Uniting foster carers share inspiration to care
7 March 2019
An awareness of other foster carers in their church community is what led Mid North Coast couple, Mark and Sharon Smith on their own journey to becoming foster carers with Uniting as part of the Uniting Permanency Support Program.
Mark 62, and Sharon 56, are respite carers for 11-year-old Lilly* who has stayed with them on regular weekends and school holidays since November 2017. They are also now full-time carers for her 13-year-old brother, Angus*.
The couple both work and have two grown children. Mark, 62, is a former panel beater and now works part-time as a teacher’s aide and school chaplain. Sharon, 56, is in an office administration role. They agree that previous parenting experience is helpful, as is the support and training provided by Uniting.
“Our decision to become carers was a long journey which came about over time and prayer,” reflected Mark.
“We feel God has led us in this way, it has always been on the periphery as it aligns with our Christian values, and when our son got married and left home, the timing seemed right for us to do it.”
Uniting is an accredited provider of the NSW Government’s Permanency Support Program in Western NSW, Western Sydney and on the Mid North Coast and is seeking more carers for children who cannot live permanently with their birth family or to support other carers through respite care.
A little bit of stability goes a long way to helping kids lead productive lives according to Uniting Permanency Support Program Manager, Daniel Culhane as he reflects on the increasing need for foster carers across the state.
“When thinking about becoming a foster carer, many people self-select themselves out of consideration, but there are a range of ways to get involved. There is an ongoing need for people to provide short term emergency care or respite care for children placed with our existing long-term carers,” Daniel says.
“Emergency care can be just overnight or up to a few weeks, whereas respite care can be for one weekend a month or during school holidays and is vital to expanding the network of safe relationships for vulnerable young people in care. We welcome people regardless of age, gender, sexuality, ethnicity and religious beliefs. Of course, a commitment to respecting children and promoting their right to be heard is essential.
“Uniting also provides culturally appropriate support for Aboriginal carers through its Aboriginal Development Support Unit as well as with its partner agencies Gaba Yula and Ngurambang,” he added.
Mark is up-front in acknowledging the challenges of taking on full-time care of a young boy who had multiple placements in the three years since entering care. But he says the good days far outweigh the bad.
“Our Uniting caseworker visits each month and we know he is always at the end of the phone if we need any information or advice.”
In addition to their son, the couple have a 28-year-old daughter Alex who lives at home and is studying to become a teacher.
“She is a great support to us, as is our extended family who live nearby, and our church community,” Sharon added.
“We’ve been pleasantly surprised, it’s been so rewarding to see Angus happy and thriving in a family environment. At the end of the day it’s been about providing him with the stability of regular healthy meals, establishing bedtime routines to have a good night’s sleep, and giving him clear boundaries.”
For Mark and Sharon, the key to overcoming some previous challenging behaviour issues has been involving Angus in drawing up a contract around things like bed time and screen time over a family meeting.
“The process of sitting down together and coming up with guidelines has been a real help in establishing boundaries and it’s worked having a signed agreement he can come back to,” says Mark.
“It’s also about making yourself available to provide alternatives to screen time, such as kicking a soccer ball together, going swimming or fishing, or even encouraging him to collect bottles and cans for pocket money.”
Mark, who is one of seven children, likes to instil the importance of family. He and Sharon also support regular contact with Angus and Lilly’s birth family.
“It’s also great that he and Lilly continue to have regular time together, both when Lilly stays with us and on regular contact visits with their birth family around eight times a year and on special occasions.
“What was initially respite care is now more about building their sibling relationship,” says Mark.
For information about becoming a foster carer with uniting call 1800 864 846.
*Name changed to protect identity.
Contact Media@uniting.org or 0457 568 938.