Friday, 7 August 2015

The problem that never seems to go away

It is quite hard when you feel that you have been seriously disadvantaged through no fault of your own only to discover that society at large really isn’t that bothered. 

Over the last few years I have met or exchanged emails with loads of current or former foster parents. Virtually all of them seem to do a superb job – sometimes under very difficult circumstances! But one strange thing I have noticed is that some members of even this highly motivated group don’t seem particularly “tuned in” to what I call the “supporting former foster children” problem.  

“NZ Brainbox” was an exception and Ella and I have treasured her friendship and wise counsel over several years.  NZ Brainbox moved in academic circles all her working life and she also acted as a foster parent in New Zealand for many years. She was one of the very few adults we have met who has given serious thought to what happens to foster children when they time out. 

“If there was a single factor, rather than my slightly chaotic personal life, which finally caused me to stop fostering older teens it was the sadness when they left me (and my DH as he then was). It didn't seem to matter if we parted on good, bad or middling terms it was always sad. Eventually the sadness just wore my emotional reserves away until I had no more to give and for my own health and well-being I had to stop.

Elsewhere in this forum I have seen mentions of the crucial need for a support network. This includes both the young person but also the fostering adults. The (former) foster children who did well were the ones who had sorted out job + money + friendships (platonic or lovers) before they left us ... not, not, not after!

I used to help them set up bank accounts and with some I used to put money, out of the family budget, into the account every month for the first year of 2. At least I knew they had some money for food and shelter.” 

She also said - “I don't regret having been a foster parent, nobody should ever think that I do. But I do still worry and wonder about the few young people who left us and never got back in touch. Working it out during the latest trip to NZ I think that there might be a few as three about who I know absolutely nothing. The most worrying being boy/girl siblings who promised to keep in touch but didn't. For some others the news is only second hand or very, very, limited but that is a great deal better than nothing.” 

In our recent book (how posh that sounds!) she commented - “One of the extreme frustrations of unpicking the experiences of former foster children is hearing the same negative experiences repeated ad infinitum. Across the years and across much of the English speaking world the same sense of institutional indifference, the same finance driven systems, the same casual disregard for promises made to the young person are described again and again and again.

George Santayana was a philosopher and writer. Famously he said “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This is sometimes presented as, “Those who fail to learn from the mistakes of their predecessors are destined to repeat them.”

Surely by now those put in authority over us should have realised two things. First that all former foster children need emotional and financial support for far longer than the current system allows and second that the continuing underachievement of former foster children betrays both them and society at large.

It must be absolutely infuriating for victims of injustice, indifference or institutional incompetence to hear people attempt to diminish what has happened to them on the basis of “things have improved now”. What make it even worse is that this regrettably tactic is one that I have seen used by experienced professionals and by long term foster carers time and time again.

Within this group we have all heard from young people who have had entirely positive experiences within the foster care system. Didi comes to mind as does AC/DC. I don’t think that it is just co-incidence that those with positive experiences are also those more comfortable about sharing their thoughts with readers.

But Eve – so forthright in many parts of her life – has revealed very little about her life in the fostering system. However it is blindingly obvious that she had an incredibly difficult time with multiple placements followed by exile to a Children’s Home. It is the same story with many of Eve and Ella’s friends. I know the two of them have tried hard to get their friends to post to the forum with only the most marginal of success.”

Perhaps their friends fear the, implicitly sceptical, response that seems to be the default position of so many in the sector?

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