Love and trust in abundance

Posted on 13 June 2017 by Jan Phyland

Foster carer Debra McNeil in Hamilton

Debra McNeil had only recently moved to Hamilton when she attended a farming show to learn more about rural life and her country community. But rather than come away with brochures on raising sheep or growing vegetables, she left determined to become a foster carer.

The 53-year-old mother of four and grandmother of 14 says it was a foster care information stand by MacKillop Family Services that most caught her attention.

“Foster caring is something I have wanted to do for a long time,” says Debra. “I love children and always felt I had so much to give. It was time to stop talking and actually doing something.”

A phone call later and Debra was training to become a registered carer. While still relatively new to the role, Debra has already provided respite for two young boys and is currently caring for a 14-month-old girl, Adele*.

“Growing up all I ever wanted to be was a mum,” she says. “Family means everything to me and I see no difference between being a mother or a foster carer. Any child I care for is as much a part of my family as my own children.”

Drawing on her more than 30 years of mothering experience, Debra believes key to raising children is providing them with a safe and supportive environment where they know there is love and trust in abundance.

“It’s so important to relate to children at their level, to think not about your feelings, but how they might be feeling. Being open and honest with children makes them feel safe; listening to them is vital, particularly foster children who often need a little extra time and attention.”

With only a teenage daughter still living at home, Debra cares for Adele full-time and says she enjoys the daily routine of running after a toddler.

“Adele is a beautiful little girl and has settled really well. She was quiet at first, but now happily totters around with me. What I enjoy most is knowing that I’m helping to make a difference in her life, that I’m instilling in her positive behaviours that will carry on when she hopefully goes home to mum.”

And to make sure Adele’s mother (and Adele herself) have a record of childhood milestones, Debra takes lots of photographs and writes down any quirky or fun incidents, keeping the precious memories on file.

Debra’s fostering experience to date is everything she hoped for.

“There are many myths surrounding foster care: my friends questioned why I would want to look after troubled kids. But they’re not troubled; they just come from families who are unable to support them for a variety of reasons. There is a real beauty in helping a child grow and offering them a home with love and stability.”

Debra has also praised the “unbelievable” support she received from training to be a foster carer. “There was so much information available and from the start, the team at MacKillop were professional, caring, loving and understanding. I know I can call at any time and there is always someone available to help if I need it.”

*Not her real name