Sal­ters have no re­grets

LifeStyle Wimmera - - INSIDE - By Sarah Scully

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.”

Rex agreed.

“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 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

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