Foster parents love what they do
When Cromwell couple Heath Brown and Jackie Mills lost their 2-year-old son suddenly two years ago, they took comfort in knowing he had been happy every single day of his short life.
But they knew there were many children out there who weren't as lucky, which is why they decided to put their hand up to become foster parents.
And it's a decision they haven't once regretted.
"Being able to look after these children and give them something to smile about is just the best thing," Mr Brown said.
The couple has only been fostering children for two years, and have already looked after nine children - some for only one night and others for several months. The most children they've had at any one time was three.
On Monday, Mr Brown and Ms Mills were rewarded for their good work by being among 10 foster carers nationwide presented with an excellence award by Governor-General Lieutenant-General Sir Jerry Mateparae and Social Development Minister Paula Bennett at Government House.
Mrs Bennett said the foster carers had provided a critical role in the lives of many children.
"I have a huge amount of respect and admiration for foster parents. These remarkable people put other people's children first and open up their heart and their home to vulnerable children."
Mr Brown said the award was a way of being told they were doing a good job.
"But we didn't even know there were awards. I almost declined it when we were told because I thought there were more deserving people out there than us."
He said while being a foster parent could be "emotionally challenging", there were far more rewards than challenges.
"It's amazing the small changes that can occur in a child in just a short time being with us. Even little things like learning manners or learning to have confidence in themselves."
Some of the children's backgrounds and stories were gut-wrenching, but Mr Brown said they couldn't control what other people did.
"We have trouble seeing why some people treat their children the way they do.
"But when they're here, they're part of our family and there's a lot of laughter in our family, lots of jokes."
The couple were looking at adopting a child, but they plan to continue being foster parents for as long as they can.
"We want to do it forever. We can't see a reason to stop.
"The only reason we'll stop would be if the world became perfect and no-one needed us. "Somehow I don't think that will happen."
The Southland Times