CareSouth’s Batemans Bay Permanency Support Program (PSP) team spent more than a year facilitating two-year-old Grace’s restoration to family. During this time the team navigated the reunion across state borders, natural disasters, and a global pandemic.

When Grace* came into care as a toddler she was placed in short-term foster care with a local carer while the team explored restoration options with her family. Batemans Bay caseworker Lucy was given the task of facilitating the restoration – Lucy’s first with CareSouth. The little girl she was transitioning to her forever home had a very special place in the caseworker’s heart, which made all of the setbacks the team faced that little bit more difficult.

Early on in the restoration process, after several months of working with Grace’s parents, a Court Clinician Assessment sadly deemed that Grace’s restoration to her natural parents was not a realistic possibility at the time. The search for Grace’s forever family began, leading the Batemans Bay PSP team to Tasmania, the home of Grace’s maternal grandparents.

“Grace’s grandparents love for their granddaughter was undeniable,” said Lucy. “When the opportunity to care for Grace arose, they jumped at the chance.”

Gregg, a Batemans Bay PSP caseworker, travelled to Tasmania to meet Grace’s grandparents and initiate the foster carer assessment process. A restoration plan was developed and put into action.

In the early stages of the restoration Lucy was involved in a car accident that put her out of action for several months. She returned to work, only to see catastrophic bushfires and floods disrupt the PSP team’s carefully laid plans to connect Grace with her family.

“It was very important to support Grace and her grandparents to develop their attachment,” said Lucy. So, despite bushfires ravaging the South Coast, followed by severe flooding, Grace’s grandparents drove all the way from Tasmania to Batemans Bay and spent several days bonding with Grace in early 2020.

“It was really lovely to finally reconnect Grace with her grandparents, and it was a special visit for everyone involved,” said Lucy. “The restoration plan was well on the way from this point onwards, and the Batemans Bay PSP team hoped to transition Grace to Tasmania in early 2020.”

Things looked like they were finally getting back on track after the early setbacks, and Lucy and the PSP team were hopeful the family would soon be reunited in Tasmania.

“Then the world was hit by the global pandemic,” said Lucy. “Isolation, social-distancing, CareSouth office closures, working from home, and interstate travel restrictions threw Grace’s restoration to Tasmania into turmoil.”

Batemans Bay was twice declared a hotspot over the coming months, making an early 2020 restoration impossible for Grace and her grandparents.

“Interstate travel restrictions were in place so all plans for a face-to-face transition were out the window,” said Lucy. The family, who had been Skyping weekly since January, had to now rely on twice-weekly Skype sessions to build a secure attachment, instead of several planned trips to Batemans Bay.

“It’s not always easy to get a two-year-old engaged in regular Skype conversations so everyone had to get creative,” laughed Lucy. “Grace’s grandparents used some really inventive tools to connect with Grace. Her grandparents bought her a special stuffed toy which would appear during each call, and they would get musical with Ukuleles and Guitars. They would also use balloons to help keep the Skype sessions fun and exciting for Grace. It was so amazing to see that it really was possible for Grace to form such a strong attachment with her grandparents using video calls.”

Finally, in August 2020, after countless setbacks, hours on the phone, multiple risk assessments, reams of paperwork, and months of nail biting for Grace’s grandparents, an exemption was finally granted for Grace’s restoration to go ahead. It was decided that Grace’s grandparents could travel to NSW, stay two nights at an airport hotel, then home-quarantine with Grace for 14 days once they returned to Tasmania.

It was a significant hurdle to overcome, and Lucy cautiously celebrated the win. However, the universe was not quite finished testing everyone’s infinite patience. Just days before Grace’s grandparents were due to fly to Sydney, Lucy received a call to say one of the interstate travel exemptions had been rejected. 

“I was so worried it was going to affect our plans that I almost cried,” said Lucy. “I spent a few hours on the phone trying to figure it out with Grace’s grandparents, which we were thankfully able to.”

On the day the transition was due to go ahead, the universe had one more hurdle in store for Lucy and Grace as they travelled to Sydney to meet the toddler’s grandparents for the short two-day transition. The heavens opened and hundreds of millimetres of torrential rain fell, making it a treacherous trip. But thankfully, they made it to the airport hotel safely and the transition to Grace’s grandparents could not have gone more smoothly.

“As soon as Grace saw her grandparents she ran straight to them for a huge embrace,” said Lucy. “It was so beautiful to see. Grace’s grandparents had brought along the special toy they used throughout their Skypes sessions for Grace. They were so nurturing and considerate of all of Grace’s needs.

“The whole Batemans Bay PSP team have a very soft spot for Grace, she has overcome so many odds herself – physically and emotionally – she has truly amazed everyone with her resilience, her spirit, and what she has achieved at a young age.”

The team was equally impressed with Grace’s grandparents, who approached all obstacles with a can-do attitude.

“Their commitment to Grace never wavered,” said Lucy. “The whole process was new for Grace’s grandparents and they had to learn all about the Foster Carer Assessments and Out-of-Home care in a short period of time.”

But throughout it all they never lost sight of the light at the end of the tunnel – bringing Grace home.

“It doesn’t matter how many challenges you can face during the process or whatever comes your way; you can always find a way around it, like we did, distance is no obstacle,” said Grace’s grandparents.

Fast forward to June 2021, and Grace is thriving in Tasmania.

“She has settled into her new home and community beautifully,” said Lucy. “Grace and her grandparents are so grateful to be together as a family, and they truly make the most of every day together – they have such a wonderful energy. They treat every day as a new adventure, and are always exploring, laughing, sharing cuddles, playing games, and most of all having fun.

“Grace’s grandparents have decided to sell the family business, which means that Grace has their full devotion and time. They are very special grandparents, and they are undeniably committed to Grace, her needs, and embracing life with her. Grace has blossomed into a happy, caring, hilarious little girl who is full of personality. She absolutely adores her special Grandma and Poppy and Grandma and Poppy absolutely cherish Grace.”

*Name changed