When Ella* arrived at her foster home, she was stressed, pushed boundaries and frequently acted out. No wonder really – her parents were separated and struggling with alcohol issues.
Ella’s carer, Merrin*, admits it was “tough going” at first. “But each small breakthrough made it all worthwhile.” After four months with Merrin, Ella was successfully restored to her father’s care.
Every year in NSW, up to 20,000 children need out-of-home care, with people who want to open up their homes and hearts to a child.
Chris Brown, foster care state manager at Challenge Community Services, says: “There can be stigmatisation of foster children because everyone thinks they will have underlying problems due to bad parenting. “But in fact, the majority of children are not coming into care because of trauma or abuse. There can be a variety of reasons, such as a parent’s illness, financial problems or homelessness.”
Challenge was founded in Tamworth 60 years ago and now has 68 sites across NSW. It organises foster care for about 500 children every year, and the foster carers are as varied as the children they look after.
“There are no restrictions on the types of people we’re looking for,” Brown says. “We just want someone who can give their time, who wants to make a commitment to helping in various ways.” Many prospective carers want children in the zero to six age range, yet 12 to 17-year-olds also need care. “For teenagers, they don’t need to be long-term carers,” he says. “We love grandparent carers. Older people can’t usually do it long term, but they can be amazing for teens.
“We’ve had situations where the children have gone back home and the carers have maintained contact. It’s a lifelong connection.”
Challenge rigorously screens prospective carers in a process that can take up to six months. “We look at their health, to see if they are mentally and physically able to take this on, and do a Working with Children Check and a Criminal History check,” Brown says. “It’s up to us not to put a child into a situation that they shouldn’t be in.” Next comes regular training, since “you can’t just leave a child and expect a carer to know how to be a foster parent.”
Challenge starts with the core course Shared Lives which all carers must complete. Another course, Therapeutic Crisis Intervention for Families, shows how a carer can best work with a child who is in crisis and help them learn to self-regulate their feelings and behaviour. “We have psychologists to help the carers work with behaviour management strategies,” Brown says.
“We hold carer morning teas and breakfasts, and the carers receive monthly home visits from their case worker, and regular phone calls.”
Brown concedes that fostering can be an emotional roller coaster ride, but adds: “It’s a great journey.” In the early stages, “the emotions, that commitment” can be really hard. “But when you have that light bulb moment when the child starts to feel comfortable, loved and secure in an environment you realise you’ve helped a vulnerable child find a loving home. That is something money cannot buy.”
Story by: The Sydney Morning Herald, 7 February 2019.
Are you ready to give a child or young person in need a safe and stable home life? To find out more contact Challenge Foster Care on 1800 084 954 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Models used in photograph and names changed to protect privacy.