September 10-16 is Foster and Kinship Carer Week. The details of the state’s foster care system are often buried in the shadows, and the stories of individual foster and kinship carers can be the missing piece of the puzzle.
What do you really know about who SA’s foster and kinship carers are and what they do? This week we fill you in, plus give you all the info you need if you’re thinking about becoming a foster carer.
Who are SA’s foster and kinship carers?
SA’s foster and kinship carers come in all forms. They can be 25 or 70, single or partnered.
Some carers have their own children, and some don’t. They come from varying educational and cultural backgrounds and they can identify with any gender and sexual orientation.
Contrary to what you might think, you don’t need to be rich or have a big house to be a foster carer in SA (which is good news, given the current housing market). You just need to be able to offer a safe home environment and provide loving and secure relationships to a child.
And you don’t need to make a years-long commitment either – although of course you can if you want.
There are currently approximately 1720 kinship care and 1010 foster care families caring for children and young people throughout South Australia. These range from emergency carers who can take children at short notice for a night or a fortnight, to respite carers who provide regular weekend or school holiday stays, plus people providing a long-term loving home for children until they turn 18.
As the name suggests, kinship carers are family members or already known to the child, while foster carers aren’t related to the young person they look after.
Foster care can reward the carer as well as the child
Foster carer Esma, who lives in Adelaide with her husband Tony, is a remedial massage therapist in her 50s, with a 29-year-old biological daughter.
She applied to become a foster carer last year, and is now providing a long-term home for six-year-old Jack*.
“Being a foster parent is better than I thought – I’m loving it,” Esma says.
“It’s changed our lives for the better. We’re still having fun, it’s just different. We have more contact with our friends who have young kids, and we do things together.”
A recent trip to Weeroona Island, near Port Pirie, was a high point for her and Jack.
“We took him to a house on the beach and he said, ‘This is my first family holiday’. He had a milk Milo and I had a coffee and we had our beanies on and sat out on the deck,” Esma says.
“It was just so beautiful to be part of this first experience. There’s many more to come and that’s really special.”
Esma’s role has included organising regular contact between Jack and his siblings, who remain close, and working on ways to support him when he experiences “big emotions”.
“He’ll sit on my knee and he knows it’s a safe place,” she says. “He now has a future that’s full of hope.
“Walking to school, he slips his hand into mine. It’s beautiful because he couldn’t do that before.”
As well as providing a home for Jack, Esma is also “a home hub provider” for support agency Life Without Barriers, in its MOCKINGBIRD FAMILY™ program. She supports other carers through advice, respite care and organising events for families to get together.
“It’s like that saying … ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ – we create that village,” Esma says.
Becoming a foster carer
Before last year, Esma had previously considered becoming a foster carer, but it was an online quiz from Life Without Barriers asking, ‘Would you be a great foster carer?’, that finally inspired her to take the first step and contact the agency.
Esma encourages other South Australians who have considered fostering to also make that first leap and find out more about what foster care involves, plus what support you’ll get to help you along the way.
There are all sorts of foster care options available: “You can do weekend care once a month, you can do long-term, short-term, emergency or respite,” she says.
“What drew me to fostering was the thought of children with no family to be with – that always upsets me.”
From start to finish, the journey to become a foster carer takes around six months, including checks, assessment and training by one of the state’s foster carer agencies who work with the Department for Child Protection.
Foster carers receive ongoing support from the Department for Child Protection and support agencies, and Esma says having professionals to talk to about her caring role is “just fantastic”.
If you want to find out if foster caring is for you, you can attend one of the information sessions held regularly around the state, contact one of the support agencies directly or visit www.fostercare.sa.gov.au.
Click here for more information on events being held to thank carers for their work during Foster and Kinship Carers Week.
*Name changed for privacy reasons