Do you have what it takes to care for children in need?

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I have always thought about becoming a foster carer.

I cannot think of anything more rewarding than providing a home to children that have nowhere to go. I can also see the benefits of fostering for my own children and household.

But my dream doesn’t include caring for a baby or toddler. It is the teenagers who have seen too much and the siblings who cannot be separated that I would like to welcome into my home.

When considering foster caring, it’s easy to get swept up in the idea of caring for a baby or toddler as we all seem to ignore the lack of sleep and boundless energy that comes hand-in-hand with those under five.

It can be difficult finding appropriate carers at the best of times. This problem is compounded when you are trying to place siblings who shouldn’t have to live without each other or teenagers who are not only going through normal hormonal swings but have survived family trauma.

I think the rewards for caring for these special cases can be as great, or greater, than caring for other foster children, as the positive effect you are having on their lives is so much more obvious.

While currently I have no room for any more people in my tiny apartment, there’s still plenty I can do to prepare for the day when I can open my heart and home to a young person who needs my help.

Ease into it

It’s a big leap from considering being a foster carer to actually taking in children. There are ways to prepare for fostering without making a long term commitment and plenty of resources available to help you make an educated decision.

A foster care agency can walk you through the considerations you need to make and steps you need to take in order to decide if foster caring is right for you. Once you’ve made the decision to be a foster carer, you don’t have to dive straight in. Here are our tips on how to ease yourself into being a foster carer.

  • Take a course: To start on your path as a foster carer you need to complete training anyway, so why not do the training and then see how you feel? You can attend the ‘Shared Stories, Shared Lives’ training for new carers either over a series of evening or two full days, outside of business hours. This course will teach you how to understand and manage the situations that will arise while you are fostering. It’s also highly recommended that you get your first aid certificate.

  • Volunteer: The only way you can know how you are going to handle parenting teens with challenging behaviour is to actually do it. If you’re unsure how you will cope, volunteer to help or coordinate activities for your local youth outreach service or other community organisations that deal with troubled teens.

  • Prepare your house: Before you are make the decision to take on a foster child, you need to make sure your house is as ready as you are. Start setting aside space for extra people and see if your family can handle it. Do you have a spare bedroom? Do you have adequate furniture for extra people? Carers willing to take on siblings are in high demand, do you have enough space to take on more than one child?

  • Provide respite: Caring for children, even your own, is tiresome work. Everyone needs a break every now and then. As a respite carer you can provide long-term foster carers, and the children they care for, with a much-needed break. Providing regular respite means you can still build relationships and stability for a child without the day-in, day-out commitment of a full-time foster carer.

It’s all in your attitude

If you have the right attitude, you’ll go a long way as a carer. Foster carers come from all different backgrounds and parenting styles, but there are certain personal attributes that are common, and useful, when fostering children.

  • Resilience: Fostering isn’t all plain sailing. Just like raising your own children, there are going to be significant challenges along the way. As a foster carer you need to be able to bounce back quickly when things go wrong. Resilience is your ability to cope with the rollercoaster of life; the good and the bad that make up our experiences. It is the ability to think positively and use problem-solving skills to surmount a difficulty. By being resilient yourself, you will be in a position to show foster children how to keep going when things get rough. BeyondBlue has some great advice on how to build resilience in yourself, children, and your family.

  • Growth Mindset: The latest buzzword in education, the development of a growth mindset will enable you learn from your fostering experiences and grow in your abilities both as a parent and as a foster carer. The theory goes that there are two types of mindsets: fixed and growth. A fixed mindset means you believe that the intelligence and behaviours you have now are unchangeable. Possessing a growth mindset means you know that through hard work and dedication you can learn, improve, and change. A growth mindset doesn’t just help yourself as a carer; just like resilience, it is also a great skill to teach foster children who may find it difficult to see a way to change their own behaviour.

  • Thick Skin: For many children, you won’t have been their first placement. Moving from place to place with no stability would be difficult on anyone, let alone vulnerable children who are away from their family. These kids can be scared, frightened, angry, withdrawn, and may even blame you for their current predicament. To be a foster carer you need to be able to understand that while the anger is directed at you, it’s not because of you. By developing a thick skin you can distance a child's emotional response from yourself and provide support without taking things personally.

  • Compassion, Patience and Lots of Love: Just like caring for any children, you need to have eternal patience to deal with never-ending questions and the time it takes to get anything done. Some children in foster care have never lived with the stability and routine of a normal home and family life. It is understandable they might require extra love, understanding, and compassion from their carers. Children thrive on boundaries, it helps them to know what is, and is not, expected of them. To be a foster carer you need to have the strength, patience and love to create boundaries, and stick to them.

  • No Expectations: There’s one motto all parents should live by: expect the unexpected! Regardless of the circumstances of their upbringing, all kids are different. It’s impossible to guess what sort of personality they will have and how they will respond to you. You are bound to get into trouble if you expect a certain type of person or reaction. Even amongst siblings, temperaments can be dramatically different and this can be exacerbated when there are different personalities living under the same roof. Just because a technique has worked with one child, you can’t expect it to work with all children.

Becoming a foster carer is a big decision, but it is one of the most rewarding life decisions you can make. If you would like further advice or think you have what it takes to be a foster carer fill out an enquiry form. Challenge Foster Care can walk you through the process and help you prepare to make a difference in a young person’s life. 

Author: Challenge Community Services

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About Challenge Community Services

60 years ago we were a small band of parents and friends seeking support services for our children with disabilities. Today, Challenge has grown to be one of the largest community support services in New South Wales. We provide support to over 2 500 people from Albury to Lismore, Sydney, Dubbo, Tamworth and beyond. With over 600 staff, 85 of which have a disability, we strive to comply with and exceed all standards required under State and Federal Acts.

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