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Parents to 100 kids

SIMON SMITH
Last updated 05:00 07/11/2012

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A trip to the park is an experience many children who end up in Child Youth and Family care have never had.

"You'd be surprised how many haven't even celebrated birthdays," transitional caregiver Rhonda Crouse says.

The Beachlands resident and her husband Dennis have fostered more than 100 children over the years.

Often the youngsters have never eaten at a table with a knife and fork and out of habit they will sometimes slip food from the table to hide in their pockets for later.

Mrs Crouse says they must be on their game as the kids come from backgrounds with no rules or boundaries.

Both the foster children and the couple's own children have to obey the same rules and are controlled with a system of timeout and reward stickers that can be exchanged once a week for a variety of things.

A popular choice is half an hour one-on-one in the park, she says.

"Watching a child come from being so violent to saying ‘hey I don't like that' and sorting it out with words and then continuing to play a game is so rewarding."

The Crouses are one of 160 Child Youth and Family transitional caregivers in the wider Auckland region.

This week is Foster Care Awareness Week and Child Youth and Family Auckland regional director Sharon Thom says people like the Crouses play an important part to those who need help.

"They show children positive behaviours, genuine care and encouragement to be the best they can be."

The Crouses currently care for four children aged from 7 to 11.

Usually carers look after no more than three at a time, but this can be exceeded for special reasons like keeping siblings together.

Mr Crouse says he feels sorry for the children.

"They didn't choose to be brought up and put in the situation they are in.

"You can't save everybody, you can't save the world, but you can at least show them that there is a different side to the world," he says.

"It's amazing some of the things we see and hear from these kids.

"We've had one little girl who thought it was funny just to tell the story of how her dad beat up her mum and then poured gas on her and lit her on fire."

Mr Crouse says he and his wife do not drink or smoke.

"One time we actually had people over who did drink and the kids started freaking out because they thought there were going to be fights."

CYF spokeswoman Michelle Neil says that as well as transitional caregivers the government department also uses third parties such as Barnardos and Lifewise.

"We are always in need of more caregivers in Auckland and around the country," she says.

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As well as transitional caregivers, CYF need carers to look after children in an emergency.

Visit cyf.govt.nz or call 0508 FAMILY for more information.

- Eastern Courier

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