foster care can be deeply satisfying
“From watching kids develop and grow to keeping in touch with some of the kids we’ve looked after before – the rewards are amazing.”
Age of children: 4, 5 & 12 years old
Duration of foster care: Five years, originally in NZ & now with SAF
Type of care offered: Emergency, respite, short term, long term
Dave and his wife Nykki have cared for children of various ages: from 3 months old to 17 years old. They have looked after 17 kids across 5 years. We had a chat to Dave to learn more about his fostering journey.
What was the motivation to become a foster carer?
It started with my wife’s suggestion. We do not have any children of our own. I have two adult children from my first marriage. At first the motivation was to support Nykki in her desire to have a family and then something changed and it became a passion for me in my own right to help kids and give them opportunity to have a loving upbringing. It’s a mix of selfishness and selflessness. I love having the kids around and seeing them grow – it makes me feel good and then I love giving to them – not the material things (although I enjoy doing that too) but encouraging them with homework, taking them to sports, showing them the joy of a home cooked meal, giving hugs and seeing them able to sleep at night where they no longer fear what will happen in the middle of the night.
How did you find the assessment process?
It’s very invasive and intense. You face personal questions like “how will your adult children react to you fostering?” Definitely thorough and I think that’s a good thing – they need to do the best they can to make sure carers are the right people.
Apart from the training that SAF provides, what other steps did you take to prepare for being a foster carer?
Obviously we had previous experience. I had experience raising my own children. We also talked with friends and sought out their help. Neighbours helped us out with things like baby cots and the like so we had things ready for whichever child came our way. After our first weekend providing emergency care for two boys we went to a local church shop where they gave us all manner of things from gumboots to colouring in books. I remember a complete stranger overhearing us talking about our experiences from the weekend and next thing she gave us takeaway coffees from the local café. Community is vital.
How would you describe your family dynamic?
We’re a little bit crazy. We joke a lot. We try not to sweat the little stuff but we come down hard on the big stuff. No room for meanness, violence or other ways of hurting members of the family. Family includes the dogs and any other pets we may have. Family includes everyone in the house – every child who comes into our home is family – and remain family long after they leave. Every child we have cared for is in at least one picture on the wall. We laugh and cry. We argue and cuddle. We support each other.
What does family mean to you?
Family holds us together. It’s the foundation on which individuals can strive for anything because the family is there to push them, encourage them and catch them when they fall.
What do you love, or what is the most rewarding aspect of being a carer?
Watching the kids grow – in their confidence and security. To see them slowly understand that this is a safe home full of love where they can sleep safe at night, get fed and bathed regularly and be loved for being themselves. Seeing them learn how to look after themselves, participate at school, be part of a sports team or play an instrument – simply put, to live a normal and healthy life. That’s Iove: being able to give to the kids in our care.
What are your biggest challenges as a carer?
Dealing with the bureaucracy of the foster care system. It can be hard work dealing with agencies and FACS as well as the decisions that happen at Court where we have no say.
What is something that surprised you or you weren’t expecting about being a carer?
How rewarding it can truly be. From watching kids develop and grow to keeping in touch with some of the kids we’ve looked after before – the rewards are amazing.
What are some things you love about the child/children in your care?
Their funny expressions – how they pick up on our sayings. One of our kids recently asked me as we were leaving daycare if we were going to the supermarket. I said “No, not today”. At that point she goes “Oh man!” at the top of her voice. She sounded just like my wife. Another parent walking into the centre just cracked up.
The kids will spontaneously start dancing or singing. Their pure joie de vivre makes me smile every day.
What does the future look like for you and the child/ren in your care?
Together. That’s what I see – us being together and growing as a family. I see a normal happy childhood ahead for our girls. School plays, sporting and arts events. Homework. Arguments and tears, joy and happiness. And hopefully one day, seeing them contributing to society, working and raising healthy, well-rounded kids of their own.
What would you say to someone considering becoming a carer?
Think hard about it. Be aware that it’s not for everyone and is a very personal choice. Know that if you do go into it, the rewards will be amazing – but it’s not easy, it’s scary and it’s frustrating – yet it’s an amazing journey. Lastly, if you do pursue it, believe in yourself. You’ll make mistakes but as long as you’re trying to help the children you’re looking after, you’re over halfway there. When things go wrong, fix them and say sorry, then move on. Use all the help that’s available to you and remember you are making a real difference – even when you can’t see it yourself.