Foster carers describe their 'rewarding' work, amid calls for more people to give foster care a try

When Wendy Brittain took a young man with a disability into her home more than 10 years ago, she thought she was giving him a place to stay for a weekend.

At the time she was working in the disability sector and had been providing some respite care.

But that weekend turned into three years, then more adolescents followed that young man: Ms Brittain had become a foster carer, and has now provided a home for 92 young people.

Ms Brittain currently has a 15-year-old boy with a disability and a 16-year-old girl in her care.

“I guess, for me, it’s about being there for them,” Ms Brittain said.

“I wish that I’d have had someone there for me as a teenager.”

She said she wanted to give them some guidance, and show them there was a better world for them than what they had experienced.

“Just like all kids, they need to be loved and listened to,” she said.

Anglicare Victoria, the agency responsible for placements and foster carer accreditation in the Bendigo region, has experienced a boost in the number of foster carers recently: 27 new homes have been accredited in the past year, and it now has 87 carers on its books.

Bianca Stapleton and Steven Boltz are among those new carers, bringing a now-14-year-old girl into their home in May this year. 

Miss Stapleton said she had some friends who had grown up in home environments that were “not ideal”, and she and Mr Boltz had the room and love to spare for a child in need.

“If you can do it, why wouldn’t you?” Mr Boltz added.

Despite the surge of new carers, Anglicare Victoria’s local out-of-home care manager Michael Oerlemans said the demand for placements it had not yet been met by carer numbers.

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data shows that the rate of children in out-of-home care across the country has grown in recent years and while Victoria has one of the lowest rates of children in care, there were still 12,473 children placed in out-of-home care in 2015-16.

Because of the constant demand, Anglicare Victoria is always looking for new foster carers.

Lilly Gleeson, an Anglicare Victoria team leader, said people from a variety of backgrounds and life circumstances could become carers, so long as they were committed.

“I think [we need] people who are just really willing to open up their homes and make the children feel like a part of the family,” Ms Gleeson said.

People are needed to provide care to meet a spectrum of needs, from those children who require long-term placements to those who only need somewhere for a short period of time, such as in an emergency or to give respite.

Carers David and Cate Burns, for example, have been fostering since 2001, but have provided different types of care to different children as their own life circumstances changed.

Their first foster child, a 12-year-old girl, stayed with them for two years.

But after having their own child, they began to take on children of a similar to age to her, and now provide emergency and respite care.

But Mr Oerlemans said that the organisation needed people who could look after adolescents, as well as children with a disability, in particular.

SATISFYING: Bianca Stapleton and Steven Boltz became foster carers earlier this year. Picture: GLENN DANIELS

SATISFYING: Bianca Stapleton and Steven Boltz became foster carers earlier this year. Picture: GLENN DANIELS

There is also a need for more Aboriginal carers, with Aboriginal children significantly over-represented in out-of-home care.

Anglicare Victoria works closely with the Bendigo and District Aboriginal Co-operative, which is piloting a program that aims to provide a more relational and culturally safe experience for families in the child protection system.

Program manager Dion Smith said it was a priority to place Aboriginal children who had to be removed from their families with an Aboriginal carer.

“Obviously when a child is removed from their family, they experience a lot of disconnection… So keeping them connected to their context, including culture, is a lot better for the child,” Mr Sing said.

Ms Gleeson said prospective foster carers were often nervous taking the first step, but she assured them they would be well-supported, both in training and throughout placements.

Those people who had taken the plunge and spoken to the Bendigo Advertiser about their experiences said it had been rewarding.

For Ms Brittain, some of the biggest rewards have come years down the track, when one of her former foster children has contacted her and told her of the impact she has had on their life – some even referring to her as ‘Mum’.

She said seeing them make an effort to provide a good life for their own children was also gratifying.

Mr Burns’ desire to become a foster care was informed by his own family: he had grown up with his parents taking children in need into their home, and his father had been an orphan as a child.

He and Mrs Burns said they wanted to help children who had been affected by a lack of parenting, and give them the normal life of a child.

At least one girl they care for occasionally has made it clear she feels very much at home with them, referring to a certain bedroom as her room.

While Miss Stapleton and Mr Boltz have only been carers for a few months, they have been told the confidence of the girl in their care has already blossomed.

“It has its days, and she has her days, but so does any child,” Miss Stapleton said.

“I think even though you can get frustrated, the progress you can see makes it all worth it.”

Anglicare Victoria can be contacted on 5440 1100.