Illawarra Mercury

Can you help a child? Critical shortage of foster carers at time of need

A shortage of foster carers is depriving vulnerable children of the stable and safe home they need. Picture Shutterstock
A shortage of foster carers is depriving vulnerable children of the stable and safe home they need. Picture Shutterstock

This is branded content for CatholicCare Wollongong.

There's one particular thing that always touches the heart of foster carer Kate Thomas* when one of the children she and husband Michael* are caring for arrives at their home.

"It's beautiful when they arrive for a return visit and they are so enthusiastic," she said. "They get out of the car and head straight in to take their bag to 'their' room and unpack. You can see they're really comfortable there with us - it's a good feeling seeing that difference you're making for them."

The couple are foster carers with CatholicCare, two of an army of people who provide a warm and stable home for hundreds of children who have had to be removed from their own homes to keep them safe.

While the Thomases are respite carers, looking after children for short stays from a weekend to several weeks, or in emergency situations, there are others who choose to take children into their homes for longer periods - months, years or even for life.

At the moment, however, there is a desperate shortage of foster carers. As a result, around 400 children across New South Wales, including approximately 70 just in the Wollongong area, are being sought foster care, with many staying in temporary non-home accommodation like a motel room or caravan park, cared for by a rotating team of social workers from external agencies because no foster carers are available.

Some of the children can spend years in this situation before they are able to be placed in a foster home with a family to provide the stability, love and care they need to thrive.

Michelle Ferrara, Executive Manager Children & Youth Services with CatholicCare Wollongong, said the numbers of children needing foster carers is overwhelming.

"It is extremely tough times in the foster care system at the moment, more than I've seen in 20 years," she said. "In our own community we have children that have been removed from their home situation because of child protection concerns that we need to find placements for and we just don't have enough carers.

Picture Shutterstock.
Picture Shutterstock.

"It means that in Wollongong we have around 70 children, some as young as two, needing foster care. Some of these children are not in home-based placement, they're in a motel or a caravan park and cared for by our staff on a rostered basis. It means there are kids who are missing out on enjoying a happy, stable childhood and the care and security of a normal home life which is what they need in their lives. It's incredibly sad."

CatholicCare is urging anyone interested in becoming a foster carer to take the first step in contacting their team to find out more.

"We recognise the economic hardship that many Australians are currently facing at the moment and some people may be put off becoming a foster carer because of that or perhaps for other reasons," Ms Ferrara said.

"But we'd like people to take the time to find out about what's involved. For all our foster carers we offer lots of support to help them and the children every step of the way - training, emotional and financial support. There are lots of different ways they can help."

Kate and Michael had been considering becoming foster carers for many years but it was only when they retired that they felt in a position to contact CatholicCare. This is now their fifth year as carers and they've provided a home to many children, from four-year-olds to teenagers.

"We had the time and we knew there was such a big need out there so we wanted to help, and know that we were doing something useful," said Kate. "When we learned about respite care we thought that would suit us best."

While there are challenges along the way, there are plenty of rewards.

"These kids are coming to a place where someone is going to give them a lot of attention, that's something we're able to give them," said Michael. "For some of them they might never have had that at home; it's that one-on-one time we can provide that we find is so rewarding for us.

"We just do simple things with the kids - go to the beach or the park and throw a ball around, maybe go for a train ride or Kate will do some cooking with them, just having dinner together at the table and chatting. I think we get most satisfaction out of just knowing that we are able to give them a good time, a safe time and that they are comfortable and happy."

Asked what advice they would give to people considering becoming a foster carer the reply was swift. "Just do it," said Kate. "Any little amount of time that you can do it supports a child.

"There is so much training and support that comes from CatholicCare that you're never alone to try and work it all out yourself. As long as you have time and patience, and care about these children, that's most important."

*Names have been changed for privacy.

If you're interested in becoming a foster carer please call Fostering Futures, CatholicCare on 0418 783 956 or email fosteringfutures@catholiccare.dow.org.au For further information about CatholicCare Wollongong's foster care program, visit catholiccare.dow.org.au/services-and-programs/family/foster-care/

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