Tweet El Cea: A letter to … my foster daughter

sábado, 9 de abril de 2011

A letter to … my foster daughter

We met a week before your 16th birthday – an emergency placement as your previous carers were moving and didn't tell social services till the last moment. With your clear physical disabilities, the wheelchair and the fact that I was approved for respite care only – working full-time and a single parent myself – it seemed a bad idea all round for you to move in.

At our first meeting we found out that not only had you never cooked anything but you hadn't made a cup of tea and would not, in any case, be able to reach our fridge to even get yourself a drink. The list went on – high dependency seemed the name of the game. My daughter and I said goodbye with relief.

The social worker told you she thought it would be a disaster staying with us, but you disagreed. Your possessions were moved in days before your birthday, a small set of steps was purchased and a ramp promised.

I think you began to regret your decision later that month when at the parents' evening following your mock GCSEs I heard about your bad behaviour and lack of effort – a bright girl wasting time was the message. I made you apologise to teachers, asked you what you thought you were playing at and grounded you.

We all battled on: by tying the dog's lead to the front-door knocker, you could pull yourself up enough to use the key and let yourself in; the step-ladder helped you fill the kettle and reach tea, milk and cups – triumph when you made us all a cup of tea one evening.

The dog's lead stayed in place for nearly four years during which time you gained excellent academic qualifications at GCSE and A-level, passed your driving test first time and, thanks to Motability, got a car. You also learned to cook pretty well.

But really I want to thank you for what I learned. First and foremost, I learned not to judge by appearances. I learned how buses would ignore you or pretend the platform was broken so they didn't have to take you. I learned how people stared at wheelchair users and some made inappropriate and audible comments. The leaving care course you attended made me realise why so many cared-for youngsters end up homeless – it would have happened to you except for the allowances belatedly made for your disabilities by the Housing Office.

When it was time for you to live independently, my standard question, "Who will change her lightbulbs?", went unanswered and gaining recognition of your needs was time-consuming and frustrating.

I learned also that the most unlikely people are amazing in their helpfulness – we jumped queues to some great events and boarded planes in style. I learned how heavy a wheelchair is to lift into the back of a car and how physically demanding the life of a carer could be. I learned that you have to have courage to live with a disability and continue to do so as you take the brave decision to have a child. You are now fiercely determined that he will spend his whole childhood with you.

You tell me that I am the voice in your head that, after the turbulent teenage years, says: "I don't think that is a good idea." You are the voice in mine that says "Life is for living." Fostering is advertised as getting back more than you give – they are right.

Your foster mum – always

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