Foster Care Awareness Week
23 October 2008
IHC on the lookout for people who want to fall in love
It takes a special kind of person to foster a child with intellectual disabilities – and IHC is on the lookout for more of them.
“Ideally, we want these caregivers to fall in love with these children. We want them to treat them as a member of their family,” says Denyse Wilcox, general manager of IHC’s family/whanau services. “We are always short of caregivers everywhere.”
IHC is hoping Foster Care Awareness Week (2–8 November) will prompt more people to think about helping some of the most vulnerable children in our communities.
Children with intellectual disabilities are placed in foster care under family/whanau services usually in one of two ways – through a referral from the Needs Assessment Agency (NASC), or through Child, Youth and Family.
Denyse says where a child is referred by the NASC, it is because it has been determined that the child is so significantly disabled they require specialised out-of-home care.
Children are referred through Child, Youth and Family because there has been a problem of some kind. “They come through CYF for the same reasons that any other child comes through CYF; through abuse, neglect, abandonment,” Denyse says.
Denyse is looking for foster carers who would consider making a long-term commitment to a child. “We have got caregivers who have been with us for 10 years, 15 years. But we have others who have only been with us two years,” she says.
Denyse says while family/whanau services prefer long-term fostering arrangements, she understands that people might feel daunted. Prospective foster carers could consider other forms of care – respite care or shared care – that would give them a chance to see what was involved.
“This is a serious decision. How they behave as a caregiver will impact on that child and on their future,” she says.
At present, there are more than 1000 people providing care through family/whanau services around the country.
If you would like more information, please contact IDEA Services family/whanau team on 0800 442 442 or email email@example.com
23 October 2008
It was love at first sight with Lily
When doctors say Lily will never be able to do certain things, her foster mum Ann takes that as a challenge.
Lily, 10, who was born with severe intellectual and physical disabilities, has lived with her foster carers Ann and Rob Russell in Gisborne from the time she was a baby.
Lily has a rare genetic disorder called Cornelia de Lange syndrome that affects her physical and intellectual development. Lily cannot eat normally, she has trouble walking, and she has a vision and hearing impairment and cannot speak.
Ann says she was told by IHC’s Family/Whanau services, ‘If you agree to take her, it will be 14 days on and two days off’. “I said, Flip! You mean 24 hours a day? So, I said let’s meet the bubby.”
From the moment Ann set eyes on Lily, she was hooked. “She went to sleep on me. She was eight months old and I fell in love.”
Lily had a cleft palate, repaired late, and for the first nine years of her life had to be fed by a gastric tube through her nose. Learning to put the tube in was terrifying at first. “I was scared that I would put it in her lung or something.”
Lily now has a g-peg, a feeding tube going directly into her stomach, but she can also now swallow tiny amounts of food because Ann was determined Lily would experience the pleasure of eating.
“I put something on her tongue and stroked her throat until she swallowed. It took years and years and years but now, once a day, she will have a little tin of baby custard.”
Ann also wanted Lily to learn to walk. “A specialist told us that she would never walk because her feet are really tiny. I thought, right, mister.
“We went and got one of those big exercise balls and for months and months I would sit in a seat and put Lily against the ball so she would be leaning with her hands on the ball. I would tip it forward and she would shuffle forward.
“It took about a year. She still has a wheelchair for long distances, but she walks around the house,” Ann says.
Now Ann is focusing on her speech. Lily has hearing aids – when she isn’t pulling them out – and Ann is hoping that with improved hearing she might be able to learn to speak.
“She makes a lot of different noises but Mum is the only word she can say. She will only say that when she is very upset.”
Lily goes to school from 9.30am to 2pm where she is supported by two teacher aides and has her own specially built room. She joins her classmates for art and certain other activities, but when they are doing maths or writing stories, Lily goes to her room and does correspondence work. Then twice a week, she is off to her favourite activity – Riding for the Disabled. “She is a natural,” Ann says.
So what made Ann and Rob, with four adult children and two grandchildren, take on Lily? “I think the bottom line was that we just fell in love with her and with Lisa, her mother. We just had a connection with the two of them. It was just like love at first sight. She was supposed to be with us.”
They are in constant contact with Lily’s mum Lisa Gillies, a sole mother with four boys.
“Our whole life really revolves around Lily. In the whole ten years we have had her, we have only had one holiday away from her,” Ann says. That was a family wedding in England and Ann fretted the entire time she was away from Lily.
Asked to name the best things about looking after Lily, Ann has no hesitation – “hitting her milestones. The things that the doctors said she would never do. She is a sweet little girl; it’s great to be able to help her achieve.”
If you are interested
in being a caregiver, please contact IDEA family/whanau
services manager in Gisborne Anne McNabb on (06) 868 4158.