When mother-of-three Kylie Jackson became a foster carer at the age of 23, it probably didn’t dawn on her she would care for hundreds of children over the next two and half decades. After 26 years, it’s difficult to keep track of the exact number, but she estimates around 200 children have been in her care over that time.
It was Kylie’s strong desire to care for children which first drew her to foster care. After training as a mothercraft nurse, she went on to work in youth services where she saw young parents who were struggling. She could see how much they needed help.
Kylie started her journey of foster caring on her own but has since been joined by her husband Gavin of 18 years. They’ve also brought up three children of their own in that time. Now all teenagers, their kids play an active part in caring for younger children who come to stay with them.
“When the phone rings, the kids often say things like ‘say you’ll take them Mum!’”
Over the years, Kylie has cared for children in short as well as long term placements, plus respite and what’s known as emergency care: when there is minimal notice before a child arrives. Sometimes she gets a call before going to bed and there’s a child on her doorstep before morning.
These days Kylie and Gavin mainly provide respite and emergency care. They have two children who come to them for regular respite, one of whom has been coming to them for two and a half years. Being able to provide this time off for full time carers is so important and the continuity of the placement ensures it’s a stable transition for the kids.
The type of placements Kylie and Gavin have had over the years has changed as their family has grown. Kylie points out it’s important for people considering foster care to understand they can choose what works for their own circumstances.
“Know you can say no. You have to choose what works for you. I often want to do more than what I can, but you have to work within restrictions,” she says.
Kylie says being a foster carer is enormously rewarding.
“It gives so much to your family. You’re not doing it for you, but you have to get something out of it. My kids get a lot out of it. They have empathy for others and for how other people live. They’ve grown up with foster care and I predict one day they will go on to become carers themselves.”
Over the years, Kylie has seen how providing a routine, a sense of normality and security can impact children who have not had that stability.
Sometimes it’s just the smallest of things. I remember one boy who came to me in prep. He was wearing shoes, but no socks and his school reader was covered in notes that said, ‘Not read’. He only stayed with me a short time but when he left had had clean socks and I’d taken the time to sit with him to do his reading.
Foster caring is not all easy though, and Kylie is honest about one of the biggest challenges: when children leave.
“Saying goodbye to children is hard, regardless of the length of time. But it’s not about you, it’s about the child. If you can give something to a child, then that’s more important than anything you feel.”
A strong support network is vital on tough days, whether it’s help with practical things like picking the kids up, or just being available to talk to. For Kylie this is a mix of friends and family, but also other foster carers. These are the people who understand her experiences better than anyone.
For anyone considering becoming a foster carer, Kylie says the journey is a rich one.
“You will get more out of it than you can ever anticipate, and you will give more than you probably ever thought you were capable of.”
If you’re interested in finding out how foster caring can fit into your life, we’d love to chat to you. Find out more here or contact our Foster Care Enquiry Line on 1300 791 677.