2012 NSW Mother of the Year Caroline Fowles is one of those women you can't help but ask, in fact insist to know, how do you do it all? Not to mention...be happy, polite, patient, funny, incessantly humble and, well...normal? With an impressive resumé as a mother of five (with husband Craig, she cares for three biological and two foster children), Caroline is also a wife, part-time employee and passionate community member who recently spent 18 months with her family in Russia, volunteering in orphanages.
On the day I met Caroline, the Newcastle Mum was at home caring for two sick children while her other children were participating in an immersion experience with a local Indigenous community. The five-foot tall bundle of energy graciously welcomed me into her home where, gracing most walls, were photographs of a happy, diverse and loving family Caroline is proud to call her own.
Taking home the coveted Barnardos Mother of the Year title is an honour for Caroline, who humbly insists she's only one of the thousands of amazing mothers who do an equally amazing job every day. Despite being a private person, Caroline realises that with this title comes an opportunity to share her passion and promote an issue very close to her heart while she can. That issue is foster care, also known as Out of Home Care.
"Foster care is the biggest joy," Caroline exclaims with enthusiasm. "To have the honour, the absolute privilege of caring for another person's child is a gift, a rewarding and satisfying blessing which benefits all parties and I just want to encourage more people to experience the joy themselves."
Caroline currently cares for two siblings, aptly referred to by her family as 'the babies'. State-wide, and particularly in the Hunter, there's an urgent need for more foster carers. Caroline says she is constantly surprised by the attitude of many that it's 'someone else's issue' and the negative associations sometimes given to foster care as a result of sensationalised media reports or dramatic misrepresentations on TV.
"Foster care is a gift! There's no denying it can be a challenge, just like all parenting, but I can honestly say I've never had a negative day. The positives and the relentless joy we experience as carers makes us realise we're the lucky ones; to be part of the lives of two beautiful children whom we can watch grow and learn."
Fostering was an innate knowing for Caroline, who herself was adopted and could see foster care's many benefits.
"If it weren't for my [adoptive] Mum and Dad, where would I be?" Caroline asks. It's this personal experience which also encourages her to support the ideal of knowing the birth parents promoted by the agency Caroline fosters with, CatholicCare Hunter-Manning. CatholicCare acknowledges that, where possible, it is in children's best interests to have a relationship with their birth parents. I know what it's like, wanting to know your parents, and it's deeply important to me they know their history; we fully support that."
Caroline speaks positively about this and the amazing support she's received from CatholicCare Hunter-Manning. She says CatholicCare is there 24/7 when you need support, but also allows you the freedom to parent. You don't have to be Catholic to care with CatholicCare, and short and long-term carefully matched placements are offered to suit the individual, couple or family's current circumstances, including ages and gender of children already in the household.
"I encourage anyone even thinking about it to make the call, go along to one of the information sessions and just learn about fostering, the process, pressures, challenges...but most of all, the joys," Caroline said. "There's no pressure and if you're not ready, and you don't realise it, someone else will and let you know. There's no judging, so don't feel like once you're through the door, you can't back out. At the end of the day, CatholicCare requires ready, fully trained carers, so the child in care can have the best possible outcome.
"It's just one of those things I constantly ask myself, why don't more people do it? There's no secret. Everyone has stresses, deadlines and competing priorities but most of us also have hearts and homes. One of CatholicCare's mottoes rings true to me, if you have room in your heart and home, could you be a foster carer for a child in need? I'd love it if my role as NSW Mother of the Year inspired even one more individual to read this and ask that question. It will be a life-changing moment, not just for the foster carers, but for a child too."
For all foster care enquiries, please phone CatholicCare 4923 0660.