News and blogs Latest blogs Working together Foster carers can make an incredible difference to children’s lives. They provide nurture and security at a time when the world can seem to be a very frightening place. This week and next, Foster Care Fortnight celebrates the important contribution foster carers make and encourages more people to consider taking on the role. Sarah is an adoptive mum and foster carer. We asked her how adopters can best work with foster carers to ensure a child’s transition to permanence goes as smoothly as possible, during introductions and beyond. The first time I met Archie’s adoptive mummy, she had lots of questions for me, his foster carer. We worked through her list, often going off on a tangent, and I did my best to answer everything but, at the end of an intense three-hour meeting, my mind was racing as I said goodbye. I couldn’t help feeling worried about all the questions I couldn’t answer, and all the important details I might have forgotten. Archie’s new mummy was an art therapist so, naturally, many of her questions gravitated towards her own interests and skills. I am emphatically not artistic. Of course I had given Archie crayons and paints, but I had not noted exactly how he had responded to them in the kind of detail his new mummy would have. I knew lots of other things about him, but I worried that his new mummy would think I hadn’t been attentive enough. Thinking back to that day, I’m reminded that while adoption brings together children and parents, it also catapults together, however temporarily, foster families and adoptive families who are likely to have different backgrounds, lifestyles and interests. The success of the transition relies a great deal on these two sets of people making connections from scratch during some of the most stressful times of their lives. I am always encouraged when I hear adopters speak positively about their experiences of transition. Well-handled, it can be a positive and exciting time for everybody, laying the foundations for a future relationship that can bring real benefits to an adopted child’s understanding of their life story. Sadly, I also sometimes hear stories of disastrous and badly-handled intros, causing enormous distress, and meaning that a child’s precious first few weeks with their new family are over-shadowed by conflict. As adopters, you will have no control over the input from the foster carer, but you can take steps to make sure you are mentally and emotionally, as well as practically prepared to help things go as smoothly as possible. Meeting the foster carers It’s hard for adopters to know what to expect when they meet the foster carers. We come from a range of backgrounds and lifestyles, with differing skills and knowledge levels. Although we receive training, its quality and content may vary widely between agencies. My initial training included only a very basic overview of attachment, for instance, and I have found that many prospective adopters are very widely read and know more theory than some foster carers (and some social workers!). Archie was the first child I had transitioned to adoption. I had received no training about the process. I was just winging it. Most looked after children do not go on to be adopted, so even an experienced carer may not be very experienced in moving a child onto adoption. Your child’s foster carer might be as nervous and unsure as you are. Preparing questions in advance is a good strategy. Do remember though that, as with Archie’s new mummy, differing lifestyles and priorities may mean that the answers to some of your questions are not as detailed as you might have expected. There are some things foster carers might not know at all. For instance, I rarely know much about the children’s lives prior to the events that happened immediately before they came into care. I know very little about what happens during children’s family contacts except how frequently they occurred and how the child seemed to respond to them afterwards. Where a foster carer’s input is invaluable is in providing the full-colour detail of a child’s personality and little quirks, and the richness of the life they’ve lived in that family. So as well as all the more obvious questions about likes and dislikes, milestones, and daily routines, make sure you ask about everybody in the household, including pets, and know what your child calls them. Find out how your child interacts with other children in the household, at nursery or on playdates, and learn as much as you can about the people who have been important in their life. Take notes! This will be precious information in future years as you flesh out the bare bones of your child’s life story together. If you can, exchange contact details with the foster carer. I love sending updates on the child’s progress, and passing on other details we might have forgotten at the meeting. Knowing you can contact the carer later reduces the pressure to cover absolutely everything at that one meeting. Navigating Intros Intros are a draining period for everybody. Make sure you are well-rested, physically and mentally, and ready for an intense time. Try to complete all your preparations at home well before intros start so that you are free to rest when you are not with your child. Make plans to bring their belongings home before final handover day. Depending on their age, they might be involved with moving some objects into their new bedroom. On the final day, there should only be a small overnight bag to collect. It takes courage for an adopter to take their first steps into parenting under the eye of the carer. It takes nearly as much courage for the carer to draw away and allow the child they have loved and cared for to attach to someone else. I find I walk a fine line between supporting the adoptive parents to assume the care of the child, and interfering too much with unwanted advice. I hope I keep on the right side of that line, but we are all only human. It is very likely that some aspects of the foster carer’s parenting will differ from your own ideas. This may be because of their own personalities, because of restrictions placed on them by fostering regulations – for example my agency does not recommend bedtime routines in the child’s bedroom – or because of the legacy of the child’s early experiences. Being brought into foster care is a tremendous upheaval for a young child, and carers will introduce changes to a child’s diet, lifestyle and habits only gradually. Try, at this stage, to just accept things as they are. As adoptive parents, you will have years ahead to work towards the changes you hope for. What Comes Next “We’ll be in touch!” These are so often the parting words as adopters drive away to start their new lives. Continuing contact with carers can be very positive for adopted children, but that will be up to you, as parents, to decide. Try to avoid making big decisions about continuing contact during the emotionally-charged intros period. Establish a method of communication that you feel comfortable with, and talk about what you expect over the first few days and weeks. It can be helpful to have the foster carer just a text message away for those unexpected questions, and I admit I have appreciated it when adopters have sent me a few messages in the early days to let me know how the child is settling in. However, the advice given by my agency is that any continuing contact must always be initiated by the adoptive family. A foster carer should let the adopters take the lead, so try to be honest and clear about what you do and don’t want. Every plan should be open for review, depending on the needs of your child. I have been privileged to be able to keep in contact with several of the children I’ve fostered, including Archie. At some point during intros, I confessed to his new mummy how nervous I’d been at our first meeting and how I’d panicked at some of her questions. We laughed about it, and it was the start of a lovely friendship that continues to this day, despite the hundreds of miles between us.