Stretch-A-Family

Nykki's Story
foster carers come in all shapes and sizes

“Try. There is no fail.  If you think you have the capacity and patience – talk to some of us. Come hang out. We’re just like everyone else with possibly a little more parenting training, and I throw a great barbeque!”

Nykki

Age: 48

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

Nykki and her husband Dave have cared for children of various ages: from 3 months old to 17 years old. They have looked after 17 kids across 5 years. The kids in her care call Nykki “Mama Gigi.” We had a chat to Nykki to learn more about her fostering journey.

What was the motivation to become a foster carer?

My partner & I met late in life. Dave already had grown children. We talked about all options and then paused everything to just be married for a while. Four years later, we saw a My House Rules episode where the teams did a beach house for a foster agency. The next morning over breakfast we both said, ”Hey, I was thinking…”

How did you find the authorisation process?

The first assessment in NZ was extremely painful. Because of my abusive and alcoholic childhood, my assessor was pretty hostile at first. Over time, a lot of demons were laid to rest in my personal past as well as in her carer assumptions. Kids aren’t to blame and have nothing to be ashamed of! Being honest about my past doesn’t mean that I am perpetuating or condoning the abuse. I changed my life with a lot of stubbornness, luck and love. No longer a victim. I’m a victor – just trying to live my life and model a different one for kids with similar experiences.

Apart from the training that SAF provides, what other steps did you take to prepare for being a foster carer?

Our “prep” was ridiculous!! We were so excited that we went a teeny tiny bit overboard. We kitted out rooms in the house by age and gender, we got everything from prams to bikes and scooters, computers, dolls, lava lamps, duvet covers and sparkly pillows. Clothing/books/toys/shoes for all age ranges. We now have about 5 of those original items, but it was fun to find families who actually had children of that age/gender who could really use the stuff instead of gathering dust until a kid who would use it dropped into our family!!

How would you describe your family dynamic?

Silly Billy with Friday Fun Night, Tickle Pincher Monsters, Zombie Tag and impromptu dance recitals in wigs and wings on the dogs. Always hunting fairies and dragons. Chores before TV and toys. Pyjama days are super important, so are cupcakes for breakfast on your birthdays. No one likes the “Mom” voice, so we try to be kind. Apologize and hug when we forget – even the grown-ups!  Oh, and permanent markers aren’t really the best to make whiskers and kitty paws with, but Mama GiGi probably should have put them on a higher shelf. Ooops.

What does family mean to you?

Tomorrow. I come from a place where today was really scary, and it is much nicer to choose my own family. Respect the past. Love what you can. Live for a better today and hope for tomorrow. Pass on traditions, create new ones.

What do you love about being a foster carer?

When my expressions or *some* of my behaviours are parroted in the kids. Sneak smooches. When the trust is built up enough that they can cry with me or on me and know that Mama GiGi will make them feel better.

What is something that surprised you or you weren’t expecting about being a carer? 

How my perception of the world changed. I am their voice. Their advocate. I remind people that we are not a ‘case’, my kids aren’t ruled by tick boxes and we are all lucky to have crossed into each other’s lives.

What are some things you love about the child/children in your care? 

Our first is a mini me: sarcasm, humour noir, voices, expressions, stances and ‘tude! Our second teaches me about empathy and magic – she makes sure the dogs always have blankies and pillows in case they get cold, and whispers in my ear what they say to her. She’s pretty sure that Plato is sad because he really wants a little baby brother doggie! Our third has defined resiliency by showing me how she gets up, afraid – every single day. And she faces that scary, unknown day with shoulders back, a smile and kind words to all around her. All three of them are absolutely gorgeous!!

What does the future look like for you and the child/ren in your care? 

The future is always unsure. The reality is they are not our children. My dreams include teaching them to drive, crying at their High School graduation (I’m American, it’s a huge deal…), discussing university vs. travel vs. apprenticeship. Taking them back to Wyoming to see where I grew up and why I cry to John Denver songs. Learning with them more about their Mob and history. Moving them into their first apartment (and sneak decorating). Settling their veil over their faces at the wedding and bouncing their babies on my knee. Having a reunion someday with as many of our kids as we can find so they can meet their brothers and sisters whose pictures line our walls.

What do you like most about being a carer with SAF? 

Honestly, we’ve had a hard road. It started beautifully and SAF felt like family with our first placement. Then circumstances changed drastically and we had a really hard year trying to get some security for our kids. But, we got through it! The sector bureaucracy can be so unwieldy & difficult to navigate, it can seem like the “best interest of the kids” are not really the first priority despite the rhetoric! But there were a few major SAF players that saw what was going on with our particular cases – stepped in and worked their butts off fighting to make sure that our family had an outcome. And under the circumstances – the best outcome possible for the kids. We have come out on the other side with a lot of gratitude and hope, and with the knowledge that SAF is staffed with some pretty amazing people who are willing to listen and able fight when necessary.  They were our voice/ barrier/guide through the bureaucracy.

What would you say to someone considering becoming a carer? 

Even three years ago, I would have probably said something different. Inspirational about life changing blah blah God’s work blah, victim to victor. But here’s the real skinny: “Try. There is no fail.  If you think you have the capacity and patience – talk to some of us. Come hang out. We’re just like everyone else with possibly a little more parenting training, and I throw a great barbeque!”  The training alone is incredible and will take you on an amazing journey of self-discovery.

I am a lucky wife, ex DJ, learning to bake and a foster mom.  I am Mama GiGi!