Former MasterChef contestant Jules Allen has been a foster parent to 31 children. Here, she makes a passionate plea for more foster parents. She also dispels the common misconceptions about foster care and explains why being a foster parent is such a rewarding experience.
It is no mystery that there are enormous flaws in our Foster Care system. What is rarely asked is, what are the issues and misconceptions within society that impact upon this very delicate matter?
At present there are more children coming in to care than ever and less registered carers than ever. Needless to say, this is a huge crisis.
Foster care receives very little media attention and the little airplay the department does receive is, more often than not, when a child dies who is under the child protection radar!
There is an outcry as the general public, invariably, point the finger at the caseworkers, the system, the department; anyone but themselves. I say this because we, as a society, are just as responsible; if not, more so!
As a mother who has had 31 Foster children over the past 15 years, and has worked as a child protection case worker, I am well-versed in the complexities at hand.
As a caseworker, there is only so much you can do when it comes to the removal of a child from a horrendous situation if there is nowhere to place them.
The usual response from people is ‘anywhere would have to be better than where they are!’
This is often true but where is anywhere? If people are not willing to open their doors and put their hand up to help these children then they have very little weight when it comes to pointing the finger.
I have been in the office on a Friday afternoon with the place spilling over with kids. They are asleep under desks, sitting on office tables, filling the designated play areas while caseworkers frantically try to find homes for them to go to.
What often ends up happening is that carers are inundated with huge numbers of children as there is nowhere else for them to go. As a carer I know how hard it was to say no as you begin to see how devastating this process is for the children.
I remember, some years ago having a full house and I arrived at the office late on a Friday afternoon to the usual chaos. A family of five children had just been brought in in the worst state I have ever seen children in.
The workers were trying, frantically, to find a home but hit brick wall after brick wall. It was decided that the only solution was to rent the unit next door to mine and have me run both households!
Where do I start with how challenging this was?
Nevertheless, the state of these kids indicated that this was a must. After three weeks of trying to find a more permanent placement they were returned to the parents as there was no one. My despair was, and still is, beyond words.
Please, don’t for a minute think that I am heralding the system, the policies and procedures to be flawless; I am not.
It is an underfunded system in crisis with the victims being the most vulnerable members of society – our children.
However, without adequate numbers of carers, the system, with or without deficiencies, is pointless.
The second and most prominent misconception that causes impotence in people raising their hands is the idea that bringing these ‘damaged’ children into your home will have a detrimental effect on your children and family as a whole.
Fair to say that after 31 Foster children, if this was the case, I would have seen evidence to support this theory. In fact, what I have witnessed is the complete antithesis.
There is no greater gift you can give your child than the gift of empathy, tolerance and compassion. What greater way to do it than by exposing them to difference and the hardship experienced by others in their peer set.
I’m going to tread a little carefully here as I don’t, for one second, want to mislead people by saying that this is a walk in the park. It’s not easy!
The children who come in to your care are scared and have experienced trauma.
Your children may struggle to know how to accommodate their needs and where to position themselves. What I have, invariably, found happens is that the family, as a whole, comes together to play their various roles in the healing of the child. More often than not, your child adopts a level of responsibility in response to this. They become the leader in their space and the one with greater influence in the home.
Therefore, smashing the before mentioned theory.
My family is made up of four children, my own, adopted and foster children. They are all incredibly close and over the years the pecking order has moved and changed from time to time.
I have watched my biological son grow into a young man who has an incredible depth of understanding in regards to the needs of others.
He has, without a doubt, struggled at times to adapt to the personalities and changes in the house.
I think he would be first to agree, however, that the benefits far out way the negatives. He has siblings he adores and they adore him. They depend on one another and have a bond that can only be found, when one has to strive for a relationship to work.
I understand that there are many people out there that would not fit the mould of Foster Carers and I respect that.
The ones I am appealing to are those who have a sense that this may be something that could work for them. If you have the space, the love, the compassion and are in a position to help a child in need, please take the necessary steps and, at the very least, explore whether this will work for you.
I can honestly say that the fabric of my life is so colorful and rich for having been a carer and will be until the day I die.
Have you fostered a child? We would love for you to share your experiences below…