Ballarat's big foster hearts

Pia and Anthony Geljon have two children of their own, Henry (7yo) and William (5yo) and foster a third child. PICTURE: ADAM TRAFFORD

Pia and Anthony Geljon have two children of their own, Henry (7yo) and William (5yo) and foster a third child. PICTURE: ADAM TRAFFORD

HENRY and Will Geljon love being big brothers.

The fact Rose* is not their biological sister doesn't bother the seven and five-year-old one little bit as the trio good-naturedly jostle for pole position in front of the TV.

Instead, their parents Pia and Anthony said becoming a foster family has had unexpected benefits.

"The boys are amazing," Pia said.

"They share our time, they share their toys and they never complain."

The Geljons have been fostering Rose for just over two years - since she was just three months old - and also look after several other children on a respite basis.

"It's just part of our life now," Anthony said.

"We're just an example of a different kind of family."

Pia added she couldn't imagine not having foster children in their lives.

"There is a stigma with foster kids but the kids are just beautiful and a delight to have. Just give it a go."

Ronnie Rosenow agrees.

The mother of five, grandmother of 13 and great grandmother of three has, together with husband Richard, fostered about 130 children over 18 years.

They now have legal guardianship of seven of them aged between 23 and nine.

"The nine-year-old came to us when he was five months old and was only supposed to be with us for five months.

"The best part is seeing the smiles on their faces and knowing what you give them makes a world of difference to them," Ronnie said.

"Even just a decent meal, clean clothes and shoes, the things most people take for granted are such a big thing to them."

Rhonda Rosenow has five children of her own and fosters another three. PICTURE: JEREMY BANNISTER

Rhonda Rosenow has five children of her own and fosters another three. PICTURE: JEREMY BANNISTER

The Rosenows began fostering just to help put back into the community.

"You do have to go through a (selection) process but every parent would want to know that the carer has been scrutinised and is up to the job.

"You've got to give your life story and go through medicals but do it - it's well worth it."

Ronnie promotes foster care wherever and whenever she can but said some people were put off by the thought of eventually having to return the child, particularly after years of care.

"I believe every child should be with its parent if and when that's the best thing for that child.

"If I know it's going back to a safe, nurturing environment, then that's the best thing for them."

But Ronnie said kids she's cared for over the years still approach her in the street just to say hello.

When asked if she has any plans to retire from foster caring, Ronnie gives a determined shake of her head.

"I'm going to do it as long as I can, as long as I'm needed, and physically and mentally able to do it.

"I just get such a sense of satisfaction out of giving them support."

The Geljons were also inspired by a motherly figure to take up foster care, after seeing Pia's grandmother do it for years.

"It's something we talked about for a little while," Pia said.

Anthony said there was also a "rewarding sense of achievement".

"One of our priorities was making sure it didn't negatively affect the boys but it's only been a positive thing for them."

Pia and Anthony Geljon have two children of their own, Henry (7yo) and William (5yo) and foster a third child. PICTURE: ADAM TRAFFORD

Pia and Anthony Geljon have two children of their own, Henry (7yo) and William (5yo) and foster a third child. PICTURE: ADAM TRAFFORD

Anthony works shift work in the Ballarat manufacturing industry while Pia is a chocolate maker in Daylesford so the family is based halfway at Newlyn.

"It does takes planning and communication," Anthony said.

When asked how they would feel about having to eventually return Rose to her family, the Geljons said it was something they had talked about.

"You can't not get attached but we haven't had to experience that yet," Pia said.

"As a foster carer, you just go in knowing every child deserves to feel needed and safe."

Anthony said they treated Rose like their own daughter but understood they were primarily there to help her.

"It's helping her more through the different stages in her life, we're like a stepping stone in her life," he said.

"It's sad so many youngsters out there can't get it from their own parents. I had no idea there was such a demand for it (foster care).

The Geljons said they definitely planned to keep fostering.

"It can be hard but it's very rewarding," Anthony said.

*********

Child and Family Services (CAFS) Ballarat foster carer recruitment manager Di Walker said research has shown only about six per cent of the Australian population want to be foster carers.

"It's a really slim pool," Ms Walker said.

In Ballarat, 80 children are currently in foster care, with carers ranging from mid-20s to mid-70s and from single mums to same sex couples.

"It's difficult to get people to be committed."

Ms Walker said the majority of Ballarat's foster carers were couples in the 34 to 55 age group, with others working in respite or as part-time carers.

"You don't have to do it full time. We just need people who want to learn. They need to learn to understand what these children need. They need "stickability"."

She said this year's United Way Volunteer Recognition Award was a reward for the carers' often unacknowledged work.

Rhonda Rosenow has five children of her own and fosters another three. PICTURE: JEREMY BANNISTER

Rhonda Rosenow has five children of her own and fosters another three. PICTURE: JEREMY BANNISTER

"They do crisis work. I put them in the ballpark of the SES.

"Their lives change and we don't acknowledge that enough."

Ms Walker said potential carers go through an interview to find out why they want to become foster carers.

"We try and find out their potential to learn new stuff along the way."

After that, they receive a mandatory three half days of training.

"It provides an informed choice, dispels a few myths and challenges a few misconceptions.

"We get to know people pretty well and see what suits them best in their role of caring.

"You are taking care of a child and being part of their lives. It's quite a feelgood thing.

"They feel really loved, nurtured and you are helping them along. As a foster carer, you are so generous with your life."

But both Ms Walker and CAFS foster carer practitioner Peter Rademaker said, for some children, there was an urgent need for a "village to raise the child".

Mr Rademaker said there were more children coming through the foster system who had been severely traumatised.

"This has an impact on their day-to-day behaviour," Mr Rademaker said.

"One of the challenges in foster care is understanding that trauma, and how it has affected that child's brain. It has fractured their ways of thinking and responding.

"Their behaviour can be challenging so we're looking for people who like a challenge, that need that basic understanding that it's about "stickability".

"When children present with challenging behaviour, you have to support them and take them to the next stage, walk the journey with them. A lot of it is testing behaviour."

Mr Rademaker said CAFS was looking for people able to do respite care for these children every second or third weekend.

"Carers need to think about the need to keep their batteries charged."

He said only about five of the 80 children currently in care fell into this category but they needed extra help and attention.

"We're trying to save the gem of a child. They're little gems just covered with a whole heap of stuff.

"They are just trying to make sense of their world. Most of our kids are fine, it just depends on the level of trauma in their lives."

If anyone is interested in becoming a foster carer, they can contact Ms Walker on 5337 3333.

*Rose is not her real name.

Smartphone
Tablet - Narrow
Tablet - Wide
Desktop