A game of table top blow football using a cotton wool ball was one simple way that a foster dad found he could make a connection with his foster son.
He said: “It’s a way of connecting with the kids that quite often don’t want you to connect with them. They’re pressing your buttons. You can defuse a difficult situation by playing cotton wool football on the table.”
Foster dads Martin and Mark were talking about their experiences as foster parents in Derbyshire, using the Theraplay techniques they learned with Chrysalis, a therapeutic organisation that has now become a foster agency in Sheffield.
Mark, who was in care himself and now fosters four boys with his wife, said they use Theraplay in potentially difficult situations, like taking the boys to a restaurant to celebrate his wife’s birthday. He said: “Because I was a looked-after child myself I don’t have the same attachment that normal people do. Theraplay is a way for me of having physical contact with the children without me hugging them or putting my arm around them. It’s a way for me as an adult of forming a bond with the child as well.”
Martin, who was fostering a boy who was very closed off emotionally, said: “He was 10 or 11. It was a way of breaking the ice. He wasn’t taking part in anything else. While he was engrossed in the Theraplay game, we could ask him questions. It was a way in.”
Martin and his wife had real difficulty at first with their foster son and almost gave up on him before they started the therapy.
He said: “Social services just said he needs a stable home. We felt we’d got as far as we were going to and not getting anywhere. They couldn’t find him anywhere else to go. We said enough was enough. We put a lot of pressure on social services. They finally agreed to fund a session with Chrysalis.”
Martin said it takes his son a long time to feel comfortable with people. He added: “He was so closed down. He could fall off his bike and hurt himself and wouldn’t cry unless somebody saw him and he could get something out of it.”
He said that therapeutic games are like putting cream on cuts and bruises gradually helped his son to open up emotionally and connect with him and his wife.
Mark said: “Offering therapy as part of the package is a fantastic thing. You’re up and running when things are still hunky dory, instead of when the honeymoon period is over with a new child and you’re left with nowhere to go. You hit the bottom.”
Both dads said that support sessions where foster parents can get together and swap stories about what’s happening with their children are also invaluable. Mark said: “We can’t speak to people in the normal world about our lives. They don’t understand. There’s no judgement at the group and everyone understands.
“We are different beasts than other people. We have to be to do the job. We look at things differently.”