When it’s time to say goodbye: Restoring children to their family of origin

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After Sally was diagnosed with cancer just over five years ago, becoming foster carers was a path she and her partner, Lyndal, had not expected to take. Challenging, rewarding and at times heart breaking their life is never dull.

Following her recovery from a hysterectomy, the couple decided to become foster carers and have had several short-term placements. They now have three boys in their care, all from different families. Matt, 8, has been with Lyndal and Sally for one year and David, 9, for two years. At 3½, the third boy, Jason, was in crisis and was placed with Sally and Lyndal by Challenge Community Services in February this year.

Unlike the two older boys, Jason will probably be restored to his family of origin. But when this is likely to happen is impossible to know. It could be weeks, it could be months. It could even be years.

What is restoration care?

Restoration care refers to when a child or young person is placed short-term with a foster family (up to two years). The child or young person may then move to a permanent foster care arrangement, be adopted or be restored to their original family. Provided it is safe and in the child’s best interests, restoring a child to their family of origin is the preferred option. But this can take an emotional toll on the foster carers.

When you’ve been a child’s carer – even though you know deep down that it could be temporary – you’re family and you become so attached. You just love them to bits.

Saying goodbye to a child who has been such a big part of your life is a painful wrench and foster carers often go through their own grieving process when they have to relinquish a child or young person. ‘The worst thing is not to know what’s happening to them once they leave your care. Having some contact with them, being sent photographs or getting news about how they’re getting on does make it easier,’ says Sally.

Being able to get support from the foster care agency is also vital, not least during the restoration process. ‘For a successful restoration we need to consider many different elements’, says Challenge Community Services Manager Case Work Patricia Maher, ‘When Jason returns to his family of origin we want to help him form healthy attachments with his parents, siblings and extended family. We want to support Jason’s father by helping him develop and gain confidence in understanding healthy relationships and positive parenting skills. This is all part of what’s known as the permanency support program. But Challenge also wants to be there for Sally and Lyndal as they work through their own grief at relinquishing a child they have been so committed to caring for.’

The best job

The children in Lyndal and Sally’s care know they have a ‘tummy mummy’. But this in no way diminishes the critical role that Sally and Lyndal play in these vulnerable children’s lives. To the boys, they are ‘Mum’. For now, they are the mums who pick them up from school, the mums they go to when they’re scared and the mums who play endless games of Batman with them. Lyndal and Sally are the mums who clean up the kids’ vomit when they’re sick and make sure they grow to be strong and healthy.

To their local community, Lyndal and Sally are heroes. When it comes time to say good bye, these two women can feel a great sense of achievement that they have nurtured these young lives at a time of extreme crisis. Despite the uncertainties and heartache at letting go, Sally and Lyndal agree wholeheartedly that it’s the most amazing feeling to parent these children, even if only for a short time in their lives.

Are you interested in helping a child in need? Contact Challenge Community Services on 1800 084 954 for an obligation-free chat about becoming a foster carer. Or download our free e-book Fostering for Permanency: Giving Children and Young People a Safe Home for Life.

 CTA Foster Permanency 10

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 disabilities. 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 800 staff, 85 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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