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Opening your home to children in need

Abbey Maffescioni  |  09 August 2019

Family life can be difficult for many. Sometimes safety or wellbeing concerns mean children are unable to live in their own homes. Foster carers open up their homes to support these children – for times varying from emergency or respite care, to long term care. How-ever there is a drastic shortage of people willing to become foster carers across the country.

Becoming a foster carer can be a wonderful and rewarding experience, and make a real and lasting difference to the life of a child or young person. I had the opportunity to interview foster carer Anna Geary, who has been fostering children since 2014. Originally from Ben-digo, Victoria, she now lives in Katherine, Northern Territory, where she has been since shortly after finishing university. 

Q. Why did you become a foster carer?

A. I’m a teacher so I like hanging out with kids. I was at a meeting with someone who was with the foster organisation I’m with now and they said, ‘You’re a teacher you’d be good at foster care.’ I have family who have done it for many years. I was originally going to do it for weekends only, but the second kid I got I had him for about seven weeks. I actually enjoyed that and so we’ve been fostering kids for longer periods.

Q. How did you go about it?

A. I go through an organisation that answers to Northern Territory families. You have to fill out lots of forms and get lots of references to get a working with children card, and there are police checks and house inspections. We do get occasional checks by someone from the organisation to check on the children and make sure everything is in order.

Q. What kind of concerns did you have taking this on?

A. I guess one of the biggest things is you don’t really know the kids you’re getting and, depending on the situation, you don’t know what the families are like. So if the kids have been taken off a family or guardian and the family/guardian is not okay with it, then they find out who the carer is, there can be issues with the families wanting the kids back. Though the family/guardian want the kids back the services and court have put them in care because of concerns for the child’s safety or wellbeing, particularly in my town which is quite small. But I have only dealt with a situation like that once.

Q. What are some of the main reasons you think kids go into foster care?

A. Up in the NT, it’s a lot of neglect and particularly out in communities and things like that. Drugs and domestic violence are big ones here as well.

Q. What issues or challenges have you faced?

A. A lot of the kids have had behavioural issues and need extra help. Two of the kids I cared for had very high needs because of neglect. They were five and six years old and neither could talk. They would throw tantrums and have meltdowns.

One child I fostered had about five different carers in about three months so he wasn’t able to build that strong connection with others. He only saw his Mum about once every couple of weeks so he never learned how to build connections generally. He doesn’t have really a family that he can identify with.

It has made it hard for him to build really any connections and friendships.

Pretty much all the kids I’ve had have had behavioural issues. Part of that is obviously being taken from their homes. Once you’ve had them for a while they settle down.

Another difficulty is constantly dealing with changes in case managers, so you’ll be dealing with one case manager and they’ll know what’s going on with the kid then a case manager will leave or the child will be transferred to a new case manager. Usually, they have about 100 kids that they manage.

Another challenge is how hard it can be when you have a kid for a long time and they call and say they’re being moved and you have to say goodbye to them after the time you spent with them.

Q. What do you love about being a foster parent?

A. Spending time with the kids and seeing them make progress. For example the five-year-old and six-year-old I mentioned, by the time I finished with them both were talking and the five-year-old was out of nappies.

Q. Is there anything else about fostering you’d like to share with people?

Even if you don’t want to be a full-time foster carer even doing it on weekends, and every now and then it is still a massive help to the system. Otherwise kids get put in homes or group homes. Even if you can just provide help for other carers, it is a huge help.

I would also like to add that with me living in a small town and knowing a lot of other foster carers in the area means we can support each other and get foster kids together for different reasons, particularly Indigenous kids with non-Indigenous families. Just at my school, we have had four other families within the school start fostering kids.

CATHOLIC FOSTER CARE SERVICES

MacKillop Family Services coordinates foster care services in Victoria, New South Wales and Western Australia.

Family Spirit is a partnership between Marist 180 and CatholicCare Sydney which supports foster care services in NSW.

Many Catholic Care and Centrecare services across Australia also offer foster care services. Contact your local diocesan office for more information.

Abbey Maffescioni, of St Ignatius College, Geelong was one of the guest student editors of the 2019 Australian Catholics Spring edition. 

 

Topic tags: vocationsandlifechoices, valuesandmoraldecision-making, volunteeringandtakingaction

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