A family was always on the agenda for Madeline* and her husband, John*. They married young, bought a house and settled in on starting to introduce children into their lives. But after 10 failed IVF attempts they began to investigate other options.
At the time, everywhere they turned they would face another story about fostering.
“We talked it over,” says Madeline “and decided that maybe this was going to be a rewarding path. We were still young enough to care for and help the many children that may come into our home.”
They started making their enquiries, initially turning to the NSW Department of Family and Community Services (FACS), who started them on the approval and training process. They both thought that being a foster carer would mean introducing many children into their home. “We initially, and naively, thought that our experience as carers would be a revolving door of children coming into our care,” said Madeline. “But we soon learnt you could make a choice between becoming a respite carer, a short-term carer or a long-term carer – we chose long term.”
“We initially, and naively, thought that our experience as carers would be a revolving door of children coming into our care”
Madeline and John weren’t completely naive. They knew that they were about to undertake a huge change in their lives. “Let’s face it,” says Madeline “we were blessed with the placement of siblings, a four-year-old girl and a two-year-old boy, but we were strangers. It took time to get to know one another, them to know us and us to know them.”
There’s also the reality of coping with the children’s past experiences – both the trauma and loss. “They were confused,” says Madeline. “There was a gamut of attachment and development needs. They continue to challenge us in new ways but, with each day, we are learning and progressing.”
Long-term carers were given the opportunity to transfer their cases to a non-government organisation. Madeline and John decided on The Benevolent Society, Australia’s first charity, which has a long history helping families and children. “They have been very supportive to us,” says Madeline. “They supported this placement wholeheartedly, and I’m grateful for the insight, honesty and care our caseworkers have provided us.”
Be it training, moral support or therapy for the children, The Benevolent Society ensures that Madeline and her family aren’t left to fend for themselves. Right down to providing “a shoulder to cry on – when required,” says Madeline.
“It has broadened my view on parenting and the plight of those in care and the carers who look after them, including the case workers, the biological parents and the family,”
“It has broadened my view on parenting and the plight of those in care and the carers who look after them, including the case workers, the biological parents and the family,” says Madeline.
She can’t deny it has changed her life, “the things I worried about before being a carer are so insignificant. It has deepened the relationship I have with my husband but, to be entirely truthful, there were also times that I thought it might tear us apart.”
But in the end, the addition of these two children to their lives has been an incredibly powerful influence on their lives. “They are the most delightful and amazing people. They have truly filled my heart,” says Madeline. “Their resilience and spirit are so inspiring; they have given us a family and we have given them a family.”
When asked what piece of advice she’d give someone thinking about becoming a foster carer, Madeline says: “Do all the training you can, open your eyes and ears. Focus on the children. This (being a foster carer) will change your life; it is full of challenges and difficulties—you will deal with behaviours you haven’t experienced before, and emotions and histories that are unbelievable—but the difference a good carer can make is also so unbelievably rewarding.”
“This (being a foster carer) will change your life; it is full of challenges and difficulties”
*Names and images have been changed to protect the privacy of families and the children in their care