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.

Lily* was 17 months old when she came to live with CareSouth foster carers Carolyn and Ian. The Shellharbour couple became foster carers with a view to adopt and the future they dreamed of for Lily was one of weekend bike rides and friends’ birthday parties. But, as Lily was diagnosed as having a global delay, they first had to help her reach key milestones like walking and talking.

The couple also had to teach Lily how to hug.

“When she came to us she didn’t know how to connect,” said Carolyn. “You could pick her up and she would just leave her arms hanging.”

Carolyn and Ian spent countless hours showing Lily how to wrap her arms around their necks and squeeze tight. The family called it a ‘koala’. Now at eight years old, Lily still asks for a koala each morning.

“I have to sit on a chair now to give her a koala because she’s just too heavy,” laughed Carolyn.

Once Lily had learned how to hug, Carolyn and Ian set out to teach her how to walk and within a month she was off and running.

Once Lily had learned how to hug, Carolyn and Ian set out to teach her how to walk and within a month she was off and running.

“My husband and I used to sit on the kitchen floor at arm’s length from each other and pass her between us so she could get the idea that she could stand up and do this. It was like role modelling.”

Lily has now come full circle and with the help of the couple, has even mastered riding a bike without training wheels. Carolyn acknowledges it has been a long road from those first toddling steps to seeing Lily flying around the footpaths on her bike.

“It’s about giving her the opportunities in her own time, when she’s ready to learn. Because of the experience she came from as a baby she would probably be eight months behind other children her age, and that’s on average with most things,” explained Carolyn.

Carolyn, who has worked in the child protection sector and now has a career in early childhood education, is well aware of the number of children out there who need a loving home.

Ian had raised two children from a previous relationship when he and Carolyn met and married. They had always hoped there would be more children in their lives but “left their run a bit late”. Foster care was a way to fulfil that dream.

“Both of us are community minded and we wanted to make a difference. We started off doing respite care for a couple of sibling groups, it was a way for us to dip our finger in the water and try it out for a weekend. We could see the difference it made to these children’s lives and we wanted to do that long term,” said Carolyn.

“I said to Ian if there is a child who needs us, they will find us. And then the phone call came. The day we met her it was just an amazing, amazing thing. I can’t find a word to describe the feeling. You know when you just know you’re in the right place at the right time,” said Carolyn. “Well she just looked at us and that was it.”

“Somewhere everybody can make a difference. It’s about sitting down with your family and asking ‘what could we do?’ It’s about being willing to give and willing to learn, because it’s sure taught us a lot.”

*Not her real name