It’s more than two years now, since this little man moved into my house as a foster placement. I had been saying no to possible placements (except the odd brief overnight/weekend respite) for over two years, when I came home from a holiday in New York and was full of life and energy at the time the phone request came in. They caught me at a weak moment, and I said yes to a one month placement.
On Friday night, 21 January 2011 the knock came at the door. I opened it to a carer, a social worker, and a tiny little boy (not yet 6yo but the size of a 4yo), who I recognised from the town pool days earlier. He caught my eye because he was so fearless in the deep end and I initially thought he was about to drown, when his little head bobbed out of the water, before diving back down again, repeatedly, and I had watched him for a time before realising that despite being in the deep end of the big pool, he was actually fine.
Before the adults and I had time to move inside, the small one took off into the house, through the house, and out of the back door. We all followed in a hurry as though he might be about to trash the place or something, but he was just exploring. He ran through the house checking at every doorway, then out into the garden and walked all around the garden attentively checking all the trees and plants.
I took a handover from the young carer who filled me in on what my new charge liked to do, his routine and diet etc. I remember my heart sinking when he said “He likes to go to the skate park”. Life was most certainly about to change. Little did I know how insignificant the Skate Park sacrifice would be in the bigger scheme of things!
When the first month was over, things had settled somewhat. I was enjoying seeing the positive changes to his behaviour and we were ever-so-slowly developing a connection, so I agreed to continue, and it became an ongoing placement with an unknown end date.
In what is now over two years, we have had one hell of a rollercoaster ride, but one I could never regret and will be with me forever.
From being called a Martha-Pharka regularly during extreme rages in the early months, to his speedy dashes through the house, hiding under the bed and in cupboards, the single tear that rolled down his face as he looked up at me from his pillow on one of our first nights together, screeching when I remotely looked like I might so much as pat him on the head. We have moved to a settled, contented existence with a routine that doesn’t need to be spoken (but is sometimes negotiated, eg extra chapters of our bedtime book). I now get hugs whenever I want them, and often when I am not expecting.
I know the family now and his siblings have had sleepovers here.
We had a year of 3x-weekly Jiu Jitsu class, many hours spent hanging out at the Skate Park watching him hone his skills (not such a bad place to hang out, as it turns out!), a trip together to Uluru, a trip together to Tennant Creek, and happy memories galore that we still share with each other regularly.
Recently plans have been set in motion for him to return to his family, and he has been spending most of his time with them, everyday during the holidays plus three nights a week, and one whole week where he didn’t come home to my place at all.
Now it seems that in just over a week he’ll be moving out permanently.
He wants to go, and I am ready to have my child-free life back. But we’re both starting to be aware that our time is almost up, and so the conversations have started. Tonight he wanted to know why children have to go into care? I explained that sometimes families have problems that need the children to be removed to ensure their safety, but that these situations usually aren’t permanent, and most kids who go into foster care usually go back to their family eventually. He asked why it takes so long, and I explained that some children can go home quickly, while others have to wait much longer, and that it all depends on the individual situation, but that everything is good for him now, and they’ve decided he can go home soon. “But what if I have to go back into care?”. I said well I doubt that is going to happen, but if it did, then the social workers will have to make sure you stay safe. “Well if that happens I’m going to tell them that I want to come back here”.
These words really were the final demonstration to me, that our time together has been a positive experience for him (as it certainly has been for me).
He then settled into bed, but a few moments later appeared in the lounge and hugged me for the longest time.
What a great little man, and what an experience to have been able to connect to him in such a special way.
Foster care is a hard job, but I’ve seen far more reward than I ever imagined it would bring.