Foster care isn’t a role taken on lightly, nor is it for everyone. And for individuals and families who open up their lives to young people in need, it often leads to major changes in day-to-day life. So for someone who’s spent years forging their own career path, what happens when they decide to become a foster carer?
This is the story of Jill and her husband Michael – two career-driven individuals who grew their family by an additional four children when they decided to foster full-time.
A history of giving back
Jill has worked as a paediatric speech pathologist for 30 years now, in both the public and private sector as well as running her own business. Her husband, Michael, began his career as a child protection case worker and has since moved on to policy guidance and implementation for out-of-home care. So it’s no wonder the couple are so focused on helping children and families.
“The best part of my work has always been around working with families,” Jill says. “I love getting to know families well, and working with them to support their children with additional needs. I love seeing families empowered to problem-solve the communication and behavioural issues of their children for themselves, with me as just the support person.”
Transitioning into a carer’s role
Despite her love of working collaboratively with families, Jill and Michael always had a desire to do more. And while it started with baby steps into respite care, that soon transformed into complete foster care – with her family almost doubling in size.
“Our original plan was to do respite care for a year or so, which was easy to balance with my career, and see how our family managed. After that we thought we would be open to long-term care of two children. However, after about six months of regular respite caring, we were asked to take on the long-term care of a sibling group of four, who were five-years-old and under.
“Both Michael and I strongly believe in the benefits of keeping siblings together, so we agreed. Over the next few years, I slowly began to reduce my workload, to find a good balance
Skills that cross boundaries
While she had to reduce her work hours to keep up with the demands of caring for a large sibling group, Jill says both her and Michael’s history in the workforce has meant they have lots of transferable skills to put into practice.
From an understanding of child development and family systems, to strategies for emotional and behavioural regulation, and even how to use visual supports to assist children as they manage their anxiety, Jill says these skills have helped her and Michael tremendously.
“Having already learned good advocacy as an allied health professional, I was easily able to use these skills to advocate for the children in our care, as well as for our family as a whole.”
Advice to those considering foster care
Jill encourages anyone considering foster care to test their capacity for full-time care by starting small.
“Start with respite care and short-term emergency care. When considering going to long-term care, you may want to restrict the number of children and the ages you can care for if you want to maintain the same workload”.
“If you are able to reduce your workload, then you are more able to take sibling groups, but if that is not a possibility there is still so much support that is needed within the system through respite and short-term care”.
“There is also a need for skilled people to care for children over the age of nine. Professionals from the ‘caring’ industries, such as teaching, allied health and social sciences, are well equipped to deal with the issues and needs of these precious children.”