Lizzie Scott Books

Short Stories

Snippets of fostering life


I received a telephone call from Alison, one of my favourite social workers in our local area office. She wanted to know if I would be on standby for this weekend as there was a mother about to give birth and as soon as the baby was born it would need to be removed from the hospital.
There would be no following the six hour protocol with this delivery. She knew all about Jake and Sam but also knew we all loved working with new babies. Sue explained that this would be a very short term placement (oh the times we heard that) as both of the parents had major mental health issues and would never be able to parent their child. I agreed to the placement and was then told I had to get to the hospital for a meeting with everyone involved in this placement within the hour!
I arrived at the maternity unit, where the meeting was being held. As I walked in a large man approached me and asked who I was. I must have looked a bit surprised as people come and go all the time in the reception area of the hospital without being asked who they were, so he asked me if my name was Lorraine. Ok, so he knew who I was, but who was he? This burly man looked around and then gave me instructions on where the meeting was being held and told me to answer anyone who questioned me on the way.
As I walked through a set of double doors there were two more men standing there who asked for my name, which I gave. They also directed me to the meeting room which was crowded with social workers from the adult mental health care team as well as the child care team. There was also representatives from the police, mental health doctors and someone from the maternity unit. The meeting was a brief one but full information was shared with everyone who would be involved with this placement from that moment on.
The parents had had a baby some years before, that had been placed for adoption and that was the plan for this baby. I wasn’t made aware of any efforts that may have been made to help this couple keep their first baby or if, sadly they were just too high risk due to their mental health issues to even have been allowed to try a family unit. All I knew of that first baby was that he had been adopted quite soon after his delivery.
The parents lived in rented accommodation which they had cleared of everything…there was nothing in the kitchen, not even the sink and nothing in any other room either. There wasn’t even a bed as they considered themselves to be ‘minimalists’ so just slept on the floor on some blankets, eating their main meal daily at the Mental health Unit of their local hospital. The only room that had anything in was the one that was made like a shrine to their first child, so everyone knew this would be a very painful and upsetting experience for these parents, more so than for most of the parents I had worked with so far, because these parents couldn’t do anything to change their circumstances no matter what support was put in place to help them.
 Due to the severity of both parents mental health issues the baby was considered to be at high risk of abduction for as long as it remained within the hospital grounds, so the hospital would telephone me as soon as the delivery was over and I would then need to get to the hospital as fast as possible following that call.
There was also of course the possible risk to other mothers and their babies who were in the maternity unit at that time, as the parents could get very violent and threatening when the delivery had actually taken place.
Every precaution was put in place to protect not only this baby and other patients, but also the parents from their own actions, which would be beyond their control.
It was all so very sad yet so necessary.
Once everything was agreed and the plan formalised I was shown out of the meeting by a policeman who checked all the corridors were still clear and went home, where I got busy preparing the crib and washing out the new baby clothes I already had as well as popping out to purchase some of the paraphernalia that is needed when a new born baby comes home.
Where normally I would be so excited about having a new baby in our home, this time that excitement was tinged with a sorrow I hadn’t felt before. The parents I usually worked with when new babies were involved had a history of abuse towards children…these didn’t, they just had a terrible mental illness.
It was all so very, very sad.
Of course, what I didn’t consider at this time was how long it may take to find an adoptive family for a baby with possible complex future needs. To me a baby was simply, well, a baby…something small that needs lots of cuddles between putting food in one end and clearing up the mess at the other end.
It didn’t enter my mind at this stage of our fostering career that there could be any delay other than those created through the clients, their solicitors or social workers wishes for assessments…it had been made perfectly clear that there would be no delay on any level with this child moving to its forever family…
But of course, mental health concerns, in fact any medical concern, creates its own delay as assessments have to be carried out on the child to see how much of a risk the child is at of developing symptoms or illness later in life and these assessments can’t even begin until the baby is old enough to respond to simple instructions.
Nathan would actually spend six months with our family before meeting his wonderful new mum, dad and big sister.
I had the telephone call in the early hours of the Saturday morning to let me know that a baby boy had been safely delivered and telling me where to go to pick him up.
The concerns were so high for the safety of this child that once born he had been taken from the delivery room once weighed straight to the children’s ward, if the parents went looking for him among the new babies on the post natal wards they wouldn’t find him. His birth notes were placed under his mattress instead of at the end of the cot and he had also been wrapped in a pink blanket so anyone would think he was a baby girl. I was advised to arrive at the hospital ward for 0830, by which time the doctor would have arrived to discharge him and that I was to get him dressed and to be out of the hospital as quickly as possible, before most of the patients were even through having their breakfasts.
I got to the hospital having left Howard with our very excited children…they were looking forward to having a new born baby in our home as it meant they all got to give cuddles to him, unlike with the older children who didn’t always want to be hugged, though then they had the fun of playing with kids toys if they wanted to without having anyone laugh at them…definite benefits to having little brothers and sisters!
I must have looked to some people quite conspicuous as I arrived because, though I didn’t want to draw attention to myself I was aware that there were a few people around and here I was heading into the ward with a baby bag and it wasn’t even visiting time. I had been lucky enough to have been told not to take a baby car seat into the hospital as this may hamper the speed with which I could leave the ward…none the less, I was laden with my handbag and the baby bag containing some clothes and a shawl going in, and the bag full of the babies milks and items his parents had insisted on having for him when rushing out…and the baby in my arms… And no escort.
Everyone had considered it a safer option for me to be alone as it would draw less attention to us, because it was only when leaving the maternity unit that you had an escort with the nurse carrying the baby…I almost ran from that hospital. I had no idea what the parents looked like and, though I knew the mother was still somewhere inside, the father could be anyone and anywhere.
Where I had looked over my shoulder as I went into the building, I just checked the corridor as I left the ward and, because there was no-one in sight just rushed out of the building as fast as my legs could carry me. When I got to my car I strapped the baby into the seat while trying to check all around me that no-one was watching and then, having a last check that the car park was clear and that no-one appeared to be watching me I jumped into the car, locked the doors and drove out of the car park quickly, heading in the opposite direction to where we lived.
If anyone was following, I was not going to lead them straight to my home.
I did quite a detour around the local estates near the hospital and popped through a couple of small villages on the way home and once satisfied I truly wasn’t being followed by anyone, turned the car toward home ready for a nice cup of coffee and to introduce the latest member of our family to Howard and our children.
Alison had also been telephoned by the hospital staff so was aware that I had been to pick the baby up. Shortly after I got home she called to discuss the placement further. I was told that due to the nature of the parent’s mental health it was vital that no-one other than her and other professionals directly involved with this placement knew who was caring for him and where he was living.
I was to register him with our doctor under his birth name, which is the only legal thing to do, but that it had to be recorded that he was known as something else when having his post natal appointments. Under no circumstances could they call out his real name, they had to use another name…he would be known as whatever we wanted him to be known as.
This was something new to me and in all the years we fostered it was the only time our children got to name a child that shared our home. They chatted excitedly about their new baby ‘brother’ and decided they would like him to be called Nathan and he shared our surname for all appointments with medical people and health visitors.
As far as all our friends knew, Nathan had been placed with us from a different local authority which was some miles from where we lived because they had no available foster carers who wanted to take such little ones.
Only one other person than us knew his background, but even she didn’t know his given name…my dear friend and fellow foster carer Elizabeth…we shared everything!
So Nathan was settled into our family over the three day weekend that Jake, Sam and Steve were away and due to the nature of the placement we were expecting that he would be settled with his new family within a couple of months at the most.
There would be no delay in placing him as there would be no parenting assessment to consider…all that needed to be done was for the department of Social Services to find a family that would accept this beautiful baby with an unknown future ahead of him. Would he inherit a mental illness? No-one knew, but it was less likely that he would suffer as his parents did if he didn’t grow up in an environment where he could learn at least some, if not all of their behaviours.


It was at some ridiculously early hour on a Sunday morning that the telephone rang and I reached across Howard to answer it. 
Too late, it woke him as well.
Howard looked at me as I spoke, we both knew it was either; an alarm call for him to go to work or social services needing a bed for a child or children…It was social services.
Apparently a small child had been found wandering up and down the platform at a local station while her mother was asleep in quite a drunken state on the station bench. This little girl had been taken to the police station in the next town and they wondered if I would go over and collect her.
I checked the time…0200…yawn, shake myself awake and agree to drive over, though it would have been nicer if the police had driven her to me. 
Howard got up to prepare the cot as I was told that Lily was only about 18 months old and we thought she would feel safer in a cot and would also be less likely to disturb the other children in our home, while I got dressed and drove off into the night.
I returned home some 2 hours later, having arrived at the police station with proof of who I was and then having a little time to let Lily get to know me by playing games with her.
Fortunately Lily settled quickly to sleep once we got home and seemed quite relaxed to be the centre of attention the following morning when all the children woke to find a new member of our family…they were also excited because we were going to the seaside for the day with Elizabeth and her family and wanted to know if Lily would be coming.
As it turned out Lily was going to be with us for the day as her mother was going to be questioned by the police once she had sobered up, so we set off with a happy brood of children bouncing around in the back of our van and singing camp songs until some of them slipped into nap times until we arrived.
Lily, like the rest of the children had a lovely day running up and down the sand dunes and building sandcastles and all too soon it was time to head for home.
Just before we all started to pack up we had a telephone call asking us to meet Lily’s mother outside the local social services office. To be honest, I was absolutely appalled because I didn’t have a clue what the woman looked like, but was simply told that as it was a Sunday she would be the only person there and anyway, Lily would recognise her!
Lily’s mother, for whatever reason (possibly alcohol related) had ended up quite inebriated at a station in an area that was totally alien to her, as she lived in a city many miles from us and had no friends in our locality. She hadn’t been able to tell the police why she had even been on the train in the first place, though they had managed to check her home address was actually real and passed on the information to her local social services department.
We drove to the meeting place feeling quite concerned and when we arrived saw this lone woman pacing up and down. She’d had a long wait because we had been a couple hours away when the call came through and she was now some miles from the nearest station with no buses passing because of the hour and it being a Sunday.
She thanked us for looking after her daughter and taking her to the seaside, somewhere she had never been before, turned and walked away towards the town.
Lily is one of many children that popped into our lives for a day or two… you can meet her and others that shared our lives for just a few hours, if you are reading the books I write about life as a foster carer.
Never a dull moment in the life of a foster family and no night is ever guaranteed to be a peaceful one.