Our Carers

The Foster Care Association is made up of foster carers from all around Victoria, each with their own story, but with one thing in common, a driving dedication to the children and young people they care for... 

 

Anne & Daryl's Story

 

annebush“I think my path to foster caring was acknowledging what I can do, and do well,” says Anne. “We need more carers who are willing to do therapeutic care. Acknowledge your skills.  [Children] come to you emotionally fragile but mentally tough and apart from the stresses, it’s awesome.”

 

“We’ve met amazing people through fostering. I attend every education opportunity I can and I’m also part of the Carer Advisory Groups for that reason, to have a voice and get information and meet people.”

 

“Fostering was something we always knew that we’d do, but on the day we signed up, it was very spontaneous. Four years ago we walked into the agency. The people there were very keen for us to become carers. They said ‘quick do the training’!”  Anne and Daryl were introduced to the Circle Program, and were quickly matched.

 

“We needed the agency to be honest and up front with us about what would be needed. We asked and found out everything we could about circumstances and history etc.”

 

“Daryl’s in his 60’s and I’m about to turn 60 this year. We very consciously decided that we would become foster carers at a later age. I could never have provided the time, empathy and focus needed for the child in our life without the wealth of life experience behind me and the time for the 24/7 care. I can only give that because our 5 children are grown up.”

 

Anne and Daryl ‘tag team’.  “We are not in a position to take in any other children at this point and we can only do this because we have time to dedicate” says Anne. “The team around us, our caseworker, is fantastic and we feel well supported by them. We told the agency and the DHHS from the start that we’d support access as it was to assist with connection and bonding. It’s an important part of supporting cultural background, to be proud of it."

 

“Although we are not Aboriginal, I have a long connection with an Aboriginal family.  We wanted to care for an Aboriginal child who was primary school age because that’s my background. I worked with primary school age children and that’s what I know. Just last week I went to the funeral of a 100 year old elder over the South Australian border. I took our 9 year old with us. It is important for children in care to experience their culture and understand the rituals and the way things work.”

 

“We get on the internet and research. We have a big map of Indigenous Australia up which is fantastic. We have been to smoking ceremonies and have all the Dreamtime books, clapsticks, and a didgeridoo (even though the women don’t play). We’ve visited the cultural centre at Hall’s Gap, the Bungil caves at Stawell, when we travel we visit places that are important to culture and tell the stories as best we can. We encourage questions.”

 

“Our child has come so far and is part of our family in every way, we recently all went to Phuket.  We travel a lot. We go to swimming lessons. I figure that’s what the money is there for, but we also spend a lot of money on home schooling.”

 

Anne and Daryl also go on camping trips across the Nullarbor and back in swags and tents.  “Camping and traveling are two of our favourite pastimes,” says Anne.  “With a son on the west coast, a daughter on the east coast, a son in Melbourne and other family in SA we are often the road. We would like to go to Tassie soon, I have a girlfriend who lives in Hobart who used to care for teenagers, and she keeps telling us to hurry up and visit.”

 

“Some of the biggest hurdles are just getting permissions through the department. Every time we go over the border it’s hard. For instance we like to go camping over the NSW border, it’s literally only 10 metres over the border but we have to go through so much red tape to be allowed to go. Getting a passport was a big stress. These things should be simple and easy for carers. It’s hard with relationships and access too. It’s different in the city. In the country you bump into people you know and we sometimes have to shuffle around things like sibling access."

 

“Despite all the challenges we never had doubts along the way."

 

Anne describes fostering as an amazing journey.  “I’ve been on the planet for 59 years, but I’ve grown so much in ways that I didn’t see coming in the past 3.  If you go in with an open mind you can embrace the experience.”

 

“This a long term commitment but when you are told by the child in your care that when they grow up they'll bring their children here to visit us, those are the things that let you know you’ve made a good decision."

 

Sarah & Rob's Story

 

Sarah and Rob

Sarah and her husband Rob are in their 30s. They live in Williamstown in Melbourne’s west which, although close to the city, has the benefits of small town coastal life, and the kids love strolling down to the beach for a swim or to the jetty to watch the ships.

We have been caring for almost two years now, and have cared for nine children (from six different families) in that time. We currently do regular respite for two of those families and also offer emergency care. We have also done a stint of full time care (three months) for one of the children we continue to do respite for.

 

What first made you decide to embark on your fostering journey?  Did you have any doubts?

I still have doubts now! Never about the kids; but the challenges of the foster system often make me wonder about my decision to continue caring. The kids make it worth doing though, and that's why I first decided to become a carer. I was raised in a family day care house and my maternal grandmother was a foster carer in England. Meanwhile one of my cousins is a teacher and two others work in day care centres and two of my aunts also did family day care from home. I grew up in a family where caring for other people's children was the norm! And growing up this way (as well as working in day care/OSHC myself) I've seen kids from all walks of life, from all different families - kids with trauma and developmental and behavioural issues - and I've seen how amazing these kids are and how much they can accomplish. I think I've always known I wanted to be a foster carer because I've always wanted to care for kids who need care most. 

 

What made you first feel that you'd made a good decision, and that fostering was for you and your family?

Our first placement - a child we still provide respite care for (he has since moved back with his birth parent but we are in regular contact) - absolutely stole our hearts and changed our lives. I don't know if he made us feel like fostering was a 'good' decision, exactly, because the pain of saying goodbye to foster children is a grief unlike anything else we've ever experienced, but our time with him really showed us that fostering was the right path for us. 

 

Are there any issues that arise or seem to be particular to the region of Victoria you live in?

More than this Q&A could possibly allow. I recently attended the West Division's CAG (Carer Advisory Group) meeting, and we managed to condense the depressingly long list of foster care issues to a few key points. Primary among them was the need for better communication and respect for carers, putting the child at the centre or care decisions, and the lack of adequate funding and supports. Another major issue identified was the lack of knowledge and practical information/items available to carers: things like Medicare cards, Health Care cards and birth certificates are notoriously difficult to obtain, and often basic information isn't easily accessible. For example, we recently had two siblings that needed a doctor's appointment, but we didn't have their Medicare information, dates of birth or even their surname/s. It took us two days of back and forth calls with our agency's after hours number (who in turn was calling DHHS for information) to get a doctor's appointment organised. This sort of experience is, I know, not at all uncommon for carers. That said, I have met some amazing and passionate carers and some wonderfully kind and helpful workers in my time fostering.  

 

How do you support the children in your care with their connection to culture and cultural needs?

I believe connection to our culture is vital to forming our identities: our sense of self and place and figuring out 'who we are'. This becomes all the more vital for children in foster care, whose sense of self and place is already turbulent - particularly if children and carers come from different cultural backgrounds.

I once interviewed Indigenous children's book publisher Rachel Bin Sallah (from Magabala Press in Broome) about the importance of cultural identity; its formation and its connection to 'who we are', and together we examined the cultural needs of Indigenous children in Australia and the barriers they face in a literary world filled with predominantly white protagonists. I explained to her that we did respite care for two children from a Tongan family, and one of them, a young girl, was going through a bit of a 'cultural crisis'. Unlike her fair haired, blue eyed siblings, she was dark skinned with dark hair and eyes. She felt 'different' from her own family - and the other children around her. Rachel explained that this sort of cultural dilemma was very common for Indigenous children from mixed backgrounds, and she very generously posted over a large collection of Indigenous book titles for us to read to this young girl and share with the other children we foster. These books (although primarily telling different Aboriginal children's stories) all tell the stories of children with the same colouring as this young girl, something that might not seem so significant but goes a very long way to helping establish a feeling of connectedness and inclusion. We are also looking at purchasing some Tongan flashcards online so we can learn Tongan words together with the siblings, and I have also found some Tongan themed colouring pages to print out for our next respite weekend! 

 

What would be the single most important improvement that could be made to your fostering experience through legislation, funding or external supports?

The single most important improvement ... That's a tough one. I think my fostering experience is improved if the children's fostering experience is improved. Many of the children we have cared for need access to things like counselling, tutoring and art therapy, or simply the ability to join after school groups and activities. These sorts of things should, I think, be freely provided to all children in care. As my agency's most recent newsletter quoted: "If you can help a child, you don’t have to spend years repairing an adult" - Joyce Meyer. I think this is very true. 

 

Rachel & Steve's Story

 

rachel kentMy husband, Steve (54) and I (43) have been foster carers for the last 11 years or so and have just decided to take a break for a while to recharge our batteries.

 

It has been a fantastic journey and we have learned so much but it takes a lot of emotional energy and we want to be able to give any kids in our care the best of us, rather than just put a roof over their head.

 

We don't have any biological children. We began fostering thinking that we would do it for a few years before having our own, but we ended up feeling that our long-term foster kids were the kids we wanted and that was enough for us. We didn't want them to think that they were somehow "second-best". Two of those placements went to Permanent Care.

 

We live on a small property in East Gippsland and have a lot of pets. It's a great environment for kids but sometimes it's hard to access services because of distance.

 

There have been so many rewarding aspects of being a foster carer that it's hard to choose just a few! I have loved being able to see the kids grow up to be happy adults, and knowing that we played a part in that. I have found it really rewarding learning about the effects of trauma on development as it has helped me to understand the children's behaviour so much better. It has been amazing and rewarding to learn about Gunaikurnai culture and to understand the long histories of the families we have come to know. I feel very lucky to have been welcomed to events by parents and the extended families of the children we have cared for.

 

There have of course been challenges as well as rewards. Sometimes I have been happy to have the child protection system and the workers to fall back on or to make the tough decisions. Unfortunately though, there were many times that we felt that the system was letting the young people down because of the lack of flexibility in the system to respond to an individual child's needs. There is also a distinct lack of support for your people once they reach the age of 18, even with Leaving Care support. Finding affordable housing is a huge problem; there are just so few options.

 

If I had to choose only one thing to change? The single most important thing that I think needs to happen is that a lot more needs to be done to help carers make links with cultural organisations that can help the children in their care to feel they belong. We have met some great workers but they don't have time to do a lot of transport for the kids to see their families or help them maintain their connection to culture.

 

Jacqui's Story

 

Jacqui has been a foster carer in the north of Melbourne since the days of working with Nuns at St Joseph’s. She doesn’t keep count of the numbers of children she’s cared for as that’s not the point. “… I love it and it’s going to be something I do until I can’t do it anymore. It’s such a rewarding thing to do, what you get back is more than what you can give,” she says.

 

Jacqui has been caring for children of all ages since she was a young parent raising her own children. Her mantra is routine, routine, routine. Children come to her from many situations and backgrounds and she implements the same kind, but firm routine for each of them. She believes in encouraging them to learn to do everything they can manage at certain ages, that they can then do for themselves.

 

“When they’re with me I make sure they will leave with life skills. Through praise, consequences and working together I make sure whether they’re going back home or to a long term family, that they will know how to make their beds, fold laundry, help me with jobs, know where the weetbix are and how to help with babies. I give them all a lot of love, plenty of nurturing, a strong sense of self-worth, sleep and a healthy diet.”

 

Jacqui makes sure every child has their own clothes and that there are plenty of healthy food options each child likes in the cupboards. Most of these expenses will be her own, she spends well over the allowances for each child, ensuring they are given individual sense of identity in what they wear, what they like to cook and eat and activities they like to do.

 

Jacqui is also very generous with her time with parents. She has maintained as many links to families and parents as she can depending on the situation. She allows access to happen as often as is allowed and appropriate and passes on her knowledge to many young parents. She is conscious of the feelings of mums who have their baby in her care and always makes sure she hands the baby to mum as soon as the visit begins. She keeps journals of illnesses, events and fills in the gaps. Consequently she is respected and parents are trusting about her caring for their children. This also allows parents to open up in front of her and she can impart lessons on parenting, the basics from how to change nappies to more expert experience in dealing with all sorts of behaviours. She is also able to mediate where feelings might be hurt if a parent fails to show up or doesn’t call when they said they will ensuring the child feels valued and supported.

 

Jacqui came to foster care having worked in childcare for 30 years. In the end she had to take long service leave because she was caring for 2 year old twin boys which took priority over her career.

“When babies go to permanent care those families feed back to me that the children are always adjusted to great routines and seem settled.”

 

Jacqui makes sure no matter how many young children are in her care, they each get cuddle time every day which is the type of nurturing she provides them right from the first night. When a child comes to her care, the first night she may sleep in the room with them and make sure they know she’s there and they’re safe. 

 

Continuity is so important. Jacqui doesn’t do respite as too often the children come back so upset and out of routine. She’s been doing this ongoing now for over half of her life. Jacqui’s advice to new foster carers of babies or very young children is to buy a good pram, with the child facing you at a height where you can talk to them. Tell them everything you’re doing and don’t stop.