"The years you invest aren't wasted just because they go home"
"I had a lot of tough times as an adolescent. I struggled to make it through my teen years emotionally. However, I was fortunate to have people around me at school, extra-curricular activities, and positive role models that provided me with what I needed to make it through. This helped me see the need for a network of people around me at rough times. This helped me come to the decision to also become a foster carer. Both resilience and support are really important."
Sarah was just nine years old when she decided to become a foster parent. "I have always had a heart for those kids in need of a loving home. As a kid I remember finding out that friends of our family's children were foster kids and being amazed that there were kids out there who didn't have a home like mine - one where they were loved and safe. As the years progressed and I discovered more about the world, I became even more committed to giving back to the community by helping provide a home for those in need. I have always had the philosophy of why bring more children into the world when there are already so many who need a home."
Two years ago Sarah felt the time was right. She was financially stable with a good job and a secure home with room for a child. It was time to make the move toward fostering. Today, she is in her element, teaching high school in the Queensland public education system at Forest Lake while raising her ten-year-old foster child. She may be a single foster parent, but she's not alone.
"I have always felt supported," she says. "Life Without Barriers (LWB) is there with help, training, advice and practical support when I need it. They were the ones I wanted to do this through right from the start. They were a really accepting, really supportive organisation." As a qualified teacher, Sarah already had the drive and compassion required to provide the levels of safety, love and support to some of the foster children with complex needs.
"The kids that really make my heart sing are the ones with the worst stories," she said. "Kids don't act out in these ways without a reason. When you get to the heart of that reason you see this vulnerable little child and all they need is someone to love and support them. You become the person that little child needs. I would say the biggest thing that brings me joy is watching kids overcome issues that have been stopping them from succeeding. The kids I take generally have some significant behavioural difficulties, and seeing them learn better coping behaviours, engaging at school and developing strong friendships are definite highlights."
Sarah's first placement was particularly challenging. Emergency care was needed to support a 13-year-old girl who had cycled through 12 different placements in 12 months. "Her last placement had fallen through and she was living in unsuitable accommodation at a friend's home. It was all hands on deck to try to find her a home," said Sarah. "It turned out to be the most challenging three months of my life. I filled in a few missing person's reports and I had to pick her up from the police station a few times." With support from Life Without Barriers, Sarah took care of her teenage foster child for three months.
"The reason the placement eventually ended was that schooling was not working out for her and she needed to be supervised full-time," Sarah reflected. "It was really gut-wrenching for me when she had to move on, because we had quite a good relationship. I've heard from her since she left my care, and she has regularly said that she regrets some of the decisions she made. Sometimes the reality of the system is that you're not the perfect person for everyone, but you are the perfect person for someone."
Afterwards, Sarah took some time to process her feelings and adjust to the sense of loss. But she is resilient and a week and a half later she called Life Without Barriers to report that she was ready to go again.
Sarah now has a ten-year-old foster child who has been in and out of care most of his life.This placement could be long-term, Sarah says. But if her foster child's circumstances change and he returns to his family, that's okay too.
"That's part of being a foster parent," she says. "The years you invest aren't wasted just because they go home. Everything I do is about helping a child become a better, happier person. It makes them better able to manage the challenges they face." While most people accept and respect Sarah's life as a single, working foster parent, a few say they could never choose that path.
"I just reply: Why not?" she says. "I have the capability, the love in my heart and a spare room. What sort of person would I be if I said no to these kids? I am a single person who works full time and if I can make it work then so can you. Being a foster carer completes my life. Not only has it brought some wonderful children into my life, but I've also met a community of people who genuinely care about children and want to make a difference in the world. This will be the most rewarding thing you will ever do."
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.