17 March 2023

“I just want to be that rock for somebody, for any child that needs anybody, that Aunty they can come to.”

Image: Aunty Karmen wears a pink and purple polo shirt with a dot art design, creating a painting in her kitchen.

Aunty Karmen is a proud Warriburra woman from Mamu Country, south of Cairns. After receiving a bit of help herself when she was younger, she was determined to give back to the community and decided foster caring was right for her family. She became a foster carer with Life Without Barriers in 2022.

Aunty Karmen has three biological children – two daughters who have grown up and moved out, and a son who lives with her. Initially, she was worried about how their family dynamics would change with the addition of foster children.

“I think I was more worried than I needed to be because it just blended,” she says.

Aunty Karmen is passionate about ensuring the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children she cares for maintain a connection to their culture. “What we know is family,” she says proudly. “Somebody is always there.”

Through storytelling, art and language, Aunty Karmen teaches them everything she can to contribute to that sense of belonging.

“Those little people need to know and still be connected to culture.”

Aunty Karmen ensures her foster children are involved in household decision-making, which makes them feel comfortable and part of the family.

“It’s a home away from home for them,” she says. “I just include them in the conversations and the choices – what should we have for dinner tonight? Or where would you like to go this weekend?”

“They feel included. They’re part of this family,” she adds.

As a single mother, Aunty Karmen works four days a week during school hours, enabling her to drop the kids off at school and pick them up.

“It all fits in somehow,” Aunty Karmen laughs. “Working, raising kids, it’s a hard job, you don’t get a lot of time to yourself.”

But it’s all worth it when she sees how the kids in her care adjust to a stable home.

“Seeing the changes in the kids, going from having no stability to having stability and then just seeing them shine and smile and just laugh and be happy again,” she says.

With a big extended family, Aunty Karmen can call on her community, including her adult daughters, for support when she needs it.

“I have my support worker, too,” she says, referring to her Child and Family Practitioner, Natalie Lowah, from Life Without Barriers.

“So, if I have any trouble with anything or don’t know how to deal with it, I just give her a call.”  

Aunty Karmen also regularly liaises with her Child Safety Officer for support with the kids and young people in her care.

“They come around every month to have a care team meeting, to see where we're at and what we can do and how to change things,” she says.

“And if everything's going good, it's good, and they'll see if I need anything.”

Like all parents, foster carers can experience behavioural challenges in their children.

“I already have a child with a disability,” Aunty Karmen says, referring to her son. “So, I think it just comes naturally for me to be able to redirect the kids and let them know which path to take.” 

“I tell the kids, if you're upset, you're upset. If you're angry, you're angry, you know, they're your feelings.” She then works with them to identify the problem and navigate through their emotions.

Having consistency, structure, and routine also helps Aunty Karmen’s household run smoothly.

“Everyone has a job to do in the morning. Everyone has a job to do at night,” she says.

“It’s always hard work, but you just have to have an open mind. Sometimes it’s not easy, but the reward at the end of it is seeing the smiles on their faces, and that’s all that matters.”

For those thinking about fostering, she says, “If you’ve got that room in your heart and that open mind and just that willingness to want to help somebody, these kids just need that safe, loving home.”

“Once you get some little kids into your care and you hear some of their stories, they’re going to melt your heart.”

Life Without Barriers is proud to have Aunty Karmen in our team, and we are thrilled to partner with the Queensland Government’s Department of Child, Youth Justice and Multicultural Affairs on their carer recruitment campaign.

This story has been reproduced from Aunty Karmen's feature in the Queensland Government’s foster care campaign.

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