"They called you Mum. That's funny. That's funny because you're black and I'm white, so how can you be my mum?"
These are the kinds of comments Lynn hears from her children often.
Thankfully, the comments are light hearted, something the kids find amusing, something they giggle about, and something she is used to – given that she is an Aboriginal woman of dark skin, and her children have blonde hair and blue eyes. The truth is, they are all of Aboriginal descent. And she is their mum.
Lynn is a mother of five - with two biological children, and another three Aboriginal children aged five, nine and ten years old who are her foster children. Lynn is an Aboriginal woman who works with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Kinship Team and attends university full time. Her partner Shane is Maori, and a big sports lover – together they are foster carers and they’ve been caring for eight years.
Shane explains that he got involved in foster care after growing up in poverty stricken areas in South Auckland, he wanted to give back so that kids in his community can have the chances in life that he never had. For Lynn, it’s also about giving back to communities less fortunate, she grew up in remote New South Wales in a highly populated Aboriginal community.
“We foster because we’ve seen the desperation in communities that is there, the entrenchment and the issues through family. We foster because we care. We do it because we enjoy it and it brings life to our home having children around,” says Lynn.
The couple say that indigenous culture plays a large part in their own home, and that keeping the traditions alive is very important to them and their children.
“We keep that positive in their life, because it’s their identity, and they need identities, especially in today’s world. If they can hold on to one thing, and that’s what they have, they can cherish that and move ahead in life,” says Shane.
Lynn says they are open to taking any foster children, whether they’re of indigenous background or not, but at the moment they are working with these children to help them with their life stories.
“Our house is filled with large wooden-framed Aboriginal art. It's all through the house. The language that we use in our house is ... we have Aboriginal slang, I call it. The kids pick up on that, and it's all very much in jest that we do. We talk all day and every day about home, we return to country.
“We also like to engage with the birth parents and the children's case worker around learning their family history, genograms, life story work. It's not just about Googling, it's about taking the children back to where they're from, working through their cultural plans with them to expand their education and knowledge so that when they leave care or when they leave us, they have a fairly well-grounded sense of their culture and heritage and where they're from,” Lynn continues.
So, what do Shane and Lynn’s family think about them being foster carers?
“Our kids have always embraced the fostering concept and the fact that we have children through our home, they have real empathy towards the children that come through our house, but they don't treat them any differently.
“The children that come into our home are younger than our teenagers, so our teenagers tend to take the lead. Whether it be how to stack a dishwasher or reminding the children that their shoes are in the lounge or things like that. Role modelling is a big part of our home,” says Lynn.
“I just think us being the blended family from when we first met, I think that helped our kids and family in general, because they've had to learn to take on other kids, say my two kids meeting Lynn's kids. They've already been through that process of taking on other people, or other kids. I think just through the years and learning to grow together and accepting each other, I guess there's no difference when the foster kids come and they've already been through the process,” says Shane.
Often, it’s strangers that seem to take issue and feel it necessary to offer insensitive or funny comments.
“‘Have they kidnapped those children? Do they own those children?’ The kids all start giggling because they look nothing like me,” says Shane.
“It’s also disheartening to hear ‘I could never give the children back’ with no real thought into the fact that these children have a mum and dad, they have a family that are still mum and dad regardless of them coming into care. Our job is to keep them nurtured and grow them up to be good human beings and hopefully to maintain a relationship with family. That's one thing that comes to mind in terms of insensitive things that are said to us,” Lynn reveals.
The couple also reveal more about the stigma around kids in foster care having lots or problems. Shane says yes, they often do have issues, but they all worth with organisations like ACT Together and other carers to work things through.
“Case managers, parents, us, schools. It's just all being on the same page, I guess, and trying to work through the issues. It's just working through it with them, being patient,” he says.
“When they first come in, it can be a little bit challenging getting them into routines, settled, answering their questions and things. I find that if there's real honesty with the children around any questions that they have, we answer as best we can and we keep it transparent.
“We’ve had challenging behaviours that have come through our doors. Nothing that we haven’t seen too far from what our own children have been through over the years. They just want predictability and stability, and to know that there's adults in their lives that they can depend and rely upon to keep them safe,” says Lynn.
Keeping these kids safe? Yes. Making money from foster care? Lynn and Shane say that’s definitely a no.
“No, we don't make money. The money that we do get is purely to support the children in the placements. We care for children because we generally care. We just care,” says Lynn.
The pair say they often get comments from outsiders that what they do is absolutely amazing, and questioned on how they could possibly foster care. They both say it’s nothing amazing, but that they get by in the world of foster care by doing things together.
“We manage because we do it collectively. Our whole family pitches in. Our children have always been part of our foster care family as well as our family. They roll their sleeves up and pitch in and develop relationships and have always been inclusive of the kids that come through. I guess as a mum it's just a natural part of what we do as parents, and we enjoy it. We love it,” says Lynn.
“A lot of kids come from broken homes and I think having two people there who love doing what they're doing gives them that stability and a bit of security,” says Shane.
“It’s just so rewarding. It gives our children purpose as well, and children to share their lives with. Our children do have a real appreciation for the children that come into our care but treat them no differently,” Shane concludes.
Black. White. Same. Same.
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.