The rewards of foster care

KAROLINE TUCKEY

KAROLINE TUCKEY
Last updated 16:08 19/11/2012

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More than 3,800 New Zealand children are currently in foster care, and Child, Youth and Family are seeking more foster carers.

Foster Care Awareness week was held earlier this month recognising the contribution foster parents make to these children's lives and to our communities.

A Hutt City foster mother about the joys and challenges of the role.

Anne's only regret about fostering children is that she didn't start sooner.
Anne and husband Neil* began fostering children about 12 years ago, when their four oldest children had moved out of home. They weren't done being parents, but weren't expecting to have any more children, she said.
So when they came across a notice seeking foster parents they decided they would look into it.  

Scores of children have since crossed their doorstep. Their household consists of five permanent children, aged 7 to 16 years-old, one late arrival of their own, and regular temporary placements.

''All nine kids we have got now are absolutely fabulous, they are just amazing kids, we couldn't have asked for better,'' Anne says.

''Some are here for respite, and some stay longer, and some stay and don't leave ... we've had about 15 this year.''

The couple love their packed-to-the-rafters, rollicking family life.

''I've heard a lot of foster parents say their friends think they are mad, taking on young children, but once people have met the kids ...
"It's just been absolutely fabulous, I'd fully recommend this to anyone''.

Family, friends and their church have been supportive, Anne says.

''That makes it easier, having that faith, knowing that God's there doing his bit behind the scenes.''

CYF contributes board payment for each foster child, covering basic costs. Anne says the family is lucky Neil has a good job and can supplement that payment, so all the children can have some of the things their peers have.  

''You want them to be able to look good and have nice things, and they deserve it.
''It's not everyone's cup of tea, you've got to be able to share your life, you've got to be prepared to not have the lifestyle you might have had if you didn't have kids in it.
''But it's a lifestyle we've chosen and there's fun sides to it too.''

Running a large household has is not as challenging as it might seem, she says.

''You just all work in, we get through three or four loads of washing every day, and you get to know how full the potato pot has to be, and  ... it's not hard.

''Our older two are marvellous, they'll read to the little ones or get the dinner ready or organise kids for showers, so it's really a team effort.''

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The couple were given intensive training. Ongoing support they receive from CYF social workers is invaluable, Anne says.

''We knew absolutely nothing about fostering. We thought that these children were the kids that were really really naughty and that's why they couldn't live with their families, and it's turned out to be the opposite.

''People don't realise how vulnerable these kids are ... they can be coming to you for a number of reasons, neglect, abuse, home alone.''

Although it can be demanding emotionally, the rewards as they see the children develop are huge, she says.

''Some of them come quite reserved and a bit anxious, it can make them withdrawn.
''A lot have attachment difficulties, some are angry, a lot of them have taken over a parental role, so they kind of find it hard to slide back into being the child.

''But you get them making progress on little things ... things that your own kids do automatically, and once they get into an established routine, all of a sudden they are brushing their teeth without being told, and interacting, and laughing, and they slide in and become part of the family.''

Although there are quarrels, which will always happen with a host of different personalities, Anne says they've never had any children yell and scream. And they've never even heard about any violent or dangerous children among the local network of foster carers.

''Once people have met the kids they find out that they are just children, no different to your own.''

Anne says although they take on the children as if they were their own, there is no pretence that the children don't have other families as well.

They are encouraged to keep up their relationships with their parents and siblings, and where suitable there is an open door policy for visits to the house.

''I don't think enough people think about fostering, even if it's just one child, it makes a difference to one child, and there'd be a huge difference to a huge amount of kids.

''I don't know if people think about it, but if there's not enough foster parents then those kids stay there,'' Anne says.

Child, Youth and Family Central Regional Director Tania Harris says CYF is always in need of more foster carers, and encourages anyone interested in learning more to contact them.

''As a community, we rely heavily on our caregivers, and we are always looking to increase our pool of foster carers to give us a better chance of matching the right caregiver to our children in care.''

Foster carers from a broad range of backgrounds are sought, and ideally would be flexible, tolerant and patient, ''and have a good sense of humour'', she says.  
An information night for Wellington residents interested in becoming a CYF caregiver is to be held on November 21.

- For more information contact CYF organisers on 04 917 1155 or vivienne.cleaver001@cyf.govt.nz

* Anne and Neil's last name has changed to avoid identifying their children.

- Hutt News

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