Bernadette has been a CareSouth foster carer for more than a decade. Based in Thurgoona, just outside of Albury, she has provided a loving home for dozens of children and young people in our southern region.
One of the things that makes Bernadette such an exceptional carer is her ability to recognise the importance of keeping families connected. She does this by maintaining strong familial attachment throughout the time a child is under her wing.
“At the end of the day I believe kids should be with their family if it is safe for them,” said Bernadette. “I became a foster carer to help these little people, to give them somewhere safe while whatever is going on in the background gets sorted out.”
Bernadette knows that her role as a short-term, emergency and respite foster carer is transient and, as emotionally difficult as this can sometimes be, the goal is to return children and young people to their families wherever possible.
“It makes me feel grateful I can do that for kids,” said Bernadette. “For them to be in this situation in the first place, it’s not the child’s fault. And many parents have had their own trauma history, so I really feel for them.”
Bernadette, and her extended family, form strong attachments to the young people in her care and saying goodbye is always hard. But she knows the best place for them is with their family, if possible. While children remain in Bernadette’s home she does everything in her power to maintain and facilitate birth family bonding and attachment, moving heaven and earth to ensure children and young people have regular face-to-face and phone contact with their birth families.
“If a child is of an age where they can understand what is happening in their lives, it is very important that they know that your relationship with their birth parents is a positive one,” said Bernadette.
“I do always try to build a very nice bond with the birth parents I get to meet or talk to. Some you don’t always get to meet. But I think the ones you do meet, most of the time they feel the same way. They appreciate that you are taking care of their child, until they are able to take over where possible.”
Recently Bernadette helped one birth parent, who was working towards restoration of her child, get back on her feet by providing “bits and pieces, and a few knick-knacks to make her house more of a home”.
“By doing this I knew in my heart she had everything she needed in the home so all she had to do was provide lots of love and hugs once her children were home,” said Bernadette. “At the end of the day our primary responsibility is to look after children, but we need to look after birth parents as well.”
CareSouth also recognises the importance of looking after our foster carers, who are often the glue that hold fractured families together while they heal and rehabilitate.
Late last year CareSouth launched its Carer Experience Project, as part of the organisation’s commitment to providing the best quality care and service to our clients and carers like Bernadette. The project captures the wealth of knowledge and experiences of carers from across our regions, through targeted interviews and consultation meetings.
The information collected from carers who have been interviewed will be used to increase carer satisfaction and retention across CareSouth’s wide geographic footprint. The Carer Experience Project will also identify opportunities to innovate our service delivery to carers and the children they support.
In the first phase of this project CareSouth focused on short-term, emergency and respite carers, as their role has changed in both complexity and compliance over recent years with the introduction of the government’s Permanency Support Program (PSP).
Introduced in October 2018, PSP improves safety, permanency and well-being outcomes for children and young people who are currently in care or at risk of coming into care. Under PSP foster carers provide a loving home while the best permanency pathway – restoration, guardianship, adoption or long-term foster care – can be found so children and young people have safe homes.
Future phases will look at other aspects of care so we can get an overall view of what being a foster carer with CareSouth looks like.
The hope is that this holistic approach to foster care will mean better, more positive outcomes for children, young people, birth parents and carers.