It’s never too little, too late.
People often go through life stuck in a rut. A job they’re not happy with, the same routine every day, watching their children grow up, leave the nest and move on with their own families in a linear fashion.
But Tony has never been one to follow the predictable path. He was an athlete, a coach, involved with sports organisations and for the past ten years has been an online vocational trainer assessor in the vet sector. Bit of a change, right?
Together with his wife, Tony has also raised four children, now adults who don’t live at home, and surprisingly, they have taken this time in their lives to become long term foster carers for two boys aged 16 and 12 years.
The boys’ age is important. You see, Tony and his wife have long term orders to foster care for these boys until the age of 18 and beyond. At the time of placement into their care, the boys were considered older kids, the hardest category to find homes for in the foster care system.
So why do they foster?
“I foster care because the time of life I'm at now, the timing, the background, and experiences of my partner and myself have come together. We have a grown family of four children. The time was right to be able to give something back and be able to put a safe home environment, a roof over kids' heads, being able to look after them and help them to further their development, their dreams, their aspirations, and their potential,” Tony says.
So, it’s not a case of too little too late to take on an older, possibly traumatised child? Tony says it’s never too little, and it’s never too late. He expresses that he and his partner have seen remarkable changes in the two boys that came to them years ago – changes in their development, progress and growth.
“The oldest one, part way through his time with us, actually broke us up when he put forward a request to us. He said, ‘Can you help me to be a good man? I want to grow up to be a good man and to have a family of my own.’ To this day that sort of chokes me up a little bit because that's what he's asked us to do. That's what he is doing and we're seeing it happen,” Tony reveals.
“Of course, we’re having a lot of problems along the way, as any parent does with any of their biological children - kids changing from primary to high school, the social pressures of getting into year seven, and how to establish friendships and things, and watching that emotional growth, their academic growth, their physical growth.
“It’s never too late because even though we've had these kids with us for nearly seven years, and they'll be with us for quite some time to come, is that when they do leave us, we know that they will be good people,” he says.
Long term foster care is different from other forms of foster care such as short term/crisis care, or concurrency care. Obviously, as the name suggests, care is long term. Orders are put in place which means the carer/s will have parental responsibility until the child or children are legally adults. Tony explains that as long term carers they have a degree of stability with the kids in helping to develop them.
The couple has also done short term care, which he says is emotionally more difficult.
“We've also looked after little kids. We've had babies. We actually had one that in a nice way broke our hearts. He was with us for nine months. We had his first birthday, his first Christmas, first Easter. We were so fortunate to experience that. We captured it for his family. When he had to leave us, it was lovely to see him go with his biological family and be reunited,” he says.
Over the years of caring for older children long term, Tony has been asked on several occasions if he and his wife have ever thought about adoption.
“In our case, no, in terms of the kids that have been in our care because the kids in our care have parents and they were aware of their parents. We did not want to be seen as replacing their biological parents,” Tony says.
On the subject of adoption, Tony also makes a touching revelation that foster care runs in the family. It is multi-generational with his own biological daughter now also a foster carer with ACT Together. And it is Tony’s daughter and son in law who are going through the adoption process.
It’s perhaps Tony and his wife’s’ nurturing, loving, caring traits that have successfully been passed on to their daughter - ‘passing the real-life batten’ as Tony likes to say.
Tony lights up as he shares a true story that began in 1937. It’s what has formed the basis of why he chose to foster and is about his own father who, at just seven years of age, was without even a pair of shoes to his name. A complete stranger helped him out – this woman buying his first pair of shoes, then later his first suit, then following his progress and development through the Police Boys Club unit. She supported his family with care and put a roof over their head.
That boy went on to represent Australia at the Olympic games, heading to Helsinki in 1952. He came back and at that Police Boys Club established support for kids putting clothes on their back. Tony says it became a safe haven for kids to be able to get off the street, to be able to avoid crime, and to actually learn values and principles of life.
“I'm very, very proud of what happened and the benefit that was afforded to my father, and that is something when I talk about the real-life batten and handing things down as a legacy, he did it for other kids and he did it for us.
“It's our social obligation, I feel, to continue carrying the batten and helping other kids as well, and providing them with an opportunity for them to become a Prime Minister, to represent Australia, to establish a business, to become a good person, to have a family,” Tony concludes.
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.