A northern NSW couple exchanged their 24/7 corporate lives to become full-time carers to vulnerable children. Karen and Stephen share how the experience has been rewarding for them and has given the kids they care for a sense of stability and safety.
Planning a sea-change can take years of soul searching and weighing up all the options, but sometimes the realisation that it’s time to challenge yourself and take a new direction in life can be sudden and unexpected.
For Karen*, who lives in northern New South Wales, making the switch from the corporate world to becoming a full-time foster carer had never been part of the plan. She and partner Stephen* were fully immersed in their careers. Working as a busy Systems Manager, Karen says she was a workaholic who took very little time for herself.
In 2018, Karen and Stephen had their first holiday in years and returned to Europe to visit family. Karen met her toddler nieces and nephews for the first time and enjoyed spending time with her family. They returned to Australia just before Christmas and continued to have some time off to relax together.
During the Christmas break, Karen saw a story about kids needing foster care on Facebook which had a deep impact on her.
“I clicked on the story and as I was reading, realised that I’d never thought about kids who can’t live with their own families before. I certainly never knew that there was such a need for foster carers in our area and I found the idea of kids not having a safe home heartbreaking."
“After I read the story to Stephen, he said, ‘I reckon we could be foster carers – we’ve got a lot to offer and we would do everything we could to support kids to have the best chance in life.’”
For the next while, Karen and Stephen talked about foster care, researched options, sent off an enquiry and talked to friends and family; the idea of becoming foster carers kept getting stronger and stronger for them.
“In the middle of my research, information from MacKillop Family Services about the need for local foster carers popped up on my social media and I contacted them. That started the whole process of accreditation and training and has been one of the best decisions we ever made.”
Once trained and accredited, Karen and Stephen started looking after a sibling group.
“The kids had been through a lot before they came to stay with us. When they arrived, they were lost, confused and angry. Understandably they were wary of us and needed time to get to know us and feel safe with us."
The most amazing thing about being a foster carer is to see the change in the kids in two short years. The eldest was sullen and angry about everything at the beginning. She found it difficult to articulate her feelings and her behaviour reflected the pain and rage she was experiencing.
“In the time she has been with us, she has blossomed in every way, showing incredible insight, confidence, and sassiness. She knows what she wants to do with her life and is a fantastic role model for her younger siblings. We’re so proud of the determined young woman she has become.”
Karen and Stephen have also formed a support system for other carers in the area and meet up regularly with other children in foster care including the siblings of the kids they look after.
“Those connections are vital for the children and it is really important that they see their brothers and sisters regularly and develop close relationships. It’s also great that we foster carers can support each other. Having someone who understands exactly what you are dealing with and who can offer practical advice is a wonderful thing."
“It’s also great for the kids to expand the circle of adults they can trust in their lives – we all joke that we’re the NSW version of the Brady Bunch when we get together!” laughed Karen.
Their lives may have changed completely but Karen and Stephen have never been happier.
We take our role of foster carers very seriously, always acting in the best interests of the children we look after. Having the kids in our lives has been enriching beyond belief and seeing how happy they are is the best reward for us.
“It’s also been a revelation how supportive the foster care community can be. We’ve made great friends with other carers and the mutual care and support that we give and receive makes us feel connected to our local community in a way we never used to be."
“There are times when being a foster carer can be challenging, but knowing someone has your back, that you’re not alone and can turn to the agency or other carers for help makes you much stronger. Being part of that community has made all the difference to me.”
*Names changed to protect privacy