How to get involved in foster care
Renee emphasises it’s important to realise that foster carers are not superheroes.
“Yes, they are superheroes in some ways, but they are everyday people who have found a way to help out kids who don’t have those everyday, stabilising elements all children need,” she says.
The process usually starts with a call or an email to a body like My Forever Family (there are equivalents in each state).
“In NSW we will then connect you with one of the foster care agencies that suit your situation. After that come workshops, training and assessment. We are assessing to find homes where children are safe and nurturing; that’s so important as these children have already been through so much,” Renee says.
At the assessment stage, the agency will be keen to talk with your children.
“That’s part of the process in screening. Usually there will be an appropriate age gap and the child in foster care will be two years younger than your child – it’s a general guideline that a lot of agencies will use as it keeps a bit of the natural order of bringing in someone new,” she says.
Explaining foster care to children
Although Renee emphasises that foster carers don’t need to be parents, married or of a particular sexual orientation – all types of families become foster carers – she says children already living in your home should be involved in the process early.
“You want to give them some context and have them on board. It’s someone new coming into their home,” she says.
An explanation may include something like the following, Renee says:
“All mums and dads love their children, but sometimes they aren’t able to provide the care that children need. Children need lots of things and sometimes parents aren’t able to provide that, or the parents need some time to sort things out.”
“You might say, ‘They are coming to stay for a while, they may be having a hard time so we need to be caring and understanding’,” she says.
Introducing a foster child into your home
From the child in care’s perspective, they do best when their foster carer remembers not only that they’ve come from a difficult situation, but that they are a little person with things that make them feel comfortable.
“You can find out in advance, and ask the child, what they like to eat, if they like a night light in their room or what they’d like displayed in their room,” says Renee.
She says involving the child in some of these discussions can be powerful.
“It can give them some choices in a time in their lives when they have very little control,” Renee says.
Of course, it’s unrealistic to think everything will be roses from day one. Far from it.
“Sometimes kids can’t explain what they are going through, what they are feeling and what’s going on. It comes out in their behaviour instead, so showing understanding and being flexible is key,” Renee says.
While people worry about introducing a new child into their family home can have a destabilising impact, Renee has seen the opposite happen.
“You are showing your children you have an open home, that you’re able to share and that you are able to provide care for people who need it for a little while. It can be a real positive for biological children,” she says.