2020 has been a testing year for all of us, but for the critically low numbers of foster carers in Australia, it’s been a year like no other. The bushfires, closely followed by COVID-19 restrictions, put increased pressure on many already vulnerable families, resulting in greater demands on foster carers throughout the country.
This Foster Care Week (13 – 19 September) MacKillop Family Services (MacKillop) pays tribute to the foster carers who stepped up in the midst of the pandemic to ensure children and young people at risk have a safe place to stay when they need it most.
Jackie Naughton from North Dandenong started as a foster carer in February this year, just when COVID-19 was about to first strike Australia. 63-year-old Jackie, a team leader in a call centre, had long thought about being a foster carer.
“I’ve always wanted to be a foster carer and one day last year, I found myself driving behind a bus with a poster about the shortage of foster carers and I decided not to put it off any longer and put my hand up to see what I could do to help.
“Luckily, after all my checks, assessments and training, I was certified in February and I’ve been able to help out a number of children who needed safe homes for a short space of time. I initially planned to do respite and emergency care, but after a few months, I saw the need was so great and I’ve enjoyed it so much, that I decided to become a full-time carer and now have three kids with me. I’m looking after a seven-year-old girl and her 12-month-old brother, and two days ago, I got a call to see if I could look after a six-week-old baby, who is settling in nicely.
“I get so much back from looking after these kids that it was an easy decision to become a full-time foster carer. My grown up kids ring every day to find out how the children are getting on and they tell me they are so proud of what I’m doing. My family and friends are all supportive and I feel privileged to support these children while they need it,” Jackie added.
Tania Ferris, MacKillop’s Carer Recruitment and Development Coordinator, has been impressed by the adaptability and resourcefulness of foster carers in the face of challenges they’ve met this year.
“I’m always in awe of our foster carers, but this year they have been amazing. One of our carers who looks after two siblings invited their mother to help with online schooling over Zoom. The carer and Mum took it in turns to do school work with each child, involving Mum in their lives and keeping their family connections strong.
"It's never easy to recruit foster carers,” said Tania, “but COVID restrictions are making it increasingly difficult to find enough people to look after children who need safe homes. Many people assume they can’t be a foster carer because they work full time, don’t own their home, or aren’t in a relationship. That’s simply not true. Foster carers come from all walks of life, the most essential criteria is that they care, have the capacity to create a safe and nurturing home, and have room in their house to support vulnerable children."
To help break these myths, and provide more information on the reality of being a foster carer, MacKillop has partnered with Mamamia to feature foster care during Foster Care Week on their parenting podcast, This Glorious Mess. The two podcast episodes will be released on Monday 14 September and Friday 18 September.
MacKillop is hosting a series of online events for Foster Care Week to encourage foster carers to celebrate their achievements and partake in self-care activities, including yoga, meditation, and a self-care session with MacKillop clinicians. Foster Carers will also join an online celebratory event where awards will be presented, and carers will be entertained with music and comedy.
If you would like more information on becoming a foster carer, visit mackillop.org.au or call 1300 791 677.