Foster Care Week (7-14 September) is an annual celebration of the outstanding foster carers who provide safe, nurturing homes for vulnerable children. This year, local foster care agency MacKillop Family Services (MacKillop), is calling for the Barwon South West community to step up and join the ranks of foster carers who support the ever-growing numbers of children in need of a safe home.
More than 100 children are currently living in foster care in Barwon South West, but the number of children who need care is rising faster than agencies can find and train people to become foster carers.
Foster carers come from all walks of life. They can be working, not working or retired; married or single; in same-sex couples; and can own or rent their home. The most essential criteria is that they care about creating a safe and nurturing home, and have room in their house to support vulnerable children.
30-year-old Laura Spokes from Mortlake has been a foster carer for 20 months. An experienced childcare worker, Laura has always loved being around children and became a foster carer after realising there were a substantial number of local children in need of safe care.
"At first I was worried that because I am single I could not be a foster carer, but after enquiring with MacKillop, I was reassured that wouldn't be a problem. I've had three placements since becoming a foster carer and sometimes that can be challenging. Some of the children that I look after have experienced trauma, which is reflected in their behaviours.
"What people don't realise is that you receive training before becoming a carer and after kids come to you, you are supported by your case manager and therapeutic practitioners who help you to work with the children to create strategies that can help them deal with their trauma," Laura said.
"Foster care can be exhausting, but when children begin to trust you and you see them start to open up to you, it is the most rewarding feeling in the world. I know I have made a huge difference to these children's lives. We have a great time together and attend lots of events and learn about different cultures. Creating beautiful memories is one of the best things about being a foster carer and when the children leave me, they take books full of pictures and memories and we will always have this special bond," added Laura.
Tania Ferris, carer recruitment and development coordinator for MacKillop in Barwon South West, is keenly aware of the struggle to attract more foster carers.
"It's never been easy to recruit foster carers, but we are finding it increasingly difficult to find enough people to look after the children in this area who need safe homes. When people think about kids and young people who need to be looked after, they see it as a problem somewhere else and not on their own doorstep. We work hard to keep kids in their own locality, but to do that, we need people from Barwon South West to open their homes and think about how they too could be foster carers.
"Carers like Laura are the backbone of the foster care system and we are grateful they keep on going, even when they are at capacity, because they want to make sure children and young people have a safe place to stay each night. However, everyone has their limits and we need a much larger number of locals who understand the need for vulnerable children and young people to have a safe place to stay."
MacKillop supports foster carers with comprehensive training, ongoing advice, respite care and a round the clock helpline. For further information on foster care, visit MacKillop's website at mackillop.org.au or call 1300 791 677.