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Making it work – the unsung heroes of Covid-19

Taking everything in your stride is one of the key attributes of a foster carer and Kerry Tanis is the embodiment of resilience, compassion and perseverance.

“When COVID-19 restrictions first started, I had a call about a teenager who needed somewhere safe to stay and just after she left, I was contacted about another young girl. I was happy to have them while everything could be sorted for their future care,” said Kerry.

Busy enough parenting her own three children, aged 13, 12 and 10, on her own after her partner Matt passed away three years ago, Kerry also works part-time in a Post Office. But she still finds time to help vulnerable children and young people who need a safe place to stay.

Kerry, from Colac, in Victoria has been a foster carer for five and a half years.

“It was Matt’s idea that we look into becoming foster carers. He understood what it was like to move around a lot as his family life had been unstable and when he was young he had felt insecure and worried about where he was going to live.

“We talked about what would be involved and when I found out more about foster care, I realised it was something we could do. Matt was afraid that his childhood experiences of instability would rule him out as a carer, but when we spoke to MacKillop, they reassured him that his willingness to ensure kids who couldn’t live with their own families would have a safe place to stay was what mattered most.

“We became respite, emergency and short-term carers and when he tragically passed away, I decided that I’d like to keep on doing what I could to help,” Kerry added.

Both girls Kerry looked after during COVID -19 restrictions had complex issues, one with significant trauma history and the other was on a pathway to residential care if she had not received the emergency placement with Kerry and her family.

“The best part of being a foster carer is knowing that you’ve made a positive difference, that you’ve been there at a time when families need support. Often, people just need options and to see how things can be done differently. Time apart helps everyone take a step back and come up with new solutions.

“One of the young girls who stayed with us for a few weeks is now back with her father and I am proud to have played a part in helping their relationship find a way to work,” said Kerry.

“Of course, there can be challenges,” Kerry added, “Like most parents and with my own kids, boundaries around use of technology is the main culprit. To help get a good sleep, I ask that everyone in the house leaves their device in the study to charge overnight. This can be a new concept for some young people and we’ve had some interesting discussions around why it’s not a good idea to be on your mobile all night!”

Kerry remains unphased about juggling the demands of foster care with parenting her own kids and holding down a job.

“I might never have been a foster carer if Matt had not urged me to think about it. Now it’s a way of life for us and my kids have also learned such a lot about the challenges other kids face, we’ve all grown so much from this experience and the bonus is we are helping other families too.”