It is now four years since we decided to become a foster family. Initially before we received children, I attended a series of training workshops followed by some intensive and thought-provoking interviews. My seven-year-old daughter was even included in this process. At the time I remember thinking, “Do I need to know all of this stuff? Is this really necessary?” I have since discovered I certainly did need it!
People often ask me why I put our hands up to take in children we didn’t know. There are many reasons. Firstly, I remember watching my only child playing imaginatively with her toys on her own and wished she had a sibling to share her childhood with. In my earlier days I was involved in the Aunty/Uncle program and enjoyed the time spent with a young boy and girl. Also, as a teacher and a parent, I have always felt great empathy towards children who, through no fault of their own, just didn’t get a great start in life.
Since we received our first foster care placement, our whole family has welcomed and nurtured our ‘littlies’ into our lives. It is so rewarding to watch these children blossom and grow, develop new relationships and learn new things. When I speak to family members about it, they also feel it is a very positive experience. When the children are living with us, the ‘cousins’ always have a child on their knees or back, ‘Grandma’ is in great demand for homework and ‘Aunty’ is the one to cuddle. My partner and friends, as well as schools, preschools and CatholicCare staff, also play a significant and supportive role in the children’s lives.
So far, we have been involved with four children. Our first, a bubbly eight-year-old girl, comes to us for respite care on odd weekends. She is super active, keeps the trampoline busy and there is never a dull moment when she is around. Our second, a feisty ten-year-old gorgeous girl, lived with us for nine months before moving overseas to live with her relatives. She was our first ‘full-time’ child and it was heartbreaking and very emotional when she left. My daughter and she had developed a strong sisterly bond and they missed each other a lot. However, we have been fortunate to still maintain contact with her via the internet. When she is in Australia, we are able to spend weekends away with her. Her relatives support this continuing relationship and we really appreciate it.
Recently we cared full-time for a four-year-old girl and her six year-old-brother. They arrived in the middle of summer and quickly became pool babies. The four-year-old spent hours riding around the pool on my fourteen-year-old niece’s back as she gained confidence in the water. The children especially enjoyed playing outside making ‘potions’ with my dishwashing detergent and whatever they could find in the garden. One memorable moment with them was taking them down to Bunnings to buy a plastic bucket each. They were so excited about their handpicked 89c bucket and these kept them occupied for hours the next day. They drew our attention to the beauty in everyday things like a pretty sunset or a colourful weed in the garden. They loved being read to and receiving butterfly kisses at night. Their needs were very high and quite challenging at times, but watching the change in them over the months was dramatic. They have since moved on to new carers but will continue to spend some weekends with us.
Over the past four years, I have seen my daughter develop in her big sister role. Sharing your home, toys, parents and friends with other children is not always easy. As an adult, I took on this role as a foster mum. Thankfully she has also enjoyed the experience and I am very proud of her.
At the moment we are having a break while we undergo home renovations. Shortly though we hope to have the opportunity to welcome some new children again. It always begins with a phone call and sometimes not a lot of notice. Then everyone flies into action, putting sheets on beds, gathering clothes and the excitement builds as we prepare to meet them.
I will never forget Feisty Girl asking me one night with a very forlorn look on her face, “Do you love me the same as the other children in your family?” I was taken back for a moment before I was able to truthfully answer her. I explained to her that I love all the people in the family in a different way because each one is unique and special. I kissed her good night and told her there was absolutely no one in the world that I loved in the same way as her, and that she is ‘my family’ now. She grinned as I turned off the light…