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A few weeks ago a new sibling group of three children was placed with us; with two boys Charlie, aged five, Stephen, nine and Wendy in the middle, aged seven. We also have Sabine who’s now three and has been fostered with us since she was a few days old along with Maddie, our Staying Put 18-year-old. Our household is full, noisy and busy and I can’t live without my online diary, backed up with a paper calendar so the kids can see at a glance what’s going on. With Wendy and Stephen being so close in age, there is normal sibling rivalry and the need to constantly irritate or goad their sibling and again the close age between Sabine and Charlie also means they often want the same toy or vie for my attention.
We tried to incorporate quiet time, which includes no screens near the end of the day, to help them calm before bedtime - but bedtime is still a loud affair. With all the noise going on, it’s easy to miss little signs that a child may be struggling with the big changes that have happened in their life. We immediately noticed that Charlie was very hyperactive and had the endless energy of the famous Duracell bunny. However, it wasn’t just his boundless energy, but also the comfort it gave him when he would scream and scream rather than just be noisy amongst other things. His school more or less called him a problem child and have concerns about his behaviour. They are finding him difficult to manage but thankfully are committed to working with him and us to help him settle and learn. We certainly found that he struggles to listen or concentrate for even a few moments and unlike the other children, even Sabine, he is not motivated by rewards or potential consequences.
As a foster carer you are required to record what has happened with each child on a daily basis; such as normal events or outings, medical appointments, concerning behaviour, learning achievements and positive points. As I was looking back over the past few weeks recordings I noticed a pattern with Charlie‘s behaviour and discussed my concerns with my supervising social worker, Rosie. She has met him a number of times and agreed that his behaviour could be very challenging and that we, as his carers and him individually, needed additional support.
In agreement with the Local Authority, we were quickly moved over to a placement type which has an emphasis on therapeutic support called Nexus 360, which is described as a team around the child. We’ve now had two therapy sessions with an experienced child psychologist which both Hubby and I found very useful. Outreach respite was also arranged quickly so that Charlie could have one-to-one time on his own with a therapeutic adult designed to be a fun play session. After initially having separation anxiety from us, he loved his 1:1 time with Cleo.
With Nexus 360 there is also another type of recording to be done on a daily basis which at first I was irritated by as the last thing a busy foster carer needs is more paperwork. However, I was quickly converted and found it extremely useful to look back and track his behaviour. It’s only a couple of minutes extra work and essentially you colour code the child’s behaviour into green, yellow or red. This enables you and the psychologist to see at a glance how Charlie‘s behaviour has been over the course of the day and ongoing through the week.
As you’d expect, green means there’s been no issues, yellow is coded as elevated behaviour and that there’s been some areas of concern such as uncontrolled anger, swearing but not directly at the carer and dysregulated behaviour. Red means behaviour that puts either Charlie, another child or a carer at risk, or it could involve swearing or physical violence directed towards the carer or another child.
This traffic light reporting has been able to show us really simply where Charlie’s trigger points are. We’ve been able to see clearly that he struggles with any type of transition such as the end of an activity, going to bed or to school and like any child, his behaviour deteriorates when he’s tired.
Using these new tools and along with therapeutic sessions with the psychologist, we’ve already noticed an improvement. It’s slow and we know there’ll be no overnight result but the gradual slow improvement is encouraging all round. All we need now is to teach two boys how to lift the lid on the toilet seat and to flush!