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Volunteer mentor support for young people in foster care

As if working through the pandemic as a nurse wasn’t keeping her busy enough, Kate Sloan from Killarney in southwest Victoria, started as a volunteer mentor for MacKillop Family Services in 2019.

Kate, whose own children are now grown up, saw that MacKillop was looking for volunteer mentors in the area, and thought this could be a way to give back to the community and find out more about foster care, something she had thought about for a while.

I’ve toyed with the idea of foster care since my own children left home, but I know it’s a huge commitment. I thought dipping my toe in as a mentor would be a great way to see if it’s something I would be suited to.

– Kate

Kate started to meet up with 14-year-old Rosie* who has spent most of her life in foster care.

“It was difficult to establish a routine for catch ups during the pandemic,” Kate said. “As I am in nursing, I had to be very careful and Rosie’s foster carers were understandably protective. It took us a while to meet up in person but once we got together, it’s gone from strength to strength.

“Rosie is a great kid and she is very open. I was worried that I’d find it difficult to connect with a teenager, but she has been wonderful. We mostly go for lunch and I tease her as she likes to go to the same place and have the same dish. We are planning to branch out and try different types of cuisine over the next few months, now that everything is opening up again.”

MacKillop’s Michael Hoffman, who worked with Area Manager Cameron Burgess to set up the volunteer mentor program in 2019, says they were astounded by the response to the call out for volunteers.

“There is a huge appetite within the Wimmera South West community to give for no reward. We had almost 50 enquiries and we currently have 10 people making a huge difference to children and young peoples’ lives as mentors.

“We recently had an event for our local volunteers, foster carers and kids where an 11-year-old boy came bounding up to me looking for his mentor. He wanted to have another footy kickabout as they spent their last meeting out on the football field,” Michael adds.

One of the most important roles for volunteer mentors is that they become another trusted adult in the lives of vulnerable children who may have experienced disappointment in their past.

“The old saying ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ sums up our volunteer mentor program,” Michael says.

The mentors inspire us as well as the young people and we’ve heard from our foster carers that the kids really benefit from knowing that there is someone else out there who really cares for their welfare and wants the best for them.

– Michael

For Kate, being a mentor and part of a support system to help a young woman to find her way has been an uplifting experience.

“I’ve really enjoyed being part of the mentor program. Working with MacKillop staff and getting to know Rosie and her foster carers has been wonderful. In time I will look into foster care but for now, this is a great way to be a positive influence in a young person’s life.”

*Name changed to protect privacy