career

‘I’m a foster carer to a baby with special needs. Here are the 5 things I want people to know.’

Fostering Connections
Thanks to our brand partner, Fostering Connections

Merryn Wilson grew up alongside children in her family home that were in need of care; kids she fondly refers to as her “foster siblings”.    

This experience shaped her immensely. It's what she says was the motivating force in becoming a foster carer herself.

“My parents were foster carers and I've been passionate about out-of-home care ever since,” she tells Mamamia.

With her partner Jade, who is also a foster carer, the couple are currently looking after a 6-month-old baby with a genetic condition who requires round the clock, specialist level of care.

“It is often these children, children with disabilities or medical issues, that are in need of care the most,” Merryn says. 

While it's Merryn and Jade's first experience caring for a baby, they have been accredited foster carers for over a year and a half, beginning their carer journey in NSW before moving interstate to regional Victoria.

Image: Supplied.

These are the 5 things they want you to know about being a foster carer. 

1. Applying to become a foster carer is surprisingly straightforward.

Merryn says that the most important thing about being a foster carer is being able to offer a stability and support a child who needs it. If you can do that and are over 21, you can apply to become an accredited foster carer in Victoria.

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While thorough, the process in Victoria is straightforward Merryn explains.

After contacting Fostering Connections – a Victorian Government supported, state-wide foster care recruitment service who connects prospective foster carers with agencies in their local area – the couple were then put in touch with Anglicare Victoria.

“We connected with our local agency [Anglicare], and from there underwent a process that included information and basic training sessions, as well as interviews and assessments, home visits and police and working with children checks,” she explains. 

Once this was complete in early 2022, they both became accredited foster carers in the state. 

2. There needs to be foster carers from a wide cross section of the community.

“There’s not a one size fits all foster carer or child,” Merryn tells Mamamia.

She believes that the view, or sometimes even the stereotype, of what a foster carer or child in need of care, is or does, is not only often inaccurate but can act as a deterrent for some people to undertake the role.

“Every child is different and needs something different. There isn’t a mould; different carers are suited to different kids and their needs.

"Some kids suit single people or couples without kids, who can provide more one-on-one attention or act as mentors. Others need space, while some require hands on care,” she explains.

There needs to be a wide range of people, with varying backgrounds, living situations and life experiences in order to meet the needs of the wide range of children in need of care, or as Merryn says “a good cross section of the community as carers to suit individual kids.”

3. Being a foster carer is rewarding beyond words.

While Merryn says being a foster carer can have its unexpected challenges at times, it's an extremely rewarding experience she treasures to be able to have, alongside her partner Jade.

“Giving back is rewarding. We are doing a good thing in serving our community and caring for a child in need,” she explains.

Not only are Merryn and Jade regularly provided this feedback by others, they can also see it within the children they care for.

“It is evident in the small things – from eye contact that shows that they are bonding with you, or a child allowing you to brush their hair,” she explains.

“While it can be frustrating sometimes because it often takes a lot of time, when you observe these small acts, it shows us that they are letting you into their world.” 

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4. There is an extremely supportive foster carer community.

Being a foster carer isn’t an isolating experience. 

“There is so much support for foster carers which is refreshing to see,” says Merryn. 

Local agencies offer a huge range of support, training, information, groups, events, camps and ways to connect and network with other carers not only in your local community but more widely.

“These are really helpful in allowing us to connect with each other and become a part of a community, as much as you want to be,” she explains.

There are also resources aimed at children and carers with varying needs, beliefs and life stages – from supporting young people attending TAFE, through to caring for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. 

5. There is a huge need for foster carers.

For Merryn, the biggest challenge in being a foster carer is that there are not enough of them.

“People often say to me, 'I couldn’t be a foster carer myself', or they ask me how I personally can actually do it,” she says.

Merryn believes that the view of foster caring being too hard, or too complicated often becomes a barrier that automatically prevents people from investigating the process at all, while in reality there is a fundamental need for foster carers from all walks of life to help support the wide range of kids in need of care.

She also urges those who are interested but apprehensive, that there are other support roles you can undertake that aren’t a full-time commitment, but still very important and needed.

“Undertaking respite once a month, where a child stays with you for a weekend, or even a day, enables other carers to rest and ultimately do their job better. It may seem like a small part, but it plays such a big role.”

For Merryn and Jade, they hope their future will include caring for more children with complex medical needs and to help out-of-home teens transition to independence.

Thinking of becoming a foster carer? Get the support you need, the answers to your questions, and find the right foster care agency for you with Fostering Connections

Speak to a foster care specialist on 1800 013 088 or check out the website now.

Feature Image: Mamamia/Supplied/Unsplash.

Fostering Connections
Fostering Connections is the Victorian foster care recruitment service. To learn more about becoming a foster carer, or to connect with an agency in your local area call 1800 013 088 or visit www.fosteringconnections.com.au