As a couple, Shannon Toner and Justin Smith wanted to make a positive difference in the lives of some of the most vulnerable children in our society. They became foster carers and have been caring for children in need for nearly three years, writes Destiny Rogers.
“More than 9,000 children in Queensland are in need of a loving home,” said Shannon Toner.
“That statistic horrified Justin and I so we decided to do our bit by becoming foster parents.
“We registered our interest and soon after our agency of choice (Key Assets) made contact.
“From the beginning, the agency worked to give us a balanced overview of fostering. Fostering is both rewarding and challenging, especially when caring for children who’ve been through a lot.
“During the initial process we completed courses designed to help understand the challenges of children affected by trauma. We undertook training to learn how to support such kids.
“I recommend anyone interested in commencing this journey watch a video called ReMoved, an incredible short film by Nathanael Matanick that helps shine a light on the importance of the foster care system and how vital it is to have committed and caring carers involved.”
With their training complete, Shannon and Justin prepared to welcome a new addition to their family.
“We were excited to commence our foster care journey,” said Justin, “but it was difficult not knowing what to expect.
“We set up her room to make it as welcoming and comfortable as possible and then went through our home to ensure it was child-friendly.
“It is amazing what you discover when looking at your home from a new perspective — the perspective of a small inquisitive child.
“The kabuto helmet we loved and bought back from Japan was great for us, but dangerous for little fingers and hands!!”
Shannon and Justin received photographs of the little girl about to join their lives and met with her several times to help build the foundation of a loving relationship.
They received regular updates on her life during the process.
Shannon is a planner
“Thousands of questions ran through my head in the lead up to her arrival,” he said.
“Too many questions, so it was great to have Justin to provide balance.
“We wanted her to understand our home was her home, so we framed the photos we had of her and placed them around the home to help with the adjustment period upon her arrival.
“Integrating someone new into the family can make for a confusing time for everyone involved but the rewards are plentiful.”
After nearly three years of fostering, Shannon and Justin became engaged on a recent trip to Las Vegas.
“We now have a very excited little girl,” said Shannon, “She’s in wedding planning mode.
“I could not imagine our life now without having her around.
“We’ve also adopted a puppy named Samson and he completes the family dynamic.
“Despite some difficult times along the way, our relationship has benefited from the expansion of our family.
“It is important to have open and transparent communication both as a family unit and within our partnership. We’re very lucky to have a good support network with family and friends who have helped contribute positively along the way.
“Caring for vulnerable children can be both challenging and rewarding. It does not require the perfect parent but certainly requires dedication and energy.
“The first steps can often be scary, and despite the best of plans, they never go as you had originally planned, or even hoped, but the end result is completely worth it.
“Resilience is a must!
“Recently our daughter had book week with the theme — Find Your Treasure and chose that her treasure was being part of a family that loved her.
“These moments make all the difference.”
Shannon and Justin say they recommend fostering to other couples.
“Do your research on the agency that can best support you and your family dynamic,” said Shannon.
“There are many different options for foster carers from respite to long term which means that often there is something you can contribute no matter your circumstances.
“One of the best things about becoming foster carers as an LGBTIQ couple, is the acceptance of diversity and the welcome extended to people in non-traditional relationships.
“Everyday people with a genuine desire to help can make a lasting impact on the lives of children who never thought they would be provided the opportunity.”
Brought to you by the Queensland Government and Queensland Foster and Kinship Care.
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