Growing up in England and visiting her uncle who lived in a 10 bedroom home full of children needing refuge, Mary knew from a young age she would one day follow in his footsteps. Mary still has strong memories of this happy house which sometimes accommodated up to 14 children, many of whom had disabilities or had previously experienced abuse.
Mary and husband Tim came to Australia 26 years ago and got a house of their own on the Central Coast. After 15 years in the county, they began providing short-term foster care. “I wasn’t keen at first,” admits Tim, “But I could see how important it was to Mary. That was 11 years ago and we haven’t looked back. Like Mary, I’m totally committed.”
“Caring for children in need has made our own children more compassionate human beings.”
When Tim and Mary began providing short-term foster care, their own three children were 8, 11 and 13. “Back then, we sometimes had up to seven children in the house, including our own three,” says Mary. “Because we provided emergency care, a new child could arrive in the middle of the night while the others were asleep. They never knew who would be at the breakfast table the next morning, but they took it in their stride, as children do.”
Mary and Tim strongly believe that their own children’s lives were enriched by the experience of sharing their home with children in need. “Fostering has made our own children more compassionate human beings. They understand not every child has a safe and secure home. It has also had practical benefits. When one of our sons became a dad himself, he had so much experience caring for babies because of all babies we had fostered. He was able to be an instant support for his wife.”
With their own children now grown up, fostering has taken on a new dimension for Mary and Tim “We now have more time to spend with the children, which is lovely. We might have two or three children in the house at any one time. Because we’re able to give them the attention they need, we haven’t had any issues. We have time to do lots of activities with them that they may not otherwise have an opportunity to do, like kayaking and bushwalking. Sticking to their usual routine is also important.”
Mary and Tim have been providing short term and respite care with Challenge Community Services over the past 8 years. “In all the time we’ve been with Challenge, we’ve never had to contact our case worker but we know she is there for us 24/7 if we need to contact her. When a child comes to us, Challenge also gives us information about their routine and as much as they are able about their background. They really do take a lot of care to make sure the placements are working, no matter how short the time. This team approach makes such a huge difference.”
Mary and Tim are quick to encourage others thinking of fostering to take the plunge. “Your house will be noisy and happy and you’ll be making a big difference to the children’s lives. For me, it has changed the way I view the world. I’m a more compassionate person and value the important things in life.”
Mary and Tim do feel the wrench at having to say “good bye” but they understand this is all part of the process. “We also know that for every child that leaves our care, there is always another needing to be loved and nurtured.”
You can find out more about foster care and how to become a foster carer with Challenge by calling 1800 952 417 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.