“Hot tip – you can’t have too many pillows, you can’t have too many doonas,” says Dan.

Sounds like Dan is organising a huge sleep-over right? Well he is. Of sorts.

Canberra-based Dan and his wife Marie-Ann are respite foster carers. The pair have provided on-going respite care for many kids, with Dan saying they’re approaching nearly double figures. They started their journey as respite foster carers after seeing information about it on the back of a school newsletter.

“We actually don’t call it respite care, do we?” Marie-Ann says to Dan. “It’s more a weekend sleepover. The kids come over - we just have a few extra beds, a few extra pillows, a few extra meals. We just put out extra placements, a few extra plates and away we go. We get the kids chopping up food, so it’s just like cousins coming to stay with us. It’s nice and easy.

“Kids come to Uncle Dan and Auntie Marie-Ann's place. It's just like extended family coming to stay with us,” continued Dan.

Marie-Ann is a full-time mum and fitness coach, and Dan works in the Federal public service.

So, why do they do it?

Marie-Ann explains that they wanted to foster to look after children in their own community. It all came about as a result of not being able to have any more children of their own, and after investigating inter-country adoption and discovering

it wasn’t suitable, they chose to foster.

The pair is often asked how they juggle respite care with work and other home commitments.

“Well, most of our respite care happens on weekends, but it's usually a time where either one of us are available. We do mix and match it a bit, but at the moment, most of our respite care tends to happen sort of across the weekend. Friday night pick up the kids, and Monday morning they head off to school the same time I head off to work, so it usually mixes in nicely with our work,” says Dan.

“We've also done full-time foster caring as well, and we just managed that in the same way you would manage looking after any other children, if they're your own children. It's just family balance, working and family life,” says Marie-Ann.

When asked what it takes to be a great respite carer, Marie-Ann says organisation is key. She says you need to be organised, you need to have food, you need to have enough beds.

“You need to have patience, imagination. You need to have a sense of fun as well, because the kids are coming to you for a break. They're coming for a good time,” she says.

“Getting the kids involved, I think that's key for us,” says Dan.

Marie-Ann and Dan say they often hear comments that they must be some kind of superheroes to do what they do.

“Foster caring is, I think now, looking inside out, it's a little bit different to how I probably initially thought it was looking outside in. We don't really see it much beyond being a parent with a family. Extra kids coming to stay, it's just like extending the family temporarily. We do the same things, it's all about food, it's all about sleep, it's all about getting them prepared for bed with the showers and the teeth and all that sort of thing,” says Dan.

The pair don’t deny that some changes have to happen – like having a fridge full of food all the time, and juggling cars. And then there’s the issue of attachment.

“I do get very attached. I really care about them, but I know exactly what my role is, and I know that because of the training that we've received,” Marie-Ann says.

“Particularly in a respite environment, because it's so much fun, it's short-term, it's really quick. You've given them the fun that they need, the break that they need, and then you send them back to where they normally stay,” she continues.

This then begs the question, can respite carers really make a difference when kids are not with them all the time?

“Respite care is fantastic from the perspective that you're actually taking them for a weekend or a few days over school holidays, and you get to do fun stuff. You're giving them a happy time, but you're also giving carers that normally look after the day to day grind, you're giving them a break from that full-time foster caring role. Everybody ends up being refreshed at the end of the weekend,” Marie-Ann says.

Dan goes on to say that sometimes it’s just like it’s a port in the storm.

“Kids come to us, and we've got nothing but a little bit of fun. It's all quality for us rather than quantity, so it does make it easier, and the kids tend to know that they're just here for a short time.” he says.

Sometimes respite care can lead to longer term care. Marie-Ann says they’ve been fortunate to have had some children that they’ve looked after for respite on a long-term basis over a number of years.

“We've had that continuity of care over the years, we've gotten to know them. We know their characteristics, we know how they mix with our family. That's the thing about respite care, too, if you do gel then it's possible to do that long-term respite arrangement,” she says.

Dan and Marie-Ann have even added to their family permanently as a result of offering respite foster care. They are now the proud adoptive parents of a child that they started fostering as a young baby.

“Adoption might take a while, but it can happen,” concludes Dan.

If you have any questions or would like to enquire about becoming a foster carer call us on 1300 WEFOSTER or fill out our carer enquiry form.