Caring for vulnerable families was the impetus that drove Mary MacKillop to find a place in her heart for those most challenged by life’s circumstances. That compassion comes full circle today when a sixth cousin of Mary MacKillop continues the legacy of caring for others by opening her home to children who are unable to live with their families.
42-year-old Hiedi Oxborough and her husband Steve, from Shellcove in NSW have been foster carers for just over a year. Heide and Steve had talked about being foster carers for a long time and decided to wait until their own children were a little older before enquiring about foster care.
“My maiden name is MacKillop and my grandfather often spoke about the family connection to Mary MacKillop, which our family is very proud of. When I started to research foster care agencies, information about MacKillop Family Services providing foster care in our area came across my Facebook page and Steve and I joked it was a sign that the time was right for us,” laughs Hiedi.
With four children of their own, Hiedi and Steve enjoy having a busy house and the door is always open to kids and their friends.
“Our eldest two are in their twenties and we have a 14-year-old and 11-year-old, so we have the space in our home and our hearts to help kids when they need it most. In fact, one of the most amazing outcomes of becoming foster carers is seeing the positive effect it has had on all of our family.
“I was a little worried about the impact it would have on my kids and we had open discussions with them before hand about how it would work – they would still have their own personal space and we would work hard to create an environment where they can talk to us about any issues or concerns they might have.
“We currently have a two and a half-year-old with us for a few weeks on a short-term placement and 12-year-old Jason* lives with us on permanent placement. The way the kids all get on together is really heart-warming. Being part of a foster care family has brought out beautiful personality traits in our kids and it’s really lovely to see the empathy they have for the children who come to stay with us.”
Hiedi is often surprised by the reaction of other people in the community when they hear that she is a foster carer.
“Jason is very chatty and loves to tell people we are a foster family and the most common reaction is ‘I don’t know how you do it’, which is such a surprise to me because we are not superhuman, we are just ordinary people who understand there’s a need to help vulnerable families.
“In fact, having raised young adults and teenagers, if anything it’s easier as a foster carer as you have the extra support. Case Managers will check in and see how it’s all going and if you have any issues, there’s a whole support system to help you find new strategies,” added Hiedi.
The most rewarding aspect of foster care for Hiedi and Steve is seeing the difference their care has made to the children who have stayed with them.
“Having a child who was previously withdrawn and wary tell me I’m his go to person if there is ever anything that is worrying him, is so precious to me. Providing a home where children feel secure and begin to trust you makes all the difference.
“Jason loves science, cars and engines, which is particularly advantageous as Steve is a diesel mechanic. The two of them spend ages talking all things welding, which is Jason’s current obsession. Steve brings home all sorts of information and they watch welding videos on You Tube – they’re two peas in a pod – plus, everybody’s happy as I get a rest from hearing about diesel engines,” laughs Hiedi.
Having a connection to Australia’s only canonised saint is a source of great pride for Heidi’s family, but she says it’s definitely not a prerequisite for being a foster carer. “Trust your instinct, if you know you can make a positive difference in a child’s life, just do it. You won’t be on your own, there’s a whole back up team behind you and you won’t need divine intervention, just a lot of patience and compassion.”
*Name changed to protect privacy