For those of us fortunate enough to live with family and friends who love us, we hope they make allowances for our ‘meltdowns’ secure in the knowledge their love isn’t dependent on us being even-tempered.
For children and young people who’ve come into foster care from abusive or neglectful backgrounds, it can be a very different story. Take Ollie, a teenager living with his Blue Sky Foster Carer, Marion.
Ollie has been with Marion for four years and they know each other pretty well. Hormones are a big part of Ollie’s life at present but the havoc they’re causing is nothing compared to his anger issues. And he has every right to be angry. When he and Marion first met, he was coping with a severe learning disability, difficulty in expressing himself due to dyspraxia (a developmental coordination disorder which affects his speech) and neglect.
“I quickly learnt that a bad day at school could lead to his temper boiling over” explains Marion.
“Physical signs such as facial expressions and pacing up and down the room meant we were heading for a situation. He would go into his bedroom and hit his head against the wall or the floor. As foster carers, we cannot restrain children and young people so I would sit with him and talk to him quietly, hoping the calming atmosphere would reassure him. It was very distressing to see and all I wanted to do was comfort him but once he starts, he has to finish so I wait for him to calm down and for him to say “you still love me, don’t you, Marion?”
“There is never any question of me not loving him.”
“The majority of the time, there is a good reason for outbursts such as this. In Ollie’s case, I have to think about his past history when, I am sure, his food was withheld as a punishment. I think about all the physical and emotional issues he has to contend with together with the upheaval of adolescence. I reassure him there will always be plenty of food for him; he will always have dinner and afterwards, we will watch television for a while before his bedtime.”
Marion is a firm believer in routine, consistency and sticking to boundaries.
“’No’, definitely means ‘no’! Despite wanting to go and buy him presents each day, to try to make up for his past experiences, I know that wouldn’t be doing him any favours. I try to diffuse situations with gentle humour which he now understands and the best I can do for him is to make him feel secure, loved, cared for and accept him for who he is”.
“Whilst he’s in school, he has people around him who understand and manage his situation. Once he goes to college, life will change enormously for him and adulthood will present even more challenges, but for now he’s part of our family. He loves me, my mum and my three daughters and we love him back.”