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Fostering in a global crisis

Foster carer, feature writer and photographer David Bocking talks about his experience fostering a one year old during COVID-19

So, where do snot, dribbling and thumb sucking sit on the official government public health guidelines?

Our new foster baby arrived in December, announcing himself with what is now his trademark rasping cough, weeks before the era when looking as if you’re about to clear your throat makes everyone cross the street in panic.

He’s very affectionate, and generally likes to get close enough to wipe his facial fluids all over us and our friends at every opportunity, which was never a concern a month ago.

At home, he’s started walking, but stays safely in his pushchair or backpack when we venture outside for our daily stroll, where he laughs crazily at the spring trees and flowers, raising a brief smile from people scurrying past three metres away.

Across the city, foster families are settling into the lockdown like everyone else, their foster children fully part of the vulnerability of everyone in their households.

Children are carriers, it seems, but rarely suffer badly themselves, which is a big issue in the complicated lives of city children looked after by foster carers. In normal times, we often have to help facilitate an array of ‘contact’ visits every week with parents and siblings from several different households, visits usually held in centres where multiple families pass through every day.

All of which came to a stop as Covid-19 arrived, of course, leaving already struggling birth families without any real life physical contact, possibly for months to come.

Our little boy knows nothing of the global crisis, or the daily death count. He enjoys having both of us around all the time, but we think he misses spending an afternoon in the countryside, playing with his fellow toddlers, or nipping in for a warm milk at a cafe.

We’ve been counting the days since his last physical contact with anyone in the outside world, and calculate he’s now probably clear of any chance he’s inadvertently picked up (or passed on) the virus.

So we breathe a sigh of relief, and get on with helping him develop from the quiet and withdrawn and scared child he was when he arrived, just after his first birthday, to the boisterous chattering star of the living room he is now.

We may be on lockdown, but we’re still working (like any housebound parent). And we can see the changes our boy is starting to make. He began walking just before the prime minister’s first address to the nation, and started dancing soon after.

Last week he teleconferenced with his social workers, and this week we’ll be attempting to get him back in contact with his parents and siblings by video link. We all keep learning.

In such desperate times, we feel so lucky to have the privilege of watching this little boy discover new talents, and grasp every part of his daily life so enthusiastically, getting ready to take his place in the world to come.

Before long he’ll be saying his first word. We hope it doesn’t begin with C.

Jackie Drayton, Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Families at Sheffield City Council said: “During this difficult time there may be more children and young people who need to come into our care due to social distancing and isolation.

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank the wonderful foster carers, and all those who are caring for our most vulnerable children and young people across our City for the fantastic work they do, not just in looking after those children and young people, keeping them safe, well and happy but also helping to change their lives.

“We always need more foster carers – so if you think you would be interested in becoming a foster carer please contact the team.

“As you can read from the wonderful articles written by David and his family it can be challenging but incredibly rewarding too.

“So don’t just think about it – please get in touch now.”

Sheffield City Council fostering service

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