Birth family and their relationships with Looked After Children is a theme I’ve written about before, but it’s a topic that comes up frequently amongst foster carers, forms a fair chunk of the training, and can be a stressful and occasionally contentious area of caring for a Looked After Child.
The circumstances that brought a child into care are usually difficult and complex, often involving more than one reason. These could include poverty, unemployment, prison, drugs and alcohol, domestic violence, homelessness, abuse, or a family death.
All the children and young people who have been placed with me have had contact with their birth parents or families at some point, so having regular family contact is something I’m used to.
If I’m honest, it’s never uncomplicated, but with some children (such as with M) the fact we have been meeting each other over several years does it make it easier, even if it’s just that I know what to expect.
M has, until recently, only been in contact with one side of her family; it has nearly always been fraught with complications, miscommunication and on occasion ended up violently, but there has been a consistency to this contact which even though it’s stressful for M (and us) means she has come to know what to expect.
However, due to perceived offence, M hasn’t seen much of that side of the family and coincidently she has had out of the blue contact with the other side who she hasn’t seen for years. This has been very exciting for her and although she wouldn’t admit it, also stressful.
Essentially, she hardly knows them and with everyone on their best behaviour, she’s throwing all her emotions into what she feels is the perfect long-lost family. They have already let her down several times and because she’s let her usual defences down she’s struggling to deal with it.
Unfortunately the timing is rubbish as this has all come just before important assessments at college and there is growing concern about her commitment. M has always been sociable and often meets friends in a local mall or a fast food restaurant, but she has stopped making these arrangement, and is gradually slipping away from the friendship base she has had for years.
She has always been in the centre of things and is usually the organiser of trips to London designer stores or cinema trips at the weekend. She is becoming more isolated and focusing only on her new relationships with birth family.
This is hardly surprising and I ask myself how would I feel in her position? Would I want to give up the opportunity to know family members I haven’t seen for years or never met?
Although M is formally invited to every LAC review or meeting involving her, she never attends but still knows the reasons she was taken into care. She doesn’t agree with them and never talks to me about that time in her life. Last week she asked me when she could legally leave care as she wanted to move in with a family member.
I didn’t show my alarm and explained about the type of court order that was made by the judge in her case and that it stood until she was 18. M stood there in front of me counting out the months on her hands until she could move out.
Having theoretically packed her bags, I was surprised but reassured the next evening by her questions about our summer plans. We’ve mentioned the dreaded summer holidays and trying to please everyone has been impossible.
M no longer wants to play in a pool on an alligator inflatable while J and Hubby throw a ball in the water. Our summer plans are further complicated by a lack of passport for Baby S and there won’t be one in a hurry due to complications with her court dates. I’m looking at this as a blessing though as I think a UK based holiday would be a great opportunity to get back to basics with everyone; play on a beach, build sandcastles, eat fish and chips straight out of the paper and referee just as many arguments as we could have in Tenerife!
M has always been a very private person and she’s keeping her feelings and thoughts close to her chest. This is hard to reconcile with her chatting constantly about how brilliant that newly found family member is or how this relation has promised the earth.
Our role in all this excitement and chaos is to be unfailingly dependable, calm and continue to be the secure place if (and if events follow a familiar pattern, when) things go wrong.
She’ll need a place to retreat and emotionally stabilise again and also someone to be angry at. She can’t be angry at her family, but she can safely vent her hurt and frustration at us.
Seeing as she’s just told me I’m ruining her life by not booking a Los Angles road trip like Claire’s mum, I think it’s something I’ll be getting use to!