NZ needs more foster parents

The Vulnerable Children’s Ministry wants to recruit 1000 more foster parents for children who need temporary and long-term care.

Foster Care Awareness Week (5-11 March) highlighted the 6 per cent increase in the number of out-of-home placements for vulnerable children (from 4203 to 4435) during the period 30 September 2015 to 30 September 2016.

Family Times talked with Fostering Kids New Zealand communications advisor Alistair Wilkinson – who is also a foster parent – about the challenges and rewards of foster parenting.

Q    What difference can a foster parent make in a child’s life?

A    Foster parents make a profound impact in the lives of New Zealand’s most vulnerable children. Sometimes, foster parents provide care for just a few nights – in other cases they take permanent care of children. Whatever the situation, the best foster parents provide homes that heal; a haven from the chaos that has usually preceded their transition into care.

Q    How rewarding/demanding is it?

A    I can tell you from personal experience as a permanent (home for life) caregiver – it is the most challenging and the most rewarding role. To be successful as a caregiver, you need to understand the impact that trauma has on the brain. Traumatic experiences change our behaviour, and can lead to negative labels. The thing to grasp is that kids in care who act out are not bad kids; they are kids who’ve been hurt.

Children in care have all the same hopes and dreams as other kids, but too often society puts up barriers to their success. When they do succeed, it is all the sweeter. There is no such thing as an ordinary day when you’re caregiver – because extraordinary things happen all the time.

Q       What makes a good foster parent?

A    Good foster caregivers understand the impact that trauma has on a child’s ability to function, and they make a commitment to continue learning about how to care for vulnerable children.

We’re big on training at Fostering Kids NZ, because we believe in creating therapeutic home environments where children can heal. Caring for a child who has been hurt can be tough – sometimes they take their anger out on caregivers – so you need to have a lot of patience and you can’t get rattled easily.

Q    How can you prepare to be foster parents?

A    You need to think carefully about the impact it will have on your family. If you already have children, you need to understand the impact it may have on them. It can also put pressure on couples – so you need to have a very strong relationship.

Good foster caregivers maintain strong support networks – not just family members but also friends and neighbours. You need to have people to call on when challenging situations arise.

If you’re interested, seek out someone who is already doing it and talk to them. Also, it’s a rigorous process to become an approved caregiver, and it gives prospective foster parents the opportunity to think about what they really want.

We’ve got parenting covered at Family Times. Visit our parenting section for more articles.