I had finally retired from child care.
I was starting out into my big writing career.
I had definitely sworn off babies forever and ever and ever. I am sure I did.
While the 17 month old who twists my heart around his little finger, sleeps peacefully, I am attempting some kind of writing here on the blog.
He doesn't know I retired from fostering. He doesn't know what that means. He only knows that when he needs a bottle or a hug or a nappy change(diaper change), I will be there for him.
In February 1990, I became a foster mother for the first time. It is a big commitment to make but I made it gladly. Little did I realise when I took that first skinny little boy into my home what an adventure it would be.
For any child to be in a care situation outside of their original family, something must be broken. Every child I ever cared for came from a unique situation but every one of them had something broken in their life that put them in 'out of home' care.
Family poverty, abuse, need for respite, ill health, lack of extended family or social support structures, religious/cult abuse, drugs, prostitution, disabilities, death; all of these things were causes behind children being in my care and no two placements of children were the same.
I have fostered sixty or so, maybe more. I tell people I collect children because stamps are so boring. The truth is that I hoped that the brief time those children spent in my care could be a safe haven for them. A place to take a breather in their usual life. A moment to experience something different from what they are used to so one day they might realise they have a choice because we don't know we have choices until we know we have choices. I also like to give back to my community and do my tiny little bit to make the world a better place. It isn't much but it is what I have and I give it willingly.
The most recent statistics from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW, 2015) show that, as of 30 June 2014, there were 43,009 Australian children living in out-of-home care. This has increased from 7.7/1,000 children at 30 June 2013 to 8.1/1,000 children at 30 June 2014. https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/publications/children-care
When people ask me for advice on if they should become carers I say to them "Don't!"
Of course then I follow up with all sorts of advice about what they should consider before they do it because if people are considering caring they are already on the road to commitment.
I am sharing a recent conversation here...
- Question: Hey Cecilia I know someone who is considering becoming a foster parent. I'm presuming you recommend it but was wondering what things you think they should consider before applying?
Me: I never recommend fostering to anyone. It is a heart breaking and challenging thing to do and unless the service provider is completely supportive of its carers it can be supremely difficult. There MUST be at least one wage earner to support the family and the reimbursement never covers all the cost so anyone considering it should be well prepared for a long slow drain on their resources. Many struggling parents will put their kids in foster care right before major calendar events such as Christmas and Easter because they can't afford it. They should know that many of the kids in care come from families that struggle with so many life challenges that so will the kids. There is always a honeymoon period when the kids are on their best behaviour and then everything gets very hard, If they do go ahead with the training your friend will need the stamina of a marathon olympian, the flexibility of a Russian circus act, plenty of patience, massive amounts of support in their own family, friends and church groups and they will need to be very confident of themselves when dealing with the bloody welfare departments. The system can break kids even more than their original lives did and anyone who thinks the system is set up in the kids best interest is a complete fool. If after that they still decide to go through with it, they should think very very very carefully about why they are doing it. Is it because they have some misguided notion of being rescuers or gives 'poor sad kids' a good religious home then they are doing it for the wrong reason. If they are doing it for money, they are idiots and should never have kids at all. They really need to question why they are doing it, I cannot emphasise this enough. If they cant have kids and think foster kids will fill that hole in their life then absolutely don't do it. The only reasons to foster is to give these kids a brief safe haven and a taste of peace and safety.
The kids need to know that no matter how they act up they are still safe and the people caring for them will not judge them. These kids with go off the rails no matter how much love and care is put into their life because their lives are in turmoil and they need to feel safe to find out who they are and where they belong. Belonging is the most vital thing to any child and they will believe they belong to their natural family, they will identify with them and they will have already been shaped by them before they come into foster care no matter how young. Even when the kids go into permanent care with their host family there will always be ties to their beginnings.
- I have been insulted, spat on, refused services in stores, refused a taxi ride, had my entire life dissected and yearly police checks by the services. Random people see the carers as the face of the organisation and 'blame' carers for removing kids from their families. Random people will feel threatened by a foster carer if they think their own parenting is suspect
The foster kids have stabbed me, hit me with things, burnt the house, smashed all my precious belongings, attempted to kill me in a car, attempted suicide, self harmed, brought in drugs, alcohol and newborn babies....they need to be prepared for anything and everythingSome of the most bittersweet memories of my heart are my foster kids - that was worth it all.It broke my heart every time I had to say good bye
- Question:How many kids have you fostered and over what time span was that?
- QuestionI thought one of the hardest things would be the uncertainty in length of time together and saying goodbye but hadn't considered other possibilities.
I fostered sibling groups as well.Some times the length of time keeps changing because the natural family can't get their act together and things keep bouncing in and out of court.I also volunteered with lots of organisations that would bring teenagers to my home for weekends, plus I worked with kids with disabilities in the education system and I hosted exchange students.The absolute hardest part of the whole thing was the (insert string of vile swear words here) politics of the workers in the system who all say they are over worked, underpaid and poorly resourced and who play God with kids lives. Too many welfare workers are wet behind the ears and keen to get brownie points on their career.There are of course many good people working in the system. They move on quickly and add to the lack of continuity in the childrens lives. They burn out pretty quick or climb the corporate ladder (they are the worst ones).
I thought and thought through the night and want to add, if your friends already have children, never foster a child older than their firstborn. Other birth order kids will adjust but the first born won't cope so well even if they seem amenable.There will be resentments so make sure their own kids know what is in store. Always keep some toys and belongings separate from the things their kids have to share with the foster kids. Put them away somewhere safe until the foster kid is away or gone. Make a list of house rules, write in big colourful letters and put it on the wall as a poster. Discuss this as a family. New kids wont know the unwritten things and it is vitally important that the whole family knows what the rules are (this is a good thing for any family)
- One day I will write a novel about the kids I have cared for. It has been a BIG adventure that's for sure.
So why do I do it? Because love.