Meet Gillian and Greg
Gillian is a paediatric nurse and has a lot of experience of working with children with disabilities and complex needs. Her husband Greg is a fitter and turner who Gillian describes as a "blokey bloke." Gillian and Greg are "intensive" foster carers – that means they can care for children with disabilities or complex challenges and behaviours.
Every child in care has their own specific needs based on their age, life experiences, trauma or medical needs, and intensive foster carers – like all foster carers – need to be open to learning what they can do to help children reach their full potential. It can be really helpful for these carers if they have previous experience working with kids, as Gillian does with her background in paediatric nursing.
"I’ve always had an interest in children and their behaviours and Jane* has taught me a lot!" Gillian laughs.
Three and a half years ago, Jane, now 10 years old, came into Greg and Gillian’s care. Jane needed carers who could spend a lot of one-on-one time with her. "We knew we had love to give," Greg said.
"We were well informed of the challenges, and we just rode that wave!"
Although Gillian does have experience working with children who have complex behaviours, she and Greg believe the most important thing that they could give Jane was a lot simpler – spending time with her. "Really it was getting back to that basic raw stuff," Gillian said. "Just being there for Jane."
Greg added, "Being reliable – you’d put her to bed, you’d wake her up, you take her to school, you’re there when she’s upset, if she had questions to ask, you’d give her the best answer that you could." Gillian even made the decision to put work on hold for the first 18 months of their time with Jane.
Children in intensive foster care can present as angry and unable to regulate their emotions. This is a normal response to trauma and pain and with the love and patience of carers like Gillian and Greg, supported by training and tools from Life Without Barriers, children’s behaviour can change over time. "It’s about learning those tools that you can implement to help, ways of de-escalating behaviours, understanding behaviours," Gillian said.
Gillian laughs as she tells the story of Jane having a meltdown in a shopping centre café on their first shopping trip – something a lot of parents could probably relate to!
"Jane would lose control and find it difficult to regulate. Slowly, by putting boundaries in place and working on communicating, and encouraging Jane to talk about difficult feelings she was having and where they were coming from, she was able to regulate her behaviour and express herself."
Greg said that knew what to expect. "We were well informed of the challenges, and we just rode that wave!"
Gillian added, "We support Jane by ensuring she feels safe and placing her needs at the forefront of decision making, discussing expectations with her, talking about feelings, and maintaining her usual routine."
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