Hands up if any of these phrases ring a bell –
• Percentile line
• Early learning goals
• Development stages
The list could go on……..
As parents or professionals working with children outside of fostering, we spend ALL of our time (and their childhood) judging/comparing/assessing/plotting/pushing them. If a child isn’t hitting the right percentile or checking the early learning goals in the right order, at the right time, we, as professionals, are questioning that. We intervene and put in place what needs doing. I’ve worked across multiple age groups and have children between the ages of 9 and 14 and two older stepdaughters who I have also lived with, so on the whole, I believe I know, what to expect from birth to 18-ish.
Fostering has taught me to take those expectations, write them down on a piece of paper, screw them up and throw them away.
The thing is, no matter whether your expectations are pitched high or low, you will be, undoubtedly, wrong. A friend who is a Foster Carer said to me, from her experiences, the foster children she had looked after, were more able in day-to-day tasks such as dressing, feeding and washing etc. She believed, due to their parents not being involved and their neglectful behaviour had meant the children had to quite simply, look after themselves in their home.
Armed with this knowledge I was utterly floored when our placement arrived. They couldn’t do anything. Wash, dress, put a hairband in, and in the case of the little one, use cutlery. I tried hard to use my knowledge to gauge where I should help and where I should step back and, quite frankly, the first week or two it was a total disaster. Things that I assumed they could do, they really couldn’t. And then, due to that, things I assumed they couldn’t do, they could. What was so spectacularly confusing about it, was that there was no rhyme or reason. No, I can’t wash my hair but I can fold and organise all my washing!
What I have found with ‘expectation’ in the early days, is that it led to an inner frustration within me. Not aimed at the foster children, but just at the situation. I have to be a little bit kind to myself (as we all do), I mean, we were and still are living within a global pandemic. To say I was under pressure before they arrived would be an understatement so coping with a ‘new normal’ (anyone else hate that phrase?) was hard. I was basically having to put all my professional knowledge of child development in a tin and lock it away. It was also quite difficult to manage with my three children in the house as well – I mean, I could ask them to wash up but they were struggling to see why I wasn’t asking our new arrivals to as well.
It was a bizarre and exhausting balancing and guessing game which I hadn’t anticipated playing. And if someone were to ask me what has been the most valuable thing I would take onto my next placement, should I have one, is that I have learnt from this one. Exactly that. Expect the unexpected. And don’t be surprised if you are still left, mouth open in shock or awe of what’s in front of you.