"I wanted to find a way to support my community and make a difference to young people."
What's a respite carer?
"A respite carer might support our primary foster carers for a night or weekend or a bit longer over the school holidays. They play an important role in giving our long-term carers a short break – especially in the cases of children with high needs. Respite care is mostly planned in advance but can sometimes be required at short notice or in an emergency situation. Our respite carers are key to the success of our foster care program here at Life Without Barriers," explains Deanne Carroll, Manager Carer Recruitment Design.
Raechel has been a respite carer with Life Without Barriers since 2015 and currently provides respite for two foster children and their foster families.
What made you become a carer?
"Previous work with not for profit opened my eyes to the vulnerable families here in Sydney and a poverty line that I did not know existed in Australia. I wanted to find a way to support my community and make a difference to young people who may have not had the easiest start in life, to go on and enjoy the best their world can offer."
Building relationships must be important when being a respite carer. How do you go about building those relationships?
"For me, it's all about knowing the young person you are spending time with! I tried to get as much information as I could in advance of my first placement and since then, I've not stopped asking questions and bringing that knowledge into the time we share together."
And would you say you need to be agile and responsive in a range of situations?
"Yes of course! I support two girls - a 12-year-old and an 8-year-old; although they are related, they have very different needs and I try where possible to cater to both. It's a fun, interesting but sensitive time in a young woman's life with plenty of changes. It might be a 20 (ok 25 years) since I was that age, but I can remember that time well and how important good relationships and strong foundations truly were."
What about respect?
"Absolutely – respect for the families, carers, children, not to mention for yourself and the hardworking team at Life Without Barriers (LWB). Everyone's story and journey is different as to how and why they have accessed LWB's services. In addition to working as a respite carer, I've really enjoyed the training sessions that have allowed me to meet other carers and learn from their experiences. As well as respect, this experience has taught me a lot about compassion and understanding, and the importance of role modelling positive behaviours."
What have been your happiest memories as a respite carer?
"There's so many in such a short space of time! I've been extremely fortunate not just to connect with the young women to whom I provide respite care, but also their full time foster carers and their siblings too. I've been made to feel like extended family and was invited to spend Christmas in 2015 with them which was really special for me. I dressed up in a Santa costume and had a sackful of gifts too! I gain just as much joy in dancing in my living room with the girls, as I do braiding their hair, baking cakes, having karaoke sing alongs in the car and reading bedtime stories."
What would you say to people interested in becoming a foster/respite carers?
"Do it, but be patient! To become a carer, there is a process involved; you cannot make a phone call enquiry and be registered within a week. My whole process took about eight months from initial application to first placement and for some people that can be a deterrent when you want to start making a difference quickly. However, I truly believe it's worth the wait; especially when you consider the sensitivity of assessing carers, the home environment and getting the right match. Having worked in the not for profit sector previously I was well aware of the screening and assessment process – and welcomed it!"
What are the highlights of being a respite carer? What does it bring to your life?
"It's a legitimate excuse to be a child! I love stepping out from my busy work, family and social life to focus my energies on a really rewarding couple of days with funny, smart and awesome young women. I've gone to Luna Park, Powerhouse Museum, numerous beach visits and baked more cakes and cupcakes than I ever thought I would! Not only has it enriched my life in forming these new relationships, it's strengthened my existing relationships too. I feel I can connect more to my work colleagues and friends who have kids, I get greater insight into being a parent (and finally empathise with my own parents decisions when I was a child) and being a carer has also helped with my own resilience, perspective and wellbeing."
Tell us a bit about what activities you like doing with the children during respite?
"The activities I do are driven by the children. I am keen to stay consistent with how they are raised with their foster family; which is with measured and thoughtful choices; to give them the right blend of guidance and empowerment. I generally present a few ideas over the weekend and let them pick. Their weekend with me is time to have fun and relax. Dancing in my front room is generally the key activity – we all take it in turns to be the DJ on my iPod! We go food shopping together to accommodate for any emerging food tastes or preferences and the subsequent cooking and baking is another staple activity. Road trips, watching movies, drawing and craft activities also feature during respite."
Raechel, you are a myth buster! Can you tell us why?
"I've often been asked how as a single woman I've been ‘allowed' to be a carer. There's still a societal expectation that the most optimal, stable family environment is one of a mother and a father; although there are so many examples of single parents, same sex couples, blended families and multi-generational support as equally positive models of raising children. I'm a firm believer in ‘It Takes a Village to Raise a Child' and the surprise I've encountered when I talk about my choice to do respite care and LWB's ‘acceptance' of my current life circumstances, spurs me on to remain part of the village and hopefully encourage others they can do it too."
Anything else you think would be helpful for people to know about respite care?
"If full time foster care is not for you, respite caring is most definitely a viable option! On average, I connect with the family one weekend every six weeks. The contribution you can make, however frequent or less so, will go a long way to assist the child, the full time carers and also the LWB team."
Anything else you would like to add?
"I just really want to reinforce that respite care can be a single male or female carer; and that busy professionals can contribute too! Don't let anyone else tell you otherwise."
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