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New Zealand has thousands of babies and children in need of care and protection, but the number of foster carers is at an all-time low. We talk to carers about the challenges and rewards of fostering
Kim & Kevin McNamara live with three of their own children and Luke* their foster son
KIM: My journey to becoming a foster parent goes right back to when I was 15. I have always wanted to be able to help a child in need. I have been married for 30 years and have four children of my own, as well as one grandchild. It all began when the ‘Key Assets Fostering Agency’ advertisement cropped up on Facebook and I thought, you know what, I’ll find out more. Don’t get me wrong, I had my worries, but my husband and I decided that we were strong enough and our kids have good self-esteem. That was one year ago and we have now had Luke*, our foster son, for seven months.
Fostering is like being handed a 100-piece jigsaw puzzle, but you only have 20 of the pieces and 15 of those are pretty damaged. You have to try and figure out how those pieces fit together, what’s driving some of their behaviour and how you can support that, whilst helping to change it. The children don’t particularly like themselves and they’re full of anger and hatred for their situation as they don’t yet know what else is out there, so they come with a few strategies of self-sabotage.
It’s important to want to share your life with the child. In the first few weeks, they can isolate themselves because they don’t know or trust you. Buttons are going to be pushed; it’s important to be calm and resilient so you can build a stable relationship. More often than not, they don’t have a vision for themselves, so you need to have one for them.
I work as a life coach and I believe that anyone can succeed, regardless of their background. The child can arrive quite damaged, but there’s nothing stopping them from succeeding. My main motivation is to see Luke really succeed at something. Recently, he completed the Weet-Bix Triathlon. He was so chuffed that he was even going and ended up totally nailing it and completing all three parts himself. He now has the medal hanging up in his bedroom. We’re trying to get him to focus on the future and that it can be good, regardless of past trauma.
Fostering is definitely so rewarding, knowing you can offer a child a good life. You have to be the epitome of stability, of love and compassion, as that’s just what those children need. They are relying on you to keep it together when they can’t.
Giovanni Fabricius & partner, John, took on two siblings through Key Assets Fostering Agency. They also offered short-term care to an 11-month-old baby
GIOVANNI: When I was 19, my aunt and uncle passed away. They left two boys, Bruce and Arno, my little cousins. As they were orphaned, I was left to care for them. My father was against it at first, but I wanted to honour the promise I made to my auntie.
All these years later, John and I decided that we were at an age where it was time to give back. Not enough people are fostering. In New Zealand there’s about 6100 children who need foster care. Even though by fostering one child we are only making a small dent to that number, we feel good that we can make a difference to that child’s life.
I also have two biological children, two girls, to a lesbian couple who live in Wellington. One of them worked for the ‘Key Assets Fostering Agency’ and she said to me, “You need to think about going into fostering because you’d be great.” We started to go along to workshops about fostering and we learnt so much. Now here I am, I’ve been fostering for ten months, and I’m still learning.
I’ve discovered that in order to be good and successful, you have to be compassionate, tolerant and most importantly, you have to love kids, even when [they make it hard to]. When we were going through training, most of the foster parents already had children of their own. We were told that yes, we’ve brought up children, but these foster kids are different, they have been through so much trauma. They’re different. We all thought, “Yeah, sure, it’s just love they need,” but they were so right. It’s so much more than that because you have to try and figure them out. You have to be ready to give love. The funny thing is, the more love you show, the softer they get. Then the aggression and the anger fades.
The two kids we foster, Felix* and Kate* are only a year apart, but because of what they’ve experienced, the age gap seems huge. It’s fantastic to see them doing so well and moving forward. They will never be reconciled with their parents, so we know they will be with us long term. We hope they will be because we love them. The little boy, he wants to be hugged every night, hugged through the day, and when we go shopping he’ll hold my hand and say, “You’re the best daddy I’ve ever had.” I have to say, “Mate, I’m not your daddy but I’m going to help you.”
Kate* has grown so close to John and she loves him. She helps him out in the kitchen and they will cook a lot together. You want them to be able to grow up as normal as possible, to have a happy life. They respond really well to affection and kindness.
We also had a little baby boy here, 11 months old, in respite care. We knew what to do as we have looked after our grandchildren. We know the routine and how to manage him. Having that little baby was an example of a little kid that needed love. He responded well, he was so affectionate. We would pick him up and cuddle him. He loved to be loved. He never cried, he was a happy little mite.
There will be days where you feel like you’re going back 20 steps, but that’s all part of it. It’s not always going to be smooth sailing. They’ll test us now and again. Kate* will especially test me or John to see how much we can take before we both explode. So we’ve got to have loads of tolerance to tell her that she needs to calm down and when she’s in a nicer frame of mind, she can carry on with what she was doing.
The biggest rewards are seeing the kids settled, happy and laughing. From when they first got here, to where they are now, seeing them just enjoying being little kids has been the best part.
Fostering is a way of providing a safe and stable family home for children who are vulnerable and unable, for a number of reasons, to live with parents or whãnau. It takes a particular type of person to welcome an unknown child into their home and into their life.
The process for becoming a foster parent can take up to three months. You must be over 25-years-old, pass a police background check, take part in personal interviews and undergo training days. You also need to commit to fostering on a full-time basis and have a spare bedroom. You must have a genuine enthusiasm for helping children and young people and be able to cope in difficult and sometimes stressful situations.
TYPES OF CARE
There are different types of foster caring that people can do:
Short-term foster carers provide temporary care for children for only a few months, or until alternative arrangements can be made
Respite care placements allow children who are already living with parents or a foster family to have a short stay with another family to give their main carers a break. This is a great way to decide if foster caring is something you want to do, as it is not a long-term commitment
Long foster care placements mean a family is willing to take care of a child with no definite end date
Not-for-profit Key Assets Fostering Agency provides specialised foster care services for children and young people throughout New Zealand, as well as on-going training. You receive 24/7 support and a dedicated social worker to help you and your family. Foster carers also receive an allowance that covers the cost of caring for children.
If you’re interested in fostering, visit keyassets.co.nz or call 09 263 5151 for more information.