Rhonda, emergency and short term care

Rhonda, emergency and short term care

Ten years ago, Rhonda, 50, was gazing out into her backyard and thinking she was a lucky person. She had a job she loved, was raising two lovely children on her own and living in a comfortable home with a great backyard in Sydney’s south.

“At that moment, I was thinking how fortunate I was and how I would really like to give something back to the community,” she recalls.

Rhonda knew people who fostered children and, because she loves kids, thought that it may be something she’d like to do. But she wondered if she’d have the time. A full-time primary school teacher and single parent, Rhonda also had an active social life and a number of hobbies. Could fostering really fit into this busy person’s lifestyle?

“Some agencies I approached said they’d prefer someone to be at home full time with the foster kids. But I wasn’t about to give up my wonderful job. I couldn’t afford to let it go. When I approached Community Services about fostering they said, “Yes, we can accommodate someone like you and we’d love it if you would volunteer for us. They told me emergency care and short-term care could lend itself to my circumstances.”

Along with her son, 18, and daughter, 21, Rhonda has provided a friendly home to countless children including babies (in the earlier days), primary school children and teenagers who needed a place to stay on an emergency basis (a night or two) or longer.

She said fostering has fitted well into her busy lifestyle. “When there’s an emergency case, somebody will call me at four or five o’clock in the afternoon to see if I can take a child that night. I can’t take the middle of the night phone calls because of my job. Late afternoons are fine. They understand if I have something on during the evenings and have to say no. They really work around my life.”

Rhonda says she doesn’t take in babies anymore because she has to stay alert for her teaching job. “But that’s fine. There are lots of people who want to look after babies. I wish more people would think about taking in the older children.”

Rhonda keeps a ready supply of clothes and toiletries on hand for the children who show up on her doorstep.

“You learn by experience, that if they have to leave home suddenly, they’re probably not bringing anything with them. If I don’t have what is needed, I nick down to the shops to purchase the basics.”

By and large, the kids she has taken in for a night or two have been great. “But you have to be realistic. I’m there to give them support, feed them and keep them safe in a risk-free environment for the night. I don’t expect the children to thank me, although many do. It’s good for them to know what a ‘normal’ home environment is like.”

Rhonda says her children have enjoyed having foster children in the home. “I think it has allowed my children to develop empathy and realise how lucky they are.”

Rhonda notes that her agency’s staff are not only friendly and approachable, but they provide foster carers with ongoing support and advice.

“Since first becoming a foster carer, there have been many positive changes that have further supported foster carers. These include various workshops which are held all over Sydney both during the day and in the evening. After the initial training, carers can choose when and which ones they would be interested in attending. Those workshops are invaluable and interesting, whether you are an emergency, short or long-term carer.”

She believes fostering has made her life richer. “As a foster carer, you don’t have to sacrifice your life. You can enhance it. I’m living proof of that.”

Summa – long-term Aboriginal carer

Summa – long-term Aboriginal carer

Summa has only one sister but while she was growing up in Armidale, NSW there were always plenty of other kids around the house.

“That’s because my mother had an open-door policy of welcoming our cousins and friends to stay for long periods of time,” recalls Summa, who today lives in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs.

Now 26 and a single parent with one daughter, Summa realised she wanted to carry on her mother’s open-door policy and raise children other than her own.

At one point, she saw an advertisement in The Koori Mail for more Aboriginal foster carers and this spurred her to train as a foster carer.

Joining her at the training sessions was her mother, now living in Sydney as well, who wanted to use her vast child-rearing experience to benefit the wider Aboriginal community.

“We desperately need more Aboriginal foster carers to help our kids develop a sense of belonging and acceptance. They can get love and stability elsewhere, of course, but I’d love to see more Aboriginal carers come on board for these kids to provide loving homes and a connection to their culture,” says Summa, who is Anaiwan, the traditional owners of the NSW Northern Tablelands.

In 2009, Summa welcomed a three-year-old Aboriginal foster daughter into her home for a long-term placement. She took a year off work to devote herself to the children and to make sure the transition went smoothly.

“I didn’t want to rush it.” The transition has gone well and the little girl is now thriving, talkative and very fond of ‘mum’ and ‘sissy.’

There is a sizable Aboriginal community in the suburb where Summa lives and she is now busy spreading the word amongst the community about the urgent need for Koori foster carers.…

Rachid and Hauneida – carers for culturally matched children

Rachid and Hauneida – carers for culturally matched children

It’s Friday afternoon and Hauneida is preparing a special feast for Saturday lunch. She recites a litany of Lebanese foods that will grace the table – hummus, laban (home-made yogurt), mezze (a variety of hot and cold little dishes), kibbeh (a national lamb dish that resembles pate), chicken with rice, pine nuts and sultanas, honey-soaked baklava and a big cake to boot. For this is no ordinary meal, but a special event that must be marked: the first birthday party ever for her foster son, Bashir,* turning eight.

“Imagine. He has never had a party before. I think that is so sad. So I am making this day very special for him,” says the 47-year-old foster carer.

Hauneida, of South-West Sydney, has always loved kids and worked for 20 years in the day care industry. She and her husband Rachid have a 14-year-old daughter, Miriam. Hauneida couldn’t have any more children afterwards and she and Rachid decided to foster to extend their family and help their local community.

“I was nervous after I did the training and waiting for that first phone call. I wondered if I could actually foster and be any good at it,” recalls Hauneida.

The call wasn’t long in coming. She provided short-term care for a three-week-old baby who later went to live with his grandparents, and then she was given three lively and gorgeous Lebanese siblings: two boys aged 12 (Fadi)* and eight (Bashir)* and their sister, Jamila,* 13. Two of the children have special needs.

The children had been neglected and only attended school sporadically before coming to Hauneida and Rachid. The boys were rude in the beginning; Jamila was withdrawn. They had to be constantly told to shower, get dressed or to brush their teeth.

“It was like having three newborns in the house. I had never looked after boys before and these two were a handful. I did find it hard in the beginning, but we are getting there. The boys are learning to respect boundaries and Jamila is also getting more confident,” says Hauneida.

“Our focus is to give them lots of love and a good education.”

The rewards are small, but important. “I love seeing them settle in bed at night, looking happy. They know they are being looked after, with lots of cuddles, a talk, a comfortable bed, hot meals and a story at bedtime. I love helping them with their homework and seeing them smile or laugh. That’s my reward,” she says.

She finds a lot of praise works wonders for the foster children. “They’ve never had it before and it’s a wonderful confidence builder.”

There are many challenging days with the children, but Hauneida starts each day with an optimistic outlook. “Even if they have had to be disciplined for being naughty and sent to bed early, I tell them I love them. I don’t carry on.”

She has been busy teaching the children about their Lebanese culture. “When there are Lebanese festivals happening, we go to them. We recently went to a Lebanese wedding and Jamila asked a lot of questions about it. She had never been to a wedding before so it was an eye-opener for her.”

The family also observes feasting and fasting at Ramadan and once a week the children are given religious instruction into the Muslim faith.

As for their own daughter, Hauneida admits she didn’t really enjoy having the children around at first.

“She was disappointed that we didn’t get a baby to look after which is what we all thought we might get,” says Hauneida candidly. “She had to make her point about it which I respect. But she has grown fond of the children and now she’s like a mother hen with them. It’s working out for her, for all of us.”

And with that, she heads back into the kitchen to make more mezze for Bashir’s birthday feast.…

Lynn and John – respite and short-term carers

Lynn and John – respite and short-term carers

Lynn and John can’t imagine life without a house filled with children.

After raising their own two children, the South Sydney couple dipped their toes into the foster care realm when they first started volunteering nine years ago for Aunties & Uncles, a mentoring organisation that gives children an extended, stable family environment. Once a month, a little boy, who didn’t have many relations, would come to stay with them.

“His mother wanted him to experience an extended family scenario. We enjoyed the experience so much, we decided to look at other ways we could help children,” explains Lynn.

From this positive experience, the couple decided four years ago to become foster carers. In that time, they have provided emergency, respite and short-term care to 13 children and currently care for two sisters, aged four and seven, on a short-term basis.

“We love having children around the place,” says John. “There’s no doubt it keeps us young.”

Now in their late 50s, the couple say they have opted to provide mainly crisis and short-term foster care because those types of care fit best around their working lives. Lynn works two days a week as a nursing sister and didn’t want to give up her beloved job.

“You have to choose the agency that works for you when it comes to fostering because some of them don’t want you to work outside the home,” she says.

The couple have nurtured newborns to teenagers and say while there have been challenges, the hardest thing is saying goodbye when it is time for the children to go.

“You get attached. We nearly died the first time because we missed them so much. I don’t think it gets easier,” says Lynn.

“But you remind yourself you’ve helped to give them a good start and you hope they remember a good way to live. If you can give them good memories, that’s a fantastic thing. And you find you get to keep in touch with many of the children,” she adds.

Both Lynn and John say it is crucial that more foster carers come on board in the next few years.

“I wish we’d started fostering when we were younger,” says John.

“We’re in our 50s now and eventually we will have to slow down on the fostering front. We’ve heard there are not as many carers as before. It would be great to see other people take up the baton because the need for foster care is not going away. We are encouraging other people to consider taking foster care on,” says John.…