Children Of A Stranger by Hilary Walker

 His first words on meeting us were

I don’t think I’ll be staying long, mum says I’ll be back with her before Christmas.’ 

Josh was our first foster child, we were his eighth family and having lived with his previous foster families between the ages of nine and thirteen, it didn’t bode well.   He was the eldest of seven and the only boy.  Two of his sisters lived with their father, two were in long-term foster care and the two youngest had been adopted.  Josh’s mum was pregnant with another baby girl on the way and according to Selina, our social worker, she would be taken from her mother and placed in care immediately after birth.  Josh was excited about another sister  ‘we’re calling her Maria, after the singer Maria Carey, she’s mum’s favourite and mine too, and one day we’ll all see her live in concert at the Manchester Arena, mum says.’

He was a below average student, rarely in trouble, a loner and sensitive, apparently Josh had shown indications of gender identity issues around the age of eleven but the matter was judged to have passed.  He had few friends so Selina’s brief was to help him mix with other children, although Josh would always shut down any talk of joining youth clubs or sport centres the moment it was mentioned.

Each month he was scheduled for a supervised visit with his mum and four of his sisters at a local contact centre but more often than not she didn’t show.  It was a depressing trip back home whenever his mum hadn’t appeared.  I’d usually cook his favourite meal or organise something to cheer him up but the look of disappointment on his face and the sadness within his eyes would linger for days, until eventually he willed himself to believe his mother’s excuses when he finally got through to her on the phone.

One night, a few days after another disappointing visit, he became upset and emotional, questioning the fact that his mum was always letting him down and breaking her promises.  It was a sobering conversation and difficult to remain neutral while witnessing the beginnings of a young boy’s enlightenment.

Over time, he began to open up a little, to speak with counsellors in depth and try his best to understand his mother’s issues.  I was immensely proud of him. 

Josh left us at sixteen to live with his grandparents; a very different teenager to the one who’d arrived two years earlier.  His mother had two more children, both boys, who’ve been adopted.  Sometimes, I notice photographs of her on Josh’s Facebook page, images of the perfect mother, a smiling stranger unaware of just how much she lost.  From time to time I think about the connection between us, the adoptive parents, distant relatives and foster carers with nothing in common except a desire to act in loco parentis, loving and caring for Josh and his siblings, the children of a stranger.