Man holding young girls hand

Does Your Family Have What It Takes To Foster?

With more than 46,000 children who need foster care across the country, State Director NSW for Australian fostering agency Key Assets, Jamie Hodgson, claims that misconceptions could be contributing to the shortage of foster parents.

“Anyone who has a spare room, is patient, caring and understanding, and is willing to open their heart and home to provide a safe and nurturing environment for a child in need, is who we encourage to apply.”

“Some people also aren’t aware of the support carers receive. At Key Assets, we provide carers with on-going training, 24/7 support, a dedicated social worker and an allowance. We also hold regular events and connect carers with other carers for extra support.”

The Long Term

When high school teacher Damien*, 44, became a single foster carer to Will*, 13, two years ago, it was a short-term placement with the possibility of long-term. It now looks like Will will stay until he is 18.

“There are times when the young person you look after can be very ungrateful and self-centred,” says Damien. “When I got into fostering, it was the challenge of potentially not getting anything in return which I liked. However, when it came to the day-to-day, the ungratefulness was hard to take. When I’m really mad at him, I have to remind myself about what he has gone through in life, more than what I have had to experience and this becomes my reality check. I can’t give up as the thought of Will moving from carer to carer really worries me. Staying calm when Will is pushing all my buttons is a massive challenge.”

“Seeing Will improve and make solid progress really keeps me going. It’s nice hearing Will talk about the future living with me, asking me if I can teach him to drive when he gets older and asking if I will help him buy his first car. He probably doesn’t realise how nice it is to hear. One of my favourite things is when I see some of the things I’m doing or saying start to rub off on him, e.g. simply modelling apologising when I do something wrong and then seeing him do the same, as it wasn’t something he did when he first came to live with me. “

The Short Term

Dave*, 47,  transferred to the Australian Navy from the UK military when he  and his wife Melinda*, 44, moved to Australia four years ago, and have two adult daughters. They offer short term, emergency and respite care for kids over four. So far, they have cared for single children and brothers and sisters from 4 to 8 years, and young adults from 14 to 17. Durations have been from one night to 10 weeks.

“The first time we were called was late on a work-day evening to look after two young brothers,” says Dave. “We said yes, but were apprehensive. Two hours later, two very shy, frightened and quite young brothers arrived. Two weeks later, two energetic, happy, friendly young lads left. And they left behind two very upset yet happy carers at the same time.”

“You never get use to saying goodbye to them no matter how long you have them, how old they are, or the problems they may or may not have caused. There have been times when Melinda has not wanted to be there when someone has come to pick them up and move them on to somewhere new. Those times are draining and the house can feel empty again.”

One of the tougher things to do is to say “no”, he says. “Key Assets will sometimes ring and ask if you will have a child that does not fit the profile that you can care for. You must not feel pressured into saying ‘yes’ every time. You must give yourself and your family time to recharge before putting your hand up again.”

The Foster Child 

Caitlin*, 23, went into care when she was 11 and stayed in care until her 18th birthday. Even though her placements all broke down quickly – she lived with five different families and four different residential placements – she wouldn’t change it. “Even though my placements were short, they all taught me something and let me grow as a person. I still talk to most of the people who looked after me,” she says. “Being in care has taught me the value to life and really showed me how to be grateful for people and for help.”

Caitlin notes that foster care saved her from a life that she perceived as normal, as a result she has a higher sense of empathy for children in care. “In the future, I will be working as a social worker focusing on child protection,” Caitlin says.

“Foster caring is a bumpy journey with many hard bumps, but if I could say one thing to a parent considering fostering it would be that no matter how little time you have with that child, you are imprinting a footprint in their lives and telling them that they are worthy. It gives them so much hope as well as the life that child has always deserved.”

Overcoming Hurdles

If you are thinking of becoming a foster carer, Jamie points to these considerations: “Accept that you might have to cope with difficult and sometimes stressful situations. Recognise that you cannot do it all and you need to rely on a strong support network.”

The recruitment process itself can be a challenge because it’s quite comprehensive, he notes. Dave and Melinda had five home visits by the agency of two to three hours each, plus police checks. The process took about 6 months. “These visits were a fantastic source of information, and no subject or question was out of bounds,” says Dave.

Jamie says that new carers often experience the excitement and concern of the unknown. “When will the child arrive? What will they need? And will I be able to do this? It’s a real mixture of emotions for everyone involved. Once the child arrives, the challenges are getting to know the child or young person, building relationship and developing an understanding of who they are, what their needs are. I find that most new carers are surprised by both the rewards and the challenges of fostering but no matter what challenges come, they want to continue on fostering.”

Fostering – There’s More Than One Kind

  • Emergency carers: Take in children as soon as they leave their parents, just for a short time.
  • Restoration carers: Look after children while the parents work on the things that were making the children unsafe, or for a short time until a permanent carer is found.
  • Permanent carers: Commit until the child turns 18 – and beyond.
  • Respite carers: Take children for the weekend or school holidays.

A Taste of Fostering is a Key Assets cookbook weaving in family recipes with tales from nine real Australian foster families. Download a free digital edition of‘ ‘A Taste of Fostering’  today. 

*Names have been changed

Lana Al Habl
Lana Al Habl