Foster carers Nicola and Geoff never thought they'd have seven children at home, but that's exactly what they've got.
Having welcomed more than 40 children in to their home over their 10 years as foster carers, they now find themselves with three teenagers in their permanent care who have been living with them for more than six years, an 11-year-old girl and her 8-year-old brother who have been there more than four years, and sisters aged three and five who they've looked after for more than two years.
"It sounds ridiculous when you say we have seven kids, but you don't have to take every placement offered to you," Nicola laughed.
Geoff first suggested the idea of becoming foster carers after some of his personal training clients mentioned they were foster carers and told him about the children in need. Initially the couple thought they would do respite and short term care, but it turned in to long term and permanent care with some children unable to return to their families.
"I never thought we would end up taking care of as many kids as we have, but we've got the capacity," she said. "You don't have to take every placement offered to you, they have a very good matching process around what a child needs and what you are able to provide - it's not just here is a child."
Nicola said the training gave a good basis of understanding what foster care is and in preparing carers for the sorts of behaviour and trauma some children could display.
"Being removed from their family is not a great experience for kids and they can present with some challenging behaviour, but the training tries to set you up and prepare you for how you can help and understand what they have been through and how best to support them. You have training about challenging behaviours which provides a really good base and then your foster organsation can come in and support you because their staff are experienced and between them have seen any challenging behaviour that you're not comfortable with."
She said many people felt they couldn't be foster carers because they would get too attached to children, or thought carers needed "special" traits.
Foster carers come from many different backgrounds, they can be single, or have a partner, have no children or have children of their own, they can rent or own their home, work, study or be retired and can be from any culture, religion or sexual orientation.Tracey Savage, Cafs
"We are not special people, we are just people in the community who have made that inquiry and worked out we can support other families.
"You don't have to be rich, you don't have to be anything you just have to be willing and able to provide that safe place for a child for as long as they need it."
Showing children from dysfunctional families how a loving family operates can have lifelong benefits.
"Our main aim is to provide a child with a safe, loving home that not only meets the basic needs of shelter and food, but really shows them how a loving family can react to each other, speak to each other, deal with each other's emotions ... while their family has a chance to address whatever they need to."
FINDING FAMILIES TO CARE
Only a fairly small proportion of people who inquire about becoming foster parents go on to become accredited.
There's a wide range of reasons why that is the case, but it underscores the importance of encouraging as many people as possible to take the first step and is why such prominence is given to foster care recruitment and raising awareness through Foster Care Week, which runs until September 18.
Berry Street Acting Senior Manager Child Youth & Families Balvinder Chohan said hundreds of people inquired about becoming foster carers, but only a small portion of those end up making it through the inquiry phase even before the training sessions, workshops and other assessments needed before carers could be approved.
At Cafs last year, 99 people inquired about becoming foster carers and 11 new foster carers were recruited according to chief executive Wendy Sturgess.
Cafs' foster carers cared for 79 children in either ongoing or emergency placements throughout the financial year.
Data shared by Fostering Connections show that when an outbreak of COVID-19 occurs, inquiries from potential new foster carers drops so agencies are on the look-out for caring, nurturing individuals who can provide a safe home for children in need.
"Foster carers provide an essential service for children who are unable to stay in their family home," Ms Sturgess said. "Foster carers build relationships with, and nurture and care for foster children, helping them with their practical and emotional needs by creating an environment where they can commence healing from their trauma."
Foster care organisations provide training to help carers understand the abuse and trauma children may have experienced.
Part of that training is about challenging behaviour, because the behavioural responses of a child who has experience abuse, trauma or neglect are likely to be different from a child who has not experienced adversity early in life.
"Foster carers provide an experience which can build in to a child's life story and provide safety and promote a relationship with the child's biological family or family or origin. What's important for foster care is how we help, capture and support the biological family, who often come from an experience of harm and abuse themselves."
She said it was important for foster carers to also have strong support systems, which in many cases also involves other foster carers in the area.
"Foster caring can be so invaluable but also extremely taxing so it takes a lot of commitment and the need to have a good network, resources and support system in place."
IN OTHER NEWS
"A foster carer is a volunteer with the most extreme level of responsibility. It means you have to adjust and adapt your lifestyle and it means we need to ensure the journey is right not just for carers themselves but their family but they have the support of a broader network," she said.
Foster care organisations also provide 24/7 support to carers.
To mark Foster Care Week 2021, Cafs has launched a six-part video series on YouTube detailing stories and insights from existing Cafs Foster carers, who have opened up their hearts and the homes for children in-need.
The videos aim to debunk myths and share real experiences of what to expect when becoming a foster carer.
Our team of local journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the Ballarat community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content: