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Day 125

On Friday – the last day of the school year – we had a meeting of Littl’un’s “Care Team”. This is a six-weekly get together of professionals involved with him, because he is categorized as a “Child In Need” by Children’s Services due to his high additional needs.

So – Social Worker, teachers, educational psychologist, health professionals etc all come together to discuss how Littl’un is getting along. It’s all a bit surreal, and – another time – I’ll tell you about it from our perspective. Anyway, the day before each Care Team meeting Littl’un’s Social Worker – a nice, friendly woman not much younger than myself – usually visits us to check up on how he is getting on. Of course, during lockdown Care Team meetings have to be done virtually, which makes them even more surreal. Similarly, the Social Worker visit to us is also done by phone at the moment. And Big D isn’t available for either of those meetings – though he’s actually sitting in the spare room upstairs “at work” and “in meetings”. Strange times.

This week we’ve bought Littl’un a new Hornby train set because he deserves a big treat after four months of lockdown.

When we returned from our trip out to Alnwick Garden and the beach on Wednesday, the big box had been left on the step by our postie, and Littl’un couldn’t wait to get into it to set up the train set he’d chosen – the West Coast Highlander. What he didn’t know was that there was an extra engine inside too. When he’d got into the box, the excitement was almost too much for him to bear and, after much jumping up and down, and hugs, and non-stop squealing and chatter, Littl’un and Big D went up to Littl’un’s bedroom, pushed all the toys back, and set up the big track, playing until late in the evening while I unpacked from the day out and sorted dinner. By Thursday morning (and after an even earlier start than usual) Littl’un had three tracks going, all with separate controls, and I had to spend hours in there with him, guessing which train would win timed races and the like. It was quite intense. He “didn’t have time” to get dressed, so he was the Thin Controller, directing operations from the centre of his track system, dressed only in underpants and vest. At lunchtime we even had to eat in there (I decided to allow it once only!), with Big D coming in from the spare room/office to join us, and we were served chocolates for pudding – delivered to us by train.

By mid-afternoon on Thursday I’d been trying to get away to go to the loo for about two hours, and finally made it to the smallest room. But I’d only been in there for a moment when Littl’un came running in after me saying my phone had been ringing – helpfully bringing it with him.

As he handed it out towards me, seated regally on the throne, I realised that the light was on – indicating an active camera. “It’s that lady”, said Littl’un (he’s not good with names) “She’s on Facetime.”

“Aaaaargh! – It’s your Social Worker!” I shrieked “Take the phone away!!” I added stupidly as I hurriedly (but belatedly) tried to cover my modesty. Then, more calmly so he didn’t get angry, said “Thank you for bringing the phone here, but please take it straight back into your bedroom and show her your trains.” He was more than keen to comply, and quickly left the bathroom, chattering away, explaining the various technicalities of his latest engines.

Good grief. I took some deep breaths, composed myself, washed my hands, brushed my hair (the words horse and bolted coming to mind) then walked along the messy landing with clothes strewn all over it – into Littl’un’s bedroom, where he was happily giving a running commentary to the social worker, in his half-naked state with melted chocolate all over his mouth and down the front of his vest.

“Jac, I’ve put her into the truck behind the engine, so she can have a tour!” he beamed. “CAN YOU SEE?!” he shouted to her, or rather to my phone as it whizzed around the track, and I could hear her laughing and replying “Yes!”

Yes, very interesting views she’d had that afternoon. When the tour was over and the phone had been returned to me, the first thing she said to me was, “I didn’t see anything, you know – I could just see you sitting at the end of the room.” Which, of course, confirmed that she’d seen far too much. She couldn’t stop laughing. I was laughing too, but I think it was a bit hysterical. I’m pretty certain that everybody in the office will have heard that story by the end of the day.

Day 256

Last week was kinship care week​

Kinship friends have been sharing some powerful family stories of their experiences bringing up the child or children of someone close to them – very often their own son or daughter. Kinship care always has at its heart a complex mix of hurt, loss, and love. As kinship carers, a huge part of our job is to help our much-loved children find their way through the trauma to become kind and confident adults, proud of who they are, and positive and excited about their own futures. It’s not a straightforward path, but the most worthwhile tasks are never easy. And, just when we wonder if we’re up to this, there’ll be an unexpected moment that will inspire us and keep us going.​

I often tell funny stories about our amazing Littl’un’s sayings or doings. Tonight I thought I’d share a story from earlier today. It’s a little thing.

But often the little things turn out to be the big things don’t they? I think it kind of sums up why Big D and I do what we do, and why we feel very strongly that adoption, or care by professional “stranger” foster carers, should be a last resort for children who can’t be brought up by their parents.

Recently Littl’un’s Mammy, who has complex neurological and mental health difficulties, hasn’t been well at all. So they haven’t seen each other for a few weeks. This afternoon she texted to say she was feeling better, and felt up to a visit soon. So she and I had a quick chat over the phone, and decided that, given the uncertainties about the outcome of tomorrow’s announcement by the Prime Minister about further COVID-related restrictions, it would be a good idea for Littl’un to visit her tonight.​

We also decided to make it a surprise for him. I packed up his PJs and slippers, and, telling Littl’un that we were going to pick something up from a friend, Big D, Littl’un and I climbed into the old camper van. As we got nearer to his Mammy’s house, Big D kept looking in the mirror to try to catch that moment when Littl’un realized where we were going. He was so engrossed in his colouring, we were actually almost there by the time he looked up, looked out of the window then quickly looked forward at us and beamed from ear to ear: “We’re going to Mammy’s, aren’t we!!”​

We all laughed, and I told him that Mammy was feeling a lot better and that he’d be having his tea and a film with her tonight.

We pulled up outside the house, and he jumped out of his seat. Big D opened the sliding door and swung him out of the camper van. “Is it OK if I scream?” Littl’un asked with a huge grin, pressing his face into Big D’s much bigger face. “Of course!” Big D laughed. Then Littl’un ran, arms open like an aeroplane. “Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeek!” he squealed in pure delight, as he raced towards his Mammy, who was waiting for him at the open door, arms equally open wide.​

This is kinship care. It only happens as a result of tragedy. It’s not perfect. It can be very challenging and unsupported. Family relationships are messy. It’s certainly hard work, and the joys are so often bittersweet.

Much later, when Littl’un was falling asleep on Big D’s lap on the sofa, he looked across at me and asked sleepily “Jac – can we do tonight again next week? And pretend again, so I can have another adorable surprise?” He likes the word adorable. “We’ll see.” I said (my stock non-committal answer). “Did you like it?” I smiled. I knew what was coming next. This is a word game we play often. “No Jac,” he smiled back. “I didn’t like it. I LOVED it!”

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