23 Aug Childhood dream becomes life’s purpose
When Lea Jeffery reflects on why she made the decision to become a foster carer, she describes it as fulfilling a lifelong ambition. Growing up in Sydney in the early 1970s, Lea became friends with a girl who was in foster care. The friendship became a pivotal moment in Lea’s life.
“My friend, who I only saw roughly once a month, would tell me about how she felt being in care and being separated from her parents,” Lea remembers. “I wanted to grow up and help kids to get back to their parents.”
“I was quite naïve back then, as I didn’t know the circumstances, but the desire to be a foster carer never left me, even after having my own children,” said the 55-year-old who now lives in Kempsey on the NSW mid-north coast in a lively household of two grandchildren, her foster children and the family’s beloved pup.
Wind the clock forward 40 years from that childhood meeting, and Lea has now been a foster carer to almost 30 children after attending a local Uniting foster carer information session with her late husband four years ago.
“We’d always talked about doing foster care and had just started caring full time for our grandchildren, so we thought, ‘Why not combine this with foster care?’
“After reading up about it we decided to go along to one of the Uniting information sessions. When we came home we were quite nervous about whether this was the right decision for us, but we knew in our hearts it was, so we were happy to continue on with the process.
“We then had five or six assessment sessions with Uniting who were able to answer all our questions. The team at Uniting has continued to provide support all the way by taking us through different scenarios, providing plenty of information and offering a choice of face-to-face or online training sessions.”
Lea describes being a foster carer as “incredibly rewarding”.
“There are many different types of care and you need to think about what type of care you can commit to, and be prepared to make sacrifices,” Lea advises. “There are many reasons people may think about becoming carers, but the most important is understanding the need to keep a child safe and secure.”
During her time as a foster carer, Lea has provided the full range of different types of care including long-term care, short-term care (which includes family restoration planning), emergency care and respite care.
Uniting Permanency and Foster Care Recruitment Coordinator, Vanessa Lewis, works with carers like Lea on the mid-north coast. During her time with Uniting, Vanessa has seen the recent move towards Permanency Care, which provides more opportunities to consider open adoption.
“When recruiting foster carers, we have open and transparent conversations about the importance of supporting better long-term outcomes for children, including therapeutic training to help children in care and their carers maintain healthy connections with the child’s family,” Vanessa said.
“We have some amazing carers who have great relationships with the grandparents, aunts and uncles and siblings of children who are in different placements.
“Our focus is on finding permanent homes for children who cannot be placed with a family member, so people considering adoption or guardianship for foster children should be open to working with families and being trained in helping them create healing connections and a sense of security and safety for children.
“We would also love to talk to people who, like Lea, are passionate about keeping families together and would support children while restoration planning is underway,” said Vanessa.
To take the first step in becoming a foster carer with Uniting, come along to one of our information sessions. You might be surprised by the different sorts of people who can become foster carers. At Uniting, we welcome compassionate adults of every age, gender, sexual orientation, relationship status, ethnicity and religious belief. Of course, a commitment to respecting children and promoting their right to be heard is essential.
Cover image by Rene Bernal