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.