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Finding new ways to define ‘family’

Every family has their own story to tell- of life, love, joy and hardship. Karnie Hill’s story is one of resilience, strength and doing whatever it takes to keep her family together.

At MacKillop Family Services we are reminded daily that family has many definitions and blood, or genealogy are not the only thing that ties one together. Earlier this month we celebrated Families Week and one family linked together by care, respect and wanting to make a difference.

Single mum Karnie has birthed and raised her four children alone with no family or friend support. A devoted and loving mum, she reached out to MacKillop in 2014 for some voluntary respite. Suffering from mental health issues with no one around to help her or her kids she needed an occasional break. Karnie’s two eldest daughters were matched with respite carer Alison. They have been caring for each other ever since.

For Karnie, Alison has become so much more than a respite carer, she said, “Alison is part of our family and we are a part of hers – it’s not the normal family that you hear of, but it works for us”. For the last seven years Alison has had the girls to stay one weekend every month. On top of her respite commitment, she has been a constant support to the family with regular phone check-ins, delivers food parcels, rings on the children’s birthdays, as Karnie says, “small things that go a long way for a single mum who has no one else.”

Alison humbly responds, “I give only what I can give, but I am fully committed to this family. I get so much out of caring for these two beautiful girls. We have a wonderful connection based on true caring and trust. I have grown with them”.

“Together we try new activities, taste different foods, we rarely watch tv as we are too busy reading, walking or going out and meeting my friends. I am giving them a safe space away from their usual busy, loud home.”

The girls trust in their relationship with Alison so deeply that they recently asked her, “how long will you look after us? Maybe one day you will look after our kids and grandkids too.”

For this family of choice, bonded by chance and not blood it is about connection, support and laughter. Although not technically family they have the core values of stability, love and trust. Together but in different homes, Karnie and Alison share the challenges and rewards of looking after the girls.

This National Families Week we say thank you to all our carers who each day lovingly re-define what family means for children, young people and families.

MacKillop has an urgent need for foster carers who can provide safe and nurturing homes for children and young people unable to live with their family for a period of a few months (short term) to several years (long term). Find out more about foster care and whether it's right for you.