Stretch-A-Family

Sharon & Zoë's Story
Sharon & Zoë

Ages: 55 (Sharon), 48 (Zoë)

Duration of foster care: October 2016 to present

Zoë and Sharon have been offering short-term, respite and emergency care for three years. In this time they have cared for six children, for periods from one day up to ten months. They have mainly cared for teens, and love helping restore children to their birth families.

Why did you decide to become foster carers?

Zoë: My professional background is in child protection & OOHC services, so I’m quite aware of the numbers of children that potentially need care, and also what can happen to children when they don’t have places to go, so that was a big motivator for me.

Sharon: When I heard this from Zoë I thought we need to do something about that! I had no idea how many kids were out there that needed somewhere to go. I think more people would help if they knew how important it is, and how hard it is to find carers.

My family and friends might have thought “what does that mean exactly, fostering children?” They think you’re going to have a child staying with you forever. They don’t realise there is a need for short-term and emergency care. So people are curious about what that means.

How did you find the assessment process?

Z: It is quite a long process. I suppose I’d describe it as rigorous, but then I think it needs to be.

S: I found the training really useful. I enjoyed it, actually! It also meant that we got to meet other people who were going through the process, as well as people from the Agency who are running the training.

Apart from the training that SAF provides, how else did you prepare for being foster carers?

S: In a practical sense, we got one of the rooms ready. We got in some bunks and things like toys, games and books that we wouldn’t normally have in the house for kids. Making sure that you’ve got the sort of things that might be interesting for kids in quite a wide age group. It’s quite fun actually!

Z: Telling people & talking to them about it. Because we offer short-term & emergency care we try to make sure we always have things like spare toothbrushes, and pizza bases in the freezer. So that if somebody turns up without very much you know that you’ve got something for dinner, and you can make sure that they can be comfortable.

How would you describe your family dynamic?

S: I think we have a really amazing family, actually, because we are very organised, and calm. I think some of the kids that have come here have found it almost alien that we always sit together and have dinner together.

Z: The things I would say about our relationship and our home – they all sound like really cheesy clichés actually! There’s lots of love in the house, there’s lots of laughter. There is a really good routine. I think one of the things that we do really well is talk about the fact that everybody that’s in our home is important – regardless of whether they’re here for a long time or a short time, and even the animals!

What does family mean to you?

Z: I view all the children who have been here as part of our family, even though they don’t live with us anymore. That’s not about ownership of them – I’m very clear that somebody else is their family. But we’ve maintained contact to some level with pretty much all of the children that we’ve had here. When people think about foster care, they think that if a child leaves your care you won’t see them or hear from them again. That’s not how relationships work. You might see them, you might go a longer time without seeing them, but you still have a connection with them. That’s really important.

S: It’s been really great for us to see what happens with the kids after they’ve gone. There was one that was really important to me: we got a text message from the mum of a young boy who went home to live with her. It must have been a year later – even longer. She sent us a text just to update us on how he was going. He was the sports captain at his school and had just been elected to student council. His Mum was so proud. His Mum was letting us know because she knew that we cared about him. It was awesome!

What are the biggest challenges of being a carer?

Z: I think however good your relationship is, it challenges you. The thing that really struck me is that we had done all kinds of things together, but we had never parented together. It’s a kind of journey. Most people that parent together start out with a baby and work it out as they go along. Whereas our experience of parenting together has been: you’ve got 9 days with a 4-year-old, then 3 weeks with a 9-year-old, and then 10 months with a 16-year-old. It took us a while to work out how we wanted to parent together.

S: And when you have to work that out over a teenager it’s a very different experience to a 2-week-old! There are a lot of challenges, things that you don’t think of.

Z: There have also been times in that three years that we’ve needed a break for whatever reason. And that’s the thing about doing short-term and emergency care. When you’ve had a child leave your care you can say “we need a month or two to ourselves” so it’s a nice balance, because it is quite intense when you have children here. You actually forget the things that are hard – they kind of fade in your memory. It’s the positive things that stick out.

There is a stigma around teens in foster care being particularly difficult. Sharon said, “and it’s a real shame, because that’s not been our experience at all.”

 

all kids need safe homes!

There is a stigma around teens in foster care being particularly difficult, “and it’s a real shame, because that’s not been our experience at all”  Sharon said.

 

What is something that surprised you?

Z: I had one of our children say to me once “You’re the only place that I’ve never got into trouble.” And I said to him “You know what, you actually did get into trouble quite a lot while you were here, it’s just that when you’re in trouble here we sit down and have a conversation about it!” So he didn’t really see it as being in trouble.

S: It’s calm, we will talk things over. That is a great lesson for kids to take with them: you don’t have to lose your temper or get angry or show your displeasure by slamming doors.

When you hear the stories about the kids and the things that’ve happened to them and the things they’ve been through – how let down they’ve been by the adults in their lives – somewhere in my head I’m thinking “That kid is going to be really angry, or really miserable, or really hurt.” And they might be feeling all those things, but that’s not who they are. They haven’t let those feelings define them necessarily. There might be some hurt there, but they’re ready to trust people again, and try new things.

What are some things you love about the children who have been in your care?

Z: Most of them have been really resilient and funny & engaging. We had one little boy, who I would say had quite a difficult life, but the thing I really remember about him was that even if we’d had a tough day he would be awake at 6am the next morning, and in the shower and singing & going “What are we going to do today?” That kind of spirit and energy, I really loved. I think all the kids we’ve had have been really brave.

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

Z: I like that SAF is quite a small agency, so you feel like you get to know people quite well. Often, people at SAF have already known the children that we’ve had, so that makes the transition easier.

The other thing I really like about SAF is that there are a number of other gay and lesbian carers, and it’s always felt like a really safe place to be lesbian carers.

What would you say to someone considering becoming a carer?

Z: I would say explore it. A lot of people think there’s reasons why they can’t be carers, and maybe you can’t be a full-time carer, but maybe you can have a child one weekend a month! Maybe you can do respite! There are all sorts of different things that people can actually do. So I think if people are thinking about it I would definitely say pick up the phone and have a chat with somebody. Go to an info night – find out more.

S: I would say, just go and do it – it’s great! It’s been really rewarding. I’m really glad we did it.

Z: Me too.