The lack of permanency has a huge impact on every child in care. Permanency is a term frequently used in fostering and adoption. It refers to providing a child with ‘a secure, stable and loving family to support them through childhood and beyond’. It might not seem like much, but permanency is the base on which a child can form his own identity and develop as a person. That’s the reason why providing permanency is the main objective of local authorities, agencies, and anyone involved in caring for a looked after child. Foster carers included.

Children in foster care often struggle to come to terms with their past and the reasons why they were removed from their family. Often a confusing past is all they have left since their future offers not certainty. When will they see mum again? How long will they stay with their current foster family? Will they be moved soon? When will they be adopted? Where will they go to live? Who will they call mum next month?

But foster children are not the only ones who have to deal with instability. The children of a foster family suffer a similar lack of permanency, their own version of it, which might be different but not less real.

In our home, children have come and gone three times already in the last two months alone, and our son Ben is quickly catching up to this new reality. He’s realising that from a day to the next, a child who stays with us for some time may disappear, and another may arrive just a few weeks later. And that frighten and confuse him.

A new friend of ours came to visit with her two children the other day. We thought it was going to be a great chance for the children to meet and to play together, and it would have been, if we only avoided making the rookie mistake of not sharing the full plan with Ben.

All of a sudden, he saw two more children in his house, playing in his playroom with all his toys, which he’s now expected to share with everyone. Sharing is already a really big ask for a child of the age of 3, and it gets even harder when other children tease him claiming that all his toys, which admittedly were only his toys till not long ago, are not his anymore. That happens more frequently that I imagined it would.

He tried to manage the situation as best as he could, but as pressure mounted, panic set in. From that point on, sharing was no longer a viable option. His behaviour that afternoon was very much unlike him and took us by surprise. It shouldn’t have, and after stepping into his shoes for a minute we realised that what seemed obvious to us, wasn’t to him, and for good reason.

If the last few months taught him anything, is that the rules have changed. Children don’t just come for a playdate anymore, they stay for dinner, breakfast, and lunch too. They have their own room in the house now, a step on the staircase for their shoes, and however we try to avoid it, after a few days they start calling us mummy and daddy too.

We’re learning how to be a foster family together every day. That last playdate taught us an important lesson and gave us a chance to make yet another mistake, but one that we will make sure not repeat in the future. Isn’t that how we all learn?

Going forward, we will make sure to be clearer with our son about when and how long people will stay in the house, and let him in on the decisions that have an impact on him. But more importantly, we will stop being afraid of making plans for the future. It is true that fostering adds more variables which we have little control over, and it makes planning anything more than a few days in advance that much harder. But we owe it to our son to be able to look forward to the future with some degree of certainty.

Sure, being a foster family will also mean that some of our plans will not come together, and we’ll deal with it when it happens, but other than food and love, our children need to have something to look forward to, and we as parents are the ones who should provide for them.

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