It’s officially autumn and even though we are still having some welcome sunny days, I’m digging out Wellington boots, hats, scarves and gloves and seeing if last year’s winter coats still fit. I am amazed this year has gone so quickly and so much has happened. We’ve had lots of changes to our fostering household and with two vacant rooms I’m sure we’re still in for some changes very soon as we’re not usually empty for very long. We’ve had a busy year; we’ve taken two young children through to adoption and although it’s always an intense time, it was very successful. They left a big hole in our lives but seeing the occasional texts or emails from their new adoptive parents always makes me smile.
The other change and it’s a big one, is that Maddie turned 18 at the end of July. With so many options available to her she kept changing her mind about what she wanted to do. She considered, for a nanosecond, getting her own place or sharing with friends but quickly dropped that idea when she realised even though she’s working there was no way she could afford to rent in our area. At her request we looked into supportive housing options of semi independence but living in a London borough means that housing is very limited, even though she’s entitled to it. As Maddie came to us from a northern local authority, they have ticked their box by offering her supported accommodation on the north-east coast. Maddie is adamant she doesn’t want to a) return to her hometown and b) move away from all her friends in London. So, we started exploring the Staying Put option earlier in the year and with negotiations with the local authority, Maddie has decided to Stay Put officially with us which we are more than happy about.
There’s been some changes both practical and, in her attitude, and I’m fully aware that at 18 she can now walk out at any time without any notice or information to us and we had a few hiccups in the first month where she was exploring her newfound independence to the limit. Things have calmed down and we’ve made it clear to her that we are respecting she is now an adult although that doesn’t mean she has no responsibilities. Maddie fell into the trap of thinking that now she’s 18 she can do whatever she wants whenever she wants, and we explained that yes, she may well be an adult but she still lives in our house and there are still rules that we all need to live by.
The first two months of Staying Put were like a fast-paced tango of opposing opinions and clashes of wills but have now settled into a comfortable coexistence. One of the changes we’ve made with Maddie is she has moved rooms from upstairs to the spare room downstairs. Little has physically changed, it’s no bigger, but it seems more private and Maddie feels more like a grown-up as the rest of the children are upstairs on the same floor as us. I’m still having to chase her to empty her bin, pick up dirty plates from the floor by her bed, turn off the lights, not to forget her key, so not much has changed on a day-to-day level.
We had a short-term P&C (Parent and Child) placement over the summer and it was delightful to watch baby Alice grow from a tiny little dot to seeing her smile. Her mum, Jodie, did very well and although the court case is ongoing she is hopeful for the future. Jodie and Alice left us at the end of August and after a short holiday with Sabine we are now opening our doors for new foster placements. I both love and hate this time. I don’t like the uncertainty and waiting for referral calls but I do love seeing children settle in and go from being nervous and quiet to running around shouting and feeling at home.
Jonathan left us at the beginning of the year to go to a long-term foster placement near his home town so for much of the year it’s just been Sabine, now almost 3 and Maddie. One of the biggest changes we’ve all noticed is how Maddie interacts with Sabine. After a year of virtually ignoring her as a baby with lots of long suffering eye rolling that she had to share her living space with a newborn, she moved on to indifference and now that Sabine is hero worshipping her and following Maddie from room to room, the turnaround is complete. Maddie comes home from college or her part-time job and if Sabine’s not in bed she throws herself into her arms.
Maddie still has a lot of growing up to do, like any 18-year-old; she’s a complex mixture of adult and child but it’s heart warming to see her blossom and grow into such a lovely young lady. There were many times during her time with us where her behaviour would give us cause for concern and coping with her withdrawn periods of staying in her room for months on end and coming out only for school or meals was challenging. We despaired how she would cope if she ran away at 16 as she threatened often to do. We gnashed our teeth at her know it all, sardonic, door slamming phase and I’m not ashamed to admit she reduced me to tears on more than one occasion over the past 7 years. But last weekend when she misjudged the time, missed the last bus home after a day out in London with friends and we picked her up at 1 am, she hugged me at the front door, yawning and saying I’m so lucky I live here and have you two. These precious moments, make our life choice of fostering, all worthwhile.