AnglicareSA CEO The Reverend Peter Sandeman provided insight into the vital role of foster carers in a column in The Advertiser.
If anyone understands the importance of foster carers, it’s me and my twin brother. We were fostered by a couple when we were one-year-old. That couple went on to adopt us, becoming our mum and dad for life, and we were lucky enough to grow up in a stable, supportive home with three brothers and sisters.
Not all foster children and foster families are as lucky as we were.
And when it comes to the death of a child there are only losers.
Every night in South Australia there are about 2600 children under the Guardianship of the Minister. AnglicareSA supports up to 500 of those children – most live with 400 foster families supported by AnglicareSA staff. Other children and young people live in residential homes where they are supported by our staff.
We recognise that if a child is unable to live with their birth family, or a relative, then living in a stable home where they can experience security, care and love is the best outcome for them.
Being a foster carer is taking an opportunity to change a child’s life forever. If parenting is one of the hardest jobs in the world, then being a foster carer has an extra level of difficulty.
The children and young people they welcome into their homes may have experienced extremely traumatic situations, including abuse and neglect. They may have behavioural problems, health issues, disability or psychological trauma. Those children and young people may need extensive help and support, with appointments for counselling, medical appointments and consistent care and reassurance.
Foster families come under more scrutiny and are held to higher standards than biological families.
Foster carers understand that they will frequently be working together with social workers and support staff to reunite the children in their care with birth families whenever it is possible.
We need to remember that, in many cases, parents whose children are removed from them are devastated. It’s not that they don’t want their children, it’s that, for a number of reasons, they are unable to care for them. Many parents work extremely hard to better themselves and their situations in the hope of being reunited with their children.
So, imagine having your child removed from you in life and then losing them forever in death. Imagine being a foster carer when a foster child dies. Both families will be grief-stricken.
There are no simple answers in an incredibly sad situation like this.
As a community, the best thing we can do is to support people from before the time they have children. We want them to have strong relationships, find meaningful work, have a full family life and to be actively involved in the community in which they live.
As most of us learn how to parent by the way we ourselves were raised, we need to identify parents who are struggling and support them to adopt better ways of raising their children, breaking that cycle of ignorance, neglect or abuse.
When children are unable to live with their birth parents, foster carers are vital. We need to do more to support the foster families we have and to recognise their important role in raising children and young people. Where there is no chance of reunion with the birth family, permanency of placement will increase the security of the foster child and the wellbeing of the family.
Foster carers currently receive a small allowance which rarely covers the expense of a child or young person joining their family. Decisions about the child’s health and welfare are frequently made by social workers. I would like to see monetary allowances increased for foster families and for foster carers to receive more authority, better reflecting what happens in the “average” family.
Finally, we need to encourage new carers to “join the foster care family”. Our foster families need to reflect the diverse community we are. We welcome foster carers from all walks of life – single, in a couple, with children or without, empty nesters, gay, straight, working full time or studying.
My heart breaks for the Perretts, for everyone involved in little Finn’s short life, and for everyone who experiences the loss of a child. There is no single right answer when it comes to raising families but together, as a community, we can create brighter futures for children.