The fostering journey has begun! We are finally on the road and moving! Fritha has had her training days and they have been brilliant (not least because it has given us a chance to repay her for all the trillions of times she has collected, fed, washed, entertained, amused, cuddled, read to and broken up fights between our children, by looking after her Digger for the day). What she has learnt is mind blowing. I was sitting on the doormat hyperventilating by the time she came home to tell me all about it, with Digger (who was doing exactly the same).
The training has been fascinating, (even when you have only experienced it vicariously). Where do you begin when training someone to look after a child, when that child will inevitably be so individual, and when he or she could have had any number of awful things happen to them? It would appear that the fostering agency take a general approach initially, and then individualise the support once a child has been placed. The first session asked the question 'What is a Foster Carer?'. Where to begin? A foster carer is someone willing to put themselves in the vulnerable position of becoming extremely emotionally attached to a child whom they know they must say goodbye to. A foster carer is asked to feel inevitable pain of loss when the child moves on, and to feel it thoroughly, whilst at the same time delighting in the child's prospective and bright future - ideally back with his or her parents. 'We want you to feel sad when a child leaves' they argue. Well of course they do and of course Fritha will! How could she parent lovingly without allowing emotional ties to form? Foster carers are required to feel pain and to deal with it, putting the child before themselves in all aspects of their lives together. Many people recoil from the idea of becoming a foster carer because of the inevitable goodbyes. Fair enough - you have to be made of stern stuff for this job. And before any of these said attachments can even be made there will be a great deal of emotional baggage to sort through and deal with, not to mention all the practical day to day demands a small child (or two - she may be given siblings), as well as a lively dog, and a flourishing career will put on her. This is not for the faint hearted - and thankfully Fritha, as you will all know by now, is anything but faint of heart!
The training also covered 'insecure attachments' - children clinging to their parents for dear life because of a deep rooted lack of trust that if they let go, they will be abandoned forever. It was explained that what would appear to be a bond of love, will often be one of fear. The foster carer must somehow transform this lack of trust into a new trust, in them. This must be done so carefully, so delicately though, and must be achieved whilst still keeping links between the child and his parent open - in case there is, and/or to increase the possibility of, a healthy reunion with them in the future. This demands a great deal from even the emotionally strongest of carers. Fritha's abundant supplies of love and patience will be tested to the limit. She must keep a child who has been taken from their parent for their own safety, in touch and communicating with that parent. She must encourage that child to trust her, whilst taking on the ambiguity of their parental relationship for him or her. She is prepared. She is ready. She will be able to do it. And do it well. It would seem that the training is designed to sort the wheat from the chaff. Many fall at the first hurdle. The wheatiest of the wheats, Fritha jumped over the first hurdle and sailed confidently over the next two, as she will do all the others, taking them in her stride and learning all the way.
The search for the ideal foster carer is necessarily thorough, and so what you end up with at the end is someone exactly like, well, Fritha! Someone who will feel saturated with loss when waving a child goodbye but be strong enough to feel excitement for that child at the same time. Someone who will delight in the reunion of that child with their parents or the formation of another family in adoption. Someone who will feel an intense satisfaction that a child in her care was able to flourish and move on in their lives. Unlike those who shy away from the idea of foster caring because of the fear of their own heartbreak, Fritha will take enormous pleasure from having taken a child out of the darkness and into the light.
Everything from how to wash a child in care appropriately, to dealing with tears and tantrums has been 'taught' in the training. Our friend Laura has shared her (often desperately sad) stories of working with 'looked after' children in her teaching career. Fritha's huge amounts of experience with small children, bundles of common sense and enormous layers of patience are neatly piled up and waiting, she has the heartfelt support of myself and many, many other people who love her, and bucket loads of enthusiasm. The starting block from which she will jump off is very substantial. But taking a troubled child from a place of misery, insecurity and fear and getting them to a place where they are ready to face a happier future is no easy task. No amount of excellent training can cover all that will have to be faced. The learning curve is going to be steep. There will be a great deal of learning on the job. But if anyone can do it, Fritha can. She knows how to get into a child's psyche. She knows when to face things head on and when to simply distract. She can create an atmosphere of peace in minutes, (incredible achievement in our house, but something she does regularly and with annoyingly little effort), and can turn something mundane into something sparkling with fun and excitement with just a few clever tricks. When Fritha is an old woman it will not surprise me in the slightest if there are literally hundreds of human beings scattered around the globe whose lives are shining because of the magic she wove into their pasts. For as her motto says; 'to give is to LIVE' xxx