Salters have no regrets
When Rex Salter’s wife Val told him she would like to become a foster carer, his heart dropped into his boots. “I thought, ‘you’ve got to be kidding’,” he said. “But, I said to Val, let’s do the training course and then decide.
“During the training I thought, boy, you have to do something to help these kids.
The training convinced me, and I’ve never regretted it.”
Rex, 82, and Val, 74, have been caring for foster children for the past eight years through Wimmera Uniting Care’s Out of Home Care program.
Val said she saw television advertisements calling for foster carers sporadically for several years before she discussed becoming one with her husband.
“I thought it wasn’t fair to Rex,” she said. “He’s older than me. We’ve both been married before and he has five kids of his own and I have four, so I didn’t say anything.
“It wasn’t long after we’d moved into the house we’re in now and I saw an ad again.
“I just blurted out to Rex, ‘I’d love to do that’. And he said, ‘well why don’t you?’.
“The biggest regret of my whole life is I didn’t start doing it years ago.”
The Salters have looked after a diverse range of children, from newborns to young teenagers.
“Our first little boy was a real joy,” Val said.
“He had ADHD and was very active, but he was fun. We had him for six months.
“We also had a little girl for four years and since then we’ve just done short-term care.”
Val said most of the children she and her husband had looked after suffered from challenges of some sort.
“Some have been removed from home for various reasons,” she said.
“It’s not always for terrible reasons, sometimes the parents aren’t well or something like that.
“But some of the kids have a lot of problems they have got to try to work out.
“Some have come from a violent home and they’ve got to work out if they do or say something to us, they’re not going to get jumped on.
“They are not used to a ‘normal’ home. It’s a different world for them.”
Val said patience was paramount.
“Having had children of your own you learn to cope with these things, and you understand there are reasons behind their behaviour,” she said.
“Sometimes you give them help and then they go home to a situation that’s not the best and that puts them back a bit.
“If they come back to you, you’ve got to rework that ground again. They go forward a few steps and sometimes they go back.
“What we do has its hassles, but in the main I think you do a lot of good.”
Val said it could be difficult to watch some of the children return to less-thanideal situations.
She said it was important for a foster carer to remember their role.
“As part of your training you learn they are not your children or grandchildren,” she said.
“You’re not really babysitting them, but you’re looking after them until, hopefully, their home situation is such that they can go back.
“The only one who was really hard to say goodbye to was a little baby we had for six weeks.
“I’d just got her out of a 2am feed and she was just smiling, and it was hard to let her go.
“You learn to love them, especially the child we had for four years. We really loved her like she was our own daughter. I still think of her every day.”
Val said each child acclimatised to their new surroundings differently.
“Some have marched in the door as if they have known us all their lives, even though they’ve never seen us before, and settle in just like that,” she said.
“Others might take a couple of hours. We’ve never had them take very long. I’m the mother hen type – most of the young ones like to come sit on my knee and cuddle up.
“We had one little girl who was frightened of men. It took Rex two weeks until she warmed to him. Once she did, she wouldn’t let him out of her sight.
“He’s great with the kids.”
Rex said any difficulty involved in foster caring was outweighed by the reward.
“You do it for the kids,” he said.
“They have come out of problem situations and you can give them a bit of stability, a warm bed to sleep in and three meals a day. And, as I always say, a hug when they need it. And they need it.
“We’d like to encourage other people to do the same thing.”
Val said foster carers could say no to placement requests at any time.
“We find Wimmera Uniting Care really good,” she said.
“They’ll ring up and say, ‘are you able to take a child for a certain amount of days?’ and if we are we say yes and if we can’t, then the poor things have to ring around and find someone else.
“We try not to say no, if we can possibly take the child, we will.”
Val said the Wimmera needed more foster carers.
“There are too many children and not enough carers. It’s sad,” she said.
“We try to promote it among our friends and they say, ‘oh no, I couldn’t do that’.
And that’s a lot of rubbish. They jolly well could, they don’t know how much fun they are missing.”
“I like to say to them, how do you know you can’t do it if you’ve never tried?”
• People interested in finding out more about becoming a foster carer can visit wuc.org.au/foster-care or call Wimmera Uniting Care’s Out of Home Care team on 5362 4000.
The biggest regret of my whole life is I didn’t start doing it years ago – Val Salter
Rex and Val Salter