Welcome to the Club!
You may already be a foster carer, just started exploring the possibility, be part of the way through the assessment process and want to know what you’re getting yourself into or have dropped into the blog because I mentioned the name Channing Tatum and you’re wondering where the celebrity gossip is. We’ll get to that.
I currently foster with Nexus Fostering, an independent foster agency, which I chose after calm, considered research and for their ‘Outstanding’ OFSTED report. However, my first experience of fostering was unintentional, messy and uncoordinated. Fostering was forced upon me in a very stressful time in my life and I learnt on the job along with the young person I was suddenly responsible for. I was running my own business in the leisure sector which relies heavily on part time staff and mine was no different and I employed staff from as young as 15 years old during the summer and weekends. One busy summer a young girl came in during a tourist flooded shift and approached me tentatively to ask if there were any summer jobs. I dismissed her immediately as I could see she was very young and I didn’t have the time to train someone from scratch who I predicted would leave within a week. She hardly said a word but accepted it and left. I didn’t give her another thought. The next week, she came in, asked the same question and again I declined, barely pausing to talk to her. I had 28 staff and I was too busy.
Over the next 6 weeks, she came in every Saturday and always quietly accepted what I or my team said. By the end of summer I was intrigued; I was already impressed by her tenacity and a little curious. On cue, she came in the next Saturday and asked me again for a part time weekend job. She looked ready for my rejection but I got her a Coke which she left untouched in front of her. I was ready to offer her a small shift at the weekend when she told me her name and I immediately sighed (out loud, I’m ashamed to say) and told her I’d employed her brother last year and that he had been escorted off the premises by the police! She didn’t say anything but said she wanted to work and that she would do anything. I agreed to a trial period but not before I terrified the life out of her by telling her if she was late or couldn’t be bothered getting out of bed at the weekend, then not to bother coming back. I also dropped in that her brother was not welcome and she told me it wouldn’t be a problem as he was in jail. Feeling guilty about my fierce exterior, I smiled and showed her around but I honestly didn’t expect her to last the first weekend.
By Christmas, Tina had worked for me for several months and was a valued member of my kitchen team, respected and liked by everyone and never turning her nose up at any job my tyrannical chef would throw at her. She had worked her way through so much washing up and never complained that when a trainee chef failed to turn up, Tina was put on the spot, given the briefest of training and she was outstanding. She rose to the occasion, was reliable and hardworking – what a star and still only 13! My head chef was so impressed by her natural ability and palette that he took her under his wings and she started preparing sauces and basic dishes during her short shifts. It was all going so well… then it just stopped.
Tina started to be unreliable, often turning up late for shifts or failing to show up at all. It was so out of character that my husband would drive to her house to make sure that she was ok but she rarely answered the door and if she did it was obvious she was lying. What we didn’t know was that she was caring for her 5 year old brother whilst her mother was out. It soon became apparent that her small weekend wages weren’t going on the latest fashion or make up but were feeding her family. Mum was doing her best but struggling with 4 children on her own. We made allowances when we could without letting on to Tina that we knew her circumstances.
Tina loved coming to work and seemed to blossom in the kitchen but preparing to leave at the end of her shift would change her and she’d do anything to put off leaving. After another few months of secretly supporting Tina where I could (collecting her for shifts, giving her leftovers to take home, slipping in extra money in her pay packet under the guise of a rebate) I felt things had declined and I had to inform ‘someone’ that this child was having no childhood. Events were taken out of our hands by a phone call at 2am later that month. The police called to say that Tina was in a cell and as her legal guardian, could I come down to the station. Tina didn’t know who to turn to and had named myself and my husband as her guardians when her brother had returned from prison and things had turned ugly. He’d phoned the police and wanted to press assault charges. The police asked if we could take Tina home with us that night and a suitable foster carer would be found the next day. Tina didn’t leave the next day or go onto professional carers, she stayed with us for three years and we did become her legal guardians. This was my first experience of fostering (informally), social workers, contact with family and how to juggle everyday life with a child who had been pushed to her limits.
She is now at the top of her field, married and has her own children. Whatever we gave her, she gave us so much more and one of the biggest gifts she left us with was the desire to become professional foster carers.
So what about Channing Tatum? I know, that was sneaky hook but as a foster carer, you learn to use all the resources around you including training, experience and sometimes you have a trick up your sleeve which might just work!