Soph and I had been together for three years when we attended our first foster care information evening, but it was another six years before we finally became foster carers.
In the intervening years, we reflected on why we wanted to take this step. We had interesting work lives, a close circle of family and friends, and valued community connections. Throw in the commitments of Soph’s drag alter-ego, Chinta Woo, and my marathon-running adventures, and it was hard to imagine caring for a goldfish, let alone a small human.
How much of our motivation, we wondered, came from our desire to create a family? Before turning to fostering, we had discussed surrogacy and a blended Rainbow family. But when we learned of the 48,000 children in care across Australia, we realised that there are plenty of children already here who need our support.
Foster caring is not about starting a family. Children in care already have families. Often large, complex families with difficult histories. Beyond creating a safe, supportive base for a child, we would need to support and facilitate their ongoing connections with the other significant people in their lives.
In 2016, a few weeks after our second information evening, we found ourselves sitting with an assessment officer, with questions on everything from our childhood experiences to our proposed parenting styles.
Parenting styles?! Soph and I had never been parents, so we felt more than a tad insecure about our abilities to meet the relevant KPIs. But we did feel confident of our ability to create a safe, supportive, and loving base for a child, and we knew intuitively that these were key ingredients. The rest we could learn.
We were provided with a thorough induction, and ongoing training on topics like trauma, cyber safety, and Autism. It was a relief to know that we weren’t expected to know it all on day one.
We were asked to be realistic about the time and energy we could commit. There is a range of possible entry points: Short break carers perform the valuable role of taking children or young people for a few days or a weekend, to give full-time carers and young people a break. Emergency carers are often the first stop for an infant or child removed from home and will care for them until a short or long term placement can be found.
Gender or cultural background were not particular concerns for us, but we requested school-aged children because we needed to continue working. The fostering role comes with an allowance to cover the food, clothing and essential needs of a child, but carers do not receive payment for the support they provide.
Within a month, we met a remarkable seven-year-old human, who within days, moved into our home. Two years later his younger sibling joined us. Today, they are thirteen and eleven years old respectively. They will remain with us until they are ready to launch themselves out into the world.
We’ve had our Moments
Understanding trauma and how we might best respond to it became the most important set of tools in our foster carer’s kit bag. The infants and children who come into care have experienced an often-overwhelming disruption to their sense of safety and security in the world. The young brain ingeniously learns which behaviours will ensure survival. But some of those behaviours hamper the development of healthy emotional attachments.
It took a year before our youngest would allow us to comfort him after scuffing a knee. Patched-up holes in bedroom walls are testament to when the hurt got too big to be contained. We’ve had our moments. And we have learned that it is not the emotional volcanos that predict success, or otherwise, but the quality of the repair that follows. I am confident today that our boys know they are loved, and we have their backs.
Stuff up, Repair, Learn…Repeat
Mine and Soph’s fostering journey is perhaps not typical. It was clear from early on that our boys were unable to return to their biological family. The four of us were able to build attachments with the confidence of knowing that we were unlikely to be separated. In that sense, we have come to identify ourselves as a family.
We are far from perfect carers. We regularly still fall into the trap of ‘reacting’ to the visible behaviours, rather than ‘responding’ to the invisible trauma underneath. But we stuff up, repair, learn, and repeat. And we do so with the invaluable support of friends, family, agency and departmental support workers, and the family therapy support provided. It most certainly takes a village.
From Adversity to Possibility
To pre-empt some common concerns of prospective carers, you are not too old or too set in your ways. You are not too inexperienced, too single or too financially unstable. You may even discover that you are not actually too busy.
The last six years have been a roller coaster. And I don’t have a single regret. I could never have anticipated the joy that comes from walking alongside a young person, on their journey from adversity to possibility. And I can’t wait to see what they do next.
We need more foster carers, like you. To learn more about foster care visit www.qld.gov.au/fostercare
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