As part of the training to become a foster carer, we talk about the importance of the child’s past; their history and memories, which in the fostering world is called their Life Story.
There are specific Life Story courses on how to help the carer ensure the child understands where they come from and build a picture of who their family are. It’s particularly important for younger children who may not have any memories of their family. The course I went on was thought provoking as well as useful and, as a result, I’ve worked with both M and J on their Life Story and, although it’s important, it’s never easy. M finds it really hard to open up about her past and is even more secretive about her family. It’s very hard to keep tabs on a teenager, especially now they live their lives on gadgets and social media. I know M is in contact with her family and occasionally she talks about it, but I normally find out after the event or if things have turned difficult for her.
J on the other hand talks about his family almost every day and for him it’s a form of talking therapy. He brings up the same subjects and asks the same questions again and again, and I answer honestly and patiently as I know each time it gets a little easier for him. He still hasn’t come to terms with coming into care. He keeps photos of his family in his room along with special items which have meaning for him. I also have a memory box of things I know one day he will want to look through.
I took a rare photo M sent me of her family, had it enlarged and put it in a frame for M and I know it’s significant to her as it was misplaced for a few days when we moved recently. She was distraught until it was found. I’ve also got fridge magnets of M, J and Baby S’s family alongside my own to show them they are just as important.
However, it is not until something happens can you see how vital the small links they have with their family are, and the significance of these items. M, Claire and Amber were recently at a local music festival, mostly to check out the boys and watch Amber’s boyfriend in a band. Along with the other girls, M took her handbag and mobile phone. I had a text from Claire to ask me to check if M had left her phone at home, which I knew would be very unlikely as she is never more than 3 centimetres away from it. I felt a sense of doom as there is nothing like a lost phone to traumatise a teenager. The girls arrived back at the house with M who was inconsolable about her lost phone.
I rang the organisers who said they would keep an eye out but I could tell it was just another irritating lost and found call, and would be placed at the bottom of the pile. Hubby drove to the venue – it was unfortunately in a field so the search area was huge and he had no luck, even though he scoured the grounds for 2 hours. M had taken herself off to her room and I found her later lying on the bed silent and unwilling to engage. A day passed and with no phone call from the festival organisers, we told M that she could have my old phone which was now a spare since my recent upgrade. She was polite but distant. She thanked me nicely but I thought she’d be happier at having a replacement phone so quickly.
Over that weekend, she came out of her room only to eat and to ask if the organisers had rung with news of her phone, and I realised something else was up. We doubled our efforts to find the phone as we felt it was probably something on that specific phone which she was so upset about losing. Hubby went out again, the search was easier as the car park was now empty, and I manned the phones trying to locate someone who might help. M participated and searched with Hubby and unbelievably he found it in a nearby children’s play area. It looked damaged beyond repair but he told M he would do his best as he knew it was important to her. He felt the pressure as M was ecstatic and clutched it to her like a precious prize, asking repeatedly all the way home ‘can you fix it?’
Hubby did fix it. It took nearly 5 hours of downloads, restores, re-downloads, reboots, big sighs, suppressed swearwords and lots of patience. He was watched like a hawk by M who narrated every move to me as I cooked, fed Baby S and worked with J on his homework. When it finally worked, M jumped around the kitchen hugging it and swiftly started scrolling muttering ‘please be there, please be there’ and then screeched with joy and presented the phone to us with a photo on the screen. It was of her and her mum and dad, obviously taken from an original print in a frame. M looked many years younger. It was an ordinary family photo, taken in a park with swings in the background. Yet, it was obviously the most precious thing of all to M.
Hubby showed M how to save her phone’s content to a virtual storage so if she lost or damaged it again, we could replace it and upload her precious files. Her relief was palpable and she then retreated back to her room and spent the rest of the evening on the phone, like any normal teenager.