The new Census data released this year confirmed that Australia continues to become more and more multicultural, and our resultant cultural diversity is enormously rich. As the Huffington Post paraphrased it:

Australia’s population has grown by almost two million in the last five years. Our incomes are up, there are more same sex couples, more migrants and more people of diverse backgrounds, and our population is getting older.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics confirmed that Australians now speak more than 300 languages in our homes, follow over 100 religions, have more than 300 different ancestries, and were born in nearly 200 countries. For the first time, there are more Australians of Chinese and Indian birth than of English birth, and Mandarin, Cantonese and Arabic are the languages (other than English) spoken most commonly at home. In 2016, Sydney had the highest overseas-born population of all Australian capital cities.

This is, of course, now also apparent in the cultural identities of the children & young people entering foster care. This cultural diversity in the children entering foster care needs to be likewise reflected in the people offering to provide it. Best practice is for any child entering foster care to be placed with carers who share the same cultural identity and who speak the same first language as the child. This can go some way to reducing the trauma to the child of being placed with people who are often strangers. Good carers will do what they can to meet the cultural needs of any child placed into their care, but it follows that sharing a common culture is better.

The need to attract foster carers from different cultural backgrounds to meet this growing diversity in out of home care has, happily, been noticed in the media. SBS recently published a guide to becoming a foster carer in Australia (which is available in audio version in different languages), in which they interviewed Ghassan from SSI, a specialist multicultural foster care Agency. He stated “We need carers from many backgrounds, from many cultures to meet the needs of different children.” SBS also spoke to Samar, a Muslim foster carer (featured in this popular Fostering NSW video), who said that taking in children from the same background was in some ways just easier: “Whether it’s eating halal food or attending the mosque, we don’t have to get out of our way to provide something different for the children.”

TVB (Australia) also recently recorded the video below, which features Ghassan, Marist180 foster carer Jenny, and Tamena from Creating Links, another multicultural foster care Agency. The video is in Cantonese, so it won’t work for everyone (or you can download their app to watch it in Mandarin), but feature stories like this one help to reach parts of the population who may not otherwise hear the invitation to consider foster care.

What else can be done to reach diverse Australian communities to share the crucial message that more people need to consider foster care? The future of some of our country’s most vulnerable children rests on our ability to do so.

Have you noticed that the depiction of foster care in mainstream media such as TV, movies and books, often paints it as a terrible, abusive situation that must be escaped for the child to find peace & happiness? As a foster carer, I find this frustrating, to say the least! I love to read fiction, so I was keen – but wary – when a friend told me that there was the depiction of a couple who decide to become foster carers in Australian author Liane Moriarty’s latest novel Truly, Madly, Guilty. Warning: spoilers ahead!

I had read a couple of Moriarty’s other novels, and really enjoyed them. She is an insightful writer who combines spot-on observations about Australian domestic life with dark and suspenseful plots. She is also one of only a handful of Australian authors who have reached world-wide acclaim & sold many millions of books with one even recently being adapted as a TV mini-series, despite her being pigeon-holed as just an author of “Women’s Literature” who writes about “Domestic Life.” Moriarty’s response to this is to state:

“We always underestimate each other. But there are always the most incredible lives going on behind the scenes. You only have to walk behind one door and you find a story to tell. That’s what I’m interested in.”

I was surprised to discover, as I researched her, that Moriarty grew up in a family that provided foster care. Moriarty’s mum, Diane, after having six of her own children, continued caring for babies. Once her youngest child turned five, Diane took in foster kids awaiting adoption. She looked after some for just a few days while others would stay for many months. She cared for more than 40 kids and there was always a baby in the house, each one with a “story of woe.” The Moriarty kids were raised in a safe, ­loving environment but they were acutely aware that others weren’t so fortunate.

This has clearly informed Moriarty’s writing and insight into the world. As a foster carer you see how fostering as a family opens the eyes of your own biological kids, and helps them see that life is not great for every child, but that there is always something you can do to help make the world a better place. This is the conclusion couple Erika and Oliver come to at the very end of Truly Madly Guilty.

The novel does not actually cover the experience of foster care itself, but rather Erika & Oliver’s decision in the face of infertility to look beyond biology, and even beyond babies:

“Everybody wants the babies,” said Oliver …”the cute babies. But what they really need is foster parents for the older kids. The angry ones. The broken ones.”

This had me cheering! No one wants to pretend providing foster care is a walk in the park, or that the kids entering care are not nearly always suffering some type of trauma. They are not all angelic bubbas with twinkling eyes (although they can be): they are more often children up to 17 years old dealing with the type of terrible experience most of us could hardly imagine, and this at the hands of the people who should have been loving and protecting them most.

Moriarty does not shy away from this reality, with Erika asking: “According to this article, it’s going to be terrible.”

“That’s what it says,” agreed Oliver. “Traumatic. Stressful. Awful. We might fall in love with a kid who ends up going back to a biological parent. We might have a kid with terrible behavioural issues. We might find our relationship is tested in ways we could never imagine.”

But as they consider the commitment and the cost, Erika and Oliver conclude beautifully:

“Or it might be great.”

“Yeah,” said Oliver. He smiled. “I think it might be great.”

 

Yes, yes it just might.