A Week of Living and Loving in Lockdown – an article from a Foster Carer’s Perspective
Monday – How do I know it is Monday in this current hazy blur of uncertainty? I will tell you how…my quirky little 8yr old foster child’s pants – yes, that is my cue for deciphering the days of the week currently. She is routine obsessed, like lots of kids on the spectrum, but she has an enthusiasm particularly for days, dates and door numbers and her passion for her pants to match the correctly labelled day of the week is quite frankly more helpful than my 2020 planner at present!
So, as a varied family of 5, our lives in this pandemic having been all turned upside down like everyone else’s; we’ve eventually managed to carve out a system that works for us regarding accessing and applying an educational context at home. With 3 children in three different schools prior to this– it has been no mean feat and has really tested my own technical capabilities. It is a blooming stroke of luck that flexibility is a key feature of fostering! It has morphed into a kaleidoscope of resources strewn over what once was a recognisable dining room table for daily ‘lessons’ – a rhythm it has taken us weeks to feel vaguely comfortable with.
It’s been a particularly difficult process for my foster child, already carrying the long-term effects of previous neglect in addition to Autism and learning difficulties – her world has been shattered by an invisible threat (which with even the best specialised resources we can offer) is so hard for her to understand. The virus although not linked, can trigger or reactivate fear or threat for children who have had adverse childhood experiences – forcing their mind and body to respond in ‘fight or flight’ mode causing extreme reactions which requires a constant, calm therapeutic response.
Tuesday – Woken at 2 am by my 10 yr old having had a bad dream about COVID 19. Cuddled and soothed in our bed, she drifted off to sleep again. Unlike my partner and I, who were jabbed and squirmed by her ‘til the dawn chorus. Several cups of coffee needed to ‘come round’ at 8am. Yawn.
I then absent-mindedly cut my 8yr old’s toast in triangles, not squares……it is always squares. Autism is rigid and a non-forgiving condition, this small hiccup caused a 1hr meltdown. Knock on effect of the dog barking at her screaming and causing ‘home school’ to be an hour late and then I take a mobile call (to which I answer a tad impolitely) to find out it’s my 14 year old’s head of year ringing to say well done to her for her commitment to Google classroom lessons………and breathe (and smile, with a proud little tear in your eye). As the house mood was ‘wobbly’ at best today – we had a family movie afternoon with blankets and cuddles and popcorn. Who would have thought a 1968 Chitty Chitty Bang Bang classic would mesmerize 8/10/14/45 & 50 year olds! I am still overdue on my monthly recording, behind on changing the bedding and itching to redecorate every room in the house……. but tomorrow is another day.
Wednesday – halfway through the week…..to be fair we could be halfway through the Sahara Desert. Time is so nebulous now without our familiar routines to cling to. I just said good morning to my teenager who promptly bit my head off, but my other 2 children are full of the joys of spring – I wonder by the end of lockdown if we could coordinate to all having a great day on the same day, we shall wait for the planets to align!! Until then we knuckle down to home school, followed by me pulling my shoulder by joining in with Joe Wick’s workout with the kids before lunch. Our saving grace during the Corona crisis, has been our well stocked garden. From dog training to darts, ping pong to the pool and trampolining to tending our sprouting vegetable patch when the weather has been glorious. It is the one place that has consistently improved our collective mental health whilst in confinement. A huge part of fostering is emotional regulation, for yourself…..and the children entrusted in your care. It is vital to understand the impact of trauma and not take this personally but deal with it empathetically. Just as we put the two younger children to bed, our supervising social worker rang to do our monthly supervision (which we had promptly forgotten). Under normal conditions, this would occur face to face in our home – but for understandable health and safety reasons it is a video call at present. It is a valuable time to reflect on the month’s fostering challenges and achievements, it is a forum for being curious about your child’s behaviour and not being worried to ask for help or advice. The fostering task can be heart-warming and overwhelming and the overseeing supportive guidance of a SSW (supervising social worker) is indispensable.
Thursday – or “clapping day” as it is known to differentiate it from the rest! My 8 yr old was up from 06.30am overstimulated by the thought of ‘clapping day’. Soothing and regulating a dysregulated child IS a fulltime job. We manage a successful home school session followed by cosmic kids’ yoga (which was easier on my shoulder than Joe Wicks!) Whilst playing in the garden this afternoon, my 10 yr old was stung by a wasp, her understandable reaction caused my 8yr old to meltdown (for children with adverse childhood experiences, seeing other’s in pain – can trigger a ‘flashback’ of their unresolved pain) Both children required different types of tender loving care. For my 10 year old- practical first aid, Calpol and a cuddle, for my 8yr old a deep pressure sensory wrap cuddle in a blanket, deep breathing exercises, grounding techniques to ‘bring her back’ to the present and gentle but constant reassurance of her safety. Here is where the void between securely attached non-abused children and children with a disability and adverse life experiences is very stark indeed. Attunement to the needs of all your family members is a critical element of fostering and this grows as you begin to know the child placed in your care. I manage to get all the bedding changed on the beds….wohoo! When did I become so easily pleased? Late afternoon I facilitate a video call to my 8 yr old’s local authority social worker – another aspect she has had to adjust to. She is used to regular actual face to face visits from her, and this increases her anxious behaviours. The evening runs smoothly enough until, just before bed, my 8yr old runs for the pots and pans for NHS appreciation – an important event, but terrible timing and overstimulating on a Thursday night. It then took her 2 hours to settle to bed, not the usual 20 mins.
Friday – Thank Crunchie its Friday! The last session of home school takes place minus any tantrums hurrah! (I even managed to help my 14 yr old with triple science work, blimey!) Today marks the end of term 5, so the Whitsun half term holiday is impending. Sadly, with lockdown easing, but not over – it does not mean the typical weekends away/outings or visiting friends and family that once were ‘normal’…..and this is sad and frustrating (but absolutely necessary) and after ‘pulling it out of the bag’ for 10 weeks it makes it 10 times harder to pull on your own personal regulation to continue to assist your children’s. It is unfathomable how much the world’s goalposts have moved. What was once safe, is no longer – and it is essential we continue to ensure our children’s safety and emotional stability for their survival.
As I sign off & eventually knuckle down to my monthly recording – it’s poignant to recognise our foster children are already survival experts by sad default of their previous harmful experiences; but their ability to relearn trust and allow themselves to be loved and cared for appropriately is a beacon of hope in really uncertain times.