Farm living provides an ordinary life for foster kids

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Have you ever considered fostering a child, but then thought the job was too hard for an ordinary parent? Surely you need to be a superhero to be a foster carer?

Turns out, you only need compassion and patience to be a superhero. Nathan and Emma Heckendorf are your ordinary parents, bringing up their three sons up on the family farm. But the family has found room in their home, and hearts, for children who do not have the same opportunities.

A family affair

The Heckendorfs originally thought they would be ineligible to foster due to having three children of their own, but lucky for everyone they were wrong.

“Nathan and I felt we were in a stable good position with plenty of room and an outgoing life with our own children,” Emma said. “So when we found out we could apply even though we had biological children we thought, why not help kids in need?”

It’s natural to have reservations about welcoming strangers into your home, but the Heckendorfs quickly overcame these worries.

“We were initially concerned with how our family would cope with foster caring, but it has been amazing,” Emma said. “We couldn’t see our lives without children coming and going.”

“If anything it’s easier having biological children in the house. Their routines are already set so the foster children generally follow what they do and they always have someone to play with.”

Emma and Nathan’s three sons, aged 13, 9 and 3, have been very involved with the fostering process, and their parents are pleased with the learning opportunities that have arisen.

“Our sons love the fact we are helping children in need and they like making new friends. They’ve had to learn that each child has different needs and that sometimes we have to ‘parent’ them differently,” Emma said.

“They are also learning to be more accepting of children with special needs: how they can help them and treat them nicely.”

Life on the farm

Who wouldn’t want to live on a farm though? Riding motorbikes, waterskiing, swimming and horseriding. And the animals! Literally every child’s dream.

“Living on a farm has the great advantage of freedom and relaxation,” Emma said. “If a child is frustrated they can get out and go for a run, swim, ride bikes or play with the animals.”

“Our sons love sharing their farm life and teaching them to ride motorbikes. The children have a great time doing activities they may never get to experience otherwise.”

“Foster children love being on the farm. They enjoy the serenity, riding motorbikes, horseriding, swimming, sheep work and going on tractors and playing with all the animals.”

A stable environment

Often, foster children haven’t experience ‘ordinary’ family life. What might seem boring and normal to you, could be a whole new experience for a disadvantaged child.

“We provide a safe, secure, calm environment where the children have all their needs met,” Emma said.

When fostering, you have a choice of care that you can provide. Nathan and Emma have provided short term, respite and long term placement for more than ten children. Currently, the family is hosting an 11-year-old girl on a short term placement, and regular provide respite for a 6-year-old boy and two sisters aged 5 and 2.

“Providing respite care is great, because you see the child as often as is needed to give their regular carer a break,” Emma said. “You and the children know they are coming back and when, so you can plan ahead for activities and look forward to seeing each other.”

When considering a long term placement, Nathan and Emma have a lot of considerations.

“We have to make sure our biological children and the foster child are aware that the situation is for the long-term; everyone has to be happy and comfortable,” Emma said.

Support in hard times

Emma and Nathan care for children who have demonstrated challenging behaviour and regularly attend training to assist them in dealing with difficult situations. The Heckendorfs naturally relaxed style works well when dealing with troubled children.

“We attend training as often as we can, and thoroughly enjoy learning about many aspects of foster care. It’s always a great time,” Emma said. “We are a very calm laidback family so we learn to deal with challenges as they arise.”

“Talking and listening is a big thing. The children know we will listen to them and it helps to learn what triggers their behaviour, which is individual for each child, and what works to reduce their stress.”

“The reward for our patience can be as simple as a smile or a thank you but if a child with behavioural problems has been able to cope and be happy with life that’s a huge reward in itself.”

You need strong networks when you take on extra responsibility of foster children. Emma and Nathan said it helped to know that support was there whenever they needed it.

“We have very supportive friends and family who we can count on and talk to anytime,” Emma said. “Our agency Challenge Foster Care is always there for us if needed, we also make sure we make time for ourselves.

“We always know we can contact Challenge at any time, and they provide us with training and other services such as counselling if we need it.”

If you think you have what it takes to be a foster care superhero you can fill out an enquiry form.

“Carers are desperately needed so if you have the room, time, patience, and love to give just do it,” Emma said. “You won’t regret it and these children need you.”

“Even if you can only give your time on weekends, respite care is such a valuable role. There’s always some way you can help.”

Author: Challenge Community Services

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About Challenge Community Services

Over 60 years ago we were a small band of parents and friends seeking support services for our children with disability. Today, Challenge has grown to be one of the largest community support services in New South Wales. We provide support to over 2500 people from Albury to Lismore, Sydney, Dubbo, Tamworth and beyond. With over 880 staff, 95 of which have a disability, we strive to comply with and exceed all standards required under State and Federal Acts.
In the spirit of Reconciliation, Challenge Community Services acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of this country, and their connection to land, water and community. We pay our respect to them, their cultures and customs, and to Elders both past and present.
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