In a week dedicated to recognising the work of foster carers, one such carer on the border has reflected on the role and encouraged others to consider their capacity for helping children.
Upper Murray Family Care foster carer Stacy, who's last name has been withheld, has shared with The Border Mail what the responsibility means to her, to mark Foster Care week from September 13 to 17.
In the last three years volunteering through Upper Murray Family Care, Stacey has provided up to 25 children with a safe place to stay until they can go back to their families.
Q: Why did you want to be a foster carer and how did you go about it?
"It's something that I always wanted to do.
"I always wanted to work with or support vulnerable people within the community and once I had the set up to be able to provide care to children, I contacted Upper Murray Family Care and made inquiries and went from there.
"It was a pretty seamless approach going through the process and really clear of what I needed to do and what they needed from me."
Q: What was the process to become a foster carer?
"I contacted Upper Murray Family Care and we had a conversation about me wanting to become a carer.
"They came out to my home, we had a bit of a chat about what caring looks like, what my thoughts were and what I felt that I was able to offer and then they provided me some information to look through and time to sit with the information that they'd provided and see if that suited me.
"Then from there I agreed to move forward though he process and I think there were five different meetings I had with them all about different things; about my life, my history, all those sort of things, and looking at how my life and what I had to offer and how that would fit with foster kids.
"It was a very relaxed process, it's important they explore a whole heap of areas to make sure that you're the right fit for foster care and for some people that's hard to unpack, but definitely it was taken at my pace, it wasn't all done at once, the progression was smooth and very considerate."
Q: How long do you care for children and how much notice do you get before they arrive?
"I've had numerous types of placements; I've had short term, emergency and respite placements.
"So for emergency I've received phone calls in the middle of the night or at different times over the weekend and if I am available or if I've got plans if I can make that work I will agree.
"But with respite and short term placement, it's usually a planned approach were possible, sometimes it's we need something today, other times it's a transition for them into your household, but it's not always possible, so there's heaps of different ways that kids come into your care.
"I've had children stay for a night, I've had children stay for 12 months, so it's really just dependent on what that child and what that family needs at that point in time."
Q: What's is being a foster carer like?
"It has its challenges, I'm not going to lie and say it's all cruisy and that there's no issues, there is definitely challenges.
"But the positive always outweighs the negative - to know that that child could go to bed and wake up the next morning and be safe and to know that that child trusts you enough to ask for some food or to ask you for a cuddle or to sit there and watch TV with you.
"I've had kids say it's so nice to feel safe just to be able to sit here and watch TV, just things that we take for granted.
"It really hits home to think there's so much in our life that we take for granted and we don't think that is important. And then you've got these small children who haven't had this safe place or there family just needs support to get back up on their feet.
"Yes it's stressful, but I kind of look at it and go it's no more stressful than what these children have gone through."
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Q: What is important for potential foster carers to know?
"A really big thing if you are looking at becoming a foster carer is remembering that the family is [a big part].
"I've been lucky enough to build some relationships with children's parents and that's something that I pride myself on as well, is including them and working with them for the best interests of the kids.
"I'm not there to keep any children and if people think that's what foster care is, it's absolutely not.
"It's hard when they go home and you have to say goodbye, but you do get better at it as time goes on."
Q: What sort of support do you have from Upper Murray Family Care?
"I have a lot of support and a lot of communication.
"I'm fairly open with my communication, if something is going on I will tell them, if I need help I will tell them.
"But I think it's important to utilise the supports that you've got and build the relationship with your workers, and not just your original workers or your case workers, there's a whole team that's able to help and able to listen.
"Sometimes all you just need to do is pick up the phone and you've had a rough day and just to have that conversation and you don't get judged for those conversations, you don't get criticised for those conversations, it's definitely something that you can trust that they've got your back."
Q: What sort of issues or challenges do you have with some of the children?
"Some children will come in with behavioral issues, so they have a hard time regulating their emotions, or asking for help, they can be very parentified, so they want to provide that support to the younger siblings or even just simply they don't know how to play, they don't know how to self soothe or to comfort themselves, they really rely on you to lead that and to support them through that."
Q: What does it take to be a foster carer?
"Literally all it takes is patience and the willingness and openness to take another person into your home.
"But to also understand and be willing to walk away when you have to walk away, but to know that you've done everything you can.
"That's all it really takes to be a carer ... and having that stable environment yourself.
"My history is early childhood and I am a social worker myself so there is some similarity, but I can tell you a four year university degree and 10 years in childcare did not prepare me.
"I guess sometimes it does come in useful to understanding those development issues and all of that, but that's what Upper Murray Family Care is here to do, they don't expect people to come in with the level of knowledge of a social worker or a childcare worker.
"It takes every type of person from any walk of life; they can be a carer, they don't have to be a professional."
Q: Would you encourage others to consider foster caring?
"There's so many children in the community who need our support and other carers in the community who need our support as well.
"Some people can provide long term and short term placements, some people can provide a couple of days ... another carer who is able to provide short term care as well is really important.
"If you don't feel like you've got the opportunity and you feel like you have to open the door or your home up for a long period of time, it's not the case.
"If you've got the ability to do something like this on a weekend, why not?
"Because the kids will be so grateful for the environment that you provide, but the thanks you get back from these little kids is much more than you'd expect.
"To be able to watch a child develop and to be able to look back at the change in the five weeks or the six months or the 12 months is something pretty amazing.
"At times you think why am I doing this, this is so damn hard, and then the next day you get up and you walk into the next room and they're smiling at you and they say 'hi Stacey' and you're just like 'OK, it is worth it, it definitely is worth it'."
Q: What impact do you think you have on the children?
"I'd like to think that I've been able to help them develop and foster their relationship with their parents.
"And to be able to move forward through their milestones as they need to."
Q: What reactions do you get from others when you say you're a foster carer?
"I get people with mixed emotions and the majority of the comments is 'I don't know how you do that, I couldn't do it'.
"I am lucky enough that my friends group is very open to the children, everyone expects that I'll just rock up with another kid.
"There's never ever been an issue, if I were to turn up with another child.
"I've got the support of my family, but I'm also able to ask for respite time if I've got events that I need to go to or simply if I need a break.
"There's extra complexities to being a single carer as well, and I guess the thing people need to realise is that you don't just have the support of Upper Murray family Care, you've got the support of other carers as well."
Still curious? For more information on becoming a foster carer visit the Upper Murray Family Care website or call 02 6055 8000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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