If there need to be changes to your home, whether just a new bed or full-scale special adaptations for a wheelchair user, you need to get things in train if you haven’t done so already. You may want to borrow furniture or things at short notice: once the word gets around that you are about to become parents you shouldn’t have any trouble; you’re more likely to get offered four high chairs than none! You may be eligible for Section 23 payments to cover special equipment, home adaptations, a bigger car, even an extension to house a large sibling group. If you think this might be the case, discuss it with your social worker.
For our third placement, the agency paid for our three-night stay in a motel near the foster family, because it was a five-hour trip from our home.Four our fourth placement, a school-aged child from England, we had a Section 23 payment to cover extra furniture and, because we are a Welsh-speaking family, for private language lessons with a tutor, and for language videos.
If your prospective child is a keen Scout or Guide, in the Red Cross or a stamp collector, get to know your local leaders. You want to try to continue as much of these aspects of her life as possible. It used to be thought that a clean break between the child’s past and future was necessary. Now it is felt that continuity is very important, and as many positive aspects as possible of the child’s former life should be continued in the new one, and that necessary changes should be gradual if possible.
Prepare your neighbours and friends. They probably know already what’s going on. You may have to warn them about specific aspects of your child’s behaviour, especially triggers or anti-social behaviour, without violating her privacy or giving her a bad name. Neighbours may need to be warned to watch their pets or their portable valuables. That doesn’t mean you paint a yellow cross on the front door or walk around town with a bell calling out “Unclean!” Keep any gory details to the minimum. Most people will understand better and be more sympathetic if they know that Paul has made a lot of progress but still has trouble controlling his language/temper/hands and not to be too disturbed at anything he might do or say, but to let you know if it gets out of hand and you will deal with him.
During this period you will also probably want to talk to professionals of your own. You may want to discuss medical questions with your own doctor. If your child is of school age you will want to talk to the head teacher of the school she will attend and to her future teacher, to plan her introduction into the school. If she has special educational needs, you will want to discuss these, even if she isn’t ready for school yet. Your local authority’s educational psychologist can help you plan her schooling. You may want to talk to your clergyman, or discuss things with your extended family. Everyone around you and around the child is going to be anxious to bend over backwards to help things go as smoothly as possible, so take advantage of them.
Warn people not to descend on you uninvited during the first weeks of the placement, while the child is still bewildered and disoriented. You need those first weeks to yourselves. It is better to tell them now than have to turn people away at the door later. You can invite people round when you are all ready. This doesn’t mean that normal life has to stop. If you have other children who are accustomed to have a friend over after school sometimes, keep it up. (You also don’t want to risk alienating your other children by unnecessarily disrupting their lives; you need their help.)
© Roger Ridley Fenton