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"I'm looking into fostering a child. Here are 6 things I've learned so far."

MacKillop Family Services
Thanks to our brand partner, MacKillop Family Services

I've wanted to be a foster carer for as long as I can remember. When I go to bed at night, the thought of hungry, scared, neglected children doing the same, is always on my mind.

If I can offer even one child a peaceful night's sleep, I feel I should. It's every child's right to go to bed with a full belly and live in a safe environment.

If I have a stable home, which I do, why shouldn't I offer it? Just imagine if I were an emergency foster mum (there are different kinds, which I outline below), and I get a call to take a child. That means that child has literally nowhere else to go.

Except my happy home.

Those beliefs, combined with my love of kids of all ages, makes me want to be a foster mum.

Last year, I finally decided to properly look into becoming one. I realise it won't be easy. But what kind of parenting is? 

I've been a stepmum for more than two decades, and am a mother to a teen; I know parenting is challenging and so much work. 

If a child's life and health is so turbulent they need a loving home, the least I can do is offer one, even temporarily.

In Australia, there are agencies which have fostering programs; one of them is MacKillop Family Services.

Three things stood out for me from the information MacKillop provided:

  • There are almost 45,000 Australian children in need of a safe and loving home.
  • As a single mum to a teenager, it was good for me to know that foster carers can be single, married – including same sex, and with or without biological children.
  • Caring for a foster child can look different – there's emergency, long and short term, and respite – just to name a few. So, you can offer critical support to a vulnerable child, even if it isn't full-time.

Here are six other points that helped me to better understand foster care:

1. Why children come into care.

MacKillop defines foster care as the temporary care of children by trained, assessed and accredited foster carers. Foster carers provide a home for children and young people who are temporarily unable to live with their birth family. 

Children can come into care in an emergency, when their parent or carer requires respite, and for short-term or long-term stays. It all depends on their age, history, family situation, and needs.

2. The first steps to becoming a foster carer.

As I described above, becoming a foster mum is something I've always felt I should do. There are just so many children in need. I'm currently part way through this journey, having satisfied a first home visit and being qualified to do training. 

At that first home visit, the agency was looking for safety and to ensure the child can have their own space. If you have a partner, both of you will need to complete training with MacKillop. This involves two full days of classroom hours.

Training is followed by an assessment period where MacKillop staff come to your home to discuss a series of topics to determine if you are suitable to provide care to vulnerable children and young people. The assessment phase usually entails three to five interviews in your home.

There are some compulsory requirements to be a foster carer. You must be an Australian citizen or a permanent resident, meet age requirements in your state, have space for a child, have current police and Working With Children, health referee and home checks, and complete all training.

3. What to expect when you're expecting your foster child.

This is something I've not seen as a barrier to becoming a foster parent, because, as with any parenting, there's really no way of knowing what 'kind of child' you'll get.

But one thing I know, as with any sort of parenthood: it will be hard work, and a labour of love. You will make a difference in a child's life, and they will change yours.

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With MacKillop, you're not alone in your journey. Case managers are responsible for establishing and maintaining foster care placements, as well as providing support to both the carers and the children.

One thing you should expect is to play a crucial role in helping your foster child maintain a relationship with their parents and extended family. You need to be open and willing to assist this process, but this is a relationship that will develop over time and your case manager will support you.

4. Understanding trauma.

There's a misconception that every child in need of foster care has "problems", but they are simply children who need a safe home and the protection of stable adults who care.

Yes, some children in care have complex needs because of the trauma they have endured, and you will need to support them. But MacKillop ensures they support you in doing so, with structured plans and regular contact.  You will also have training in trauma-informed care, and access to 24/7 support.

5. The impact of foster care on biological children.

My son is 13, and of course I have considered the impact on him of fostering a child. My conclusion is that it will be an important experience for all of us in empathy and resilience.

MacKillop works hard to ensure this. Case managers will work carefully with you to ensure any child placed with your family will fit within your family dynamic. This includes both gender and age, but also the personality and behaviours of the child in care and how they would interact in your family. 

6. Saying goodbye.

I'm fully prepared to grieve any child who's finished their time with us, but have no doubt that the benefit the child will receive in our loving home will outweigh any of my own emotions as an adult.

Whatever the outcome is, if I know for sure that my family has helped a child in need in some way, it will be worth it.

Could you open your door to a child in need? Find out if foster care is right for you at mackillop.org.au or call 1300 791 677.

MacKillop Family Services
Foster caring is one of the most important and rewarding roles you can play in your community. You can help create a brighter future for those who may not have had the best start in life. There are almost 45,000 children across Australia who need a safe place to call home. At MacKillop Family Services, we provide foster carers with training and ongoing support. Could you open your door to a child in need? Find out if foster care is right for you at mackillop.org.au or call 1300 791 677.
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