When we were at Guide Camp last month, the girls made kites from plastic bags and an old bamboo blind. As I watched them all flutter in the breeze, I started to remember the last time I had gone kite flying.
It was a beautifully windy day in early spring. I was fostering a very active little boy, giving his family a much needed break. A friend of mine was visiting, and needed some distraction from a difficult life situation. So we decided to head up to the hills and burn off some energy.
We had great fun with the kite and then decided to go for a walk before heading home again. As we got over the crest of the hill, my little fosling shouted "Byeeeee" and ran off. And disappeared! By the time we reached where he had been standing he was absolutely nowhere to be seen. There were a couple of other families, a handful of sheep, and some wintery desolated trees, but that was it. We walked around the hill, calling out for him but no joy.
Since he was fostered, I called the emergency duty social work team (EDT) to ask for help. Whilst the EDT isn't exactly emergency services, it does provide 24 hour crisis support for difficult social situations including all sorts of fostering related problems ("help, my teenage fosterchild has just been arrested/burnt down the garage/overdosed" are some of the more common calls on their time). So I was expecting the phone to be answered fairly quickly. However after what felt like hours the phone clicked to an answerphone message giving details of another telephone to call. I called that number, to reach another answerphone message giving yet another telephone number. Eventually I reached the on call SW who listened to my frantic call "I've lost a child, a developmentally disabled child, help". And seemed totally completely uninterested.
So, for the first time ever, I called 999 and asked for police rather than our more usual ambulance request. I also rallied some other friends; my poor distressed-in-need-of-distraction friend was so relieved to be able to hand me over to someone else and lead a search and rescue party - he does not do damsels in distress! The police arrived in double quick time and organised a search party. They called up their helicopter and started searching the woods with an infra-red search thingy (I'm so technical). They found badgers and courting couples, but no signs of any absent child.
Towards the end of the longest three hours of my life, they began making noises about dredging the lakes. Heart stopping time for me, as I tried to imagine what I could possibly say to the boy's mother or to the authorities that had entrusted him to me. Then, finally, the police had a call from a very nice man living in a village three miles away, who had found a boy wondering through his garden looking a little confused. 2 minutes after this phonecall, one of the search parties found an abandoned wellie on the bank of the pond. I will be forever grateful to God that this boot was found AFTER the boy had been located; I really don't know how I would have coped if it had been the other way around.
What an amazing boy - he had run three whole miles with only one boot on! What a wonderful man to have noticed something amiss with the lad and to have brought him into his house and kept him there with crisps and coke whilst calling the police. What wonderful friends to have dropped everything and come to my aid.
That was a Saturday, the next day at church those same friends rallied around and sat either side of us to ensure the boy could not escape from our pew. Afterwards, drinking coffee and chatting I kept hold of his hand as he munched on a biscuit and drank some squash. He was, thankfully, completely unphased by his adventure; I don't think it registered on his "important events radar" one jot. My aunt however noticed how tense things were "Tia, you should loosen your grip when his hand goes black"!
I dropped him back at home that evening and waited in dread for the phonecalls on the Monday when I would have to confess to my linkworker that I had lost him. When the phone rang and I told her what had happened she was devastated for me, so apologetic about having put me in that situation, not one word of reproach passed her lips. I was so thankful, so suprised, so amazed. This was within the first few months of my adventures in fostering, and I had come from a previous job where if anything had gone wrong, the most important thing was to find someone to blame and shame. What a difference!
I wouldn't choose to go through that experience again but it taught me so much. It reminded me that I do have limits and that I should listen to my gut feelings when discussing possible foslings - I cannot take every child and to take a child who isn't a good match could potentially do harm to the child and to myself. It showed me that my previous workplace's attitude was not universal, that it was possible to work and serve and to be supported and appreciated, not scapegoated. It showed me how good God can be, for protecting others from my mistakes, by providing strangers willing to go that extra mile for us, by forgiving freely and allowing me to learn from my mistakes.
That lad was a rather different Kite Runner from the one in the book, a very different life too. But like Khaled's Kite Runner some of my foslings have been in dire need of protection and support. There are so many different children both here and across the world in situations which are unimaginably awful; I really have lived a sheltered life. I can't help each and every child and if I tried then I would end up helping no one at all. But I can make a big difference to a very few children, and I'm thankful for that. I didn't feel as though I helped this lad very much at all - how is losing him helpful after all? - but it turns out that this was helpful, it showed that the lad really did have some big needs and not all down to his family situation - which was in itself enough to enable the family to access more support. I suspect God didn't plan it that way, but it's nice to see how He turns our mistakes around nevertheless.