"Being a foster carer is both extremely challenging and extremely rewarding."
Tasmanian animal lover Nelly finds that the best way to establish rapport with the children in her care is by simply getting them out of the house and onto the farm with her.
“I live on a large property with several horses and dogs,” she says. “Over time I’ve found that taking the kids out with the animals and getting them set up with various jobs is the best ice breaker – it just allows you to have more uninterrupted, relaxed and flowing conversations.”
Based west of Launceston in regional Tasmania, foster carer Nelly is an admirable force. Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis ten years ago, she now uses a wheelchair to get around – but this hasn’t stopped her from training horses or taking in kids in need.
“I work a lot with horses, and I give kids riding lessons. I’ve always had a very natural and easy rapport with children. I really wanted to give back in some way, so foster care was just a natural extension of that.”
Nelly has been a foster carer with Life Without Barriers for five years now, providing both respite and longer-term care. During this time, she’s looked after six children, and is currently the primary foster carer for two teenage girls.
For her, resilience and determination are central to the foster care experience. Nelly says that foster carers must be prepared to face and overcome many complex and diverse obstacles.
“Being a foster carer is both extremely challenging and extremely rewarding.
“You need to be very flexible. I try not to react too much to anything. Kids can tell you some really distressing things – when that does happen, I listen, limit my reaction and give myself time to absorb what I’ve heard. I don’t want to overdramatize anything,” she says.
“You’ve also got to be committed. Come in to it with no expectations and try to remain as open as possible. [Foster care] is hard on yourself and three times harder on the kids – so you need to be prepared, have a sense of resilience and be able to cop it on the chin.
“Don’t focus immediately on it bringing you a sense of fulfilment, and don’t go into [foster care] expecting that. It’s about putting the child first and working to earn their trust.”
Nelly, like many of the children who have come into her care, knows hardship. When asked about a particularly challenging time in her own life, she talks about the years following her own diagnosis, and how she has adjusted to living life with a disability.
“I have MS and am 100 percent wheelchair bound. That whole transition was huge and tough, and mentally I really had to work through it.
“After becoming wheelchair bound, I suffered with severe depression for several years. Again, it was something I had to work very hard to get past. Now, if people tell me I can’t do something I just say, ‘well watch me’.
“On the farm, I still do everything – I feed the horses, I feed the dogs and I do all the chores.”
She says her determination to live her life to the fullest is often a source of hope for children in care who have also experienced difficulties in their lives.
“When the kids get to watch me in action, they are often really amazed by what I can do and continue to do and they [the kids] regularly tell me so.
“I think it’s really good for them to see that it doesn’t matter how hard it has been for you – you can still be a survivor.”
Short term carer for 5-18 year olds
Working full-time in a demanding job hasn’t stopped Belinda from living out her dream of being a carer. She manages to make it fit with her lifestyle by doing weekend respite and emergency care.
Long-term care for kids of all ages
Margaret is a proud Aboriginal woman who has devoted her life to caring for others. She has been a carer for 15 years and is showing no signs of slowing down