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"I realised I could help kids even if I couldn't commit to full-time care"

Eastern suburbs Dad, Simon Dobson, dispels the myth that you have to be part of a ‘traditional’ nuclear family to be a foster carer and wants people to know that there’s no such thing as ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to foster care, whether you are currently in a relationship or single, working or retired, renting or a home owner, foster care could be for you.

Transport Consultant Simon, who lives in Oakleigh, knew from an early age that he had an affinity with kids and always enjoyed the hustle and bustle and sheer exuberance of being surrounded by children.

Born and raised in England, Simon and his two brothers had a very happy childhood with their social worker father and a mother who worked in the nursing profession. Simon’s early memories centre around joyful gatherings with his extended family and happy interactions with a large network of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.

When Simon met his partner, who is Australian, they knew from early on that they wanted kids to be an important part of their relationship. However, when it proved difficult to have biological children of their own, Simon and his partner decided that they would adopt and just as they had gone through the training and accreditation process, they found out that they were expecting their biological child, a son, Huxley, who is now six-years-old.

When Huxley was two, Simon and his partner decided to relocate to Melbourne, to be closer to his partner’s family. Although no longer in a relationship, they happily co-parent Huxley together and it was at this stage that Simon started to think about what he could do to help kids who needed a home.

“As part of the journey of going through the adoption process in the UK, foster carers came in to speak to us about their experiences. It wasn’t something I’d ever thought about before, but I was blown away by the way they spoke about what they did.

“They were amazing and for the first time I realised there are many options in foster care whether it is emergency care or respite care or short-term. It doesn’t have to be full-time foster care and I realised I could help kids even if I couldn’t commit to full-time care,” said Simon.

When he heard about MacKillop Family Services, Simon got in touch with the foster care team and found out about respite care which gives full-time carers a break when they need it and allows kids in foster care to develop trusting relationships with other adults.

Living in a four-bedroom house with Huxley there at the weekend also meant that Simon could consider respite care for sibling groups,

“I’ve got the space and I think it’s really important to try to help siblings stay together. I grew up around my brothers and have always been close to my cousins and I know how important that bond is.”

Simon was very clear that Huxley would be fully involved in the decisions around caring for children,

“When I started out on the foster care journey, I assumed that we would look to offer a home to children younger than Huxley, but after chatting with him, it turned out that most of his friends have older siblings and he was really happy to have older children in the house.

“Our first placement was a brother and sister who are eight and 10 years and the kids had a great time together. One of the things that comes across loud and clear from other foster carers I have spoken to is the positive benefits their birth children get out of the experience.

“That’s especially true for Huxley, who, has a baby sister but has less experience negotiating with older children in a home environment. He is enjoying learning how to share and cooperate with other kids. We’ve both gained so much from this experience which has enriched our lives. Huxley loves hanging out with the older kids and we have fun exploring the area we live in, checking out places of interest and finding new cafes. I can’t emphasise enough how much carers also benefit from the foster care experience, you get far more back than you put in!”

Simon also found the training and support from MacKillop staff prepared him for helping the children to settle in,

“The training is intense, we discuss ways to react in different scenarios so many times with the trainers that when you are in that situation, you automatically know what to do.

“I think it’s also important to remember that extreme behaviours are not always the norm, these are just ordinary kids who need some help. If you do run into a problem, there’s always someone there, be it your Case Manager or the afterhours helpline, you are not on your own. There is back up, a whole team and network behind you and if you are not sure about anything, pick up the phone.”

Simon wants to encourage others to think about foster care,

“It’s all about being able to provide a safe, nurturing and stable environment. Call MacKillop’s Foster Care Enquiry Hotline and they’ll talk you through the process of becoming a foster carer. All you need is the space and the desire to help kids, and if you’re working full time, like me, there are still ways you can help, it will make your life all the richer.