THE UNCONDITIONAL LOVE OF A FOSTER PARENT: ONE MUM’S REMARKABLE STORY

Bree is a foster mum who can’t have children of her own. This is her story of the love and heartbreak she and her husband share for two precious foster children to whom they’ve recently said goodbye.

First published at kidspot.com.au on July 18, 2016.

Bree and her husband John are in their mid-30s and live in a small, picturesque village 90 minutes drive from Melbourne. John works as a local plumber and Bree has a long career in early childhood development and care.

Bree and John are also dedicated foster carers who very recently said goodbye to two beautiful boys that have been in their care for just under a year. This is Bree’s story:

On becoming foster carers

Children have always been a big part of my life and even as a child I was always caring for babies and younger children. I went on to choose a career in early childhood education and care.

My husband John has always been wonderful with kids as well … they’re naturally attracted to his calm, quite nature. We’d always wanted to have a family but found out a couple of years ago that we weren’t able to conceive naturally.

This was one of the main reasons we started the process of becoming foster carers. We’re in a position to be able to provide a safe, loving home and, working with young children, I’ve witnessed firsthand the hardships some children face and always knew I wanted to help kids in need.

Foster carer training

Initially, we attended a series of five interviews that focused on a lot of personal information, including the innermost workings of our relationship, our upbringings, how we handle loss, grief and challenging behaviours, our general life experience and how we relate to a child experiencing trauma.

Once our assessment was approved, we then attended training over two weekends where we learned how to be a foster carer – trauma, grief and loss, understanding children’s backgrounds and needs, working in conjunction with birth parents, the care system and how it all works.

One of the most important lessons during this training was preparing ourselves for the ‘worst case scenario’ – knowing how to manage the behaviours and emotions of children who are experiencing trauma and distress.

Emergency placement

It’d been 10 months since we’d started the process and few months since we’d attended training before we were offered two foster children to care for.

That day I’d finished work a little earlier and decided to go to IKEA on my way home. As I wandered around the store, my phone rang and it was the manager of the foster care agency. She asked if we could take an emergency placement but that she could provide no other information other than it was two siblings – nine months and four years old.

I needed to make this decision with John so I rang him and explained what had happened. Then we realised I was going to be away the next week in Perth for a conference. I was worried John would be left on his own to care for the two boys, which would put a lot of pressure on him. He hung up to consider it all but just a couple of minutes later called back and to tell me that yes, he wanted us to do it.

I immediately called the care manager and told her we’d  be able to take them. Then the practical part of me started to kick in … It was all so sudden! How exactly were we going to make this work?

Meeting our foster kids

We were advised that the children would arrive at our home the next afternoon. I raced out that morning to get a few supplies like nappies, bottles and other essentials … I had no idea what the children would have with them, if anything, and I wanted to be prepared.

I’m unable to talk about their case specifically but can say that the boys had come to us from a very dysfunctional home. They’d spent the night in an emergency placement and were both extremely ill and emotionally traumatised. John was at work so I was the one to welcome them into our home and settle them in. The four year old was very cautious when they arrived. He’d not been verbal with anyone for some time so it took a little bit for him to feel comfortable enough to speak.

I’d set up some trains in the lounge room and we went straight over to play with them. He was in a heightened state and over-sensitive, which was understandable given his circumstances. The baby came to me straight away and snuggled into my shoulder. He’d obviously been crying for some time but in my arms he quickly settled.

The four year old began talking to me within an hour of our meeting and the baby remained snuggled in my arms, obviously relishing in being held and feeling safe and secure.

When John arrived home from work, both children were a bit wary of him but John is the type of person who lets people come to him. They realised pretty early on that he was a ‘safe person’ who would not push them and so they were able to connect with him rather quickly and establish a strong bond.

Our main focus in those first three days was to establish a routine so John could cope with the week ahead. Due to the boys’ background, we were also concerned with how comfortable they’d be with a male carer and spent the first few days working with them on their relationship with John.

There was absolutely no preparation for John – he was thrown in at the deep end and I’m so proud and amazed at how incredible he was in that first week.

Making it work

The boys were with us for nine months and during that time we provided them with a loving, supportive home structured around consistency and routine. They both became an enormously important part of our family and we loved them as though they were our own children.

But it certainly wasn’t always smooth sailing. There were times when John and I felt helpless at not being able to make things better for the boys, despite our very best efforts. We worked though a lot of behavioural challenges, amongst other things, and it was difficult not be able to provide answers to some of their questions at times because we didn’t know the answers ourselves. We just had to take it one day and week at a time.

We both had to juggle our work commitments with the needs of the boys and I struggled to find child care for them at short notice. Fridays were our day together but these were mostly taken up with weekly appointments and other support programs, swimming lessons and weekly catch-ups with their mother.

It was tough sometimes because often we didn’t have any information about what was happening with the boys’ case and there was a lot of confusing stuff coming from different sources. We were also dealing directly with the Department of Family and Community Services (FACS) due to a shortage of caseworkers and there not being anyone to take on the boys’ case management.

Financially we paid for a lot, and while we did get reimbursed once a fortnight, three-quarters of that money went on child care fees alone. The reimbursement did not cover the cost of swimming lessons, other support program costs, living cost, new clothes, toys, and birthday presents like a new bike for the five year old who was struggling with gross motor development.

Despite the many challenges, however, there were also many wonderful victories, like watching the boys achieve huge milestones in their development and knowing we have made such a positive difference in their lives. We gave our all to make it work and did everything we could to make life as normal for them as we could. We supported their needs and loved and cherished those boys as our own.

Saying goodbye

The boys have recently left us to return to their mother. We’re trying to have faith in a system that will always look for restoration over being in foster care and hope that it works out for them. But I also know there are many struggles still ahead for them.

After saying goodbye John and I feel lost and emotional. The love we have for those two small children is unconditional. We feel very attached to them and it’s heartbreaking for us to no longer be there to help them and do what we can to make things better.

I hope their time with us has changed their lives for the better because that’s what we set out to do. And as difficult as it has been for John and I to say goodbye, we don’t regret loving those boys and giving them our all. If we weren’t attached to them and they to us we wouldn’t have helped them to achieve the growth, security and emotional stability that they did during their time with us.

Our love for them is very deep and we consider them both as members of our family. They’ll always remain in our hearts, even if they’re not physically with us. And if they ever come looking in years to come we will always be there for them.

At this stage we plan to foster more kids … but after a break. We also want to make sure the boys are going OK before we make that decision and if they end up back in care, we want to be in a position to have them back.

Foster carers make a real difference

We’ve met a lot of families who say that they’d never be able to be foster carers for various reasons but I guess it really comes down to how much you feel you can give – and lose.

Foster parents must deal with their own personal loss and grief during the process but moving through this shows the strength we all have within ourselves to overcome even the toughest of obstacles. And to be the best person we can be for the sake of those kids, who need us to be strong because they’re unable to be.

There’s a line from an Australian poem called Ye Wearie Wayfarer by Adam Lindsay Gordon that I think sums it up well …

“Life is mostly froth and bubble,
Two things stand like stone,
KINDNESS in another’s trouble,
COURAGE in your own.”

*All names and locations have been changed.

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