All children should have a safe and secure home environment. The harsh reality is some children can be at risk of harm in the care of their own family. Tara Dryland looks into Foster Care and introduces some inspiring Australian families that provide a loving home to kids who aren’t their own.
Foster Care is a form of family-based care for children who have experienced trauma, neglect or abuse at home and have been removed due to concerns about their safety, welfare and wellbeing. There are a variety of factors that contribute to parents being unable to adequately provide for their children, including mental health issues, drug and alcohol issues, domestic violence or disability.
Thankfully, we have Foster Carers – everyday Australians who have confirmed their commitment to protecting vulnerable children by providing a safe and secure environment and catering to their physical and emotional needs when their own family cannot. Foster parents provide all of a child’s daily necessities and provide them with stability, affection, consistency, and nurturing. Amy Weeks, Team Leader of the Foster Care Program at ANGLICARE Sydney says Carers get involved for many reasons, including to extend their family or to gain parenting experience, but usually just to have the opportunity to provide direct care to children in need.
“We have many carers for whom fostering is their first parenting experience. What matters most is that they are all easily adaptable, child-focused, caring, understanding, flexible and open-minded,” says Amy.
The process of becoming an authorised Foster Carer generally takes about six months and involves thorough training and assessment. Once approved, Foster Carers can specify the age of the children they are willing to provide care for, as well as if they have a preference for providing care to a child of a particular gender or cultural background.
The different types of foster care mean that carers do not need to be available full-time and can combine the challenging work of fostering with other commitments.
TYPES OF FOSTER CARE
Respite care gives full-time foster carers, parents or guardians a regular break, often for one or two weekends a month, or a week each school holidays.
Emergency care is for children who require a placement immediately due to concerns for their safety. Care can be for one night only or more.
Short-term care is for children who may require a placement from a couple of weeks up to 12 months or more while they are on interim court orders. Restoration to birth family will be explored.
Long-term care is a permanency option arranged when a child cannot return home and permanent court orders are made. It is anticipated that a child will grow up in this new family. Adoption by the foster family may be a possibility.
MEET THE CARERS
Lucy and Edward (both 38), Turramurra, Sydney
Lucy and Edward were inspired by close friends who had fostered dozens of children and after seeing an advertisement at their church they decided to apply through ANGLICARE Sydney.
Since becoming short-term foster carers in August 2011, they have cared for four young babies and currently care for a baby girl with high medical needs. Lucy explains: “Often these babies are victims of substance abuse whether it’s alcohol or narcotics in utero, so we have had situations where we have fostered a newborn straight out of hospital. We’re not always told of the situation they’ve come from but obviously we care for them like our own. In our current situation, the little girl’s medical needs became evident as we got to know her.”
The couple also have four children of their own and Lucy brings relevant experience with her job as a Doula. As short-term carers, Lucy and Edward can foster children from periods of two weeks up to two years but say each child becomes a firm part of their family no matter the time-frame. “We are responsible for everything just as though the child was our own. It’s a huge responsibility.”
“Not every child has an ideal environment to grow up in and we just really want to help these kids that need love – that’s easy for us to provide.”
– Edward Hercus
The couple love documenting the whole process and take tons of photographs and videos of special things the babies do and say. “We feel that’s really important for the kids,” Edward shares. “We are privy to so much; their first steps and words. We have an obligation to record that and pass it on and it helps our own children to get involved and to understand.”
In most instances the family have chosen not to keep in contact with the child once they leave their care and have decided it’s better for their own family if they just say goodbye. “It is absolutely heartbreaking to have the kids leave us, but the goal is to find permanent care. It’s impossible not to get attached but we know it’s not forever. We’re just really passionate about helping children. Not every child has an ideal environment to grow up in and we just really want to help these kids that need love – that’s easy for us to provide.”
Di and John Waddington (retired), Warriewood, Sydney
Di and John have been fostering for more than 12 years and have provided crisis, respite and temporary care for more than 35 children of varying ages and needs and from a huge range of backgrounds.
Preferring to take on a grandparent-like role, the couple encourage the children to call them as such and still remain in contact with many children they’ve cared for, acting as informal grandparents and taking them on outings and attending special days at school. Although it’s hard work, they say it’s so rewarding and that all the positives outweigh any negatives.
“We’re firm but fair. Once they know they’re going to be fed and cared for and loved, they relax and settle in.”
– Di Waddington
“It can be difficult to prepare yourself for the children’s challenging behaviours, but at the end of the day, it’s not about me,” Di says. “We’re there to provide patience, love, boundaries and consistency, things these kids have never had before. We’re firm but fair. Once they know they’re going to be fed and cared for and loved, they relax and settle in.”
Di and John are valuable carers not only because of the high quality of care they provide but also their flexibility and openness to a variety of children. “We’ve had children for just one night or for longer occasions spanning a few years; each one of them becomes a part of the family instantly.”
Di says a favourite part of the process is to create a ‘Life Story Book’, an album filled with photos, stories and letters for the children to keep once they move to permanent care. “It’s my little way of showing how much I have enjoyed them. I have to do it for them and their new carers, otherwise, who else will know these special memories?”
Karen (46), Annandale, Sydney
When Karen reached the age of 39 and couldn’t have a biological child, she applied to foster a child of any age or gender – her motivation was simply to parent. Her application was successful and Karen became the full-time carer to an eight year old girl (now 13), who will remain in her care fulltime at least until she is 18 and probably beyond.
Karen’s openness to children of all ages highlights her uniqueness. “I am a parent to a child in every sense of the word,” she says. I make daily, medium and long-term decisions on her health, happiness and education and help her with any problems or issues she may have. We are a family, just like any other.”
Karen’s foster child has thrived in her care, overcoming academic challenges and transitioning into adolescence as a confident and well-adjusted young girl.
Karen says there are definite challenges to fostering, namely dealing with the child’s parents’ feelings toward the child being in care and toward Karen as a carer, but she is lucky to have the support of her own family. “My child comes from a family that we see regularly; she is very much loved by her biological parents and grandparents. I always inform them of big events in her life and seek input from them if it’s needed.”
Karen’s foster child has thrived in her care, overcoming academic challenges and transitioning into adolescence as a confident and well-adjusted young girl. “I’m so thankful to be able to parent a child, to watch her thrive in my care, to guide her to be the best person she can be and to be rewarded with love and thanks. It’s the best.”
WANT TO BECOME A FOSTER CARER?
To talk to someone about foster care call 1800 367 837.
Or visit www.anglicare.org.au for a Foster Parenting Information and Application pack.