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“Short Term Placement” by Rik Lonsdale


I would never have thought about fostering if a friend hadn’t suggested it. Although I have lots of nieces and nephews, I’ve never had children of my own so I didn’t think they would take me seriously as a possible foster parent. But they did. The first children I looked after were straight forward and just needed a quiet, safe place for a while. Just until their families got organised.

Gradually the agency began to send me children who were a more challenging, and I seemed to do a good job because they all seemed happy. Then they sent me Steven.

Steven was six and the social worker said he could be “difficult”. I soon realised what an understatement that was.

He demolished the rockery I had built the previous summer in a single morning. The wild life pond became a target for pots and garden tools. At least I knew where I could find my trowel.


I tried to show him what it was like, to grow things and enjoy them. He pulled up the petunias and trampled the lettuce.

That year was horrendous. I worried I might fail him and have to send him back, back into care. What would become of him then? Crime, drugs, who knows? I gritted my teeth and hung on.

It was the strawberries that began the change. Instead of destroying them he ate them. Not one passed my lips that summer. But I saw him smile for the first time. A red mouthed, full of strawberry smile. I laughed out loud, my first laugh since Steven arrived.

‘Wait until you taste the raspberries,’ I said. He tasted them. He liked them. I didn’t get a single one all autumn.

Steven began following me around the garden. He started asking questions. He began to learn the seasons, the way of sowing and harvesting. He slowly learnt to wait and to share.

He started to understand what the garden needed, how to care for it, how to grow his own plants. I watched him delight in their abundance.

I was utterly unprepared for the reappearance of his birth mother, demanding to have him back. He’d been with me for seven years. The longest “short term placement” I ever had. I thought he would stay forever. I loved him, as if I were his mother.

Steven looked at me, wise beyond his years. ‘You’ve taught me so much, now I have to go home and make my own garden. But I will come back.’

I was bereft, lost. Until the day he kept his word and returned.

‘I’ve come for some cuttings,’ he said.

‘Who’s that with you?’ I said.

‘This is Peter, my brother, he’s seven.’ We watched as Peter began to kick over the chrysanthemums.

Then Steven said, ‘I think he needs to learn about gardening, will you teach him?’

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