FOSTER and Kinship Week acknowledges the impact that carers make to the community and a chance for us to recognise the work they do, often as “unsung heroes”, says Katie Martin, regional manager carers & contact at ACT Together.
During Foster and Kinship Care Week, which runs from September 13-19, ACT Together, a Barnardos Australia-led consortium of agencies created to provide services for children and young people in out-of-home care in the ACT, is calling on more people to consider “stepping up” and becoming a foster carer.
“Foster carers make life-long impacts on children and young people who need our support,” Katie says.
There is always a need for more foster carers, with more than 700 children presently in care in the ACT.
“A recent report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reveals that one in 32 Australian children aged 0-17 received child protection services in 2019-20. That’s one child in every classroom,” says Katie.
There are different types of care that people can provide, from weekend respite care once a month to becoming a long-term “forever” family.
“The most common question people ask me is: ‘Where is the need?’ We need all types of carers,” she says.
“Last year 35 care families registered with us. We were able to place children with all of them, except for two of them, who were unavailable for personal reasons.”
Katie says that foster carers can often become the “village” that children and their families need to get back on track.
Ideally, they want to be able to safely return every child back with their birth parents or family and foster carers play a very important role in becoming a safe haven for children to enable restoration to happen.
“This can be bittersweet for foster carers, but also it’s amazing that they can make such a positive impact even for a short time,” says Katie.
“In other instances, the courts may determine that restoration is not possible, and foster carers become that ‘forever family’.”
Treena Balmain has been foster caring for 35 years. She and her late husband, Andrew, have cared for more than 200 children in numerous types of care arrangements.
With three children (and now grandchildren) of their own, Treena says they decided to register to provide weekend respite care when her eldest son had gone to boarding school.
“I also agreed to help with crisis care. The next day, I received a call asking us to have four small children from one family who needed immediate care for six weeks. They were sadly very neglected,” she says.
“At the end of the time with us, the children were starting to smile, laugh and give us hugs. I could see the healing starting for them and so I decided to keep going on with fostering more children.”
Treena says that many of the children she cared for were able to go back to their birth families, but others became part of hers.
One member of Treena’s family is Iulian. Now, aged in his twenties, Iulian went into foster care at 14 years old. He came to live with Treena and Andrew firstly for weekend respite care, which became long-term care when he was 16 years old and lasted into his adulthood.
“Iulian had a lot of issues and came from a challenging background,” Treena recalls. She says it took a lot of patience but every weekend they had Iulian, they saw a tiny glimmer that he was changing.
“Iulian blossomed over time. He worked hard to develop closeness and he is the most loyal, loving, giving and positive young man today,” she says.
“I used to worry he would end up in jail, but he is now working full time and has the most beautiful qualities.”
Iulian says: “The kindness that they showed me was shocking to me because nothing had happened like that before, and if that didn’t happen, I wouldn’t be here, really.
“I was in a car crash… but Andrew put his hand up to look after me even though they knew how I was. Andrew said: ‘Let’s give it a go’. Treena and Andrew are godsends. If it wasn’t for them I would have gone downhill again.”
Treena says of her long journey as a foster carer: “I learnt that no matter how long you have the children under your care, you are showing them a different path – one of kindness, care and love. They can pick up on your traits and you can make that difference in their future,” she says.
If you want to step up to foster care, call 1300 WEFOSTER or visit acttogether.org.au
Who can be trusted?
In a world of spin and confusion, there’s never been a more important time to support independent journalism in Canberra.
If you trust our work online and want to enforce the power of independent voices, I invite you to make a small contribution.
Every dollar of support is invested back into our journalism to help keep citynews.com.au strong and free.
Ian Meikle, editor