More than 1500 New Zealand children are brought up by foster carers often due to abuse or neglect they suffered at the hands of their own parents. This week is Foster Care Awareness week which recognises the contribution carers make to the lives of these children. Reporter EMMA WHITTAKER talks to Michelle about her experience as a foster mum.
To Michelle and Trevor*, giving something back means taking someone in.
"Fostering had always been in the back of my mind so when we brought our house, which is quite large, we decided to make the call," she says. "Before I knew it I was on a course and a child had turned up on my doorstep."
Michelle and Trevor are foster parents for Barnardos. The Royal Oak based charity organises and trains carers to provide homes for Auckland children removed from their families by Child Youth and Families (CYFs).
There are around 1200 children in this situation. Around half will be placed with relatives and the rest rely on people like Michelle and Trevor to take care of them for as little as one night - to their entire childhoods.
Michelle and Trevor already have four kids between them so they originally planned to only be short term carers.
"It didn't quite go to plan," Michelle says.
Three years ago they took in their second child and two years later its sibling has come to live with them. They are applying to keep the children permanently.
Michelle says fostering has gone more smoothly than she expected.
"You don't really know how its going to go until they turn up at your door. At the end of the day you are dealing with children who are traumatised. This can show in a lot of different ways, from over-compliance to not being able to deal with their emotions."
A big part of the foster carer's job is supporting the relationship between children and their biological parents.
"If kids don't see their parents they can start to fairytale them. They'll start to think ‘if my mum was here that wouldn't happen', or ‘she wouldn't do this'. They become someone who could rescue them rather than the reality.
"Kids need to know where they come from. I'm aware that pretty terrible things happen, but a lot of the time that's all the parents know.
"Even when parents disappoint the kids, I say to them ‘she's still your mum and she loves you,' because they do love them - sometimes they are just not capable."
Michelle and Trevor's own children have adapted well.
"Hopefully in later years they will recognise it as something good that they were a part of."
Barnardos foster care social worker Michelle Amopiu says the contribution carers like Michelle and Trevor make is invaluable.
"We couldn't do our job without them," she says.
Barnardos is looking for more foster parents in the Auckland area. Most of the children they need to place are between eight and 16 years old because this is the age when children will be at school and signs of abuse and neglect are most noticeable.
She says the biggest attribute a potential foster parent needs is compassion and a willingness to be there for the child.
"Often once a child is in a stable environment they start to fall into place. Kids need good solid boundaries, but in a caring compassionate way."
Michelle and Trevor's last name has not been used.
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