What’s it like to raise children from a different culture to your own?
Say, for example, you’re Anglo, born and raised in Australia, and you find yourself raising kids from Sudan, Chile, Africa, Cambodia. Children that are different in faith – such as Buddhist - when you are not.
Well, this is life for Trina and Skye. They are both foster carers – concurrent carers of children from cultures and faiths different to their own. Skye and her partner currently have three kids aged five, six and nine, from three different cultural backgrounds. Trina and her partner Adam, have two Cambodian children aged two and seven – both were born in Cambodia to Buddhist parents.
It’s somewhat overwhelming just reading about what they do isn’t it? So, why have they chosen to foster?
“I've been asked that question quite a lot and sometimes people think it's because you're a saint or things like that. Actually, my reason is because I can't have children. Me and my partner found out we couldn't have children and then had to think about how we wanted to have that experience of having a family. And so, we decided to foster,” says Skye.
And so begs the question, why possibly complicate things further by fostering children that are of a different culture to their own? Wouldn’t it have been easier to foster children that looked more like them, for instance?
“The only reason it would be easier would be people wouldn't assume they were either adopted or fostered or they’re not yours. So quite often people say, ‘Are they yours?’ Well, of course they're mine. I'm their parent.
“I'm actually very proud that the children do look different to us and it looks like we've taken extra steps to actually have these children in our family,” says Trina.
When it comes to caring for children of a different culture and faith, it’s clear there is a delicate balance between exposing the children to where they come from, what their birth families want and how much the individual child embraces these elements in his or her own life.
Skye says it’s very important that they recognise the country that the birth families are from. And then they do things that help them connect to that culture. Even what she says are small things to help them connect – like taking their child with an African background to have her hair done from an African woman. She says she just loves getting her ‘cool braids’ and playing with the African children her own age.
For Trina and her partner, they have become quite involved with the Buddhist Temple. They visit with their children’s birth family, especially their Grandma, and they attend temple when there’s special occasions that are specifically for the children.
“And it's given us another level of understanding of other cultures. Even though we all live in Australia, people live their lives quite differently. We've been given an amazing opportunity to do just that,” Trina says.
“I think also for us as well, firstly, a case worker, myself, and the birth family have been developing care plans and cultural plans so we can understand what we can do to encourage that culture. But also, you know, they're kids at heart. So, that's what the other thing is. It's not always about their culture. It's also just being a kid going to school and so on,” says Skye.
Skye and Trina are also working hard individually to dispel the myths around contact with birth parents. They say, for them, contact has been a positive experience overall.
“I think my three children all see their mums every month. And I do that contact with them out in the community. And sometimes it can be a little bit overwhelming, but most of the time this is what that child needs. They need to be able to see their mum or their family.
“I think it gives some identity to the child. The child understands who they look like and they can actually start to ask some of those questions,” says Skye.
Trina embraces her children’s extended family as well.
“We’ve connected with aunties and uncles and their cousins. We've made sure we've kept a very close friendship and relationship especially with the first cousins. I think it's really important. It's expanding their family as well. And they're incredible role models for our children.
“It becomes what you make it. And with our experience we've been very positive and we've had positive responses. We're still in contact with birth families that we've had children and we've cared for years ago. And it's a really lovely thing,”
What is also a lovely thing, is the way these women respect the privacy of the families of the children they care for. They say it’s often the question they get asked the most – the family’s history. Other people want to hear all the gruesome, gory details. The grit.
“A lot of the time I say, ‘it’s none of your business’. Obviously in a very polite way, but it isn’t. They don’t need to know the details. Sometimes I don’t even know the details.
“I also think it’s the child’s story. It’s not my story to tell,” says Skye.
When asked if children in foster care are always naughty or have lots of problems, both women say whilst they can have some issues, they’re mostly just kids. Skye says her nine year old has recently taken to lying, and that it has nothing to do with how he started life, he’s just nine. And Trina says she sometimes questions if certain behaviours occur because they are foster children – then after talking to friends and family with children, she realises most things are just normal. A normal part of having a family. They’re just kids.
And are they ever worried about becoming too attached?
“I don't think you can become too attached. At all. Children need that. The kids need that attachment. Children have attachment disorders and aren't able to. So, if you can attach to them and they can let that attachment to you, you're actually taking a step forward for them. We're the adults. We can sort of deal with it. It's the children. It's about the kids,” concludes Trina.
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.