This the title of an article I wrote for a new fostering website. You can read it here, or on their site: kidswhofoster.co.uk
In the UK today, there are 70,000 children and young people living in public care, with over 54,000 living with foster families. Some of these placements are for a short term, until a particular situation in their primary family is resolved. Others can be for an extended length of time, as they wait to be adopted, or reach an age to live independently.
This is a very transitional time. One that can be characterised as chaotic, uncertain, emotionally trying… and yet can be the most settled, and ‘fruitful’ time for a foster child. The child could be said to be on a journey ‘from here to there’, and I propose, the foster placement could be seen as ‘The Land Between’.
Much emphasis is rightly put on the impact this, significant and potentially pivotal time, has on the foster child. But what about the foster parents? And, their birth children?
How does one create stability in a foster placement that is intended to be temporary? How easy is it to balance loving and giving, without becoming too attached? How do you walk alongside the foster children in the highs and lows, sometimes having to carry them through, without expending yourself to the point of empty? How do you top-up your resolve again and again, as you start the process over with another child? And, how do birth children manage these changes?
A foster carer gives this insight:
“They [potential foster carer] shouldn’t think they’re going to be at home all day, playing with the children,” she says. In reality, there is a lot of paperwork, a lot of scrutiny from social workers, and a powerful sense of loss when the children move on.
“When they move on for adoption, it’s like somebody dying. It is a very intense process. That’s the time when I ask myself why I am doing this. The next time you meet them, a few months later, they don’t recognise you,” Karen, 43, (former teaching assistant) specialises in fostering babies from birth1.
When living in this tension, there are unlikely to be straight-forward answers and, the reality is, that for each placement, something completely different is required. Though, there will be some foundational things that remain constant.
So, can ‘The Land Between’ be made easier?
We’ll touch briefly on two points: 1) Recognising it’s a time of Transition, and 2) Support from Other Foster Carers
Recognising it is a time of Transition
David Pollock, a sociologist, identified five stages of transition.
It could also be put another way:
- The Belonging stage,
- The Leaving stage,
- The Change or chaos stage,
- The Entering stage and
- Back to the Belonging stage again.
It would not be surprising if you found these stages familiar, as we all experience transition at some stage. And, to an extent life could be described as an ongoing transition. We’re all transitioning through life, navigating the ‘highs & lows’ and ‘twists & turns’, yet often expectant, or hopeful for something more.
In times of very distinct change, such as experienced in a foster placement by the foster child/ carers, and birth children, it is important to note that in some placements, the time of transition may be quick, whilst others may go through each of the stages in turn, and may repeat, fluctuate or even become stuck between the stages.
Knowing, or being reminded of this may just ‘take the edge off’ some of the strain that may accompany a foster placement, and possibly provide insight to help navigate everyone through.
Support from Other Foster Carers
“Support from other foster carers is paramount. “Because you work on your own from home, foster care can be very isolating,” admits John. Fortunately, their link worker runs a support group where foster carers meet once a month to discuss what is happening in their lives and issues they may have with children. “There are some situations that only other foster carers can understand,” explains John. “They can give advice, ‘I’ve had that happening to me and I’ve done so-and-so and it worked’, which is really useful.”” John, foster carer with his wife Stephanie for 28 years2
‘The Land Between’ brings to mind the concept of ‘The Promised Land’, one which may seem like a fairytale or cliché to some, yet may have some useful parallels. E.g. A people who managed to leave a difficult situation, for a journey full of change and chaos. After a long time they managed to enter a new place (the Promised Land), and become settled, and go on to thrive.
Every child you foster will be leaving a difficult situation, journeying with you and your family, for a period of time, before hopefully returning to a better situation or going on to a new one. ‘The Land Between’ is a vital part of moving towards this outcome, for all involved; the foster child, parents and birth children.
I trust it is one that you journey well in.
Janice Whyne – October 2010
1 Guardian.co.uk, 5th February 2010