07 December 2018

 Christmas Tidings 

My stand out memory from all my Christmas Days gone by, is the one where I watched a particular little fella unwrap his much anticipated gift.


It was just what he’d asked for; simple, traditional, but the exact one he wanted - perfectly shiny, big in comparison to him, all the right colours…. he sat with his very own, brand new football on his lap, feet dangling off the edge of the sofa, forcing the weakest, most noble smile I think I’ve ever seen.


I have rarely felt more sad, then or whenever I think of it, when the desperate poignancy of getting just what he wanted, yet it still being a very poor substitute for having his own family around him, was so tangible and unmissable.

Christmas Day; heaps of torn wrapping paper; a courageous child trying to be grateful... a big empty hole dominating everything.

Other Christmas Day memories follow in quick succession - the kid who spent the whole day in his room; others who kept up the slightly, or very, wired energy for hours, to see them through; another who said goodbye with a tight hug as he went ‘home’ for a couple of days, the hope and anxiety clear to see in his eyes; she who sank into her plentiful Christmas dinner, savouring every morsel with deep appreciation, no longer having to scavenge for herself and her siblings; another who spent hours opening his relatively modest pile of gifts, lingering over each before moving on, increasingly, intermittently, gazing into space as his mind perhaps either took him elsewhere or became overwhelmed...


I note a slightly Dickensian feel to these real life, modern day stories, and wonder if I’ve filtered others away. But actually, in my several decades of knowing young people in care, as much as their behavioural and social struggles are often described as successively ‘worse than ever - more complex and challenging’, what I observe is that although some struggles may be different, complex and challenging have always been, and the hearts, in the midst of all of it, remain the same.


What leads me to share this now, other than the nostalgia of a career I feel privileged to have shared, and a hunger for whatever the next couple decades (I started VERY young!) might bring?


As we approach the end of an eventful year in fostering, a few headlines and happenings have caught my eye, and I started scribing something slightly grumpy and niggly, but instead want to go a different way.


Hoo-bloody-rah for all those who do exceptional work with exceptional young people.


Thank you to Caroline Brain of the Croydon collective, for inviting genuine partnership working, based on open minds, mutual respect, and an interest in spending the available money on whatever works for our kids.


Thank you to Essex CC for the teeny tiny great big enormous inclusion of the word ‘other’ in front of ‘professionals’, in their contract, to describe the people foster parents will work with… “working with other professionals to ensure children and young people receive….”.


Professor Ray Jones has a new book out, and a column in the Guardian this week. He has all the labels of someone who should be taken seriously, yet presents an analysis and a conclusion with which I have to disagree, partly because it ignores a shed load of inconvenient facts, and which will in our view disadvantage children. I’m not going to go on about it, but we want to do our bit to offer balance, so direct the delicious reader to a prior blog, which offers an alternative to his decades old rhetoric.


Fostering Network folk - loving your invitation to the media - and to me - to be positive about what we all do, to lighten the stigma our children face, rather than adding to it, and wanting a greater vision for what our fostering could offer. You do chastise Children's Minister Mr Zahawi, for encouraging the title foster parents rather carers, and actually we big him up for choosing that. We of course agree that “Foster carers are fulfilling the parenting role that all children need – including offering the warmth, love and hugs that children thrive on – but the role of a foster carer is much more complex and professional. ”. But when you say “To be clear, being called a foster carer and showing love and compassion are not mutually exclusive. “...we would flip that and propose that being called a foster parent, whilst being sophisticated and professional, are not mutually exclusive...and ‘professional parent’ describes my Christmas Day experiences, and feelings, much more accurately.


This year I will raise a glass, metaphorically, emotionally, tenaciously, with a deep breath, to all those children and young people I have known, and to those I’ll never meet. I am sorry for whenever I could have done better for you - you always had, and will always have, the best I have to offer. I will continue to learn, and to share, so that collectively we might find better ways.


Thank you, above all, for your willingness to risk trusting, again, and thank you to those who earn it... you all astonish me.


For more stories, straight from those who live it, grab a mulled wine, find somewhere comfy for 20 minutes, and watch: 'Professionalism: Fostering Life through a Lens'.




written by

Jane Keenan

Recruitment Manager


Last modified on Friday, 07 December 2018 16:18

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