Daring To Care: Raising Other People's Kids

Daring To Care: Raising Other People's Kids

Thousands of children and young people live in foster, kinship or residential care in usually complex circumstances because their natural parents cannot provide adequate care or protection for them.

In what is arguably one of the most challenging roles within the child protection system, foster carers are confronted with a number of challenges, but most would tell you the rewards outweigh those challenges.

Rose, who has cared for 21 children in the last 6 years, says her sense of community drove her motivations for becoming a foster parent.

"I figured if I wanted to live in a community that cares about everyone in that community, I needed to be doing something that really showed that."

So as a single woman, with no biological children of her own, Rose opened the doors to her home and hasn't looked back.

She says the job of a pseudo parent comes with a number of challenges, but remembering why she began caring initially keeps her grounded.

"All you're trying to do is help them feel safe where they are, and to let them know you're there for them."

"The reason kids come into care is because their parents are unable or unwilling to care for them in an appropriate way," she says, "It's a very individual situation for each child and their families."

Foster parents Kerry and Kevin say much like Rose, caring for foster children is more than just a job, it's a life calling.

"My mother was a foster child; when I was in grade eight at high school I volunteered at Tuffnell home; so we always had foster children in our home - it's always been part of my life," Kerry says.

Kerry says once the family opened the door to one child, they found it hard to close. In the last 10 years they have cared for over 100 children, which is not uncommon.

Many challenges

According to the Department of Community Safety's (DCS) Annual Report there is roughly half the number of carers to children needing to be placed in care; putting a great deal of strain on the child protection system.

Rose says that often means taking on multiple children at one time.

"I have three children in my care now."

"There is such a need for carers, and if I could take on more I would."

Most foster parents would agree one of the hardest challenges is developing a trusting relationship with a new child who comes into their home; but foster carers Tracey and Clive say one of the most rewarding can be what you learn about yourself.

Clive and Tracey who moved to Australia from South Africa 10 years ago say the training process seemed long and frustrating, but those feelings were overshadowed when the couple took the first foster child into their family of 6.

"I remember the excitement of our first child coming into care. The young man has been with us now for 7 years...I look back at that as if we were almost naive...we had no idea, so it's been a very interesting walk," Clive says.

Tracey believes the experience has enriched her whole family.

"Foster care has just taught me so much about myself and about patience and I'm very grateful for that.

"I think [my kids] have learnt to nurture, and they've really enjoyed the younger children and it's given them an understanding of how lucky they are, and that there are children out there that don't have what they have," Tracey says.

38 per cent of children in the care system are Indigenous, and yet only 22 per cent of the state's 1,200 kinship carers are Indigenous, leading to families taking in multiple children.

Read more: Indigenous kinship carers Anita and John Evans

Saying goodbye

Rose says one of the most common questions that foster carers get asked is 'is it hard to say goodbye?'

"I just try to think of my community as a bigger extended family, and we just care for them..."

"It is no doubt [hard] but that is our job. We have to suck it up, and not put that on the child. You've got to think about what's best for them."

"When a child leaves my care, I usually write them a letter - especially if they're a baby. I just talk about their personality, the things that I really loved about them. I always tell them my door is always open."

Rose writes a blog of her experiences as a foster carer, which she believes helps with the process.

Tracey says she likes to leave the lines of communication open when a child leaves her care and returns to their biological family.

"It is tough when a child leaves and I accept that when a child does go that I need to, and we need to grieve," she says.

"I make albums [with] photographs of the child - and when they leave I give them one to take to their next placement, or if they are reunified."

For children who grow up in the foster system, leaving it can be a huge leap of faith.

While most young people leaving home is a rite of passage they undertake when they turn 18, but for children in care it's the end of the line.