At a conference last week I had the pleasure of being entertained by Mr Martin Barrow, foster Dad to several children over a number of years, including ‘L’, who was central to the story of ‘a boy and a box’.
Mr Barrow sounds to me to be a very good foster parent. I can imagine a range of children thriving with him and his family, because he spoke of adapting to L’s individuality, from a starting point of very little knowledge. As Martin said - he ‘knew nothing about autism, and even less about carpentry’, and yet L required development in both areas, in order to fulfil his potential, so Martin obliged.
He went on to discuss the importance of the community in which he lives; the stepping up of others, necessary to truly embrace the needs of vulnerable kids. Yet he also spoke of some in the same community who had let the children down, by knowing of the children’s dire straits but doing nothing about it, because they considered it not their business.
Animated, and shrugging in a placating but slightly frustrated manner, Martin effused:
“Call me parent or carer...I’m not fussed”.
“Professional, not professional...makes no difference to me, I’ve no complaints about how I’m treated by my local authority.”
“Let’s all just please remember that whatever you’re talking about, it has to be about the children, that’s why we’re all doing it.”
We’ve also encountered Martin on Twitter:
“I wonder what the children would make of us arguing about whether we’re parents or carers?”.
Charming and heartwarming, and in many ways right, of course, this naivete nevertheless belies Mr Barrow’s life as a journalist, formerly of The Times.
Let’s regroup on the basics, because if a ‘formerly of The Times’ journalist misses the point, we may all be a bit stuffed....
When children do not live with their birth families, there are a range of choices.
The following sparse handful of examples have all been implemented, at some point in time, around the world:
Tie them to rudimentary cots in orphanages
A neighbour takes them in
Leave them in the fields to die
Put them to work in manual labour
Have them live together in groups, with adults rotating every few hours or days
Earn money, from strangers having sex with them
These, and others, are all possible. We could equally keep them in cages, shoving a Pot Noodle through occasionally.
But in our society we have decided that the best alternative to birth family, is someone else’s family. That is our first choice, our gold standard.
And we have decided that this needs to be organised, not by the community itself, by neighbours and well-intentioned folk, but by ‘an authority’; someone who takes or delegates responsibility for what will happen to the child, and where they will live.
Just as well, I guess...because as Martin points out, and as the examples above indicate, a community can be amazing, and a power for the good, but cannot be relied upon, and may - left to its own devices - be positively disastrous.
Yet if ‘the authority’ is to attract, select and nurture the people who actually can step up for our children, and decide on how children get placed with those people, then how the authority perceives them does matter...how they look for them, choose them, and work alongside them - matters. Otherwise they’ll get it wrong. They’ll attract the wrong families, choose the wrong families, or work alongside good families in the wrong way - a way that ruins good families. Gimme a break on the crudeness of what’s ‘right’ and what’s ‘wrong’ - sure we all work within complexity and plurality, but some stuff is just wrong…
If you don’t believe me:
See the London Borough which has 20% of their foster families sitting empty, whilst the borough’s kids are sent elsewhere, because of limitations in what those families can, and want to do; limitations in who they can, and want, to live alongside.
Ponder the body of research, that talks over, and over again, across multiple decades, about those foster parents who leave the work because of feeling disrespected, ignored, underpaid, or finding the work too stressful.
Note the average breakdown rate, and low educational achievement for our fostered children.
Then pay attention to anywhere, anyone, that does better than that.
If we are to find people who can and will do what our children need, Mr ‘formerly of The Times, and it’s all about the kids’ Barrow, then I put it to you that how those who foster are perceived, described and related to, by those tasked with finding and working alongside them, matters A LOT. For our children.
Because if it is to be all about the kids, it must be all about their foster families.
Otherwise we may as well stock up on Pot Noodles.
Which you already know, Martin, out there, getting on with it, adapting to the needs of each child, with the humility that permits you to learn from them.
I genuinely love that.
But your rhetoric is limiting the best interests of other kids, placed elsewhere. You have a platform to do better.
Image credit: Pexels
Last modified on Tuesday, 19 June 2018 10:13