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.