Hearts of gold
Did you know there are currently 1300 children in foster care in the Moreton Bay and Sunshine Coast regions? We chat with one local couple who has welcomed several children into their family as their own, and in the process changed their lives for the better forever.
Ten-month-old Chloe* smiles up at her foster dad John*, her chubby little hand gently touching his face as she drinks her bottle. Safe and happy in his arms, she is oblivious to the turbulent start to her life.
It’s a similar story for two-year-old Jack*, who was just a couple of months old when he came into the care of John and his wife Helen* and has since become as much a part of their close-knit family as the couple’s own two children Liam*, 15 and Georgia*,13.
A little ball of energy, Jack runs into the room calling out for his ‘mum’ as he jumps onto Helen’s knee and wraps his arms tightly around her neck.
They look like any other family unit, but there is something very special about the unique bond they share.
John and Helen first opened their hearts and their home to foster children through IFYS in 2011 and have been part of many success stories by helping families through their toughest times to ultimately see them reconnected with their biological children.
“Helen is a paediatric nurse and she has seen a lot over the years,” says John. “We thought about being foster parents for a long time but just having the time to put into it was the hard part. I was a commercial fisherman and we had young children at the time, so it wasn’t really an option. We believe these young children need the extra time spent with them, so at least one person needs to be at home full time.”
We have had some beautiful children long-term and we have loved all of them. You have to remember they could go back to their family at any time though; that’s the hardest part.”
It was only when John sustained a back injury at work that required a lengthy period of recovery at home that the couple decided to jump in the deep end and follow their dream of providing children in need with a safe and nurturing environment.
And given the unwavering commitment the couple put into making sure their foster children feel completely at home, they couldn’t be more suited for the role. In fact, they have recently renovated their home to include a spacious family room and nursery to accommodate their growing family.
“I don’t know how you could do this half-heartedly,” says John, who now runs a business from home. “We become so attached to these kids. You have to be fully committed – we give it 110 per cent.”
John and Helen vividly recall the first time they became foster parents to baby Rose*, who was in their care for eight months before being successfully reunited with her family.
“She was a little doll,” says Helen. “It broke our hearts to let her go and I will admit we did struggle the first time we had to go through that. But being a nurse, it was a little easier for me I guess, as I see children come into the hospital, get better and go home, and that’s the way I try to look at it with foster kids.”
So what does it take to become a foster parent?
“It involves a nine-month course,” says Helen. “IFYS does a fantastic job in ensuring the right fit. There are lots of in depth questions that require you to really think about your suitability. Your home has to be deemed safe and secure, there are visits from social workers and police checks. They need to make sure these children are being well placed.”
“It’s also very much a family decision, because it affects everyone in the family,” says John.
“We have always involved the kids, which is a good experience for them and opens their eyes. They are such a big part of the little kids’ lives. They help change nappies, feed them – they do so much.”
Of course, just like any other family, they have their squabbles too!
“The challenge is balancing the time between your own children and the foster children and keeping everyone on an even keel. When it does get stressful, it’s just remembering we are a family and thinking, ‘Okay, well we are all stressed but we all need to think about the little ones, it’s about them too’. Sometimes the big two need time out with their friends away from the babies, and that’s okay. They always come back happy and refreshed.”
Every case is different of course and the children can be in foster care long or short term. While Jack has been with the family since birth and looks like he will remain with them long-term, Chloe is likely to reunite with her parents in the near future.
“In Jack’s case, he doesn’t see a lot of his mum, but we have a strong relationship with her and there is a photo of her in his room. I guess he is just too little to understand. He sees me as Mum because we are all he has known. We have been his only source of stability,” says Helen. “We want to see him reunited with his mother but we just want him to be happy.
“The challenge is balancing the time between your own children and the foster children and keeping everyone on an even keel.”
“Chloe’s parents are lovely people, they know she is being well cared for and they see her a couple of times a week. I think they are very appreciative.”
Ultimately, the goal is to reconnect these children with their biological families and according to John, it’s something foster parents need to always keep in the back of their minds.
“As long as it’s safe, that’s the goal,” says John. “I would like to think that in our situation we have done a lot to help that process. We have had some beautiful children long-term and we have loved all of them. You have to remember they could go back to their family at any time though; that’s the hardest part and if you don’t think you can let go, then that is something you need to consider.
“Having said that, there are some children we have fostered long term who have been reunited with their families who we still see on a regular basis, which is a bit unique and very special.”
Although the foster care journey may be a rollercoaster ride of emotions at times, according to John and Helen, the rewards far outweigh the challenges.
“It’s the little things, like in the morning when Jack comes in for cuddles, when Chloe is having her first bottle for the day and looks up at you with that big smile or when I drive in from work and Jack runs out so happy to see me – the unconditional love they have is so rewarding,” says Helen.
“Those are the times that make it all worthwhile and we wouldn’t change it for anything.”
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the family and children.
To find out more about Foster and kinship carers please contact the IFYS team on 5438 3000 or via the website at fostercare.com.au