Andrea and Colin
"It is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have, teaching you something new every day"
Meet Andrea and Colin
With three grown-up sons now living out of home, family-focused South Australian couple, Andrea and Colin, felt their nest was especially empty. Followed by a redundancy that fast-tracked Andrea's retirement plans, the couple finally had the time and space to open up their home and become foster carers.
"We'd talked about becoming carers for a long time and completed the initial training with good friends who were also planning to foster. However I backed out at the time, I just didn't feel ready yet," recalls Andrea. "But after watching our friends' foster child just thrive in their care, we felt we had the understanding and courage to finally give it a go."
Echoing Andrea's sentiments, Colin adds "we're only in our 50s so we've got plenty of life to live and love to give – we're real family people, so with our kids gone it just seemed a fantastic opportunity for us do what we could to help give some children the best childhood we could."
However their introduction to foster caring was far from smooth sailing. They were initially placed with a young girl with high needs due to the trauma she had experienced.
Andrea and Colin don't sugar-coat the challenges of those first few months, as it is part of their foster caring journey that has lead them to the dramatically happier and fulfilling place they're in now. Two years on the young girl in their care has grown in ways they never could have imagined.
"She used to really struggle to regulate her emotions, she was angry, violent, and we had to be very mindful of what could trigger her," reflects Andrea. "That's all changed now – she's so much more confident, so loving, she's even in her second year of hip hop dance classes. After some extra tutoring, her grades at school have also gone from D's to C's and B's," she beams.
"She's also got a terrific memory – all my shifts at work, our birthdays, our holidays plans…she always knows what's happening when," adds Colin. "I think it comes down to the fact she now knows this is her home, and she's accepted. We're very proud of her and how much she's grown, we're just so lucky to have her."
After some time, Andrea and Colin spoke with the Life Without Barriers team about caring for another child. This time a young boy.
With the benefit of experience this time around, Andrea and Colin felt better equipped to manage the initial teething issues between the two children, as well as the boy's resistance to school life.
"He was very untrusting at first, he wouldn't even let me in his room to clean up or do his laundry," explains Andrea. "School was a real challenge too, he hated it and there were countless suspensions."
But six months on and through patience, compassion and ensuring a loving and consistent environment, Andrea and Colin have witnessed another dramatic transformation.
"I think he's really taken to having a male role model around, he's a much happier kid now, playing his first season of footy, and he hasn't missed a single day of school this term," says Colin. "He just really needed that stability and a bit of reminding that we're not going anywhere, he's safe, and we're here for him."
When asked if they would do it again, the couple are vehemently positive about their fostering journey, encouraging anyone who is able to also consider caring.
Stressing the importance of using Life Without Barriers' resources for carers, Andrea explains that no amount of training can prepare prospective carers for the reality and the rewards.
"Brace yourself – while it won't be easy at first, it eventually clicks into place and it is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have, teaching you something new every day," she says. "I'd recommend anyone just starting, to remember to use the carer resources available, and really lean on Life Without Barriers, be really honest with them."
Similarly, Colin adds that "it does take a little while to see the rewards, there's no text book and it's a hell of a learning curve, but it really is such a rewarding experience. I never thought I'd say this a year ago," he adds "but I honestly couldn't imagine life without them, I really look forward to coming home to them, they both bring so much light into our lives."
Long-term care for kids of all ages
Barbara is an Aboriginal woman who has a background in disability and mental health nursing. Barbara has been a long-term foster carer for a young person with disability.
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Chris and Sophiaan wanted to make a child the priority in their life but were at an age and stage when they didn't think this was possible.