This week is Foster Care and Kinship week (13th – 19th of September).  And it gives us a chance to celebrate and appreciate our amazing foster carers and the invaluable contribution they are making to the lives of vulnerable children and young people and the community as a whole.

Colleen has been a respite foster carer for over 10 years with The Benevolent Society and in that time she has cared for over 22 children between the ages of 5 and 18.

We sat down with her to discuss her experience of the process of becoming a respite foster carer with The Benevolent Society.

A photo of a smiling Colleen

How did you find the initial interviews and training to become a foster carer? 

At first, I thought being a trained teacher, having come from a very stable background, having dealt with children day in and day out for many, many years, that I would be familiar with children’s needs and I’d be a shoe- in, and I really wouldn’t need a lot of training. I was wrong! I was enormously grateful for the training The Benevolent Society gave me. I learnt so much. From memory there were workshops spread over 3 weekends plus quite a few interviews. I was concerned about the time it took for me to complete the training.  However I have soon realized that this time was so important, as were the interviews and so on.

How did you find having to answer quite private questions?

There was an interview about my childhood and adult life when I revealed a few very personal parts of my story. I was happy to share these because I knew it was in the best interest of the children if The Benevolent Society knows much about us as they can. So I shared my story, trusting in the professionalism of The Benevolent Society to maintain confidentiality.

What was the most challenging part?

I think was the ongoing training. In that first year, when I was asked to attend a workshop at night time somewhere, I remember thinking to myself,” No it’s too cold, it’s too dark, I’m too tired and I’m too busy.”  However, looking back, I’m very glad about the training I’ve done and I’m also glad that The Benevolent Society kept pushing me, very gently, to keep going. 

What were the most important things you learnt in the initial training?

 I have never forgotten a few things I learnt in those first workshops:

  • Never judge the parents of the children, no matter what has occurred. Many of the children’s parents have themselves suffered. 
  • Be aware of the myriad of relationships the children in foster care need to juggle. (For many years I kept the red string we used in the workshop on my fridge to remind me.) 
  • Keep the children’s stories confidential.  Their stories are not for the telling. 

What would you say to other parents who have children who are considering becoming foster carers?

If I had children I’d be making sure that all the children were compatible. I think it can be really hard if everyone is not treated equally in the family. I don’t have to worry about that because I don’t have children.  I think it’s good for the kids to be part of a family. That’s a big ask I think, for parents. I recommend it, but I would suggest that it be a considered decision to see if it’s going to work for everyone in the family as well as the fostered child.   On the other hand, I am able to give children who stay with me undivided love and attention.  

What would you say to anyone else considering becoming foster carers?

In the first instance, do a weekend’s training. Just start the journey.  You can always say ‘This isn’t for me’. But start it. You might find, like me, that you are just inspired to keep going. Note that I am a respite and emergency carer. Because I was working long hours when I first did my training, I decided I could not be a full-time foster carer. Don’t become a foster carer out of guilt. Don’t become a foster carer just because you feel sorry for these children. There has to be other motives. If you want to help children in the world, there’s lots of ways to do that. You can help organisations with financial support or you could become an advocate for children’s rights. I don’t have a lot of money, but I do have time and I have a home and I am willing to be a listening ear. So that’s what I can give. 

Is it rewarding being a foster carer? 

Absolutely. It can be challenging and sometimes disturbing.  It can also be enjoyable, rewarding and fun. This is, without a doubt,  one of the best things I have ever done in my life.  

Thank you to Colleen and all of our registered foster carers at The Benevolent Society, your contributions are invaluable!

If you’d like more information about the steps to become foster parent for The Benevolent Society, click here.