Wednesday, April 22, 2015

And then there were 5...

As a family, we've never been people to let the grass grow under our feet. We like change, we thrive on the new, we believe in grasping every opportunity with both hands and shaking it, just to see what might happen. We've also always known we have more than enough love to go around and enough space in our lives to welcome another person or two into our family. I learnt this when Iola was born: we didn't need to more carefully ration out the love we had so everyone had an equal amount, we just had more love because there was Iola. That's the way love works, isn't it. Love isn't quantifiable, it just is, and the more you throw out into the universe, the more you seem to get in return.
One of the reasons we bought a bigger house than we needed was that we imagined sharing it one day with someone who needed a home. I've wanted to foster for a long time but I wanted to wait until the girls were settled and resilient and totally on board with the idea.

I used to write a regular column for Spare Change News, New England's homeless newspaper. I based it on vendors' life stories. Over coffee (and normally donuts, because this was Boston and all the best conversations take place over donuts) vendors would tell me about their lives. Nearly all of them had spent at least part of their childhoods in care. It doesn't matter which country you are in - the UK, the US, Australia - the statistical trends are the same: children who have been in care are more likely to have lower educational successes, higher likelihoods of homelessness and poverty and drug use, and far higher risks of poor health. Newspaper stories tend to look at the adults in this picture: the people in prison, the drug addicts, the shadowy criminals whom we rarely see but who are the reason we lock our doors at night; but I think, instead, we should be looking at the children who don't have safe, permanent homes and who become likely to grow into these people. That there are national shortages of foster families - in the UK, in the US, in Australia - correlates with young people growing towards marginalized, disaffected lives. Can you imagine as a child not having any kind of security? Not having a hot meal each day, not having clothes to wear which fit you, not having anyone who cares whether you go to school or not, not having a safe place to sleep at night? And sometimes this is a short-term problem: the family has faced a crisis and just needs a short period of support to get back into a position where they can provide the love, security and comfort a child needs; and sometimes the problems are more chronic and require a greater period of support or an alternative solution. But the bottom line for me is that it's not the child's fault. I've never seen a baby who is evil, I've never met a child who is truly 'bad', I don't understand why some children have fabulous childhoods with all that love and material stuff and great opportunities, while other children's lives can be defined by how much they have suffered. Rather than worrying that our young people are growing into people we don't want them to become, perhaps we should be questioning the kinds of care we offer to the children who are vulnerable within our society.

Anyhow, we had our initial conversation with the Department for Children and Families (DCF) a few weeks ago. They looked around the house, talked about fire extinguishers, and listened to the rant I've outlined in the paragraph above. We explained our life plan, such as it was - sometime in the Fall we might be interested in providing respite fostering to a child around the same age as our own children, mainly at weekends... The DCF people smiled and nodded and ticked boxes on their paperwork and it was all very pleasant. Less than 72 hours later they telephoned to tell us about K. K needed a home. Immediately. 

We said 'yes', of course. We said, 'Bring him over.' We said, 'If he wants to be here, he's welcome.' And it's a short term thing because he's one of the lucky ones whose family loves him to bits and can't wait to be able to have him back home with them. But that's the funny thing about love, because our hearts have opened to him too. It feels as though he's always been here. He's the one to make Iola laugh when she needs her vaccinations by plonking his baseball cap on her head so that she can't see; he's the one to jolly Maya along when she's in a bad mood because her new braces mean she can't play her French Horn as well as she used to. He's taught the dog a long list of new tricks; he's given the chickens new names; he's rebuilt the tree house and beaten Nathan at pool; according to Iola, who knows about these things, he swims like a killer whale, and he fills the house with his catchphrase - "I've got this!"

He's not a perfect kid, and we're all breathing a sigh of relief over that because who is? But we love having him here while life straightens itself out and maybe, if we're lucky, it might make a little difference to his life. It's certainly made a big difference to our lives, but then - as I've already said - that's the way love works, isn't it.