Fiona and Michael
"We both grew up in very fortunate families. When you come from such a good home, it's nice to think you can provide that experience for someone who may not get it otherwise"
Meet Fiona and Michael
Melbourne couple Fiona and Michael are full of energy. They have been foster carers since they were 30 and they estimate they've cared for at least 50 children since then. They currently care for a one-year-old boy who completes their household with their own six year old son.
"We both grew up in very fortunate families. When you come from such a good home, it's nice to think you can provide that experience for someone who may not get it otherwise" Fiona said.
In their 12 years as carers, they have seen it all. "You have to prepare for the bad times, as well as the good," Fiona, who also works full time as a nurse, explained. "There have been moments where kids have reacted violently. Kids have punched holes in the wall, we've had to call the police to our house. That is challenging but a lot of the time the kids don't know any different or are not able to regulate their own emotions."
"People ask, 'what do you do?' [when that happens]" Fiona continued. "I say 'there's a tin of paint in the garage!' The reality is the wall can be fixed. If you remember you're not responsible for their behaviour and it's not directed at you, it's much easier to support them."
Asked about what the highlights are, Fiona said that you have to celebrate the small wins. "For a teenager to put their plate on the sink for the first time or thank you or help you with a chore – that is a win."
Fiona said how all children, no matter the challenges, bring joy to your life. "For one young man, we used to get a phone call from school principal every week – the week that we didn't, we celebrated!" she laughed.
More recently, Fiona talked about the little man in her care now. "When he first came to us, he didn't know how to cuddle. But the other day, he climbed down from the couch, went around to my son, cuddled him and gave him a kiss. That was so beautiful!" she said.
Fiona and Michael are often asked how their six year old son feels about being part of a carer household. "It's taught him understanding and compassion and made him a very caring soul. For him, being our only biological child – the long term kids have given him a bigger family," Fiona said.
"When our son was four we had a four year old boy come into care with his older sister. The four year old was distressed at being brought to stranger's house and I remember him [my son] going over and sitting next to the little boy on the couch. My son said ‘it's ok, I'll look after you, I'm a foster carer.'"
When children of any age first come to their home, Fiona and Michael set up a room with them, with anything they need as well as an age-appropriate gift – that may be an itunes voucher for a teenager, or a colouring in book and pencils for a toddler.
Fiona explained that in those first few days when a child enters their house the key is to respect their space and not to overwhelm them. "There are boundaries and guidelines in our house but the first three-four days [when a child first enters their home] we don't set any of those. We let them go about watching how we behave and we lead by example. We make them feel included. Whenever we do something we offer it to them. We give them the space to be able to walk away – we don't want to be in their face."
Michael and Fiona have been fortunate to keep in touch with some of the teenagers they've cared for, many of whom have integrated back into their families. Some of them come back and said ‘you guys have done so much for me.' That's really lovely!"
Andrea and Colin
Long term care for kids with complex needs
With three boys having flown the nest, carers Colin and Andrea felt like they still had a lot of love to give. They now care permanently for two primary school age children.
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.