I make no apology for an introduction that some might regard too long. It was only on reflection that what at first might seem a simple tale was far more than that. Its message is one we would all benefit from incorporating into our lives. A little context…
Controversy rages around foster care, funding and child care provision generally. The background ‘mood music’ can be dispiriting, to say the least. The government, as usual, stands accused of not putting enough resources into the system. Then there is the litany of statistics: over 8,000 new foster families urgently required; 65% of children currently coming into care are suffering trauma – the consequence of abuse and/or neglect, and then the uncomfortable statistic that only around 6% of care leavers aged 19 to 21 go on to university – as compared to 50% of the non-looked after population. And then to cheer us all up, there’s Brexit…but the singular preoccupation with this seems to have blinded politicians to the needs of increasing numbers of vulnerable children.
Facts are important, but to concentrate solely on them can result in missing the broader picture. Like statistics, they can also be used to distort and coerce. Adherence only to facts; as we were warned by Charles Dickens in the lines spoken by Thomas Gradgrind – his severe school board Superintendent in ‘Hard Times’ – can deprive us of real understanding. Judge for yourself:
“Now what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts, Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the mind of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them.”
The hard-hearted protagonist of ‘Hard Times’ would find himself at home in a contemporary setting. There is no shortage of facts, and for far too many people, ‘Hard Times’ would perfectly describe their daily experiences. But we can resist. We have been warned by Dickens. There was nobody better than he than championing humanity. The literary exemplar of the morality tale he was at his best; and his characters at their most interesting, when they were undergoing a Damascene conversion. Ebenezer Scrooge is probably the best example. It could be argued with force that the dangers of Gradgrind’s blend of asceticism and utilitarianism have continued to dog us to the present. School league tables, exam results and a fixation with testing would be a phenomenon Dickens would recognise and lament. It is only in recent days the leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, has vowed to scrap primary school SATs. This may be politically expedient from a character ironically looking increasingly Dickensian. What that renowned author would instantly see, would be our collective obsession with facts and testing has been a blind alley. For all the effort and hysteria, the UK occupies a place well down the international league tables for education. For more information on the life and times of Charles Dickens visit https://www.charlesdickensinfo.com/life/
This all means we all need to ‘go back to school’. We need to relearn. We need to discover what matters most. We can do this by reflecting on the inherent value within the stories that surround us. Here is just such a story – taken from one of our foster carers diary recordings. Only the names have been altered – the words are her own and all the more powerful for that.
A modern day fairy tale…
Robert came downstairs for breakfast around 7.10am. He was cheerful as every day he listened to Chloe reading her school book. When Chloe finished, he clapped and said “well done Chloe” and offered her a high five, but Chloe didn’t want to give it to him, as she was feeling a bit self-conscious and shy. Robert was really good and understanding and said “it’s ok”. During breakfast, Chloe got really upset because I didn’t allow her to take some sweets into school for her snack and began to cry. While I was trying to calm Chloe down and explaining to her why she could not have it, Robert remained out of it without interfering and was very calm. I thought he might feel a little bit uncomfortable because of the noise of all the crying and I said to him that it was ok, that Chloe is only 5 and sometimes these things happen. He was very understanding and said that although he is not used to it, it was ok and he was fine.
When Robert got back from school, he spent over an hour making cards for us, and he prepared a surprise for Chloe. He made up a riddle and hid the card in one of Chloe’s favourite books for her to find. He was really excited about it and tried really hard to come up with a nice riddle for Chloe to work out. He made it look like the fairies had written it for Chloe and asked for an envelope to put it inside and pretend it was post from the fairies. He was so enthusiastic and was really pleased with himself when he finished it. We put it in the front, sticking out of the letter box, so Chloe could find it when she got home from her horse riding lesson. She was so happy and excited when she saw it!! She worked out the riddle and found the card that Robert had made for her, she really liked it! She said thank you to Robert but was a bit shy to give him a hug, but Robert was very sweet and just carried on talking to her about the fairies and how he knew them and had asked them to deliver the letter to Chloe.
Robert thought it would be best to have a shower back at Susan’s as we were a bit short of time, so after dinner, we went upstairs to pack all his belongings. He asked if we could go to a shop to buy some flowers for Susan as it had been her birthday while he was away, and he wanted to pay with his own money. He only had £3.50 though, and also wanted to buy a card, so I offered to pay for the difference. He didn’t want to as he felt bad “taking people’s money” so I suggested he could think about it as payment for helping paint the fence! He was very happy with that. Emily and Chloe took Robert to Susan’s around 6.30pm. They stopped by Sainsbury’s first to buy the flowers and a card and then went to drop him off.
We were sad to see Robert go and we have thoroughly enjoyed having him with us. He has been fantastic and it has been a pleasure to look after him and we hope we can have him again if Susan needs respite again.
A chance to reflect…
It is perhaps one of life’s ironies that adults have busied themselves ‘educating’ children. At its heart, this is a morality tale that makes it abundantly clear children are more than capable of teaching us the most important lessons in life. Robert is a vulnerable child, but in the most simple ways, he demonstrated that kindness and empathy will always count and that their mark will be indelible.
What makes a fostering partnership with Rainbow so very special?
Foster care means many different things to all kinds of people. Caring for children certainly requires special skills. There are many agencies: but Rainbow Fostering prides itself in the way we work in a dedicated partnership with our foster carers to ensure the welfare of our foster children. Remember: our children are not adopted, they are fostered – there is a difference. Adoptive parents take on the full legal responsibility for a child or young person. Some of the children we have gone for adoption if a long term placement has worked out well for all concerned. Adoptive parents are also in demand across the country. Foster care and adoption differ as a youngster who is fostered becomes the legal responsibility of their ‘corporate parent’ which is the Local Authority in the particular area they came into care from. We build and then support the parenting skills of our carers so they can deal with the emotional demands placed on them. Children in foster care come in all shapes and sizes. Children with disabilities or other complex requirements need foster parents – as well as youngsters who have experienced neglect and/or abuse.
Currently there are many more foster families needed to provide foster homes. More families to provide love, security and advocacy for those children and young people they look after.
Making the decision to become a foster parent with Rainbow is likely to be one of the most rewarding things you could do. And the professional career opportunities Rainbow offer – underpinned by our ongoing free training packages – means you could well be earning as much as £40,000 per annum. This is what fully trained therapeutic foster carers can receive. And if you develop the particular expertise to foster sibling groups, teenagers or indeed manage parent and child placements, your earnings will rise as your experience grows. For more information visit http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/therapeutic-foster-carer/
Call us on 020 8427 3355 or use our National Line 0330 311 2845 for an exploratory, no obligation conversation about becoming a foster carer. If you are already providing foster care through an agency or local authority and would like to learn more about the benefits of switching to Rainbow, you can call for details of the bonus scheme we operate – as well as get more information by visiting http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/transfer-to-rainbow/