CareSouth is joining with The Association of Children’s Welfare Agencies (ACWA) this National Families Week (May 15-21) in calling for more foster families and potential adoptive parents

willing to care for vulnerable sibling groups in our community.

Foster care provides support and care for children and young people who can no longer live with their families. The number of children and young people in out-of-home care in NSW has risen 59.8% – from 12,712 in 2007 to 20,316 in 2016.

Fostering NSW, a partnership between the NSW Government and non-government out-of-home care agencies and managed by ACWA, is seeking 660 new carers in the coming year to support children and young people in foster care. Locally there is a need for more than 40 carers across the Illawarra and Shoalhaven, 35 carers across the Southern Region and 65 carers across the Western Region.

Foster families can provide emergency, respite and short-term care to support restoration of children to their birth families, or progress to guardianship or open adoption, depending on their circumstances. There is also a great need for Aboriginal and multicultural carers.

“You may already have what it takes to care for a child. If you can open your heart and have space in your home, we can provide the training and support you need to make a very real difference in a child or young person’s life,” said CareSouth CEO Deb Tozer.

“Families who open their hearts and homes to children who are experiencing upheaval fulfil a fundamental need in our community. Currently across NSW there is an urgent need for families to provide long-term, short-term and respite care for 8-15 year olds, for primary school aged sibling groups and also for children with disabilities,” Ms Tozer said.

CareSouth foster carer Kate and her partner already had three kids of their own when they made the decision to foster two sisters. When they agreed to foster the girls’ baby sister too, expanding their family of five to eight, they knew it would be a lot of work but say it has been an amazing journey.

“It can be quite challenging. We now have six kids and having so many girls of a similar age, there will always be personality clashes. But for all the challenges there are so many positives. When you grow up with siblings the bond you have is like no other you will ever have in your life. When you see the kids together, nothing compares to it. To see how the girls respond to each other has been the most amazing thing in the world,” said Kate.
ACWA CEO Andrew McCallum, who is an Ambassador for National Families Week, says it is critical that siblings who are removed from their parents have the option of staying together in foster care to help minimise the continued effects of trauma upon their vulnerable lives.

“Brothers and sisters who are placed together can help shield each other against the fear, grief and loss of being taken from their family home,” Mr McCallum said.

“They provide mutual support, continuity of identity and the sense of safety and belonging that is so critically important not only in childhood, but over the course of a lifetime.”

“Maintaining close ties with siblings also has the additional benefit for Aboriginal children of helping to keep them connected to culture.”

Sadly, despite the well documented benefits of keeping brothers and sisters in care together, foster care agencies continue to struggle to find foster families with the capacity to take on sibling groups.

“While there is always going to be a need in our community for foster carers, agencies are particularly in need of those who have the love, skills, space and energy to provide safe, happy homes to groups of brothers and sisters,” said Mr McCallum.

The CREATE Foundation ‘Sibling Placement and Contact in Out-of-Home Care’ report found sibling relationships were important influences on children’s wellbeing. The relationship built between siblings is a bond for life and contact with siblings is very important, but can be done in a variety of ways.

CareSouth Senior Clinician Leah Phillips said, “All children need to have a sense of belonging and connection, without this they feel unsafe, disconnected from society, and unable to begin their journey of healing when they have experienced trauma.”

“The sibling relationship is unique, especially for children who have gone through trauma. There is a connection and understanding that no-one else can ever really comprehend. Many siblings when experiencing trauma will try to protect each other and the relationship with them may be the only safe one they have ever known,” she said.

“When siblings are placed in care, there is no specific training provided, but the clinical services team will assess particular behavioural presentations of the children and /or provide support to the carers to understand the sibling relationship and the resulting family dynamic.”

“Sadly there are times when siblings are unable to be placed together, for many different reasons. If they are unable to live together, they should always be able to connect,” said Ms Phillips.

CareSouth foster carers, John and Rob, are fostering a six year old boy who is one of four siblings. They make an effort to maintain regular contact.

“I grew up with a brother who was my best friend,” said John, “I wanted that experience for our foster son. There are questions about his past we can’t answer that his siblings can. One lives locally and we are able to catch up for BBQs. The other two don’t live nearby but we use face-time and get together at special times of the year. It can be a bit scary at first meeting this whole new family, but everyone has been really welcoming. They understand what happened and that he’s happy and thriving. It’s been a really positive experience for all of us,” John said.

If you’re interested in becoming a foster carer there are children and young people in your community who could really benefit from your support today. There are many ways you can get involved, in both big and little ways. Call CareSouth on 1300 554 260 for an informal chat about what would best suit you and your family.

Based in Southern and Western NSW, and completely not-for-profit, CareSouth’s vision is to create a positive future for children, young people, families, individuals and communities, providing opportunities in which people can enhance their quality of life. We’re there, every day.

McDowall, J. J. (2015). Sibling placement and contact in out-of-home care. Sydney: CREATE Foundation.