Have you ever wondered how foster care works in Victoria?
A new personal blog series exploring the highs and lows that epitomise the conversations you have at brunch.
This is Part 14 of a series. For a recap, click here.
After two pregnancy losses and realising that adoption was in no way going to be a smooth process, we were told by many to look into the foster system. People around us - adoption agents, doctors, psychologists - said it was 'much easier,' that it was quicker, and it was a way to help vulnerable children in need.
I would say from my limited experience exploring the system, the above is both correct and incorrect.
At one stage, we looked into fostering a child, or children. We still are open to it. But what we didn't realise is everything that goes along with it.
The Victorian foster care system, sometimes called state care in other regions, is assisting in housing and caring for children who, for a range of reasons, cannot live at home. This can go from a single day to ongoing care, and you are there to provide food, clothing, shelter, and emotional support to children in need. It sounds as though it can be incredibly rewarding for all parties, providing a safe haven for children who need it. It is also a great option for people who may not want to have their own or commit to long term, but want to help out when they can; for people who couldn't have children or adopt for various reasons; or people who have been through a similar system themselves and want to provide care.
There are a few 'versions' of foster care in Victoria.
Emergency care is when you provide a safe space for a children, or children, who have been removed from their home and need a place to stay. It may not be long term.
Respite care is taking a child or children who already have foster parents for a weekend or short stay. It is designed to give everyone a bit of a break, commonly for children who need extra support.
Short term foster care is when you look after a child or children who may be awaiting a decision to go back home, or another placement based upon the courts.
Long term foster care is, in a way, similar to adoption - a placement to become the child's legal guardian for all intents and purposes until they turn 18. The long term care essentially makes you a parent, but there are some differences to adoption - there are no name changes, they are not legally your 'child' after 18 (for issues such as inheritance), and in some instances, you may choose for the relationship to discontinue. When you adopt, the child is yours as if you had them biologically.
We did some research on the above, and had a few online meetings with a foster care service. I know after our discussion that at this stage of my life, I would not be able to handle emergency or short term care, or long term without a court agreement that they were 'ours.' The idea of getting close to, and loving, a child that could be taken away from me would just be too much for my heart to bear. Knowing that I could have a child for four weeks, months, years, only for them to leave, was not something I knew I could cope with at that time.
We were open to respite care, as all parties know it is just a weekend, and there is no confusion. The foster lady also really wanted us on board - my partner could take a little kid fishing or boating, take some kids to movies or Luna Park, and back home they go. But to be honest, while lovely, and still something we would like to do down the track... it wasn't enough. Not for everyone. But for us.
We also have looked into long term care, and it is still something we are considering. However, for both this and adoption, it is a fairly long process. Interviews, tests, house inspections. You need a room ready for the child (which we presently don't have solely, it is also a WFH office) which I can understand, but not many people have a spare kids room in case one comes by, ready to go! The idea of having an empty kid's room also makes me feel very sad.
They also prefer that the child placed with you, and same for adoption, is the youngest. So if we had a baby, they wouldn't then go out of their way to place a 7 year old with us, which had us disappointed.
She also said that by the time a child gets to long term care, a lot of the time, they have been through the system. This is a child who may have gone in and out of foster homes and back home again, and now for a final reason, needs a long term placement. They are tired, traumatised, and deeply affected by this upbringing, as anyone would be.
"For instance," she said, "We may give you a call and say, we have an overtly sexual 12 year old girl, or a somewhat violent five year boy. Will you accept them into your care?"
Immediately, again, you feel like a massive piece of sh*t. They need people like us, you think, to help them on the straight and narrow. Be the hero they need, provide that love and support. The other side of me gets frightened and doesn't know that I'm a big enough person to handle it. Again... this could also just happen with my own biological child, so just go with it.
Also... I couldn't help but think... what if we don't like each other? She said if things don't work out you can call, but I thought that must be even more awful for the child. What if it had already happened to them 12 times? There's not really a 'try before you buy' situation. This kid is thrust into the home of people they don't know, and may not like or gel with... and it goes both ways.
Also, without a court order, there are a lot of rules on fostering. For instance, many children stay in touch with their families, with face-to-face catch ups (not on your property) or online, and these relationships are encouraged to continue.
The foster agencies can also help with taking kids to school, welfare payments, and if any party is struggling. Training is mandatory. Without a court order, you cannot, for example, take the child away on a holiday interstate or overseas. Even if you wanted to go within your state, you need to call and let the agency know. Any adult who will be around the child needs to have been vetted first - even friends you may have pop round, who may be at a holiday house, etc. This all makes sense, but it does just add to the complex nature of it all.
These children will have come from traumatised backgrounds - mental, physical, a lot of the times both. They may have coping mechanisms including outbursts, being withdrawn, violence, overly emotional, learning difficulties, social difficulties, that you need to help nurture.
I will say - if I am incorrect here, I am very happy to be wrong. If you are reading this as someone who knows the process much better than I, have gone through it, know it, please do reach out, I am still learning.
It is a lot. It is still something we think we may do at some point. We just weren't sure if it should be our first stop with no experience as parents, particularly in complex matters, without a room specifically ready, and without wanting to cause any more hardship or disruption to these children's lives.
I wanted a child I could nurture and raise from infancy into adulthood, that no one could take away after everything else had been taken. I wanted to help them settle in at school, not a poor 12 year old who arrives, is thrust into a new room and school and is forced to just go with it. How unsettling for them. I'd hate my foster parents too, especially if they tried too hard to parent me or give me rules or did weird rituals I didn't understand.
So we thought, and decided to put it not in the yes, not in the no, but in the not right now.
And then we thought we found our solution.
Like what you read? Subscribe so you don't miss out on the next instalment here.