Little things and boundaries: 10 weeks to make a difference to a fostered brother and sister
Posted by Heather from the Isle of Wight on 3rd, June, 2015
It was tea-time on Thursday 12th March 2015. Twenty four hours since we had arrived at our new home in the Isle of Wight. The last of the boxes had been unpacked, dinner had been prepared, and we were waiting in anticipation for our new foster children to arrive.
There was a knock on the door… Tilly (my four year old daughter) and I looked at each other, raised our eyebrows, took a deep breath, and opened the door. We were greeted by a nervous looking 15 year old girl, and her very bouncy 3 year old brother, who, before anyone could say anything, introduced himself “Hello, my name is Edward”. What an icebreaker that was! Everyone breathed a sigh of relief as Edward and Isabel made their way into their (and our) new home.
The children’s social worker stayed for a few minutes and then left us to our own devices. Both children had eaten, so Tilly and I gave them a tour of the house. Edward immediately bounced on his bed and announced that he was staying for a sleep over. Isabel was very polite and said that her room was “very nice”… not an attitude I had experienced before from a placement and a refreshing change.
Soon it was bed time for the two little ones, and a new bedtime routine for everyone was quickly devised. The two little ones were given a drink of milk and a biscuit to take upstairs. Pyjamas were put on and we all met on the landing for a bedtime story. Isabel was left to her own devices downstairs which gave her a little time to chill out, and absorb her new surroundings
After story time teeth were brushed and beds got into and I went back down stairs. Edward, understandably, found it difficult to settle and Isabel asked if she could go and sit with him. She had done a lot of the care for him while at home, and so this I felt was a comfort for her also. Very soon Isabel was back downstairs and we talked and talked, getting to know each other. Isabel said her room felt very big, so we agreed we would find some pictures for the walls, a new duvet cover and a rug for the floor to try to personalise it a bit to her taste.
Soon it was time for Isabel to go to bed too, so I took the opportunity to sink myself down under my duvet for a much needed sleep. It felt as if my eyes had only just closed, when there was terrible shouting from Edward’s room! I rushed in expecting to find I don’t know what, to find him lying in his bed screaming that there were crabs in his room. Now, I’m no sea creature expert, but I felt pretty sure that crabs don’t live in bedrooms! Edward was adamant that there were some crawling out from behind the curtains, out of the drawers, along the ceiling and out of the wardrobe. His level of conviction was pretty convincing, so at 2.31am I performed my best ever crab catching show… and threw them all out of the window. Edward settled after this, so I went back to bed.
Nicely snuggled back under my duvet I could feel the waves of tiredness crashing over me and so closed my eyes and fell asleep… for five whole minutes! Again I was woken by distressed shouts, but this time there were no crabs; there were grasshoppers in his room! They are much more difficult to catch than the crabs were, and in the end I sunk into a tired little heap sitting next to his bed until he fell into a more restful sleep. I finally crawled back to my bed at 4.30am. This happened several times during Edward’s stay with us and the creatures were different every night.
5.30am came far too quickly that morning. Edward was bright eyes and bushy tailed. I, on the other hand, felt a little bedraggled. Edward and I had a lovely couple of hours to ourselves before Tilly and then Isabel joined us downstairs. We talked about the crabs and grasshoppers in Edward’s room, to which Edward stated: “there weren’t any”. Isabel raised her eyebrows at me in a knowing way, and happily left for school.
Our first day trip was to the zoo. While Tilly happily ran off to the viewing cave, Edward clung to my neck and became very anxious. Lots of reassurance followed and the rest of the trip was successful. During the children’s time with us we visited many of the attractions on the island, but our firm favourite became Amazon World, where Edward would rush through the first exhibits until he reached the crocodiles, where we would all have to stop and practice our crocodile teeth. When this mission had been completed Edward would then seek out the meerkats and spend some time laughing at the way they played together.
We had many happy days out, and Edward enjoyed the times we spent together exploring the island. It was during these times that I became increasingly grateful for having a savvy 15 year old with me who knew her way around the island which gave my poor overused satnav a rest!
Isabel is a truly lovely girl. I feel very privileged to have been her carer. She is a genuinely polite girl who expects nothing, so it was really nice to give her some treats sometimes. She appreciated everything. We would spend the evenings together talking about her day and her feelings. We had a very close and good fostering relationship. Isabel would talk to me about her friends, which parties she wanted to go to… and if any boys showed an interest in her she would always share her stories with me. We laughed a lot together. When things felt difficult for Isabel she would always talk to me and we would sit and try to find a good resolution together. These times almost always ended in laughter too. Isabel really was a breath of fresh air.
There were, of course, some difficult times. When the children arrived Edward was a very confused and angry three year old who couldn’t make sense of why he couldn’t see his mummy. I was told to tell him that mummy was having a rest. Edward is an incredibly bright little boy and this answer didn’t sit right with him. Edward’s frustration was often taken out on poor Tilly, but also on me. I was hit, kicked, spat at, screamed at, and told that I was hated. Edward would also shout out that I was hurting him.
The chillout step became Edward’s new friend for a while, and very firm boundaries were put in place. Edward thrived within the safe arms of our new rules. He began to learn that there were consequences for his actions, and his behaviour began to change. This led to a more settled and friendly little boy. It was also commented on that he looked like a completely different little boy as his face didn’t look always screwed up and angry, and that he was laughing more freely. His laugh lit up his whole face, it was the most beautiful sound.
There were times when the boundaries were tested. While Isabel was at school I took Tilly and Edward to a soft play centre. My thoughts were that they could run off some spare energy while I recouped with a cup of tea while watching them play. My lovely little daydream didn’t last long. I suddenly noticed that Edward was throwing balls, hard, in to the face of another little boy. I removed Edward from the ball pit and talked to him about his behaviour. Edward seemed to understand that he had been unkind, and promised to play nicely. He got down from my knee, smiling the sweetest smile, and promptly kicked another child in the shin. Again I retrieved little Edward, sat him on my knee and started to talk to him about what had just happened. Barely a sentence had come out of my mouth when I began to see very bright white stars. Edward didn’t want to hear what I had to say and had headbutted me in the nose. As I tried not to cry he slid down from my knee, made a beeline for Tilly, and bit her arm.
Ok. This outing was not going to plan! What were my options? I could take both children home, or I could supervise them more closely. Off came my shoes and with a “you can’t catch me” plunged myself in to the ball pit, with both Tilly and Edward in hot pursuit. We spent the next few hours clambering up steep foam slopes, whizzing down slides, climbing across rope bridges, and generally having a fantastic time. This bonding session was exactly what the three of us needed. There was a lot of laughter from all of us, and both little ones were able to take turns at helping each other (and me) with the obstacles.
The children were with me for 10 weeks all together. The time went too quickly. I was very sad when I was told that they would be moving on, but incredibly happy that they would be moving in with family members. It was an incredibly positive outcome for them both.
When I took the referral for the children I was wearing my rose tinted glasses. I had no idea how challenging a confused and angry little three year old could be. I had visions of him and Tilly skipping around the garden together, playing nicely all the time, and being the best of friends. Towards the end of the children’s time with me these things did happen, but it took very firm boundaries and absolute consistency with these boundaries to enable this to happen.
My advice to any future carers would be if you make rules, apply them. Being firm but fair had a hugely positive affect on Edward. Take time to sit back and appreciate the immense changes you make to these children’s lives, and don’t underestimate the power of the little things. Ending every day with a “love you, goodnight” made these two children feel loved, cared for and safe, in a potentially very frightening world.