I'll do better than that; I'll give you the first 5 pages to make up your own mind:
This book is intended to give an honest “warts-and-all” appraisal of what it means to be a foster carer. It chronicles the fostering career of myself and my wife Adele and attempts to give a realistic portrayal of the highs and lows, the rewards and penalties, the benefits and the detriments. For those who are considering putting themselves forward as potential carers, I would heartily recommend that you read it in full before making any firm commitment. I make no assumption about which way it may prompt you to decide; all I would say is that you will at least be making an objective decision, mindful of ALL the facts.
Psychological studies show we forget 50 per cent of what we read immediately, 80 per cent within a day, and 97 per cent within a week. So, if you’re serious about fostering, when you read this book, make it your goal to really relate to the events it describes and to understand how such experiences would impact your life (because as a foster carer they surely will). To get the most from this book do two things: 1) Give the book your full attention. Switch off your phone and shut out all distractions. 2) Suspend your judgement. Wait until you’ve read the whole book before you make any decisions. If you don’t, chances are you’ll miss the most important things the book has to say.
The first 14 chapters of this book deal principally with the downside of fostering. You probably won’t discover much about the upside until chapter 15!
All the case histories included in this chronicle are true to the best of my understanding with the exception of the names. In order to protect the identities of the people concerned, all the names you see mentioned throughout the Maxwell family’s case histories included in this book are false, but the facts surrounding them are true in every detail. The only exceptions to this rule are the names mentioned in connection with nationally-reported legal cases which are a matter of public record.
Let me begin by explaining that once you are an approved foster carer, whatever the circumstances surrounding the placement of a child in your custody, they most certainly won’t want to be there. However much they have endured neglect or abuse in their home environment, their first instinct is to be back at home with their parent(s). You will never be anything better than a poor substitute for their own family. At best, they may eventually learn to tolerate, respect, and perhaps even enjoy the care you provide. At worst they may hate you and see you as part of the machinery that has taken them away from their family. Adele and I have experienced both extremes.
All human beings at an early age form attachments, initially with their mother and father, then with their siblings and wider family members and ultimately with friends, neighbours teachers and school classmates. But attachments are not only formed with people. From birth we form attachments to our home, to the locations we inhabit, to neighbourhoods, to the places that have meaning to us and to the events that happen there. It is these attachments to people, places and occasions that provide every one of us with our cultural and social heritage. For the majority of us it is these attachments we rely on for our identity, our self-assurance, our sense of wellbeing, our security and lifelong safety net, a place of sanctuary and a loving anchor in life’s storms. In the case of children taken into foster care, all these attachments are severed abruptly and the child finds himself or herself in a hostile world of strangers, remote from everyone, everywhere and everything they have come to hold dear.
The fundamental human importance of attachments cannot be overstated; they are the stuff of life itself. They are the only elements that we humans can rely on to make sense of our existence; they are the very building blocks of one’s being: the people, places, objects and events we believe in. For a young person to wake up one morning to find that all the foundations that have life’s meaning have been precipitously removed inevitably results in emotional dysfunction capable of disrupting their lives into adulthood and beyond.
The most serious form of attachment disorder, known as Reactive Attachment Disorder, results in children’s inability to establish healthy relationships with the adults in their lives. Their emotional development stagnates, they lack trust and self-worth, they avoid becoming close to anyone, display anger and experience an unquenchable need to be in control. A child with an attachment disorder feels unsafe and alone.
The disruption of their early life can cause relationships to be impaired into adulthood. Reactive Attachment Disorder is generic in children in foster care. The classic symptoms include the avoidance of eye contact, inability to smile, failure to engage, non-communication and spending a lot of time rocking to comfort themselves (my wife Adele still displays this latter characteristic sixty years after having been taken into foster care!) Attachment disorders will take much more than kindness to repair. In order to re-connect, it will take months – even years – of patient perseverance to help your foster child feel protected and able to develop healthy, deep, and loving relationships.
Above all, it must be constantly borne in mind that the normal instincts of parenting do not apply when dealing with children in the grip of attachment disorders. Anyone having raised their own children will have developed stock responses to issues such as misbehaviour, disobedience, waywardness and so on. With disordered children, those stock responses will not be effective and, indeed, will probably be counter-productive. The art of behaviour management will have to be re-learned to begin to cope with the condition, and it will need to be founded on a heartfelt understanding of the emotional impact of loss of attachments.
To muddy the waters still further, dealing with attachment disorders (by definition, issues which relate to the past) will need to be closely followed by the need to resolve issues which relate to the future. The child newly in foster care will have to deal with the future impact of their predicament, despite inevitably having low self-worth, lack of any sense of belonging, plagued by the ‘odd-one-out’ syndrome and having their confidence shattered, etc. The carer’s techniques for building the child’s resilience to the inescapable pressures and challenges they will face in society – particularly in school – will need to be finely honed and practiced if the child is to survive in what appears to be a hostile world.