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Shortage of Foster Carers in Auckland

29 October 2004

Shortage of Foster Carers in Auckland

Foster carers are in desperately short supply in the Auckland region according to Barnardos Foster Care Service.

“We have 58 foster carers at present,” says Barnardos Foster Care Senior Social Worker, Sarah Alden, “but could do with at least another 20 to meet the increased demand for care. In particular we need foster carers able and willing to look after adolescents and/or infants and young children for short to long-term stays.”

Barnardos is a leading and experienced provider of foster care for families and respite care for children when their own families are dealing with crisis. Most children are referred by the Child, Youth and Family Service, with some from community organisations and occasionally self-referrals.

“In recent years there has been increased pressure on the service,” says Sarah, “partly because many children are staying in foster care for longer periods of time – years rather than months. The increased number of two-income households also means there are fewer numbers of people available to foster younger children, particularly pre-schoolers.”

“Foster caring can be very rewarding. You get to see children, who may have come into your care physically and/or emotionally damaged, begin to unfold like a flower and develop their own little personalities. Then you know you have made a difference.”

“For many of the children we foster, this is a first opportunity to experience the security and consistency that is normal in well functioning families. Regular meals, clothes, attendance at school and a toothbrush of your own, things we so often take for granted.” says Sarah.

Barnardos Foster Care Service has very strict selection and recruitment standards for foster families, and provides a high level of on-going support to ensure that children benefit as much as possible from their time in care.

Sarah heads a team of six in the Auckland-based Foster Care Service team.

Marie talks about being a foster carer

We are a foster family. My husband and I, with our nine-year old, care for children of all ages – day old babies upwards (excluding teenagers – we leave that to those that have been there, done that!). Both genders (but we prefer girls). Sibling groups (wow, we take more than one kid at a time).

Short term, respite, medium term and long term, we take them all. It’s a major miracle that our lives ever went down this path. Bad press, misinformation on fostering and my own strong personal agenda always put me off ever considering fostering as an option. In fact, whenever anyone did suggest it to me my standard answer was always ‘I couldn’t foster, I wouldn’t want to give them back!’ Five years and many children later, I can say that I love fostering (about 90% of the time) and that some kids are easier to give back than others! It’s all my friends’ fault really. An experienced foster family, with 20 years under their belt and so many kids they’ve lost count, talked us into, through and out the other side of the process.

They recommended Barnardos (the very best thing they could have done) and are still a much needed and appreciated part of our support group today – giving much needed advice as we go.

Thanks to them our once tidy house is filled with toys and baby bottles again, tents made with bed blankets over the furniture, washing, washing and more washing, high chairs and walkmans, nappies and makeup. Our house resounds with laughter and crying, loud music and kids dancing, with the sound of miss nine-year-old reading to the little kids, and the next minute fighting with them. Lucky girl gets to experience siblings for a while, but also gets to be an only child again. We experience a greater sense of family and the satisfaction of seeing kids gradually get settled and smile and laugh again.

And we get to listen as they tell you things little ones should never have to tell you. Sometimes we are frustrated with the system and at other times overwhelmed with how well it works and mostly we are saddened that we are ever needed in the first place. But because we are needed, we seek to give each child ‘love with boundaries’, hugs and time out, fun and food, home and happiness for as long as they stay.

We couldn’t do it without our faith in God, our family and friends and the support of Barnardos. Barnardos supply the kids and sometimes the clothes, the encouragement and benefit of their greater wisdom and experience. Barnardos are at the end of the phone anytime and in our homes as often as needed. They supply extra information and training, picnics and birthday presents.

They are the good guys. It’s a great life and we’re not ready to quit yet.
[An 11-year-old girl wrote this (school) speech about being a foster child. She was asked to present it to the assembled school and is happy for it to be published.]

“This is who I am. This is OK!” Who do you live with? Maybe you live with your Mum and Dad or maybe you live with only one of your parents or perhaps you are living with people who you are not even related to? Perhaps you’re like me – ‘a foster kid’. Being in a foster family means that I’m being brought up by people who are not my own parents or family.

There are reasons why children like me are in foster families. Children might be taken away from their parents because of emotional/mental or physical abuse. Some children are badly influenced by their parents using coarse language, drugs, smoking, stealing and hitting and are eventually taken away from their parents. New Zealand does not want these children copying their parents’ poor habits and choices, so it is decided for them that they should be placed into foster care.

The people who make these choices are the police, and Government services such as Child, Youth and Family. You can be placed into foster care at any age, but once you turn 17 you legally get to make these life choices yourself. Being a foster kid is often really tough. Most children feel unloved and unwanted by their own parents and this can be hard to deal with.

Most children will go to counselling and get to talk about how they feel about their parents. Everyday life can be tough. Sometimes foster kids don’t handle things well such as being told ‘no’ or being told off for something so small and silly they react badly. It can be tough trying to feel like you fit in, because there are a few people who tease and bully you because of something that’s not your fault.

So if you ever think about teasing someone that’s a foster kid or different in any way, stop and think, we’re all kids with a lot of the same problems in life such as friends, school, boyfriends or girlfriends. And besides, how many children are special enough to be chosen by complete strangers to be their child. I’m lucky, I was!


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