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Foster care in Canberra: One family’s story

Nip Wijewickrema

Most families get nine months notice when a baby is going to come into their world. For Canberra couple Kylie and Anthony – they had one day.

It was a Tuesday when they got the call – finally, after months and months of waiting, their wildest dreams were answered. As shining lights, Kylie and Anthony were literally going to change a child’s life – an opportunity they had trained long and hard for.

Kylie and Anthony are among 186 Barnardos foster care families in Canberra supported by the extraordinary charity, Barnardos Canberra.  For all those out there that have considered, or are slightly interested in foster care – this is for you.

Foster care holds a vital place in our community. It is an important opportunity in providing a stable home environment for children and young people until they can be reunited with their families. The end goal of foster care is for the children to be cared for in a safe and loving environment before ideally returning to their birth family. Sometimes, things don’t work out and the child may remain in foster care.

There are a few types of foster care that caters to different needs of the children and preferences and personal situations of foster carers.

Respite care

Care provided for short stays (one weekend a month).

Temporary care

Short-term care that can range from one night to two years.

Concurrency care

Caring for a child (often under two years) while restoration to birth family is explored. If restoration is unsuccessful the carers are also prepared to care for the child long term.

Long-term care

Care for children who cannot live with their families and need a permanent foster family.

The decision to foster wasn’t a difficult one for Kylie and Anthony.

In 2012, armed with the dream to have a family and a passion to help those in need, the couple set out on the exciting, yet sometimes exhausting journey to become trained foster carers. So as not to leave any stone unturned, they attended all information sessions, training and assessment processes.

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Anthony and Kylie

“I started looking at out of home care stuff when I was doing a Diploma of Community Welfare Work. I guess biological children wasn’t really palatable for me growing up, but I knew Anthony wanted to have children later on down the track.

“So I guess this was my little compromise. But I have to say, since beginning with Barnardos, I’ve done a 360 – I just love parenting and everything that comes with it. Especially receiving the training from Barnardos and being able to implement that into the way we parent and being able to put it into practise with the little ones. It’s just made parenting for me so positive,” said Kylie with a smile.

Kylie and Anthony can’t sing any louder praise for the phenomenal supportive network that is Barnardos. The couple believe the training coupled with the support and information from the organisation out there has ensured they have been able to have the most positive experience in having their little family.

“We did look at adoption in Australia and overseas. But looking and comparing all the information out there about foster care and adoption, we decided foster care was the best option because it would be the best way to make an immediate and positive impact on our community,” said Anthony.

A few (long) months later, they were given the life changing news that they had been approved to be carers. This was after some simple checks on their health, accommodation, criminal record and references.

To become a carer, there are a few simple criteria’s that need to be filled.

Some of these include the basics like health, employment, accommodation and caring skills. The most important is that carers must demonstrate an understanding of the importance of birth family contact. As difficult as this may be for some to grasp, Barnardo’s commitment is for ongoing contact between the child and their birth parents and willingness to facilitate such contact. The organisation understands that sometimes it may not be possible – but it’s worth trying wherever possible.

“As a foster parent you have to come with a mindset that restoration can be a good goal, as it may be best for the children.” Kylie tells me.

“It’s hard not to think about the future. It’s quite emotionally daunting. You’ve got to be there for the child no matter what – but sometimes you don’t know how long for,” remarks Anthony.

Throughout the last four years, Kylie and Anthony have engaged as both respite and long-term carers for children in need of a safe and loving home environment.

Ready to take the next step, Kylie and Anthony applied to become concurrency carers.

This meant that they would be the primary carer for a child, but the child would also have regular contact with their birth family. The aim is for the child to return home to their birth family.

After applying to be concurrent carers, the duo took care of the baby who was only a few days old at only a couple of days notice. This baby, who’s life originally faced an uncertain future was able to be given a stable home environment under the care of Kylie and Anthony – but also remain in regular contact with their birth family. It’s with great pride and honour that the couple celebrate the development goals and milestones of their little child who smashes those milestones on a weekly basis. Their new family member is now permanently in their care and is growing into a happy, healthy child.

But, it wasn’t all sunshine’s and rainbows – Kylie and Anthony don’t hide the fact that the uncertainty that comes along with the fostering process can be emotionally and physically draining. After all, they’re only human and feel the exact same bond any parent would feel after nurturing their child (or children!).

But it’s worth it – says Anthony, without missing a beat.

“You have to remember it’s not about you. It’s about the child that needs a home and a safe environment to live in.

“People are probably put off by the complexity and uncertainly about the process. When you get right down to it, and all those things can be frustrating, at the end of the day it’s about taking care of kids. If you’re open to taking care of kids… the rest of it is just paper work,” said Anthony.

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Along with fostering and working, Kylie has been campaigning for the introduction of paid parental leave for foster carers. At the moment, as legislation sits, foster carers are ineligible to receive paid parental leave under the federal scheme, despite needing to take one year off work (for children under two years of age) to care for the child to be available to create a bond that is needed between children and their caregivers.

“The 2009 productivity report highlights for all children to have a primary carer home for an additional 18 weeks to form an attachment and bond with their primary carers. For me, that cannot be more important than for these children that come into the out-of-home care system, to establish those bonds and attachments with their primary carer,” said Kylie.

While Kylie doesn’t wish for the introduction to be at the detriment to the birth family, she does feel as though foster carers should be given the same allowances as other new parents, for the benefit of the children.

Their message to couples interested in fostering was simple – just do it.

“Get all the information you need to make a good decision that’s right for you and your family. It’s a choice you make but it’s not really about you anymore – it’s about helping the little people,” agreed the couple

If you’re interested in finding out more about foster care in Canberra, contact Barnardos Canberra, phone 6228 9500

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Nip Wijewickrema

Nip Wijewickrema is a journalism graduate from the University of Canberra who currently works in Communications. When she's not working, she's wearing one of her many onesies, eating delicious food or delivering flowers with her beautiful sister, Gayana who has Down Syndrome. The more flowers GG's Flowers sell, the more people with disabilities they can hire. More about the Author

  • Emma Madsen

    Thanks for sharing! I often feel that foster care may be part of my family’s future. I love hearing all about it x

  • Bel Shepherd

    Fantastic info Nip. Thank you!

  • Jurol até o fim !

    Read at 4am on Mothers Day while giving a nighttime feed to one of the two newborn darlings in our care. A shout out to all the other foster mums (and dads) in Canberra to have a happy Mothers Day. Hope you all have a lovely day.

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