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Published on: 2016-01-01 12:00:00
Once you’ve been approved as a foster carer, the past few months of assessment, form filling and police checks are suddenly behind you and you now have the shiny new title of foster carer. Family congratulate you and the spare room is ready for a child or baby with a bed or cot, toys and essentials and then what?
Now you wait. You wait for the phone call with a referral from your social worker or local authority with a possible referral placement. How long will you wait? I’m often asked this and it completely depends on circumstances. People I had been through the assessment with had a child within three weeks whilst we waited longer due to our household dynamics. A referral doesn’t mean you’ll be placed with that child but you are being assessed as a possible option. Your key worker will run through all the information they have and sometimes there are heaps of paperwork you can look through including social worker reports and police files, the name, sex, age and religion of the child and on other occasions you will know next to nothing except the age. My first few placements were respite or planned placements and I was lucky enough to have reams of files including hospital and psychologist reports as well as having the opportunity to meet the children and young people and in one case, their current carer and social worker. This made the transition seamless and less stressful for the children and for me too. I was able to open the door to the children, prepared with background knowledge and the comfort of having met them.
Referrals don’t necessarily turn into placements and the first few times the phone rang with a possible child, I had mentally installed them at the dining room table having Sunday lunch with us or holding hands walking down the road! The placement team first need to find out which foster carers are available, then which carers feel they are suitable and then find the best possible foster carer match for that child taking into account the child’s circumstances and needs.
Your name is put forward and if you are the most suitable carer, you will get the ‘Press Go’ call and that could mean the child might be with you within the hour or you may have to collect a baby from a hospital or await a court outcome. In my case, my first ‘Press Go’ emergency placement came from a call in the middle of the night, followed by a trip to the police station and the only information I had was a teenage girl involved in a violent altercation with a step relation needed overnight care.Suddenly we had Ellen, a traumatised young person in our lounge at 2am, carrying one supermarket plastic bag with all her possessions.
Our training kicked in immediately and whilst my husband had gone to the police station to collect her, I had run around at 2am getting the room as ready as possible and Ellen had a clean bed and warm room to sleep in. She barely said a word but wolfed down a sandwich before practically dropping with exhaustion. She slept for hours. In the meantime we had several phone calls saying she’d be gone in 24 hours as she was going to a different family member.
A lot of foster carers say that their scariest moments came with their first placement; would they look nervous? Would the child sense they were inexperienced? How would they know what to say? Your social worker has faith in you, you’ve been through months of assessment and training and you wouldn’t have been selected if you couldn’t do it. This was a mantra I repeated to myself as I waited for her to wake up. Ellen remained almost mute and drawing anything from her seemed like we were torturing her so we let our gut instincts take control and we let her open up on her terms. My husband went to work leaving me with Ellen and by the time he came home, she had mastered the TV controls and although she was still almost mute, she did tell me her favourite food and I was able to cook her a hot tasty meal. As we waited over the next few days for Ellen to move on to family, we got to know each other and the fear of the unknown began to subside in me. What had initially terrified me became routine and no matter how scared you are of doing or saying the right thing, it’s incomparable to how scared the child is who has come to you.
Our 24 hour emergency placement, turned into a week, then a month, then 2 years. She came to us an angry hurt child and we were privileged to watch her grow into a funny, kind and incredibly astute young woman.
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