05 Mar Debunking the myths: the many ways you can be a foster carer
Here’s a quick quiz: have you ever considered being a foster carer?
If the answer is no: what follows will make you rethink what it means to be a foster carer and the many ways you can help someone in need.
If the answer is yes: have you ever thought of reasons why you couldn’t do it? Not enough time? Too old, or is it because of your sexuality, perhaps?
“When thinking about becoming a foster carer, many people self-select themselves out of consideration, but there are a range of ways to get involved,” says Uniting Permanency Support Program Manager, Daniel Culhane.
“There is an ongoing need for people to provide short-term emergency care, respite care and mentorship for children and young people placed with our existing full-time carers.
“We welcome people regardless of age, gender, sexuality, ethnicity and religious beliefs. Of course, a commitment to respecting children and promoting their right to be heard is essential.”
Uniting also provides culturally appropriate support for Aboriginal carers through its Aboriginal Development Support Unit as well as with its partner agencies Gaba Yula and Ngurambang.
Who can be a foster carer
While many would make ideal carers, the key criteria are that people:
- are aged 18 years or over
- live in stable housing (which can include rental property – so you don’t need to own your own home to be a foster carer)
- and be willing to undertake suitability checks and go through the assessment process which can take approximately three months.
Caring for teens
There is an urgent need right now for carers and mentors for teenagers, particularly in the areas around Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie and Dubbo.
Children in foster care, especially teens, are there because their birth parents are unable to keep them safe – not through a fault of their own, says Daniel.
“Teens in foster care are pretty incredible, they are capable young people who have done nothing to land themselves in care. But what they need is support through a stable strong relationship to heal from past trauma, and to give them direction to help them to become independent,” Daniel says.
Requirements can be different for those thinking of caring for teens. It may mean that they need their own room and that you have no young children in the home, so that you have more time to give in helping them to feel accepted and supported. However, in some cases having an older or similar aged child is fine for teenagers where the match is right.
Mark and Sharon’s story
The decision to become foster carers was a long journey for Mid North Coast couple, Mark and Sharon Smith.
Mark and Sharon are respite carers with Uniting for 11-year old Lilly* who has stayed with them on regular weekends and school holidays since November 2017. They are also now full-time carers for her 13-year-old brother, Angus.*
* Names changed to protect identity.
“We knew of other foster carers through church friends and it was always on the periphery, so when our son got married and left home, the timing seemed right for us,” Mark reflected.
The couple both work and have two grown children. Mark, 62, is a former panel beater and now works part-time as a teacher’s aide and school chaplain. Sharon, 56, is in an office administration role. They agree that previous parenting experience is helpful, as is the support and training provided by Uniting.
Here’s how you can help
Uniting, an accredited provider of the NSW Government’s Permanency Support Program in Western NSW, Western Sydney and on the Mid North Coast, is seeking more carers for children and young people who cannot live permanently with their birth family or to support other carers through emergency or respite care and mentorship
“Emergency care can be just overnight or up to a few weeks, respite care might involve one weekend a month, or during school holidays and mentorship could be just one morning or afternoon a week. All are vital to expanding the network of safe relationships for vulnerable young people in care,” says Daniel.
Yes, there are challenges but…
Mark is up-front in acknowledging the challenges of being a full-time foster carer, but says the good days far outweigh the bad.
“Our Uniting caseworker visits each month and we know he is always at the end of the phone if we need any information or advice.”
For Mark and Sharon, the key to overcoming some previous challenging behaviour issues has been involving Angus in drawing up a contract around things like bed time and screen time over a family meeting.
“The process of sitting down together and coming up with guidelines has been a real help in establishing boundaries and it’s worked having a signed agreement he can come back to,” says Mark.
“We’ve been pleasantly surprised, it’s been so rewarding to see him happy and thriving in a family environment.
“It’s also great that he and Lilly continue to have regular time together, both when Lilly stays with us and on regular contact visits with their birth family around eight times a year and on special occasions.
“What was initially respite care is now more about building their sibling relationship,” says Mark.
Here are just a few other people whose lives have changed for the better by becoming a foster carer:
For information about becoming a foster carer with Uniting call 1800 864 846.
And again, if you can help with the urgent request for carers in Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie and Dubbo, please call 1800 864 846.