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.”