I used to go to Sunday school when I was little and found out after a couple of years why my parents - who doubted the God thing themselves - sent me. I'll save that bit to last, it's quite juicy.
Only, I remember exactly where I was when I too began to doubt the whole God thing. I was in church. At Sunday School.
A guest vicar got up to give us a sermon and he started it like this:
"Hello children. I'm sure you all have bicycles. Well in a way, Jesus is like a bicycle..."
And on he went. And on.
His thing of liking something to something it clearly is very unlike began the thought in me that maybe it's down to me to come up with a code to live by, and St Peter can fact-check me at the gates. And basically that's how I get by.
The guest vicar also turned me off poor metaphors. But there are some I like, such as this one:
"Fostering is a bit like the internet."
Sometimes you try to log onto the internet and can't get a connection. Or else it's painfully slow.
So you restart.
You switch off and leave it for a minute.
You go to Settings and check your connection. You re-select your wi-fi code. You check your phone and it's not connected either. You turn off your router and turn it on again. Your phone is back on wi-fi but the PC ain't. Hmmm. You go back into settings and try...anything.
Then...suddenly...for no apparent reason...it's working again!!!
You don't know which fix fixed it or even if it was none of them...who cares? It's FIXED, so on you go!
Same with fostering.
Your foster child has a thing about not saying please or thank you. It's no big deal but it might serve them well to fix it. So you try mentioning it. You try asking for the magic words. You try to get them to practice saying "Can I ...please". You offer quaint shortcuts "You could say "Ta" instead of "Thank you".
You keep at it. Then one day, out of the blue, you put an apple of the sofa arm next to where they're engrossed in Fortnite and say "That'll hold you until teatime", and as you're leaving the room you hear something. Something that came from the child. What was it?
Some sort of grunt. It wasn't a word as such; if it was a word it was spelled something like "Gnu".
It was a tiny, grudging, embryonic, barely viable...
You don't know why, when, how, or even if your efforts have been successful. All that matters is that the child has come on. Just like with the internet, you simply breathe a small sigh of satisfaction and get on with things.
Like I often say to myself "Ain't fostering grand!"
ps Why did my God-doubting parents send me to Sunday School? Well, one fine Sunday the School decided we'd all go for a walk, so we paired up and crocodile-marched down the road, round the corner and straight past my house. My parents bedroom faced the street and as I looked up I noticed that their bedroom curtains were drawn shut. This could only mean that my mum had gone down with one of her 48 hour migraines. The other explanation was unthinkable.
When I returned home I found my mum in the kitchen singing along to a Jim Reeves number on the radio. I asked her how she was, she replied something like;
"Fantastic! Never felt better!"
Aaagggh! To discover your doubt about God AND that your parents are nothing more or less than human flesh and blood, all thanks to Sunday School, is a big journey.
Maybe Jesus IS like a bicycle..?
pps, I never told my parents about the Sunday School trip past our house, that would have been wrong.
Does anyone think they get paid enough for their work? I bet not. Somewhere in the darkest recesses of all our minds is the sweet notion that we are worth more.
I bet that Jeff Bezos thinks that the family members who invested a few thousand dollars in his Amazon start-up don't really deserve to be worth billions of (his) money in return, and that he (Jeff) should actually be even richer. And at the other end of that chain I bet everyone who works for Jeff thinks they're being short-changed.
I get fed up with people in public services oozing; "Look, don't over-ask for things, don't you know we're overworked, under resourced, unappreciated and under-paid."
Not all of them, but too many. Too many health and education workers.
The only professionals in public service who don't do this one seem to me to be Social Workers. Oh and the police. Even though those two professions probably have a better case than most.
Mind, working out how much someone should be paid is a minefield. Who'd be an employer working out the value of someone's efforts?
Actually, all of us Foster Carers are stuck with this exact dilemma, namely how much money to 'pay' someone.
I'm talking pocket money.
Our eldest foster child has been campaigning that his pocket money should be upped. His manifesto is rich in sporadic detail. He's persevering too.
He's aged 15 and gets £10 a week, regardless of whether he does anything around the house. People who've never managed a teenager will scoff that I'm lax, but he's 15 okay? 15 is the arch-age of teenhood. Give him a job and he turns into the Incredible Sulk and you get a job so badly done it takes twice the time to rectify it that it would take you to knock it off yourself.
So, yeah...he gets £10 and one of the main challenges is what would it get upped to if I upped it? £10 is a nice round sum. £10 actually sounds like it's worth more than £10.
£11? - stupid fiddly number. £12.50? - give me a break, I'd be asking him for change and you can't do that. So obviously £10 naturally goes up to...£15, which is a 50% rise.
See, pocket money has to be more than inflation linked, more than cost of living linked; it has to also be age-appropriate linked.
One mite who came to us told me she got 10p pocket money per week, which I found shocking because there's literally NOTHING she could buy unless she saved for weeks. I figure it was a ruse by the parent to get out of being asked for things in shops. Rotten.
My 15yr old cites the pocket monies allegedly paid to his friends, linking this to our shame at being stingy by comparison and causing him embarrassment that besides being in fostering he's also in poverty. He makes the case that we are out of touch with the real world, in which a trip to Cineworld can consume 2 weeks-worth of income if you include Pick'nMix, Coke and Taco Bell.
I don't think many families manage the heat of how best to award pocket money. It's even more pyrotechnical in fostering.
It ought to be a reward and remuneration for things well done. Otherwise we're teaching our children you can get something for nothing. The majority of children in care come from homes needing benefits, don't get me wrong - our benefit system is something we should all be proud of. But it can be perceived as unearned income. Then their Foster Carers give them pocket money for nothing, it must seem like their life on benefit has begun! There's something here that could be better.
So I've had this idea, right. And when I tell it to you you'll think the same as everyone else I've told it to. It's brilliant.
Parents STOP giving their children pocket money. Instead they give a fixed amount to the child's school. Every Friday afternoon each pupil gets a pay packet which reflects their attendance, behaviour and academic performance.
Child puts in a good week; get's a decent reward. Like how life should be and (kind of) is.
You have to know your Brendan Urie from your Shawn Mendes, and your Game of Thrones from your Lucifer. In contrast you cannot let on that you like Love Island and have a good idea of who is doing what with whoever because that belongs to them and they don't want you in on that sort of private stuff.
Children have always had their own languages designed to exclude us adults.
Not long ago the kick was that something 'wicked' was the opposite of wicked. Prior to that the California kids came up with their own language; they would say something was "Grody to the max", meaning it was as disgusting as could be.
I've long noticed that children in care are more comforable having text-chats with me than actually talking, and while I persist with actual conversation it's good to get a meaningful dialogue any which way you can.
However. Yesterday I got a text message asking to be picked up from school as there was a problem with the bus. The problem probably had to do with an argument with some fellow pupils who used the same bus. These little conflicts run hot and cold but when they're hot they're hot so I was prepared to pick up. I suggested the foot of the footbridge outside the school, the reply was;
I had a guess this meant "Yeah"
So I replied "Your reasonable. The argument will fix itself by Monday"
Now I'm in trouble. I feel a need to reply instantly, but to what? Aaaagh! I Google "JK". Get directed to a plethora of forums ridiculing me for not knowing what "JK" means.
I reply: "Sorry, what?"
Turns out "MK" means "Hmmmm...okay". This time Google informed me it's a phrase derived from a character in South Park (TV cartoon) who underlines his indecision by saying in response to any suggestion by any other character "Mmmmmkay" (one word).
I SWEAR I found it easier to learn Darin (the Persian dialect spoken in Afghanistan). I've mentioned this before; what happened was we were asked to look after 3 young Afghan brothers who had smuggled themselves all the way to Dover. I said yes and had to track down a Halal butcher (20 miles away) and start learning their language because the boy's English was non-existent.
I get the kid's needs for their own language. They don't own very much, yet they're nearly adults - they need to own some things.
I have my own language, oh yeah.
A good example is a word I would spell like this:
I don't say it with any emphasis, I kind of let it out the side of my mouth when I'm on my way out of the room.
Try it. Say it out loud, see what it might mean.
It's my way of beginning to say to a foster child that they are loved.
People who are thinking about fostering are generally good-hearted but a bit trepidatious. So was I when I started to think about fostering- it's a big step.
Most of all they have questions.
I received a text today from a friend who has a friend who's thinking about fostering. My friend asked me (on behalf of her friend) if the friend would be considered suitable.
The friend, I was told, is "a single mixed race mum to a 7 year-old son. She works part-time at her son's school but has experience working with kids with challenging behaviour. She lives in a small flat and she smokes and is on a low income".
My friend added "Any difficulties?"
I replied that for one thing fostering takes a dim view of smoking, it should never ever happen in the foster child's foster home, and carers should never be seen to smoke in front of them, anywhere.
My friend replied that her friend complies with that already - her flat is tobacco-free and her son doesn't even know she has an occasional cigarette. I replied that if she puts herself up for fostering all she has to do is be up-front about everything. The Social Worker who will be assigned to process her application will advise her.
I added a note on something that I strongly believe; that going into fostering is a good opportunity for people to polish their act a bit; you know, drop a few pounds, exercise more, eat better, quit smoking etc. One woman I know actually traded in her sunbed for an exercise bike while gearing up to start fostering.
I pointed out that to the best of my knowledge children in care must have their own bedroom. This is an absolute. I suspect that siblings in care might be allowed to share with each other. But my understanding is that a foster child would never be placed in a home where they had to share with a Carer's child.
My friend got back to me that her friend was hoping to go for a bigger flat if she was accepted as a Foster Carer. I guessed this meant she was in social housing.
I replied that I'm not expert on local authority protocols in social housing. I know for sure that local authorities are begging for more people going into fostering, but whether they'd upgrade someone's flat on the understanding that they would use the extra bedroom for fostering is a question for them not me. Nor do I know what view the Social Workers who would be assessing her would take about her situation.
As always I suggested she get in touch with her local authority or her chosen fostering agency and they would help. I told her she could call Blue Sky for free and they'd be able to answer all her questions.
My friend texted back that in fact her friend was a tenant in a private flat, so I replied she'd probably have to upgrade and have a spare bedroom available before she'd be approved, but if her plan was realistic she'd be considered.
As to the low income, I replied that so long as she's just about managing she could sit down with her assigned Social Worker and take a look at her finances. Foster Carers are never out of pocket in their fostering, the allowance covers everything and usually more. Carers are taxed differently so we keep most of the income as it's an 'allowance' not a wage. Plus we can claim additional expenses for certain things such as travel.
Having said that, it's not good if the Foster Carer is seriously struggling to make ends meet as it might impact her fostering, but again; one for the Social Worker.
As to being 'mixed race' - I didn't bother to state the obvious namely that ethnicity, along with faith, sexual preference, age and marital status are totally the Foster Carers own business and that - as long as their personal circumstances don't adversely impact their fostering - diversity is becoming a real credential in fostering.
I hope I got the balance right between being encouraging and realistic.
Only Social Workers know all the requirements, which is why I usually recommend people who are thinking of fostering make the phone call.
But. There was one feature of my friend's friend's circumstances which was entirely a matter for her. And I wasn't sure whether either of them had spotted it and it's this;
If you have school-aged children of your own living with you in your home they need to be got on board with the whole project. It's not for me or anyone but the parent to be the final judge of whether having a foster child in your home alongside your own children will work for them. Again your Social Worker will have the knowledge and experience to help you with that decision, but it's really important.
I haven't heard back yet from the friend's friend, but fingers crossed.
Still feeling a bit thoughtful; my most recent foster child left to go home a few days ago.
Today I had to take a different child to a thing called 'Contact' and it was no more or less tricky than usual.
If you were to ask 100 Foster Carers what's the biggest challenge they regularly deal with in fostering a great many would answer; "Contact".
Contact is when children in care are taken to spend time with their parents/significant others, often for a single hour, often once a week. It usually winds the children up a bit, for a thousand reasons - you can probably imagine most of the big ones. The parents/significant others are probably the adults whose behaviour is the reason the children have been removed from them. So there's going to be stuff in the kid's heads.
I never said fostering was all total plain sailing. Every responsibility in life has its downsides yet if you have the mindfulness those downsides are simply part of the whole;
We have a friend we often see in our street, a person who owns a yappy dog. The dog-owner is usually on his way home.
The mutt is leading the way, the owner lagging behind holding a bag of poo.
The owner doesn't mind. The love and company he gets from the dog is so huge it makes the downside of carrying its poo home a fair exchange. In fact, the sacrifice almost magnifies the love.
It's the same with Contact. With many of the children I've looked after, I've tried to make Contact my statement of how much I want to do to help them, even when they let me know how hard Contact is for them. They deal with it their way; which sometimes means an upset.
Today the little mite got heated up in the car on the way there, and was nearly in tears on the way home. I said; "I need petrol, while I'm in there what would you like to hold you until teatime? Crisps or a banana? Or what?"
This usually works. The little fellow got negotiating;
Him: "Can I have some Haribo?"
Me: "What about some sugar-free dental gum?"
One little trick from the Foster Carer and the corner is turned. I don't know how they do it. I simply couldn't. Try imagining the emotions of being the child at Contact. I'd crumble. They deal with it magnificently (with a bit of help).
The thing is; I come from a reasonably normal family. So I'm at my best in a reasonably normal family home. But the kids who come to us for help come from chaotic homes. They are more immune to life's frictions and fracas than most. They are more at home with uncertainty and turmoil.
This is a difficult fact to come to terms with, but it's not a standpoint confined to fostering.
Remember the dog-walker I mentioned earlier? His name is Les. He is a friend my other half is very proud of. My other half loves football. The dog-walker is aged eighty-something and used to play for a big team professionally.
Not quite Manchester United big, but he played football for a living- 'Everton' I think - but now can't muster much more than a stuttering walk trying to keep up with his dog. His knees are not his own. He blames the cortisone they used back then.
My other half told me about the time he asked Les what he missed about the game.
Les replied; "I miss the changing room. The micky-taking. The madness. Every game you didn't know what was going to happen next. People came and went, some you loved some you couldn't stand. You had to have your wits about you to survive. Then I retired, got a job with the Coal Board. Every day the same."
So, yeah; he missed the chaos.
And when my time is up in fostering I'll miss the hurly-burly too.
We often sit up in bed in the morning with our first cup of tea and ask each other;
Ryder's gone home, and as usual I'm up and down about her going.
Other Foster Carers tell me they also have mixed emotions when a foster child leaves. They are pleased and relieved that things appear to be on the up for the child, but that's counter-balanced by concerns that things might go pear-shaped again, it happens.
Then there's the sense of loss which is sparked off by little things such as having to set the meal table differently, and that's counter-balanced by having less work to do around the house.
The way our memory seems to work is that we end up with one compact flashbulb recollection of a person once they are long gone.
But in the days after departure you have loads of different memories. The question is which one will take top spot and be the single image that bursts into life whenever someone says: "Do you remember Ryder?"
Will it be the time she tried a drop of Tobasco and milked the moment, ending up gulping water from the kitchen tap?
Or maybe the day she took delivery of a beanie hat she'd bought on my Amazon account; she answered the door herself and was tickled pink to get to 'sign' for it.
I ALWAYS seem to have a clear image in my mind of the moment I first clapped eyes on each new arrival. Ryder was a typical picture of melancholy with her downcast eyes, hands plunged in her hoodie pocket. Her expression changed when I fetched her a diet Coke in its cool classic glass bottle*
Maybe I'll recall the 'goodbye' hug she gave me before climbing into her Social Worker's car.
Time will tell.
I just had a sudden thought; spool forward three or four decades when fostering is just a pleasant memory for me (that's assuming my memory is in some kind of working order...)
What will be my one flashbulb memory when I hear the word "Fostering".
So many great moments. Mind you, the way nostalgia ambushes us every time, I bet I'll even get rheumy-eyed over the testing times.
Actually, some of the testing times are genuinely among my favourite moments. To name but a few; managing to find a MacDonald's open at 11.00pm one night when a teenager needed calming down and only a Big Mac would do the trick - I will always picture the look on that dear girl's tear-stained face when I knocked on her bedroom door to deliver the iconic bag of fast food.
Then there was the time a troubled boy came to stay with us for a second respite spell. I opened the door to greet him and he was bursting with pride because somebody - namely me and our family - had met him, knew he was a handful, and still actually WANTED him back.
Then there's the child who asked "Why are you so nice?". Yeah, she must have maybe never experienced a normal adult who is bright and kind. (The thing was I didn't have an answer to the question, it would have sounded big-headed, so I settled for saying something like "Oh I have my off days like everyone else.") But I think of that question often and probably repeat it to myself to get through tricky moments.
As you can probably tell, I'm a bit tender at the moment.
A very pleasant sadness.
My partner is often heard saying he doesn't know what he would have done without football.
I don't know what I'd have done without fostering.
*PS, fizzy drinks are not a staple in our house, but I usually have a closely-guarded bottle or a can of something for emergencies and rewards.
It happened because Ryder, our newest foster child, is shortly going home.
It's always an emotional time, obviously. But last night she was very brittle and not herself at all.
She was catty with my eldest foster child - with whom she's usually on top form. At teatime she was sullen, pushing the peas around her plate.
After tea there was an argument about the remote control and I had to ask her to go up to her room and come down when she'd cooled off. This usually takes 10 to 15 minutes.
She didn't come down.
I gave it half-an-hour and crept up. She was on her bed, her face buried in her pillow.
Dear me, she was sobbing those huge but almost noiseless sobs that come from deep in the heart.
I said softly;
"Ryder? Darling? Can I come in?"
She digested that it was me and that I was sympathetic and nodded.
It's always hard to find the right words to ask a foster child what's wrong because it could be one or several of innumerable things that are not only 'wrong' but also no fault of theirs and what's more there's often nothing they can do to put things right.
It turned out that the thing on her mind was huge, not her fault, and about which she can do next-to-nothing.
Before I tell you what it was it's worth remembering that she is due to go home anytime, and that she sees this as the beginning of a whole new and wonderful world for her and for all the people she cares about. She wants this new life to burst into bloom as she walks through her front door, and for this rejuvenated and wonderful life to last forever.
Got all that?
So. The reason she was all over the place was because she'd caught a trending news item on her phone in which a group of experts announced that human civilisation would end in 2050.
Just as things seemed on the up for the poor mite came the 'news' that - as far as she could deduce - the world was going to go pffft and disappear when she is aged 41.
In fostering you get asked by children to explain some pretty strange and often almost inexplicable things. Every time your first priority is to be truthful but to protect the child from unnecessary fear or anxiety.
News providers have no such framework of responsibilities.
Sometimes it's not the fault of the News. For example (true story alert); when I was little the TV News was filled with updates on a world statesman who was very old and at death's door. Each time a bulletin ended the newscaster would say;
"There will be another bulletin in an hour."
As this went on into the next day my youngest brother suddenly cracked under the pressure and through his tears he pleaded "If he's so ill, why do they keep putting another bullet in him?"
So, with that awful image of decades ago still fresh in my mind, I went to work.
I explained (largely from well-intentioned guesswork) that the scientists hadn't been predicting the end of the world, they had been saying that life would be a lot different by 2050. I reassured her that the air would be cleaner because cars would be better. I suggested we probably wouldn't be eating meat all the time so animals would be happier. I said that by 2050 maybe most known diseases would have been conquered and people might expect to live well beyond 100. I added that her generation were gearing up to be the best ever; if anyone is up to the job of fixing starvation and injustice it's people like Ryder and her friends.
Did it work? Er...
My predictions went down okay, but she still blubbed a bit, albeit with less despair.
What sealed the deal was;
"Tell you what. I bought a tub of lemon sorbet yesterday. Sorbet is kind of like ice cream but without the cream so it's better for you. But it's a grown-up taste. It's in the freezer. I need someone who knows what they're talking about to try some and tell me if the rest of the hungry hippos will like it or turn up their noses. We'll have to sneak downstairs and get a bowlful up into your room for a secret tasting session without anyone spotting what we're up to."
Ah, distraction. Still at Number One if this Foster Carer's Top Twenty.
Oh, and was I telling the truth about what I think about climate change?
Yes, I was telling an optimistic take on the truth as I see it. But crucially I was telling it in the way a damaged and vulnerable 10 year old needed to hear it.
So; Ryder, our most recent foster placement, is going home soon.
Knowing as I do certain details of how chaotic her family life was before social services intervened I'm concerned for her. But the professionals have done their homework and we Foster Carers trust their judgement. They're a fantastic army of trained and talented people who simply want everything to be okay for everybody.
Ryder is giddy at the prospect. She's begun packing, begun planning and rehearsing her departure from here and her arrival at her real home - she's even fussed about getting her hair right.
I've seen this plenty of timers before; children in care want nothing more or less than to get back to the life they know well. Even if it's a difficult life.
One phrase that remains in my mind was uttered by a teenager staying with us;
"So I'm stuck here in fostering while the rest of my lot are playing happy families?!"
The last words you'd use to describe her lot would be "Happy families"'.
But then that's the likes of us looking from the outside.
The logical Foster Carer would find themselves lying in bed asking themselves; "Why would anyone want to leave my home which is sweetly run and a safe place to live to go back to a home which is all over the place?"
I got one answer to this question in a favourite movie of mine;
Some years ago I watched the film 'Ghandi'.
Ghandi wanted to persuade the British to leave India. He had a meeting with British officials in which he said he wanted India to be returned to Indians.
However India was potentially very chaotic, so one of the English generals said;
"Mr Ghandi, if we return India to you there would be chaos."
So Ghandi replies;
"Perhaps. But it will be our chaos."
There you have it. It's their chaos.
They have more attachment to their chaos than a stranger's orderliness (of course there are exceptions to this, but it does seem to be the general rule).
I'm currently sharing Ryder's excitement at the prospect of going hime. I indulge her daydreams that everything is going to be wonderful - but only when we are alone together. I have another foster child who isn't going home and I'm careful to avoid setting him thinking any more than is necessary.
At the same time as indulging Ryder's anticipations I'm trying to manage her expectations, saying things like;
"I expect everyone will be busy and rushing around when you get back." Meaning "Don't expect a throng at the front door with banners saying 'Welcome Home Ryder". I say;
"Your mum's boyfriend has moved out, but is still allowed to see your mum." Meaning "There will still be plenty of tensions and the odd ruckus." And so on.
Where I can say exactly what I mean, and manage my own expectations is when I say to her;
"We will miss you so much. We'll never forget you. We'll always be grateful to you for bringing so much to our family and our home."
They say that having two dogs is easier than one, they play together and keep each other company. Whenever I hear that remark my thoughts turn to whether the same is true in fostering.
Here's what been happening between two of my current foster children;
The older one (by four years), male, is almost certainly never going to be able to go home. How he feels about this depends on various things. He 'yo-yos'; sometimes he's cool about it and feels that life works out in the end, sometimes he not and feels life's unfair.
He has a really good foster-sibling relationship with Ryder (female) who is now 10. They like and respect each other, the more so as they are in the same boat. Foster children relax in the company of other children in care. It's one of the big plusses at Blue Sky's event days, I get to meet up with other foster parents and chat about fostering, and the children find themselves in the company of children NONE of whom will wonder about their circumstances because they all have the same key circumstance in common. For children in care being surrounded by nothing but other children in care is one of the few occasions when they can feel a measure of being the norm.
But as with any human dynamic, there can be tensions, and when I tell you what's going on right now you'll get it in one.
Eldest is never going home.
Ryder is. Soon!
Everything in starting to fall into place, a schedule is taking shape.
It happened quite quickly. Social services broke the big news a few days ago, Ryder's SW phoned me then came over and gave the youngster the news sat at the kitchen table with me making tea and all ears. Ryder was very un-bothered at first. Her point seemed to be "What took you so long?" But later she let her emotions out.
I can't begin to tell you what a mixed bag it is in your house when a foster child is preparing to go home. Of course one feels pleasure in the child's happiness, and pride in having done your job. But the child sometimes has concerns which the foster parent has to watch for and help with. There's a sadness that a child who has been family is leaving, hopefully for ever. It hurts, even though you know it's for the best.
The tensions are never higher than if you have a couple of foster children and one is going home and the other isn't.
I heard the following while driving them across town, eldest to the cinema, Ryder on her way shopping with me;
Ryder: "It must be s**t for you, man." Eldest; "Not really. Who cares." Ryder: "Seriously. You be okay?" Eldest; "Dunno. I suppose." Ryder; "You did tell me you thought it was better you were here than what you had before." Eldest; "Yeah. I guess." Ryder; "I'll miss you mate." Eldest: "Yeah? Go on then...why?" Ryder: "You're cool mate." Silence Ryder; "Like, when I came here I couldn't believe that you wasn't the family. I thought how could a guy in care be so cool about being fostered? But you was. And that made it better for me." Eldest: "Yeah. Like it's no big deal." Ryder; "Yeah but if you'd been like; 'Oh s**t I hate being here and the world sucks' and that kind of stuff, I'd have probably flipped." Eldest; "You did flip that time about the goldfish." Ryder; "Yeah, but I chilled when you came downstairs, I was like; 'Oh I don't need him to see me wrecked." Eldest; "You've never been wrecked. If they'd let you have a goldfish the goldfish would have been well wrecked." Loud laughter. Ryder; "Seriously, you be okay?" Eldest; "Shut up man. I said yeah, alright." Silence Ryder; (talking to me) "Can me and him, like, stay in touch and that?" Me; "I'll see if something can be arranged. I'll talk to your social workers. I'm afraid they tend not to be keen for good reasons. You might have to pass messages via them." Ryder; "What?" Eldest; "Forget it!" Me: "I think you'll be able to write to each other, that could be the best thing."
With that their conversation turned to which was the best superhero, with Eldest nominating Blade (clearly a specialist's selection), and Ryder going for Iron Man. I chipped in with Superman, and was roundly condemned for choosing an alien - apparently the new take on superheroes is that they have to be human.
I was tempted to come back with an ironically witty political-correctism about discrimination, but I was still glowing with the moment; two children who had all the cares in the world, getting all the care I can give, and caring for each other.
If I've done nothing else for them I hope maybe I might have helped them learn to care.
For anyone reading this outside the UK; a TV host called Jeremy Kyle is (or should that be 'was') the UK's answer to Jerry Springer.
You know the sort of show, I expect TV has them the world over. Shows where real people perform their domestic disputes for audiences.
There's a reason I want to talk about this type of show on a blog about fostering, and the reason's this; teenagers in care seem to love the format.
Here in the UK the Jeremy Kyle Show went out about 9.30am, so to catch the first transmission youngsters had to be either on school holiday or off sick.
BTW the reason I refer to Jeremy Kyle's programme in the past tense is because he's been taken off. A member of the public who went on the show died several days later, first reports say he took his life. It's alleged that during the show he'd failed a lie detector test related to his fidelity. The episode will never be aired.
Although we know few details at the time of writing, the press and large swathes of the British public are howling that they'd known all along that the show was a disgrace. Stories are emerging from people who previously worked behind the scenes on the show suggesting stuff such as that guests waiting in the wings were wound up to go on the offensive.
On a personal note, I'm pleased the show is finished, and feel sad and sorry for the family and friends of the deceased and for that matter each and every individual who was in any way damaged or diminished by the show. And that includes the one million viewers who frankly ought to have found their entertainment in something more noble.
But I want to think about the part it played in the world of looked-after teenagers, because many of them found a connection.
Let me be clear that I never allowed younger children near it, only the young adults who came to us.
The two questions I ask myself over and over - and I don't yet have answers - are 1) Exactly why did they find it so irresistible and 2) Did it do them any harm watching?
Here's one foster child of mine; Tish. Tish is heavier than her age, she's 16 years old and 17 stone. Her family consists of one parent in prison for crimes against another family member and a second parent that can't fend for them-self. Also present in her home was an elder sister who had been made pregnant by the parent now in prison.
When Tish arrived in our house she had a serious resistance to going to school (she said it was down to her being bullied because of her size) and spent her first few days with us at home all day while I and her Social Worker developed a plan to get her back to school.
She spent every morning watching Jeremy Kyle. In fact I began to think that a big reason for her resistance to school was that she had become fixated with the show.
Every morning was built around Jeremy Kyle. Tish would come downstairs 10 minutes before the show in her sleep outfit, hauling her duvet (there was no-one else in the house), and settle on the sofa. I would offer her breakfast and schedule it to arrive as the show started. Then I would sit with her and we'd watch. Watching TV with foster children is a great bonding thing.
Tish would take control. She would pontificate on every aspect of every show and how she could spot the serious scallywags from the mere dodgepots. She would tell me what was wrong and what should be done.
She was undeniably better informed about family chaos than me. I found many of her insights amazing, and her views on how to solve the problems sometimes quite sophisticated.
In the light of the reason why the show has been ditched not to mention its recurring misery I'm not prepared to even contemplate that it may have benefited Tish or any foster children in any way shape or form, because though young people in care need all the help they can get, and we Carers need all the help we can get to help them, some things are beyond the pale.
But the question remains; why was the Jeremy Kyle Show such compulsive viewing for them?
Some seemed to take comfort that many of the chaotic families on display were; "worse than my lot".
Others were drawn to being able to show their expertise in domestic conflicts.
Maybe it made some feel they weren't so badly off as others.
One Social Worker advanced another theory; some teenagers find home comfort among the shouting and hostilities coming from the TV. For many of them such an atmosphere was reminiscent of their home life, and the fact is that almost every young person in care wants to go home again regardless of the chaos.
Did the Jeremy Kyle Show help or harm them? I definitely valued the way it opened up conversations about family life, so it was a good tool in that single respect. But I also definitely found it too disappointing for words.
I can say for sure I'm glad I won't have to wonder about it any more, now that it's been axed.
I can't speak for the millions who watched - it was the highest rated show on daytime TV, and it wasn't alone in focussing on people who are struggling; there are also 'shows' about topics such as people with bad debts, insurance fraudsters, a quasi-court for settling financial disputes.
You might have wondered about Tish and how we eventually got her going to school. It was a bit devious of me, but my SW thought it was for the best.
I did what I usually do if a school-shy child spends a day at home; I make sure their day is a bit boring; "After all" I tell them "You've got a sore throat, we don't want you tiring yourself out on your phone, you need your energy to recover."
In Tish's case I turned off the TV Cube, saying that we had a signal problem during the day...