Kylie was one of Perth Mums Group’s earliest members and her thoughtful comments can often be seen in the forums, answering questions and offering opinions. But her answers quickly show that not only does she have a lot more children than the Australian average (six currently) but they are foster children. I spoke with Kylie about what it is like being a foster parent and how she got started:
‘I am 37 years old and never been married. I was a camp leader for 11 years and one of my kids was in foster care. I still keep in contact with the kids, and I offered to take Emma when she was 15 and needed someone. That was in October 2003, so I have now been fostering for about 13 years.’
In that thirteen years, Kylie has fostered about 130 children, up to ten at a time, for varying periods. Initially, it took about four months for her to be approved as a foster carer and to have all the necessary checks and paperwork completed (today it is closer to six months). Currently, she cares for six children.
When asked how she knew she would be a good foster parent, she simply said ‘I didn’t know. All I could do was try.’ Although it is more common for foster parents to already have biological children of their own, it is certainly not a requirement, and Kylie laughs that she is probably the exception.
Carers can be accredited through a number of places including church groups and private agencies such as Wanslea, Barnardos and Key Assets. Kylie fosters through the government (Department of Child Protection), and admits that while they are less supportive as the agencies, she finds she gets most of her support from her family and best friend and by joining a playgroup with her youngest foster kids.
Regardless of which agency parents foster through, all foster parents received a fortnightly payment for each child to cover essentials (‘it doesn’t!’ says Kylie), plus other payments throughout the year such as clothing allowances and pocket money for the children.
Although foster parents are taking on a task that many people admit they wouldn’t be able to do, they are often met with a range of reactions. Kylie says ‘Sadly, some people don't really treat you as the parent. Usually people are curious. Some are mean and nasty. Mostly though people are nice.’
You can become a foster family if you already have biological children
I asked Kylie what skills and motivations a good foster parent needed, and naturally, many are the same as biological parenting such as basic organisational and cooking skills. But Kylie says ‘Foster parents need to be able to advocate for the kids. We need to be adaptable. The 11 month old they ask you to have may actually be 11 weeks old. The contact visit with family may happen… or it may not.”
Like all parenting, fostering comes with its challenges – such as difficult behaviours - but there are extra issues that biological parents probably would never consider. “It's challenging getting attached to a child that you could lose and never see again,” says Kylie. It is in this regard that she sees foster parenting as very different from biological parenting.
Again, like all parenting, the most rewarding aspects are the children themselves, but this is also where fostering differs. Kylie says that the other rewarding things about fostering is seeing families do what they need to do and get their children back, although it also means that Kylie must say farewell to yet another child.
Saying gooodbye can be difficult
If fostering is something you have wondered about or would consider in the future, Kylie offers this advice: “Do lots of research. Talk to every foster parent you can. Join the Facebook groups. Choose who you foster through wisely. Prepare to have your heart broken repeatedly. Your physical and mental health will take a beating, but find those who will support you and help you and hold them close.”
To find out more about fostering, The Foster Care Association of Western Australia is the peak body in WA, working in the interests of all foster agencies in the state, and provides good information for families wanting to learn more about fostering.