

It was 9.30 am Monday morning when the phone started ringing, and now in just 3 hours little “Jade” will arrive.

And when I say baby, I mean newborn. “Jade” is only 12 days old.

I’m starting to get nervous, I’m also excited, happy, terrified, elated, and curious.

What will it be like?

How much sleep am I about to say goodbye to?

How will I say goodbye in 10 days time?

 

Festival Fiasco

How much notice do you need to give someone to have them be prepared?

2 days? 2 weeks? 2 months?

Apparently none of the above.

I sent home information to “Kelly’s” dad that we would be taking her to the theatre for a music festival. Nice clothes would be required.

Imagine my surprise when she showed up with her nice clothes of purple jeans, green t-shirt and sneakers.

What the…!?!

I was so frustrated. I had sent home information to dad 2 months before the event. I’d talked to “Kelly” on our way to dropping her off the previous respite weekend. I’d even gotten her to write it in her respite notebook about a month before.

I got frustrated because this isn’t the first time she’s come with inappropriate clothes.

Like the thick fleecy pj’s in summer, the long sleeved shirts for going to a picnic in summer, only having her school shoes for the weekend, having no jacket in the middle of winter, the onesie pyjamas that were about 2 sizes too small, and that’s the times that spring to mind.

As respite carers it’s a bit unclear how much we are supposed to supply for “Kelly” over the weekend but I’m sure it’s not supposed to be her clothes. Over the last two years I’ve bought bits and pieces for her, which stay here so I know we have some things for her.

I rummaged around and found a nice skirt and embroidered top and a pair of cute ballet flats for her. We tried to do something with her hair and to try and keep it under control I used some hairspray and  I offered her some lip gloss to complete her outfit.

One young lady all ready for an afternoon at the theatre.

MM joined us later and was so good at telling us how lovely we both looked.

I  have come to realise that my idea of nice clothes and “Kelly’s” dads are probably different. Maybe he’s never been to the theatre and doesn’t know jeans aren’t ok. Maybe I needed to be more specific. Maybe I should have sent him a reminder message the day before.

Whatever the reason, I was able to work something out without having to go and buy her a whole new outfit and I’ve learned to be more specific with information that I send home.

 

On this day…

2 years ago I had my first respite placement. Little “Terrance”.

So much has changed in the last 2 years.

MM has moved from interstate and become a foster carer.

We’ve gone from one respite placement a month to an average of 3 placements per month.

We added emergency care to our registration and had a few emergencies.

We’ve also now added short term care as well.

“Kelly” was my second placement, and it was initially a one off placement, and now we have her every other weekend. Blessed to be able to see this girl grow up into a young lady.

All up, we’ve now had 14 children in our 2 years.

There have been some challenges, some really challenging challenges, but I don’t think we would have it any other way as the joys far outweigh the challenges.

I think we are improving in our care as we learn more from both research and experience.

What will the next year hold for us?

Well, there is the hope of a baby placement but other than that, who knows. One of the joys and challenges of this journey is our favourite saying…

Foster Care is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.