When he gets a call to see if he can look after a child who needs a safe home, foster carer Brent Henry will do his best to find the space. It might be a child who needs respite for just a few days or weeks, but if he has a spare room, kids and young people find a welcome sanctuary at Brent’s family home.
Brent, who lives outside Wollongong, has been a foster carer for seven years and is the long-time carer of three siblings, ten-year-old Charlie*, nine-year-old Ryan* and seven-year-old Tom* who have been with him since they were babies and toddlers.
“I’m always amazed at the empathy the kids show for children and young people who come to stay with us for respite or emergency care,” Brent says.
“They go out of their way to make everyone welcome, it’s like they know how important it is that new people feel safe and comfortable and accepted by us, whatever their needs.”
Brent has a friend who has been a foster carer for a long time, and he talked to her to find out what is involved before putting his hand up to become a foster carer.
“From the moment you enquire to going through assessment, training and finally accreditation, the process is designed to help you see if foster care is for you. It can feel quite daunting at the beginning, but you are supported to understand foster care through the eyes of a child or young person who may have experienced trauma and you can access professional therapeutic care if that is what the child needs.”
Brent supports the siblings he looks after to have contact with their biological family.
Although they live with me, they know that their Mum is part of their family, and she always will be. We keep Mum informed of all the important milestones and celebrate birthdays and special days together. To us it’s just the way this family works. Mum couldn’t care for the kids herself; she needed a little help and I’m providing that help and it’s great for the kids to see us get on well together.
Brent encourages his friends and family to think about becoming foster carers and would like to see more people in the community get involved in supporting vulnerable families.
“Most people have no idea that there’s a shortage of foster carers in an area like Wollongong, but it’s an issue everywhere. It’s hard enough for kids when they are removed from their families, but that gets even more traumatic if they have to leave community, schools, or the local area they are accustomed to.
“My message to people thinking about foster care is ‘don’t overthink it!’. Respite or emergency care is a great way to start out as a foster carer and it helps you understand if this is something you can do. Like people, all children are different, and some come with their own issues which you have to work through to find a way to support them.
“But in the end, making a connection with a child, seeing them grow in trust for you and getting to know you as the person they can rely on is the most amazing feeling in the world.”
*Names changed and model image used for privacy reasons.