In their corner – Foster carer Kim maintains connections and continues to advocate for many of the 30 children who have lived with her over the last 20 years.
During her 20 years as a foster carer, Kim Burrows has seen a lot of changes in the sector. From Shellharbour, outside Wollongong, NSW, Kim and her husband Steven, who sadly passed away suddenly last year, have looked after almost 30 children, helping those kids navigate ups and downs and having a lot of fun along the way.
“I’m not sure we knew what we were getting into back in the late 1990s, when we took that first step to becoming foster carers, but I’m so glad we did. It has been a challenge at times, but when I look back, foster care has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve done, and I feel Steven would have said the same,” said Kim.
Kim and Steven were looking forward to starting a family when they got married, but had difficulties having children of their own. When they found out about the large number of children who needed foster care, they talked about it and felt it was something they would be able to do.
“We, like many people, didn’t realise there was a need for foster care in our own local area. Once we knew there were vulnerable children who needed safe and loving homes, we looked into it further and shortly after becoming foster carers, brothers Charlie* and Liam* come to stay. Charlie was 4 and Liam was only seven weeks old! After two and a half years we were very happy to add to our family and at the age of one, Isabel*, joined the family. They are 21, 17 & 15 now and remain connected as a family today as well as maintaining some connection to their birth families.”
Liam* and Isabel* have both been diagnosed with autism and have had some behavioural and learning issues over the years. Kim has been a strong advocate for all her children and has just become the legal guardian for Liam* making sure that after he turns 18 she is still able to advocate for him, safeguarding his adult years.
Kim, who was one of the recipients of MacKillop’s Catherine McAuley Awards for excellence by a foster carer this year, has maintained contact with other children who were in foster care with her and Steven, some of whom were also on the autism spectrum. Kim attends medical appointments, drops in for dinner and keeps a watchful eye on how they’re tracking. Despite her own grief, Kim has supported many of these young people through their loss and sadness.
“It’s been very difficult for all of us. Steven was a father figure to many of the kids who lived with us and we’ve all struggled with our emotions. We’ve looked after four-year-old Maddie* since she was one week old and losing Steven had a profound effect on her
“I’ve taken Maddie to see a child psychologist who specialises in grief counselling in order to help her gain some understanding of what happened and how to manage the signs of grief she is showing. She is so young but can tell me what happened that night as she was with me. We help each other through this awful time. The psychologist tells us to keep talking and that’s what we do,” added Kim.
Kim has been a strong support to other foster carers over the years, has sat on advisory groups, organised support groups, put together newsletters and is currently MacKillop’s representative on the Carer Representative Group in Wollongong.
“I strongly believe in listening to the voice of carers as we know the children best. It’s extremely important for carers, the Department and agencies to find ways to work together in order to reach the best outcomes for children in care.
It can be frustrating for carers when we deal with lots of changes. You build up a good rapport with a case worker and then they move on. It’s unsettling for us and can be difficult for children on the autism spectrum who don’t like interacting with new people.
“Our current case worker Tim is amazing and it’s great to feel like you are being listened to and that there’s someone there to support you. We talk through ideas and strategies when having a difficult time with challenging behaviours, and that makes a big difference,” added Kim.
“Seeing the transformation you’ve made to a child’s life makes it all worthwhile. You see them relax when they begin to feel safe and that’s one of the best parts of being a foster carer.
“Do your research, attend lots of information and training sessions, talk to other foster carers, but if you know you can provide a safe and nurturing home for kids who need it, then take that first step, it’s the best thing you’ll do,” added Kim.
*Names changed to protect identity