No sooner had we said goodbye to our previous fostering placement a couple of days ago, along came the two girls Marie aged 8 & Carol aged 7, both from our local authority.
It was Friday evening and on arrival Marie had been sick in the car and she looked so pale, with deep sunken eyes, and was very quiet and she looked terrified. However Carol was the opposite, she was very chatty and bubbly but was concerned that Marie had been sick and had a headache, she asked if her sister could go and have a lie down on the bed. Both were very small and underweight for their ages.
Personal hygiene was none existent and both had really bad breath and their teeth had not seen a toothbrush or toothpaste for over 14 months. Both were wearing ill fitting clothes several sizes too small, unclean and tatty. Shoes had holes in and the soles were hanging off and also too small. They had no outdoor coats and it was February and we’d recently experienced heavy snow falls and sub zero temperatures. Consequently the school gave them a coat each out of the lost property box, and a school staff member had gone out to buy them a pair of pyjamas each so they had something to sleep in that night as again this was an emergency placement.
The weekend was chaotic; both of them behaved as if they were on holiday staying in a posh hotel. Both displayed bad behaviour, used foul language, violence, fought and hit each other. Carol even went as far as urinating on the bedroom floor twice and both times she thought it was hilarious. Over the weekend I discovered they had head lice and they had so many, they’d obviously had them for some time and Carol’s scalp had bled in places and scabbed over with the amount of scratching to her head. It took me weeks to get rid of them. The girls asked about their brother who had been placed with another foster family and also when they could see their parents.
Contact was organised for 3 times a week and their brother would also attend. Contact was total chaos – very disruptive, shouting swearing and fighting would occur, the parents had no control over the children’s behaviour whatsoever. Each contact session Dad would give the children £10. Their birth mum is an alcoholic with evidence of drug misuse and prostitution. She would always be late for contact and sometimes not even show up and when she did she would be drunk, dirty and in an unpleasant state and this had an effect on the children’s behaviour.
A few days later I was informed that their father had terminal cancer and was living on borrowed time. They were concerned that this was having an effect on the children and I would need to prepare the children for their father’s death.
I started to research how it would be best to tell the children when the event happened so I was prepared in advance.
Their school attendance was very poor and they only attended a couple of times a week and when they did so they would turn up late around lunch time, have their school dinner and fall asleep in the afternoon during class. Their school uniform was always dirty and ill fitting, and the children were regularly teased and tormented by the other children on their appearance.
As the weeks passed by the girls’ behaviour improved and the fighting and hitting diminished. Foul language substantially reduced and they would correct themselves if they forgot.
It was now early May and their father had been taken into hospital and then moved onto the hospice as his health had deteriorated. He requested to see his children for the last time and I took the girls and their brother to see him at the hospice. It was a difficult event as the children were nervous and unsure what was happening. I’d taken some photos of the girls and our house and put them with a letter to their Dad reassuring him that I would look after his children to the best of my ability and love them like my own children. I explained the children were fine, happy, healthy, and content and attending school every day. I promised him that the children would never forget him and that his daughter would be able to keep in contact if she wanted, then the children said their goodbyes and we left for home. A couple of days later I got the phone call to say that he had died and I went to the school where I and their social worker told the children that he had died.
The funeral took place the following week and I took the girls and their brother. On arrival everyone stared at us as if we were “on show”, people came up to us praising how well they looked and asked how they were doing. It was very awkward and one man came up to me thanking me for looking after the children and that their father had asked him to thank me personally and that the letter had reassured him his children would be well cared for. He said he was at peace knowing that they were fine.
The following day we were going on our holidays to Spain and this was the first holiday the girls had ever had so they were very excited and they had a really great time. We’d hired a villa with our own swimming pool and the children were so happy. The timings of the holiday were just right as their minds were distracted away from their Father’s funeral and his death.
Over the summer months we went away a lot with the caravan and we had a second foreign holiday to the south of France, during this time Marie and Carol blossomed. Marie began to come out of her shell and show her personality more and gained confidence. Carol was already a confident person and she was very popular with everyone. You couldn’t ignore her, she wouldn’t let you!! Marie joined our local dancing school and went weekly to gymnastics. She joined the schools dance club too in street dancing.
Both of them were learning to swim and it wasn’t long before they could swim without arm bands. They were catching up at school and both regularly received special mentions and praise awards. Marie became a school prefect, children could go to her if they had a problem and she would try and sort it out for them. The foul language had stopped and there were no issues now with their behaviour. At school their friends were envious of their appearance and both of them are proud of how they now look.
Christmas was soon upon us and the children were excited about Christmas. Marie and Carol didn’t believe in Santa and had lots of questions about him and what his role was. After a couple of weeks of story telling and imaginative thinking they came round to the idea it may be true. The uncertainty of them not believing was because Santa never brought them presents and they never had anything to open on Christmas morning, when they lived with their mum. Christmas morning came and the children sat impatiently outside our bedroom door waiting for us to wake up, they were so excited with the presents that Santa had left. Their little faces were a delight to see, I was so privileged to share the moment with them, I will never forget it.
It was the New Year and the court hearing was upon us. It had been decided that the children would not be able to go back and live with their mum and that the children were to stay in long term foster care until they are 18. Also the court granted the full care order. We were relieved as over the months we have grown to love them as our own children and staying with us is the best thing for them if they were not able to live with their extended family.
Shortly the girls will be leaving the school they currently attend and moving to a school nearby where our own son attends. Marie and Carol are looking forward to this and see it as a fresh start for them as no one knows their history. Marie and Carol will always be a part of our life even when they become adults and leave our care.
(Please note that in accordance to the Data Protection Act 1998, the names and locations have been changed)