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Supporting kids in their care to blossom into their true selves

It’s an open door policy at Jess and Hayley’s home.

“If we have the space, we welcome any child in need of a safe home,” Hayley said.

Jess and Hayley, who live near Nowra, New South Wales, have been partners for eight years and foster carers for the last five years.

“Not having kids of our own, but with lots of love to give, we decided to look into the prospect of becoming foster carers. I have a background in early childhood education and know there are many kids who cannot live with their own families, so we were aware of the need for foster carers, we just weren’t sure how the process worked,” added Hayley.

Shortly after applying and going through accreditation, Hayley and Jessica were undertaking their therapeutic training when they were told that they would have a placement as soon as their training was successfully completed. One day later, an 18-month-old toddler arrived and stayed with them for three and a half months.

“It was a steep learning curve, but we loved it and the best thing is that the child was restored to kinship care with its siblings. We were proud to have played a positive part in the future of that family by providing space for kinship care to be established.”

Currently looking after four children, Jess and Hayley have twin teenage boys, a four-year-old girl and an older teenager who is transitioning into independent living. They also provide emergency and respite care when needed.

“Our policy is it doesn’t matter the age or gender, or even multiple sibling groups – if kids need love and care and we have the space, we’ll do it. That’s just how we are, ” laughed Hayley.

Seeing the positive changes in the kids who have lived in their home is the biggest reward for Hayley.

Often, when a child first meets you, they are guarded and wary, closed up like a bud. Seeing them slowly open up and blossom to become themselves is the absolute best.

– Hayley

“When I look back at the children who have been in our care – to see the growth in them individually and their personal progress - knowing you have played a part in that development is so rewarding. Our four-year-old came to us at two and was very sensory aware. She would only step on hard surfaces and didn’t like to touch lots of substances and fabrics. It fills us with such joy to see her happily rolling in the grass or playing in the mud and just being a carefree kid now.”

In Hayley’s experience, forming an emotional connection is key to supporting kids to be their true selves.

“The twins were 11 when they first came to live with us. They had been in multiple homes before coming to us, were withdrawn and reclusive, with difficulty forming attachments. For some reason, we made an emotional connection with them straight away. They were only with us for around six months when they noticeably became more relaxed and happy. It’s amazing how love and stability have boosted their confidence. We’re currently in the process of applying for permanent care with both the twins and four-year-old, so it’s a house of many forms and administration at the moment!”

Hayley and Jessica are strong advocates for foster care.

“Whenever we chat to people at the school gates or in a restaurant, which happened a few weeks ago when we were celebrating our anniversary, they often say that they’ve thought about foster care but are unsure about how to get involved. I tell them to go online and contact the agency who will talk you through the steps, assessment and training.”

Hayley adds that it is important to know your capabilities before you commit to foster care.

“There can be difficult times and sometimes it feels like you’re on an emotional roller coaster. The biggest challenge is reminding yourself that a lot of behaviours don’t necessarily reflect the child’s true thoughts. It’s a mechanism to protect themselves in circumstances where they feel vulnerable.

“Be aware of your limitations and your time and emotional capacity. Most important of all, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Your case worker understands that you need support and you have to be in right space to do your best for a vulnerable child.”

Hayley believes that foster care is a vital part of turning lives around.

“As a community, we all have a part to play to support vulnerable children and families. If you’ve got the love to give and the space to help, becoming a foster carer will be one of the most rewarding things you do and you’ll make a huge difference to a young person’s life.”