What makes a great foster carer and what you need to know
Join us in celebrating the ‘Value of Carers’ as they have been #CaringThroughCOVID19 this year.
Foster carers have done an incredible job caring for children and young people in Victoria. Fostering Connections is highlighting the wonderful work carers do to create stable and safe environments for children and young people in care.
Fostering Connections spoke with agencies across Victoria to hear from staff who work directly with children, young people, and foster carers to hear about the positive contributions carers have made.
Foster care agencies Anglicare Victoria, Mallee District Aboriginal Service (MDAS), Life Without Barriers (LWB), Mallee Family Care (MFC), Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA) shared their thoughts on what makes a great carer, how great carers shine, and what prospective carers need to know.
What Makes A Great Foster Carer
Agencies drew on personal experiences from working within their community to highlight the attributes of great foster carers, and these often came down to commitment, passion, and an open mind. We asked agencies what, in their experience, made for a great foster carer.
Tara from Anglicare Victoria says “Someone that is passionate about the needs of children and young people. Someone who is a team player and who genuinely cares about their wellbeing, family connections, identity and safety".
Tara spoke about the importance of relationship building with children and young people in care, saying a great carer is “someone that demonstrates patience and understands that relationship building for these kids takes time and requires strong role modelling"
This was supported by Glenn from MDAS. “A great carer is of any age, 21 upwards, someone who is passionate, understanding, reliable to the children, and loving.”
Josiah Browne from LWB pointed out that great carers understand their motivations for providing care, “First and foremost - knowing why they have gotten into care. I think knowing why they're doing this allows for that commitment to ripple throughout their care.” Josiah pointed out that this gives carers a base to get through tougher times. “Especially the difficult and challenging times... Gives them that anchor into everything else.”
“Humour and optimism are things that comes up and makes them a great carer. Their ability to look on the bright side. Caring is about being a role model... The carers have their own values, and they pass and role model what it is to be an adult with these positive values – humour, optimism, empathy, good listening skills,” added Josiah.
This self-awareness was supported by Tess from MFC, “The great carers I've come across have been really good communicators, super resilient, really warm, and have been super receptive to learning about the sector."
Owen from VACCA built on this further, noting the importance of carers helping to support and maintain connection to identity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people. He noted that carers are “committed to keeping our kids safe culturally and are involved in the community – the Aboriginal community in Victoria.”
Owen said that carers who recognise this connection not only maintained identity, but also helped support children and young people to return to their families. “They are people that recognise that these children need a hand now but are also working to reunify children with their family. They are passionate about caring for children.”
Examples of Great Foster Carers
Extraordinary carers are made in daily ordinary experiences – from supporting a child’s routine during a pandemic, to helping them remain connected to their family and culture. Victorian foster carers have shown incredible resilience and grace during this time period.
Tara from Anglicare Victoria feels that great carers are those who embrace learning. “Carers who are reflective, open to feedback, and who are keen to engage in further training opportunities, become the most insightful and valuable team members".
Glenn from MDAS noted one such example of a carer who put their life on hold to help a child be reunited with their family, “It was a feeling of achievement that someone in this day and age can do something like that. There’re still people out there that are prepared to give someone else more than they give for themselves.”
Glenn highlighted the value of a carer helping a child connect with country. “Instead of taking holidays they took the children to their upbringing area, showed them where they actually come from.”
“Carers aren't like other parents; they need to work within a care team and work with children that have trauma.” Josiah from LWB spoke about a carer he worked with adapted cooking into a learning experience for a child during Victoria’s lockdowns, “It's quite courageous of them to know what they're going into, knowing it's going to be difficult and still staying committed. Being adaptable to what the care team needs, and biological family contact. Adaptability is a great one - that’s managing transitions, biological family contact, schooling.”
From MFC, Tess highlighted a carer going above and beyond to create a supportive, therapeutic environment for 2 children, “She has been wonderfully therapeutic,” says Tess. “Absolutely rolled with the punches, she's been really supportive of the reunification environment, dealt with a lot of court adjournments and throughout all that has developed a positive relationship with the children's family, and maintained a level head with the trauma responses of the children, she's fantastic.”
Great carers are not in it for their own ego, says Owen from VACCA, “They are really humbled at the opportunity to care for children.” Owen goes on to point out that those who are great carers will know it is not always going to be perfect, especially those who “have a great sense of humour and can laugh at a lot of situations and laugh with workers when things aren't great, but also realise the enrichment that foster care will bring along with the challenges.”
So, you are interested in fostering... Here’s what we want you to know
For those who are considering fostering in the future, agencies had some excellent advice.
From Anglicare Victoria, Tara shared that foster carers are especially needed now, stating that “there are so many children needing a warm bed to sleep in at night and caring adults to help them feel safe. Every day we receive referrals for children and young people without a home, and at the end of the day when we retire from work and unwind on the couch, they're still waiting, without any idea of where they'll be for the night. Especially now, we need you”.
Come in and have a chat,” said Glenn from MDAS. “It costs nothing to have a chat, see how the system works, see if you'd be the right fit for foster care.”
Glenn pointed out that many in the community have misconceptions about foster care. “Some people seem to think they’d never be able to do it but its surprisingly the ones who say they can't that can.” He noted how dynamic and flexible care can be. “Foster care isn't about 7 days a week, 12 months of the year. We have different types of foster care. We need emergency and respite carers. We need those carers who can do that for us.”
At LWB, Josiah urged prospective carers to consider the benefit fostering will bring to their lives, “They will learn about themselves as much as they will learn about their children. They will find benefit from becoming a foster carer in their own lives as much as they will make an impact on a child's life. These children will teach you and give you experiences that you can't get anywhere else.”
“As foster care can seem, there are a world of supports to help them in their caring journey - supports for the kids and themselves,“ said Tess from MFC. “Carers are supported on the journey of making a difference in a child’s life, It's not something they’ll be by themselves in. The agency will make sure they are as supported as possible, and there will be someone to guide them the whole way through their journey as they choose.”
And lastly, Owen at VACCA had a message for the broader community. “We are here, and we are still working. We still need carers during COVID-19, the need has not dropped away. We have found creative ways to assess people and we are excited to hear from you.”
Owen pointed out that, although times are particularly difficult, foster care can be a great way to reconnect with and support the community. “The biggest thing is it's not necessarily all rainbows or easy times, but the enrichment and the positive times our carers realise... And get so much enjoyment seeing the positive and being part of the solution.” For carers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people, this can mean an opportunity to learn and grow.
“A lot of people get confused that Non-Aboriginal people can't care with VACCA,” said Owen. “It's just about being committed, excited, and learning about Aboriginal culture, to make it a celebrated part of everyday life.”
In addition to the amazing work highlighted above, to celebrate Foster Care Week 2020, Fostering Connections is
- Sharing the voices of young people who have been in care, and current foster carers to explore the ‘Value of Carers’.
- Hearing from the Minister of Child Protection, Luke Donnellan, on the amazing work Victorian carers have done to support children and young people in care during COVID-19.
- Foster Care 101: LIVE on Facebook – ‘All the questions you wanted to ask but hadn't had a chance” Monday 14 September at 12.30pm
- Download our #CaringThroughCOVID19 social media pack so that you can join the conversation on social media and help raise awareness about foster care.
- Share your experiences on social media with us by using #FosterCareWeek2020 #ValueofCarers & #CaringThroughCOVID19
As Victoria comes together this year to celebrate the Value of Carers, we ask for you to consider how foster carers can make a positive impact in a child or young person’s life.
In July 2020, we shared the Creativity and Commitment during COVID19 of Regional Agencies . This highlighted the incredible work that foster care agencies across regional and rural Victoria did to continue providing best practice care to support their foster carers and children and young people in care. This included goals of reunifying siblings, young people successfully exiting care during a pandemic, supporting education and remote learning, and ensuring that foster care recruitment continues smoothly despite restrictions. In 2020, foster carers are needed now more than ever.
If you are interested in getting involved with fostering, please enquire online or speak with a member from our team on 1800 013 088.
To see more Foster Care Week events being held across the state please visit the Foster Care Association Victoria (FCAV) website: www.fcav.org.au/event-listing/event/129-foster-care-week-2020
Life Without Barriers
Mallee District Aboriginal Service
Mallee Family Care
Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency
Written By: Natalia Nowak, Fostering Connections