When talking with Stacey and Sarah one thing becomes immediately clear. Their open-mindedness, their commitment, their togetherness and their ability to love unconditionally.
Four qualities that make them totally cut out to be foster parents.
You couldn’t get a more diverse pair. There’s Sarah – she’s a shift worker in the community sector, of aboriginal background. There’s Stacey – a social worker, of Scottish background. Together they are mums in the foster care system. A same sex couple currently caring for one child aged 15 months.
This diversity extends to their foster care experiences, with Stacey and Sarah having started as concurrency carers, they now care for their daughter long term. And they have also experienced the emotional highs and lows of crisis care and restoration – when their foster child has been returned to its birth family.
“It's really tough when kids leave, when you've been asked to make a commitment forever to the child, and you have to trust the system and you have to trust that that's the right decision for the child. To love a little person that could be your child forever, and then find out that they're not, is really tough,” says Sarah.
Stacey says the emotions that linger can be hard.
“I think as well you definitely go through a period of grieving. One of our foster children, the foster baby that went to their father and birth family, that was over two years ago now and we still grieve for her,” she says.
So, why do they put themselves through it? Why foster?
“I think we foster, well I know we foster, because we had reached a time in our life, we were married and we were thinking about a family and we thought about all the different options, obviously the natural options aren't quite as easy for us. We both work in this sector of foster care so we saw that there was a need for foster carers, and because of that we felt it was the best option for a family,” Stacey says.
Sarah says the pair had talked about other options – they discussed IVF, adoption, different ways to have a family, and they made a united decision that they would give foster care a try. For them it worked, and they’ve had diverse experiences with concurrent care - a baby that came to them and was restored to its birth family, a baby who lived with them and now lives with his siblings, and their baby girl who was placed with them at just four days old. She is now their daughter long term.
The pair explain that when it comes to fostering, commitment is key.
“You have to be committed to the child and committed to the child's birth family as well, and the circumstances they find themselves in, which is a big deal. It's more of a big deal for that child than it is for anybody else,” Stacey says.
There is no doubt that the couple’s open-mindedness and non-judgemental nature has made foster care the right choice for them.
“We have to not be judgemental. I think that's so important, to be open minded. Essentially, you're opening your whole life to a family that you've never met, to a child that will be placed with you with maybe ten minutes’ notice, with no preparation, and you just have to roll with it. I think it's tough, so you have to be committed and you have to be ready to do it,” explains Sarah.
This is definitely the case for crisis care, when children are placed at very short notice. But how does concurrency care differ? Concurrency foster care is a particular kind of foster care that is predominantly only available to carers in the ACT.
Sarah explains further.
“Concurrency Care is essentially when you are asked to love a child forever and provide a family and a home for that child forever, but that there's a chance that that child might leave. It essentially means that you're asked to fall in love with a child knowing that there is a huge amount of time of uncertainty, a really tough time of waiting to find out what's going to happen, and whilst building a relationship with the birth family and taking the child to contact and really just not knowing about the future of your family essentially.”
Sarah and Stacey say they often get comments from others around how they can even foster if they haven’t got any children of their own.
“Children never come with manuals, so you rely on the supports around you, but you also get training. As a foster carer you get training in trauma, which is always helpful,” says Stacey.
And trauma can definitely be a reality in the foster care world. Sarah reveals that kids in foster care sometimes come with complexities that your own biological children wouldn't have.
“Even when they're super small, they're having anxiety, they're having separation issues, they might be unwell. I mean there are a lot of things to consider in regards to children having problems, but there's a lot of support and training that you get to understand how to support the children in your care,” Sarah says.
And was being gay ever a barrier to foster care? Well they are living proof that it’s not, and Sarah says there are quite a few same sex couples that foster and do all different types of caring, and you absolutely, absolutely can foster if you're gay.
“Yeah, and it actually doesn't matter what background you're from. It's your commitment to the child, and if you wanted to be a foster carer, try,” says Stacey.
And the pair says the support they have received throughout their foster care experiences has been invaluable.
"There's plenty of help. There's professional help, there's carer support help, there's caseworker help, but also your natural networks really come together. When you say that you're going to have a child in your home, all of a sudden everybody is visiting more and offering things, and there's plenty of support. We've been overwhelmed by the support that we've received from ACT Together and from our family and our friends,” says Sarah.
One thing they have had to face, and have done it very well together, is having contact with the birth families of the children they have cared for. This is often a controversial topic and one that is widely misunderstood by the broader community.
“I think before you become a foster carer the idea of having contact with birth families is so wrong. Like people are scared of these people that they have no idea who they are, they hear things in the media about parents abusing their children and being drunk and addicted to drugs and having big mental health problems. In reality, we have found that working with the birth families has been beautiful,” says Stacey.
There is no doubt that this duo’s qualities are what has made this aspect a little easier. Stacey and Sarah embrace their childrens’ birth families as their own extended family. Without judgement. Without fear. With love.
“If it wasn't for our baby's mum and dad we wouldn't be mums, we wouldn't have a family. We love them and we tell them that we love them, and we embrace them, we embrace her extended family, and they have embraced us, and they are a 100% important to us. We have their photos in our home, we talk about them often, we will always be inclusive of them,” Sarah says.
“Children don't come in isolation, children come with a family, and we love their family as we love our child.
“It all takes love. I think you have to be prepared to have your heart broken, and you have to be prepared to love whatever child comes into your care with all your heart knowing that they may leave, but they might stay as well. Yeah, you
just got to have lots of love,” Stacey concludes.
Yes sometimes, love IS all you need.
If you have any questions or would like to enquire about becoming a foster carer call us on1300 WEFOSTER (1300 933 678) or fill out our carer enquiry form.