real life

"I worry my sister is a little bit TOO in love with this baby."

Marianne

By Dr MARIANNE DIAZ

A photo of a pig-tailed and frothy-mouthed little baby, licking up the remains of her first babycino greets me as I look down at my vibrating phone. It’s the latest update from my sister, Jo. I resist the urge to kiss the screen and in a few swift swipes the pictures are saved alongside the other pics and videos she proudly sends.

But I worry. Jo is TOO proud and TOO much in love with this baby.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not evil. I love this baby to bits, as do my parents, and I’m well aware that it’s a natural thing for a mum to feel so much love and pride in her baby that she wants to share every milestone. But this isn’t Jo’s baby and at any moment she could be taken away.

You see, Jo is one of the many foster carers who volunteer to nurture and love neglected and abused kids. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, in June 2013, there were 17,436 Australian kids in foster care and only 9561 families opening their homes to them. Fostering NSW has predicted that another 900 carers will be needed in NSW over the next 2 years, so why aren’t more of us fostering?

“People always say to me, ‘I’d love to do fostering but I’d find it too hard to give the kids back’,” explains Jo.

In 2010 the Institute of Child Protection Studies looked at the experiences of a small group of former Australian (ACT) foster carers and found that the grief and loss felt when a foster child left, had contributed to their decisions to stop fostering. But what they also found was that having a great relationship and more support from their case worker had a positive impact.

Kate Flannery from the Association of Children’s Welfare Agencies explained that an increase in support for foster carers would be one of the positive results from the NSW government’s decision to transition the management of foster care from large government departments to smaller non-government organisations (NGOs) and private agencies.

Connecting to smaller agencies also means that foster carers can form closer and open relationships with case workers so that contact between foster carers and foster children can be maintained after a foster child leaves. This is so important. When a foster child arrives they are loved and become a part of the family, so not knowing what happens to the child once they leave can be heartbreaking.

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“If I knew for sure that her Mum would treat her well, look after her as well as I do, I’d be happy. I could live with not seeing her,” Jo says. “That’s my main worry: that she’s going to have a hard life.”

Foster carer Lucy Smith (not her real name) definitely understands this: “Our son had an absolutely fantastic short term carer before he came to us. We’ve maintained contact and occasionally we go to her house and he has the opportunity to connect with her.

She likes to see they (former foster kids) are doing well. She appreciates knowing what’s happened to them.” But while short-term foster care is based around eventually reuniting the child with the birth family, there is the option of volunteering for long-term foster care. This is the option Lucy chose.

“I’m not made of that kind of strong stuff, that’s why we didn’t put our hand up for short term,” she explains. “Our son had long term orders in place so the only difference was, would he remain in foster care with us or would he become our legal child?” Currently they are waiting to have their son’s adoption finalised.

The irony is that while the attachment between carer and child may end in sadness for the carer, it will help a child develop the capacity to form relationships later in life. Ultimately, as Liz Potten from the Association of Children’s Welfare Agencies points out, “You will have to grieve, you may get your heart broken, but essentially it’s about the child. If they feel loved and secure that’s a positive outcome for that child, for the rest of their life.”

“When it comes down to it, we’re doing this for the kids, not ourselves,” Jo always reminds me.

And she’s right.

But there’s no time to think about it now, my phone’s buzzing again.

My foster niece is about to take her first step. I can’t miss this!

 Marianne Diaz is a research scientist by day, a freelance writer by night and a mum to three boys ALL the time.

Call to Action For more information on fostering in NSW go to www.fosteringnsw.com.au or dial 1800 2 FOSTER (1800 236 783)

Chat with current foster carers to learn first-hand what it’s like to open your heart to children in need here.

Like and share the Fostering NSW Facebook page: www.facebook.com/ACWAFosteringNSW

Follow us on Twitter @FosteringNSW

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