Meryl's story fostering children with a disability for 16 years
Meryl and her husband Philip always knew they wanted to foster children when their own children were older, but it was her experiences of disability within her own family that saw Meryl put her hand up to foster children with disabilities too.
Foster carers are needed across Victoria to care for children with disabilities. Whilst such care can be a big commitment, it is an incredibly rewarding journey.
When Meryl was growing up, her parents fostered pre-adopt babies and so she was used to having lots of children coming through the house.
“When I was young, my parents were foster carers and so we always had a regular run of young babies coming through our house which was great.”
It was this experience that led Meryl to become a mothercraft nurse, helping parents navigate parenthood for the first time. Meryl’s brother had an intellectual disability and her now adult daughter also has a disability, so she felt well equipped to foster children with a disability and wanted to give back.
“We have a daughter of our own who has a disability and uses a wheelchair, and my brother also has an intellectual disability. My daughter has gone on to play national wheelchair basketball and has become a social worker as well.”
Since becoming a foster carer 16 years ago with Anglicare Victoria, Meryl, her husband and their 4 children have fostered 100+ children. Many of those placements being either emergency, respite - which can be one weekend a month to give full-time foster carers a break, or short-term placements of up to 18 months.
“There are limited people who are willing to take that step, so we felt we should do it. It’s so rewarding seeing the difference you can make. Without foster carers putting their hands up, these children would end up in group homes or hospital.”
Together Meryl and her husband have fostered children with a range of disabilities including children with autism, Cerebral Palsy, children with vision/hearing impairments, and some children who required tube feeding for a period of time. Meryl says you don’t need to be an expert to foster, as you are surrounded by support and opportunities to learn.
“Fostering is a real team effort and it’s great to be part of that team. Doctors, speech therapists, nurses, birth parents and the foster care agency all make up that team and work together with you to get the best outcome for that child.”
“There is always someone on the end of the phone you can call. Having that team around you makes all the difference. No one knows everything and there is always something new we can learn.”
Meryl says that while some of the children who have come into her care have had very complex needs, there is lots of ongoing training and support for foster carers.
“We have received lots of ongoing training as carers of children with disabilities. Some of the training we have had includes Makaton sign language and AUSLAN as well as skills to manage autism, and trauma which manifests in many ways.”
“If you need your home modified to support a child’s disability, that is something you will get help with. There are all sorts of support available.”
Meryl has some final words of advice for anyone thinking about becoming a foster carer.
“You don’t have to be a superhero or be a perfect parent yourself. You don't have to be a typical ‘nuclear family’; you just need to care and be prepared to ask for help when you need it.”
Interested in becoming a foster carer?
Foster carers are needed across Victoria to provide safe and stable homes for children who cannot live with their family. If you are interested in giving fostering a go, give us a call on 1800 013 088 or enquire online to learn more.