My day starts the night before.
Washing the bottles. Boiling the kettle.
Prepping the baby bag…making sure I haven’t accidentally left a letter with my address on it inside.
My own 4 ‘homegrown’ babies are growing up.
I won’t be a MOP mum for much longer.
Rather I am starting to look at high schools and having conversations about ‘girls that keep following me around’ with my pre teen son. (He will love it one day but thankfully not yet!)
The youngest in our family can change from month to month. Sometimes a boy, other times a little girl. Our family grows with a phone call first. One you look forward to but wish would never happen for it means a mum somewhere has had to say ‘goodbye’ to the child she has carried.
For our family, as Emergency Foster Carers, the phone call means that a baby is on the way, most likely to arrive within an hour, with the clothes they are wearing and perhaps a bottle and nappies. Although, due to the generous donations of community groups, more and more of the babies that join our family have a bag with new clothes ready to go.
Our week’s schedule changes. We need to make room for family contact visits, Doctors appointments, Placement Meetings, phone calls and emails to ask for explanations on the situations or to advocate for what ‘our’ child needs.
Add to that the instant need to rearrange the car seats, find the correct box of clothes that will fit and wash the bottles that have been waiting to be used as well as the usual school drop offs, cleaning, cooking and work!
Sometimes our babies come straight from the hospital. They may be hours young or have been admitted due to abuse or neglect accusations. Depending on the age they could be going through withdrawals, scared and wondering where they are. Sleepless nights are inevitable. Sometimes because the baby keeps you awake. Sometimes it’s because you lie awake haunted by what this baby you are growing to love has been through and wondering where they will go next.
In our family, we are approved to foster babies to children under 2. The general rule of thumb that many foster parents adhere to is to foster children younger than your own. We do this as a safety measure, not because foster children are bad but because their life experiences are often so different to what my homegrown children know as reality and, as their mum, I need to protect their hearts and minds too. It also means that the pecking order in our home isn’t altered.
Fostering Families with older children will have different experiences. Of course there are often behavioural concerns that may be attributed to trauma. Professionals seem to be identifying the difference between developmental challenges due to trauma and just other developmental or behavioural challenges but this can be slow to seep into general society.
Trauma behaviour manifests itself differently in every child. For one l know, he needed his Foster Mum at school every day for the first 3 terms of kindergarten. His impulse control is almost non-existent, the fluoro lights made concentrating difficult. Even the ability to take himself to the toilet wasn’t there yet. Writing his name was difficult, not because he didn’t want to learn – he just could not remember the letters and how they formed – despite being taught over and over again. He won’t offer information but he will answer pointed questions. And the list can go on. A little bit of ‘tough love’ may have been what I would have done with my homegrown children, or the use of reward charts, perhaps even a bribe. But those methods may not be best for a child who’s brain developed differently in utero due to the stressors on the mother’s life and perhaps how she coped with them. This can be compounded by trauma outside the womb from being removed from family, or spending hours in cars with strangers travelling to see your family for a few hours and the disappointment when they don’t show up, and the absolute lack of control that you have in any of it. Tough love and bribes are not going to go far. Secure attachment, time, consistency and lots of prayer can make life easier; well at least on some days.
Next time you see a Foster Mum or Dad, take a moment and wonder.
This family isn’t amazing. Each day they may be just surviving. A Foster Mum and Dad will know how they are helping the child that is now a part of their family but they will also know how often they have let them down. The future is always uncertain. Adoption is very seldom available in Australia, even getting a Guardianship Order is difficult. The court system is frustrating. What is deemed acceptable by one Case Worker may not be seen that way be the next. The ‘money’ that is often seen as why people provide foster care isn’t worth mentioning because after you have brought a bigger house and car to fit the children and fed, clothed and transported them, you may be paid less than 50 cents an hour.
Instead of saying “I couldn’t do that because I would get too attached”, or “You are Amazing”, just say “Thank you”. Maybe even, “Can I help you with something?” Because after 8 years, I have never thought about giving up as a Foster Carer despite the vomit, lack of sleep and destructive behaviours of parents and little children. Being a family for someone is never wasted. Loving a child, even just for a little while, is always worthwhile.