The reunification of two special boys
Posted by Julia on 11th, June, 2015
In the summer of 2010 I took on a placement of two toddlers, B and L. As a relatively new carer with quite honestly no hands on experience of childcare whatsoever I was blessed with the advantage of being completely ignorant to the challenges that lay ahead. And in this situation, ignorance was a marvellous thing. What I did have though, was a pile of enthusiasm and an attitude that anything was possible. Eventually.
It transpired quite early on that both the children’s parents suffered from addictions to drugs and alcohol and as a result, the children had been exposed to high volumes of these substances whilst in utero and had additionally been chronically neglected since birth. They were desperately thin, with grey complexions, and straw like hair.
I put a baby monitor in their room on that first night and overheard B saying “It’s OK L, I don’t think she is going to smack us”. I was immediately struck by the innate sense he must have had that things were going to be OK here. I think I slept for about an hour that first night as the enormity of what I had undertaken began to sink in.
At 5am, B woke up his brother who promptly climbed out of his cot and they began shouting and running around their room throwing things at the walls. For all we accomplished in the following two years, they never did quite get the hang of a more peaceful start to the day. From their point of view, it was an excellent way of checking if anyone was at home or not and whilst there is no denying how challenging it was for me to manage, their energy and enthusiasm for everything we ever did was the glue that held the placement together.
B and L lived on their nerves in a constant state of high alert. They were terrified of being left, even whilst I nipped to the toilet. Their exposure to a life that I considered normal was nonexistent, I remember the first time I took them for a walk with the dogs, and B said “What’s that”? Pointing at the ground. “Mud” I said. They used to be fearful of feeling the wind in their hair and would start taking their coats off if the sun came out, even if it was only 3c, citing it must be hot if the sun was shining. They were desperately anxious for many months about whether or not we would be able to have supper each night.
When it came time to start school, B’s anxiety levels left him unable to sit down, listen or follow the most simple instructions so it was decided he would start school after lunch to begin with and it left the mornings free for long walks with the dogs where he could run around and at least become physically relaxed even if his brain was still whirring.
The extraordinary thing about B was that in spite of his hectic approach to life, he possessed a photographic memory. His finest hour came in school when his teacher produced a new book for the class; The Owl and the Pussycat. Having read this to B a couple of times previously, he proceeded to recite the entire book word perfect in front of his astonished teachers followed by rapturous applause from his classmates who had never even heard of the book.
A chance meeting with a soon to become great friend in the village opened up the opportunity of riding ponies and the boys became very accomplished riders over the next two years. Because our village is a racehorse training centre, they wanted to ride like jockeys, standing up in their really short stirrups pretending to be AP McCoy or Ruby Walsh. L loved watching the racing with me, telling me who was going to win and who rode what horse. He often put on his riding hat and rode the race from the arm of the sofa. He was absolutely fearless on a pony and had incredibly good balance. Before they left, AP McCoy presented them both with signed photographs of himself winning the Grand National on Don’t Push It in 2010. The kindness of so many from the horseracing community was absolutely heart warming. The adage that it takes a village to raise a child fully applied here and the generosity bequeathed to these boys would quite honestly restore even the most tattered faith in humanity.
Whilst B and L were becoming absorbed in the world of horseracing, their birth family was under immense scrutiny in completing their parenting assessments. It must be incredibly hard for birth parents to get through the assessments knowing that if they don’t, they won’t get their children back. B and L’s father had put himself forward to be the main carer and this was agreed provided he stopped smoking, stopped taking drugs, left his girlfriend, re connected with his family and moved in with his mother, co operated with social services, attended a parenting course, and grew his hair to enable hair strand tests to be completed. I have to confess to have been rather dubious at the likelihood he would be able to make all these changes. It took 18 months but he did it and in early 2012, B and L said goodbye to life with me and began their new life back with their Dad and Grandmother. Their mother hugged me and thanked me for caring for her boys in a way she felt she would never be able to. “They’ve had the time of their lives with you,” she said.
Those boys taught me so much about my role as a foster carer and what can be achieved when all parties are prepared to work together for the good of the children. Their father taught me that people can change and conquer their own mountains. No one is beyond help.