Fostering connections with family and community

Raymond Terrace couple Mark and Jo Lewis were in their early forties and had their six children living at home with them, the youngest of whom was only seven, when they first considered becoming foster carers.

“In 2006 I was working as a registered nurse when I saw a pamphlet in the lunch room of the hospital ward, promoting foster care,” Jo said. “I took one of the pamphlets home with me and shared it with Mark, whose initial reaction was ‘you’ve got to be joking.’”

Mark said he hadn't previously contemplated becoming a foster carer due to their family’s busy lifestyle. However, he soon came round to the idea when he learned how dire the situation was for children who, through no fault of their own, were living in crisis accommodation.

In the months following the couple had many conversations and concluded they should attend an information session to get all their questions answered.

“After attending the initial information session we knew we wanted to help, but as parents, we understood it was a decision that needed to be made unanimously by our entire family,” Mark said.

“Fortunately our children were very supportive of the idea and continue to be, to this very day.

“We’ve now been a foster family for 12 years, and during that time we have provided a loving home for an additional nine children,” Mark said. 

What many people aren’t aware of is that there are many different types of foster care including respite, emergency and restoration as well as permanent care options such as guardianship and open adoption.

“Of the nine children four of them stayed with us for respite care, usually one weekend a month for a few years. The other five children have stayed with us for longer periods until they were able to return home to their parents or live independently,” Mark said.

"Saying good-bye to a child who has lived with you is never easy, but we firmly believe that when it is safe for a child to return to their natural family, and the children are accepting of the idea, it is the best place for them and their sense of identity.  We're still in contact with children who have left our care, and for us, that brings a great deal of joy to our lives knowing that they're happy and we were able to assist them and their family in some small way,” Mark said.

The couple says there’s a common misconception that providing foster care will have a negative impact on carers’ biological children, but said their experience couldn’t be more different.  

“Becoming foster carers has brought our family closer together. Our older children in particular, who are now in their thirties and parents themselves, have cherished their role as an extended support network for the children in our care, often providing a listening ear or unofficial mentoring. Regardless of how long a child has spent in our home, our children call them their brother or sister and that makes me feel incredibly proud,” Jo said.

They agree that providing foster care is not without its challenges, but that they’ve always felt supported.

“Some days are harder than others but even the smallest amount of progress a child makes while in our home provides all the reassurance we need to know what we’re doing is worth it,” Jo continued.

“We’ve elected to care for school-aged children, which requires a lot of empathy, patience and persistence while you assist them to heal. We’ve found that by providing a safe, stable and nurturing home environment that it’s not long before the children in our care experience improved social and emotional wellbeing.

“Thankfully we’ve never been expected to do it all on our own. We are carers with an agency called CatholicCare Social Services Hunter-Manning, and they have provided all the training and support we have ever needed. If we or the child in our care is experiencing difficulties, we’ve only had to ask for help, and one of their team has arrived at our house to offer care and guidance. We’ve never been without support, ever.”

Mark and Jo will be sharing more of their experience as foster carers at a CatholicCare Social Services Hunter Manning’s Foster Care and Open Adoption Information Session at Raymond Terrace Bowling Club on Wednesday 20 February. They will be joined by CatholicCare staff who will also discuss the reasons children come into care, the types of care and accreditation process, as well as the training, support and allowance provided to carers by the agency. Members of the public are invited to attend the event but must register in advance either online at www.catholiccare.org.au or by calling (02) 4944 0700

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Lizzie Snedden Image
Lizzie Snedden

Lizzie is Team Leader Content for the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.