Arriving in the driveway of the McLennan home, I’m soon to learn more than eighty foster children have been welcomed there before me, as well as the great significance of that driveway in forming the opening foundation of a foster care placement.
Sue and Mark, who have three girls of their own, first considered becoming foster carers after seeing a television interview, prompting them to realise they had enough space in their home and hearts and that their girls were old enough to cope with changes in family life. After being accepted into the foster care program, Sue and Mark spent more than a year in training and assessment with CatholicCare, preparing them for what to expect; providing the tools and support they would need to care for the young people who would come into their home.
The extensive preparation and ongoing support provided to the McLennans by CatholicCare was a major factor in their returning to the organisation when changes in the types of care provided by the organisation suited their caring preferences. Sue and Mark had no hesitation in returning to CatholicCare. “We felt cared for as carers,” Sue says, with Mark adding, “Someone is always available for any questions, whether we have kids or not.”
Sue and Mark have looked after children and young people for periods as short as three days, right up to eighteen months. Often a child is placed with them for a short time until full time care can be found, or ideally the young person can return home to their parents or other relatives. Mark emphasises that if your only motive for becoming a carer involves wanting a baby, the situation could be fraught with danger, as the heartache involved in saying goodbye to the young person can be an emotional minefield. Foster care is not an inevitable path to adoption, therefore carers must always have in mind the best outcome for the child; which could include returning the child to his or her family, or another household in the best interests of the child. Teamwork is a vital factor in caring, and CatholicCare offers ongoing support and assistance to carers to enable the best possible outcomes for children and young people. Maintaining a carer household that is resilient, balanced and healthy is paramount in providing optimal care.
Sue and Mark’s three daughters, Sian, 29, Bec, 27 and Sarah, 25, have been at the heart of their foster care story. The girls played a pivotal role, integrating children in care into life at home and at school. Sue and Mark strove to ensure their own children also felt comfortable with their foster children and could determine fairly quickly whether or not a placement was successful. “If foster care isn’t working for your family, you’re not doing any benefit to the child in your care,” says Mark. The three McLennan girls have since moved out to start their own lives and are looking forward to becoming foster carers themselves when the time is right.
Being a foster carer has its blessings and challenges. Children coming into care have complex needs, requiring stability, warmth and security. They are often affected by grief, loss and trauma. Some are not naturally grateful for the new situation they find themselves in. Sue recalls with some emotion, “Kids come back years later and say thank you, which is something that you don’t expect, but when it happens it is such an amazing thing.” Sue says the main thing to remember as a carer is to make the child feel safe and allow them to warm to the family’s life in their own time. “Be relaxed and flexible. Don’t make the child a focus, just let them be a part of the house; gradually the child will come around,” adds Sue. Sue and Mark give their foster children a different perspective on life and instil in them hope for the future. In the short time they have with their foster children, they prepare them for the future, whatever that may hold.
Two of Sue and Mark’s foster children, Mel, 20, and Jasmin, 20, have become an extended part of the McLennan family following a successful foster placement. Jasmin had lived in refuges from the age of 14. At 16, she was finally placed with Sue and Mark after shifting between four different foster care homes in the previous two weeks. Jasmin soon began to refer to the McLennan family as ‘Mum’, ‘Dad’ and her ‘sisters’. Upon arrival at the McLennan home, Jasmin recalls she was assigned the responsibility of feeding the cats. “Having that task helped me to feel included, especially because I love animals.” Being treated just the same as Sue and Mark’s three daughters, Jasmin was given chores and a place in the home. This aided her integration into the family, affirming that someone loved and cared for her, emotions that she had not felt for quite some time.
Jasmin’s journey with the McLennans over the past four years has shaped her outlook on life and after completing her Diploma in Child Care she is committed to becoming a teacher or social worker, assisting other young people in foster care. Later in life Jasmin also wants to become a foster carer and share with other children the sometimes forgotten feeling of being part of a family.
Short term, long term, emergency and respite carers are needed now. There is an ongoing need for carers of sibling groups and older children. If you would like to learn more about becoming a foster carer, please contact Robyn Fisher at CatholicCare on 4923 0600 to register for a free information session.