The first part of this account appeared in the March 2009 edition of the Webmag, the second part in the May 2009 issue and the third part in the August issue. Click here if you would like to read them first.
Getting to Know You
There I was in a house where my child had spent her entire life from the time she left hospital. She was living with two other foster children, her foster carers and their two older children (who incidentally had both been adopted). I felt at a complete loss. So I just ignored her - the child that was to come and live with me for the rest of my life. She wasn’t interested in me and nor did I expect her to be. She was silent - she made no noises at all; she spent her time in her own world, not really interacting with anyone. It struck me as quite sad that this little girl was left so much on her own except for when the foster carers teased her or she lost her temper.
She didn’t go to the foster carer for affection and she most certainly was allowed to get away with anything she wanted, such as refusal to eat and not sitting in a high chair but crawling over the table and chairs at will. Most lunchtime meals and evening meals consisted of tinned soup from a big bowl with one spoon shared between the babies and her.
I wanted to scoop her up and run away with her there and then. Everything saddened me. This perfect little person was living with no rules. She would scream and scream when put in bed for a snooze in the afternoon. She shared a bedroom with the foster carers, and had done so since she was placed there at three weeks old. I had to smile and go along with everything that was said to me by the foster carers, knowing that everything that was happening now would change dramatically as soon as I got her home officially.
During the 10 days that I was ‘getting to know’ my daughter I never saw her offered anything to eat other than the soup, some crisps and packets of chocolate buttons. She never sat in a high chair and was always allowed to sit on someone’s knee. If she was placed in a high chair she climbed out and cried. She survived on high calorie milk interspersed with offerings of milky tea and highly concentrated fruit juice. I hated it. I hated that she didn’t know what a vegetable was, she was unable to chew, she didn’t know what her teeth were for. She didn’t even know how to suck properly. But she was a survivor.
The carer’s home was crammed full of new toys; they had toys everywhere. There was a conservatory full of them; toys in the lounge; on the stairs; in the hallway; everywhere. Almost all of them weren’t played with as there was no room. The money that the carer was given was spent on these extravagant items which were enormous and unwieldy. As children left with their adoptive parents, they were all given more than a car full of things to take away. Not only wasn’t there any space for the babies to play with their toys, there was certainly no interaction between the carers and the babies to improve their communication and interactive skills.
To give a greater insight to you (the reader) of the environment a competent walker i.e. an adult would struggle to walk through the rooms because you would have to look at the floor to make sure that you weren’t stepping on a baby or a toy or baby wipes, bottles, etc… I can’t begin to imagine how difficult it would be as a child to learn to walk without falling and really hurting themselves.
Approaches to Foster Care
The carers appeared to spend their time drinking tea, doing crosswords or sudoku in silence and more or less ignoring the babies… until they cried and then they were fed or put in bed in silence. It was the husband’s job to feed the babies and the wife’s job to put them to bed. The way they cleaned up if a baby had been sick was to use their foot and rub it in to the carpet, if the babies had dirty mouths their clothes were used to wipe them. Whilst I was there I seemed to be the only one to pick up the five-week old baby and the nine-month old, talking to them, playing with them getting smiles and giggles and gurgles from them both. These were children desperate for attention and communication.
I didn’t understand how these people could be considered as some of the best in the county. All I know is that I wouldn’t and couldn’t allow myself to raise children in the way that there did. The five-week old baby was left most of the day in the pram downstairs, where she also slept at night, the nine-month old shared a room with the carer’s adult daughter, and of course my daughter slept in a cot in the same room as the foster carers themselves. I noted that my daughter had the same dirty mark on her face for most of the week that I was there, until I was allowed to give her a bath… one bath in 10 days… one hair wash in 10 days…. Yuck!!!!
The plan formulated in the Planning Meeting was not adhered to by the carers. They told me to take my daughter out on the second day I was there. So we went to the park, whereupon my child had the first and only grump about my rules. I’d decided that when we were out on our own my rules would be there and I would be firm with them. I don’t waiver from my very distinct boundaries and never have done when in the company of children. She decided when we were out that she did not want to come with me back to the car and completely ignored me. So she was picked up and carried back in to the car. Where she was put in her car seat and we drove away from the park. I have photos of her taken on that day and there is a distinct look of dislike on her face - I love it.
I was never there in the morning when she got up - it was decided by the foster carers that there was no point in that and I also never put her to bed whilst I was there. It’s not that I wasn’t awake in the mornings; I was; they just decided that it wouldn’t matter that I wasn’t there.
During the meeting stage I was in contact with my social worker occasionally as I had no mobile phone reception at the accommodation where I was staying, unless I hung out of the window with one finger pointing east and my toes pointing north and south simultaneously. I did feel that the whole process of introductions was going well, in spite of the social workers and the environment.
It was very hard to be away from home for so long, having to spend so much time in someone else’s place, and live by their rule. As welcoming as they were, it just wasn’t home, and I really don’t think that it should have been ten days. It was too long and really quite tedious having to find things to do in a strange rural environment every day. To be perfectly honest, I think that she would have been fine after five days or perhaps even less. But due to the previous issues, I’m fairly sure that these social workers in particular would have gone out of their way to make the whole process as uncomfortable for me as possible, and I’m sure they’d be pleased to know that it worked.
There was a further meeting on day eight of the introductions with the adoption manager, the social worker, the foster carers, the foster carers support worker, me and my social worker, who should have been there - but she was sick and couldn’t come. I did get a phone call from the agency asking me if I’d like another social worker to come and support me, but I said no, as I didn’t think that there would be any problems. How silly I was!
I was once more treated like a child, an incompetent child, who could only be spoken to as if I was in trouble all the time. I have to say it did make me act like a truculent teenager and just want to tell them all where they could stick their rules and regulations. Before the meeting started I was advised to be a parent to the child - to do things for her as if I was in my own home, so if she wanted a drink, get her a drink, if she wanted some food the same thing should happen.
When the meeting started I was seated at the table on a chair and everyone else took their places in the room. My daughter was in the room too, so they could all see how she reacted to me. After a few minutes she started to get restless so I went to get her a drink and some sweets to keep her occupied. I excused myself from the meeting and returned as fast as possible to the seat at the table. When I returned, the adoption manager then ‘tested’ my daughter and asked her where Mummy was… She pointed at me… of course, I am the only Mummy she’s ever known!
The meeting went on and on and on, and was just tedious, as the same things were being gone over again and again. I could see that my girl was getting a bit bored, so I stood up, pushed my chair under the table and got down on the floor to play with her, at which point the adoption manager said to me in a very sarcastic tone, “So that’s the end of the meeting then? Now you’ve got up”. I responded that I got down to play with my daughter if that was OK with her.
I was then criticised for calling her ‘my daughter’. I really felt I couldn’t win. If I’d said I’m getting on the floor to play with ‘the kid’ I’d have been accused of being too standoffish with her, but I laid claim to her as my child: it was clearly the wrong thing to say. As far as I was aware and am still aware, the whole point of adoption is that she is my child, and on meeting her, knowing that she was coming home with me she was my child from that point onwards.
We left the day after the meeting took place, and I had to get my Mum to drive over and help take the toys and ‘stuff’ back to our house, if only so that it could be sorted out and the clothes and toys that were too dirty or didn’t fit properly were given to charity shops. The social worker arrived to see us off. I said good bye to the foster carers and thanked them for being there for my daughter, and drove off towards home.
On the journey home, she slept in her car seat for almost the entire journey. We reached the house, got out of the car and brought her in to the house. She went into the kitchen and met the dogs (a Springer spaniel and a Rottweiler) - who were very friendly and gentle but very excited to see her. She screamed. I picked her up, and told her that they just wanted to be friends and they were happy to see her. She accepted that and was comfortable with the dogs from then on.
She had only a couple of bottles of milk that day. Instead, she ate homemade food that my Mum had spent days preparing, cooking and freezing to make sure that she was getting wholesome food. We spent some time in the dining room washing toys and sorting them out. My daughter, who is a bit of a water baby, almost dived into the washing up bowl full of soapy water, where she spent her afternoon, sitting in the washing up bowl.
That night she had a bath, had her hair washed, got dressed in her new nightclothes, had cuddles and I put her in to her own room in her own cot in a baby sleeping bag. I didn’t hear anything from her from when I put her in bed at 7.30 pm to 8 am the next morning. No crying, no upset, just a sleeping peaceful child… I checked on her many times!
She has never shown any distress at having left the foster carer’s home; she settled in to the routine there and then - bath then bed every night between 7 and 7.30 pm.
My final article will give my account of the next eight months of monitoring visits, unscheduled meetings, secret plans and finally resorting to appoint solicitors.