1, 6, 8, 9, 14, 33, 60, 200.
What’s in a number? Well numbers can signify so much.
In Monica’s case, 8 children – their ages ranging from 1 to 18 years. 4 biological children, 2 step children and she is currently a foster carer to 2 more children. 1 sausage dog, 1 turtle, 1 lizard.
In Petrina’s case, the numbers are higher. 3 boys over the weekend, all aged 14 years and over. 33 years as a foster carer. She’s 64, a grandmother, and she has fostered over 200 children over the years. And she’s still counting!
These women both live separate lives, but their commonality is foster care. Specifically, short term or crisis care. So, how is short term/crisis care different to long term foster care?
“We look after children for a short amount of time before they are reunited back with their birth families or to a more permanent home,” says Monica.
“They might ring me in the middle of the night and they need a bed. They might say, ‘Can you have this child just till we find a more permanent home?’ I do that. I'm happy to do that any time,” Petrina says.
They both say they often get asked how crisis care can really make a difference when the kids are in their care for a short time only. Monica explains that you can easily make a difference in a short amount of time by giving these children a safe environment and people who care about them. Petrina agrees, saying that it’s also about helping the next carer or family too – anything to help make the transition easier from that crisis.
So, what made these women go down the path of this model of foster care? Petrina’s reasons go back a long way.
“Well, the reason I started fostering was when I was at school, there were these two children that were friends of mine. They were from a very poor background. One of the little girls ended up having to go into an institution, and I always felt guilty that I didn't ask my mom, ‘Could we please take her in?’,” she reveals.
There’s no doubt that what these women do on a day to day basis is to be admired. But what exactly does it take to be a great short-term foster carer?
“I think to be a great short-term foster carer, you need to be able to be available at a moment’s notice so that they can bring a child to your home and that you're ready. I think also to have an open heart, an open mind, be available to that child for whatever time it takes to be there, and show them that stability and love, nurture them,” says Monica.
And when it comes to nurturing, do these women find that their own children are affected by foster care at all? Seemingly not, although they are quick to say that of course there have been some issues along the way with Petrina revealing that one of her three biological children struggled at times, especially with children who were traumatised. Both women say that overall, their own children have not been adversely affected by foster children coming into their homes.
Blended families can and do work.
“Well, we became carers to help out children in need. When our children first found out that what we were doing, they were most excited and waiting for that phone call, ‘When is that child coming? When is somebody coming to our house?’
They were all really excited. They really embraced having children come to our house, and we've also embraced lots of the families that we have got to know over the years as well,” Monica says.
“I think it’s been a really positive thing for our family and I think that’s why I keep doing it. That’s why after 33 years I’m still doing it, because it’s positive,” Petrina says.
There’s that big number again. It’s been 33 years since Petrina started doing this. Now she is caring for a lot of teenagers because the system is desperate for carers of teenagers as they can’t find homes for them. Is there a point at which she will stop fostering? When is it too old to be a foster carer?
“You’re never too old. Do you know, we have foster carers that are now turning 80? They are caring for children, little ones and families. As long as you have your health and you have a sense of humour, and you have the ability to have a child in your home, the ability to love, the ability to give of yourself, it's never too old, never,” says Petrina.
“And there's lots of supports out there for carers and I think no matter what your age, you can get that support and not only just from where we are but from friends and from other carers,” Monica agrees.
Support is something these ladies draw on often, especially because children in crisis care sometimes come with some form of trauma. Petrina is quick to distinguish being naughty from being traumatised, and says she wouldn’t call these kids naughty.
“I think that the training that we're given as carers teach us this, and teach us what has happened to the child's brain to cause them to react in certain ways.
“I don't think these children are any naughtier. They just have trauma associated with it, and with a love and attention, it settles down. I find that that's why I'm still there because I've seen so many positive outcomes for these children,” Petrina explains.
The pair say that they often get comments from strangers that what they do is amazing.
“Listen, it's not. It's not amazing. We're just normal parents that are looking after other people's children. Look, other people take in friend’s children from next door, they're hanging out, it's sort of like that but they're living with us. It's not amazing. We're just human beings, and we have to learn different ways to look after these children than our own sometimes because of what's happened to them. I actually don't like being told I'm amazing,” says Petrina.
"’I don't feel amazing. I feel very lucky.’ That’s what I say. I feel very lucky that we have the ability and the capacity at the moment that we can do this,” says Monica.
Do they ever get worried about becoming too attached? Petrina says over the years a lot of people have said to her that they would like to foster, but that they would become too attached to the child. She says that is not a reason to not foster, because it’s not about the adults. It’s about the children. If the children attach, they grow to be loving human beings themselves. Monica concurs.
“Yeah, and I never ever worry about getting too attached to these kids. I think they all need to attach to you. I think once they've attached, you know that you've done a good job in giving them a safe environment and a loving environment.
“I think as short term of crisis carers, we're not there for certain children. We're there for all the children that come to us,” Monica concludes.
Safety in numbers perhaps?
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.