Permanence. It is a word we think about a lot as a Forever family.
Recently we watched “Annie” and the line where Miss Hannigan tells Annie:
“You only live here because I get $157 dollars a week” hit us hard.
Our youngest daughter lived in a foster home where the foster carer told me that she would be ringing the office the day after Star left for another child to be placed, because she needed two children in placement at all times to pay the bills.
It nearly broke my heart.
We have tried hard to hide from our older children our belief that Star’s needs were not always met in foster care. We always speak about her foster carer politely. But they have noticed that no birthday or Christmas cards arrive for Star. They do not know that she was shut it a room for 13 hours at night, unable to get out. That she was called a “little b*tch” by one of her respite foster carers. After she moved to our house and was taught to sign , her social worker visited and told us she was a like a different child.
Clearly our attempts to protect Hannah and Ben from this have failed. Hannah was watching a TV programme on CBBC and I asked her what it was about
“it is about children who are like Star used to be – and where they live.”
The program is called “The Dumping ground.”
I wanted to weep. Hannah knows many amazing Foster carers, she knows of their love and commitment to the children in their care however long or short their stay, however challenging their behaviour. She also senses that this was not the case for her sister Star.
For a child like Star, who has known several homes, several respite placements and a number of sudden moves – developing “permanence” – the belief that you belong is a scary process.
“What if I trust these people, love these people and then I move again?”
Typically you have to live in one family for more than the total time you lived elsewhere to believe that this family is forever. So if a child joins their Forever family at 5, they would need to live there until they are 10 before they are likely to believe it is Forever.
For Star we still have 18 months to go before this milestone.
In recent months Star has grown taller. Hannah and Ben are also growing up and able to be more independent. Like all younger siblings Star wants to join in with this and we have had a number of conversations which result in “when you are bigger, Star.”
Cue – sad face.
Star recently stayed with her Grandparents while I was at work. When I got back she sat on my lap in the kitchen and I tickled her and said:
“Have you got bigger while Mummy was at work?”
She giggled and said “yes.”
“Have you been eating, and playing and sleeping and growing?”
Now she was properly laughing:
“Yes, I Bigger and Bigger!” (With Makaton signs for growing taller.) She continued:
“Mum, when I big, I open cupboard (pointing at our treat cupboard – which is currently out of her reach), I get chocolate macaroon and eat it up!”
Star now dissolved in giggles at the thought of being able to reach the treat cupboard and eat the contents unaided!
It wasn’t until a few minutes later , it struck me what she was telling me
that when she is big
she will live in this house
with that treat cupboard
there will be chocolate macaroons inside
and (although she is not meant to)
she will open that door and eat them.
And my name is no longer “Mummy” it is