My son has been in my care since he was three months old. What I do is a form of foster care known as Kinship Care because my son’s biological parents are my brother and his long-term girlfriend.
Last year I attended a ‘care team’ meeting at my son’s school, and at the time of the meeting he had just had his sixth birthday.
Watch: The reality of foster care in Australia. Post continues below.
My son was attending the after school care program run out of one of the school buildings. When it was over, a group of women came with me to pick him up: our heavily pregnant case manager, her soon-to-be replacement and a woman representing the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).
He was chortling with delight when we found him, knee deep in a bucket of coloured slime. His eyes lit up at the sight of my partner and I - he calls us Mum and Dad - and he ran to meet us.
Upon greetings and introductions to the women with us, my son snapped and launched at the pregnant belly of our case manager. It took both my partner and I to prise the six-year-old away, while his mad cackles turned to frustrated hoots and screams.
In the car park, after I had strapped his thrumming body into his car seat, the DHHS representative said “It’s a blessing you took him in, or else he would have been lost in the system.”
My son is moderately intellectually disabled with a confirmed forensic diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) level 3, and Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).
These were likely caused by his birth mother’s heavy use of heroin, methamphetamines and alcohol during her secret pregnancy.
He has few words, although his communication skills grow by the day, and he rarely sleeps a full night. He is at times violent, endlessly noisy and often the most loving little snuggle bug I could imagine.
He attends a special development school in Victoria, where we live, and sees allied health professionals and therapists both at school and out of hours. None of it helps in any significant way, but that’s a story for another day. What I want to talk about is respite and foster care.
Listen to This Glorious Mess, on what growing up in foster care is really like. Post continues below.
My partner and I burnt out last year, long before the meeting. We attended yet another meeting a few weeks later where we bared our souls and were promised support. It has not come, almost a year later.