I found the prep’ course that adopters go through to be quite comprehensive and of great value, it’s hard to imagine that in the past adopters were offered none of this information to prepare them for what in some cases are huge challenges, but for everybody is something new and unknown.
However, in our case something I think that it lacked was more information about the importance and affect of Foster Parents on our children.
Our boys spent almost three years in one foster placement meaning that our youngest actually spent longer with the foster parents than with his birth parents and at a very crucial age – from 2 to almost 5.
They are an older couple with grown up children and grandchildren of their own, as a result they have all the children in their care call them Nanny and Grandad. Actually I think this can be very helpful as I know that many children in foster placement refer to the carers as Mummy and Daddy and can grow to see them as exactly that, making the eventual split from them all the more confusing and difficult for them to deal with.
It is especially good in our case as my mother and my partners father are both dead and ‘Nanny and Grandad’ slot quite nicely into those empty positions in our family.
Because of the time spent with them and the long term relationship they had, It was recognised by all that an ongoing relationship with the foster parents would be healthy for our sons, especially as their older sister was staying with them in long term fostering. Twice yearly contact has been agreed, along with a younger sister and her adoptive family.
It was clear that along with the foster parents maturity – she is 60, he a very sprightly 70 – came a certain type of parenting that is best described as ‘old school’. They are strict – very strict – and run a very tight household, which I can see is essential as they not only had our boys and their sister, but also a fourth child in care as well as their 14 year old granddaughter. In addition two older children who at 17 and 18 had left their care, came almost nightly for dinner.
Our boys – at not yet 5 and 6 – tidied behind themselves, made their beds (to a fashion), bathed themselves, dressed themselves and even took their dirty laundry to the utility room… and separated whites from coloureds.
In addition the children were separated from the adults at meal times and sat at a ‘child’s’ table and not allowed to utter a word.
Although we can see the huge benefits for the household, we can also see that it somewhat defies social services guidelines or expectations on parenting looked-after children and is somewhat out of skew with what would be consider more up to date parenting or pastoral care.
Their parenting style has gone on to create issues for us, the adoptive parent. We are taught to maintain as much familiarity to the life that the child would be leaving to help with transitioning into their new life and indeed time is spent with the foster carers in their home watching and learning the parenting we are suppose to emulate.
In prep’ group we were told to expect to have to deal with the issues of bad parenting, neglectful parenting, lazy parenting – the parenting that resulted in the children being removed from their parents and not the parenting of their foster parents. However in our case all of this had been dealt with by the foster parents, we had to handle quite different challenges.
Introducing discipline and order into a chaotic life must be tough, however it’s starting at a point and heading in one direction – towards instilling good behaviour and values where there has been none.
We actually had to head ‘backwards’ as we were/are so against much of what the foster parents instilled into the boys, which has caused them – and by default us – quite a few issues.
The best example are mealtimes, they are important family times for us and of course the boys sit up at the table and of course we converse. It’s a time to talk about their day, their thoughts and about issues they may have. A time to share and a time to really be a family. Introducing this to our boys was very unsettling for them, without the strict regime they were used to they just didn’t know how to behave.
They found our relaxing of rules to be an invitation for a ‘free for all’ and suddenly we found ourselves with children who need constantly reprimanding at the table, constantly reminded of the manners that they came to us so adept in.
There are other lesser examples, but this has been the one area that has really impacted on us adversely and 2 1/2 years on we are still battling with the fall out.
Something else that we are not taught and is worth mentioning is the difficulty that foster parents sometimes have at letting go. It was not an issue for us, but I have head of many examples where they have bonded very strongly with the child and consequently have a degree of resentment towards the adoptive parents. Considering we spend a chunk of transition in their house it can make for a great deal of discomfort. I have even heard of situations where the foster parents have even negative about the adoptive parents in front of the children.
As it takes about 9 months for a child to be removed from its parents legally and before it can be put up for adoption, I guess ALL adopted children have spent at least this time within a foster placement, as is the case with our sons it can be years. They are an important part of their lives and it surprises me that they get a little over looked by social services, for us adoptive parents it would be very useful indeed to be better prepared from the impact they can have on our children and indeed on us.