16 December 2013

Open your heart dear ordinary ones

On Universal Children's Day I attended a fascinating forum on the changing face of fostering in Australia.  It is a subject that interests me generally, I know people in the past who have fostered and I know people now who are considering doing it.  I have always thought that this might be something that happens in our family at some stage.

I came away with a billion different thoughts churning through my brain which I have tried and failed over the past couple of weeks to put into a coherent piece that I felt comfortable publishing.  Basically because I worried about coming across as a patronising fertile heterosexual git pontificating on the changing notion of family and how fostering is part of that.

That, for me, was the bit that really resonated in the presentations by both the 'official dudes' and the people who are foster carers.  Family. Fostering for them is about creating or extending families to provide support and love to children who need it.  They don't see themselves as foster families - they see themselves as family.  They don't see themselves as 'getting a foster child', they see themselves welcoming another child into their lives.  A child (or children) who needs a home for whatever length of time that may be. 

How many children are in this situation? That number is an overwhelming 18,000 plus children in NSW alone. An increase of almost 25% in just four years.  That's a lot of kids that need love and support for either 'time-out' or, you know, their entire childhood. 

And the reason I worried about how my words looked all put together is I have too many friends at the moment and in recent years traversing the road of infertility, non-traditional conceptions, surrogacy and long term fostering vs adoption to get all rah rah about something a lot of people consider an end of road option. That of caring for children that don't 'belong' to you.

Belonging is not about ownership or 'making your own'.  You don't love your dog or your partner any less just because you didn't 'make them'.  And children are generally pretty easy to love.  They are just human beings who generally like to be fed, hugged and allowed to watch TV sometimes.  They are robust, intelligent and mostly amusing.  They don't tend to lick their own butt and then your face.  Which makes them miles more attractive than dogs in my view.

Belonging when it comes to relationships is about inclusion. Being a part of, being welcome in, being accepted.  So children that come into your life, children that you want, they are always going to be children that belong to you.

Sophie Ellis Baxter's mother once said to her "It might be the wrong man, it might be the wrong time but it is never the wrong child."  A very simple and powerful statement that has so many levels of true as to be up there with "other very true things people have said that remain true forever because they are very very true"

All sorts of people want children in their lives.  Single people, old people, young people, working people, cool people, dorky people, bearded people, gay people, uber-godly-SAHM people, "traditional" family people, country people, city people, multi-lingual people, people that wrote Jedi on the census form and adult people that wear jelly sandals non-ironically.

And adult people that wear jelly sandals non-ironically aren't necessarily going to be able to have a baby the old fashioned ways.  Nothing says passion killer like grown-ups wearing jelly sandals non-ironically.

This is where fostering is really changing. Fostering reflects real life. The facts show that more single people foster now than couples.  And while there are no stats on the number of those single as a result of fashion foibles, they are  mostly working.  And just like a single biological parent, they still have the capacity to love and care for a child or children while holding down a job, a social life and all those other things that make up a life.

The system has basically worked out that to help look after all these children, the system had to change - move with the times as it were. It's not being managed by the government anymore but by almost 50 NGOs coordinated by the pithly named ACWA (Association of Children's Welfare Agencies - see what they did there?) who are on a massive drive to let people know that fostering is not what it used to be.  

Enter - me and a few other bloggers.  Unless you count my own copy of the Trend Paper "ifoster2: The changing face of fostering in Australia" as payment, you're just getting my views on a topic I found interesting from a personal view point and now find fascinating knowing the scope of the problem and the challenges faced by the NGOs looking for people to be foster carers.

The picture on the trend paper
Speak to any of the foster carers on the day and you were speaking to people who are big on family and creating environments for children that are loving, supporting and consistent.  People who mostly get it right, sometimes get it wrong but are trying really hard to be good at the whole parenting lark.

Just like me with my own 'home grown' children.

These are people who know that having children enter permanent foster care with them means keeping birth parents as part of the circle.  These are people who know that the children coming to them are coming from shitty situations and have no reason to trust anyone.  These are people that know that the children that are coming to them for respite are possibly going back into an environment that won't include them and so they have to pack all the support they can into the time that they have.  They are people who proactively choosing to learn about being a better parent by undertaking training, networking and reading lots and lots of things on the interwebs. 

People just like us.

And that's what was so fascinating about fostering.

It is not about extraordinary people.

It is about ordinary people.

You. Me. Yep, and ol' jelly sandals over there too.


****
For more information on fostering including all those burning practical questions now that you have identified that you are totally eligible to be part of the future of fostering go HERE or call them up and ask questions by dialling 18002 FOSTER or follow them on Facebook or on Twitter at @FosteringNSW.