It’s a notoriously dismal time of year but the last few days, the sun has shone and there are even a few brave daffodils poking their heads up in my garden. We also had a great parents evening at J’s school; full of praise at his efforts and work.
What has really made me happy though, is contact out of the blue from Dominic, one of my fostered children from several years ago.
He came to us early on, when we were fairly new carers and if I’m honest we did a lot of learning together. We were still fairly fresh off the training courses and although we felt prepared to take on this troubled teen (his social worker referred to him as such whilst introducing him to us!), it was about putting what we had learnt into practice, alongside a big slap of reality.
At 13, Dominic was small for his age, already had numerous foster homes and had not been in school for nearly 6 months.
Getting him back into education was our first challenge but with no other children in the house we were able to focus on him, and if it meant driving him in everyday and collecting him, that’s what we did. We sat in the head mistress’ room on many occasions listening to a list of misdemeanours he had supposedly committed, received lots of telling offs by his head of year and form tutors for lack of homework, rudeness or lack of effort. It felt like a long first year, but by the end of that school year, he was consistently attending which we felt was an achievement.
We told him how proud we were of him, but it wasn’t enough for his school and we found ourselves in a battle to get them to understand that he wasn’t an average student from a secure family background.
He had suffered neglect and physical abuse on a daily basis but was probably most damaged by the emotional abuse; finding it hard to be told off or criticised and he felt the sting of humiliation very hard to take, lashing out at anyone who teased him, regardless of if it was meant in a playful way or not. Teenage teasing is normal, but week after week Dominic had a detention for reacting to a classmate or teacher.
After one particular event which was by all accounts 50/50 Dominic’s fault (the school seemed to live by a blame culture) we had a telephone call from his head of year.
His parting comment to us was ‘I hope you’re going to impose an appropriate sanction at home as well as detention here after school’.
We had always discussed the detentions that occurred at school, but it usually ended in him storming to his room even if we were totally neutral.
From that day we changed how we handled detentions; school was school, and home was to be his sanctuary. It didn’t go down well at school, and I’m sure we were labelled ‘difficult parents’, but it did have a positive effect on Dominic.
He was never an academic student and felt more comfortable doing things with his hands. He was creative at art and design, but also good at the practical side of crafts, such as working with wood or taking apart a motorbike.
Our garden became more like a scrap yard and Hubby, with his own love of motorbikes, was more often than not outside showing Dominic how to remove a stubborn bike part.
His GCSE year was a tough one; revision was virtually nonexistent and he seemed to give up before he even took the exams. Although there was a brief revision rally just before taking his GCSE’s, he left school with poor results and only 3 viable qualifications: Food Technology, Maths and a vocational Mechanic’s course.
Dominic did secure himself an apprentice role in a local franchised garage who insisted he retake his English GCSE which he did, passed with an acceptable result and he went on to complete his apprenticeship.
Unfortunately, the garage closed, and Dominic was offered a job with the company in a town in the Midlands, which he took. We thought we’d be involved in helping him find accommodation and settling in, but the garage head office helped, and he ended up flat sharing with other staff. The job offer and move all happened within 4 weeks and suddenly he was gone.
We always said we had an open door, but he never used it and gradually the text messages slowed down, social media was not what it is now and when I tried to call him over Christmas, his number had been changed.
I didn’t pursue it as he knew where we were, and he was defensive and secretive about his Looked After status. I was saddened that he’d drifted away, but our house was full of other children by then and their needs took over day to day life.
More than a decade has passed and this week he sent me a message via social media. He told me he is married, and his wife just gave birth to his son. He attached a photo and filled out a little about the years that had passed; his successful job as a branch manager of a car sales firm and his wife’s success as a beautician.
I lapped up every word. I sent him a delighted message back and said I’d like to send the baby a little present. I was wary of asking for his address – I didn’t want to frighten him off by being too effusive, but he responded immediately with his postal address and later that day, he added me on Instagram.
I couldn’t stop smiling that day. He has since been back in touch and has not once mentioned living with me, or being in care.
To remain in his life, I must become an old family friend; never refer to foster care. Maybe one day we can meet up and I can meet his son.