It was the look on Paul Cole’s face which said it all. Sitting in a restaurant with his family, the daughter he had fostered for 16 years had a surprise for him. She handed him a present wrapped in newspaper.
Paul carefully peeled away the paper and couldn’t believe his eyes. In his hands was a framed copy of Skye’s new birth certificate – with her new family name – Cole.
“Can I keep it?”, said Paul, in his quiet way.
It was a significant moment for Skye and her foster carers, Ella and Paul. She had recently turned 18 and one of the first things she did was apply to have her family name changed to the same as her foster parents.
Even though Ella and Paul see Skye as their daughter, name change or not, the moment was very special. For Skye, it was important for her to feel like she truly belonged to her family. It was also recognition of two loving parents who had provided a safe, stable home; a home which had enabled her to grow, to go to school, to deal with the ups and downs of childhood and the teenage years; a home which provided routine, dinner on the table every night, help with homework, driving lessons and a future.
Skye came to live with Ella and Paul when she was two years’ old on a short-term placement which then became long-term.
Growing up in foster carer wasn’t easy. I didn’t understand why I had been removed from my Mum. I would ask, ‘why can’t I be like my friends with their own families?’, ‘why am I different?’.
“But from the start Ella and Paul have been there for me, and they have always accepted me for who I am.”
Skye also looked to her MacKillop Family Services’ case worker for support.
“When I started high school, I went through an anxious time when I was being bullied. My case worker arranged counselling and family support which helped me develop strategies to stand up for myself in a positive way.
“Over the years my case worker would also often meet me after school just to go for a milkshake or have a chat. I used to love those afternoons where I could just talk and she was there to listen.
“I can now see Ella and Paul have given me a life I wouldn’t have had with my Mum. Ella and Paul have helped me be the best I can be. That’s one of the reasons when I turned 18, I decided to change my family name.”
Skye completed high school last year and is now studying for her Certificate III in Educational Support. She is working part-time and has a car ready for her use once she gains her driver’s licence in the next couple of months. She plans to study at university and work with children with disabilities.
“I’m fortunate I can stay at home with Mum and Dad for as long as I need. Not all young people in care have that option when they turn 18.”
For Ella it is a no-brainer, “she is our daughter and this is her home. I’ve loved watching her grow. I am proud of all she has achieved so far, finishing school, working and growing more confident”.
Ella and Paul, who live in Western Sydney, have been foster carers for 20 years and cared for more than 70 babies, children and teenagers. They are urging more people to consider becoming foster carers.
“We couldn’t have children of our own. We looked at overseas adoption but we realised we wanted to care for local kids who needed a supportive, happy home. She might be 18 now but like most 18 year old’s she is not totally independent yet. She is getting there and she can continue to stay with us for as long as she likes but I want her to reach independence in a safe way. It’s hard letting her go but this is something all parents face.
“Being a foster carer, you need a good sense of humour as well as supporting each child individually. It’s a balancing act for each kid on what they need and what they don’t.
“We treat kids in care like we would treat anyone. The more ‘normal’ an environment the better.”