SHARE THE LOVE
New Zealand needs more foster carers. Could you be one?
KIM & KEVIN MCNAMARA live with three of their own children and Luke*, their foster son KIM My journey to becoming a foster parent goes right back to when I was 15. I have always wanted to be able to help a child in need. I have been married for 30 years and have four children of my own, as well as one grandchild. It all began when the ‘Key Assets Fostering Agency’ advertisement cropped up on Facebook and I thought, you know what, I’ll find out more. Don’t get me wrong, I had my worries, but my husband and I decided that we were strong enough and our kids have good self-esteem. That was one year ago and we have now had Luke*, our foster son, for seven months. Fostering is like being handed a 100-piece jigsaw puzzle, but you only have 20 of the pieces and 15 of those are pretty damaged. You have to try and figure out how those pieces fit together, what’s driving some of their behaviour and how you can support that, whilst helping to change it. The children don’t particularly like themselves and they’re full of anger and hatred for their situation as they don’t yet know what else is out there, so they come with a few strategies of self-sabotage. It’s important to want to share your life with the child. In the first few weeks, they can isolate themselves because they don’t know or trust you. Buttons are going to be pushed; it’s important to be calm and resilient so you can build a stable relationship. More often than not, they don’t have a vision for themselves, so you need to have one for them. I work as a life coach and I believe that anyone can succeed, regardless of their background. The child can arrive quite damaged, but there’s nothing stopping them from succeeding. My main motivation is to see Luke really succeed at something. Recently, he completed the Weet-bix Triathlon. He was so chuffed that he was even going and ended up totally nailing it and completing all three parts himself. He now has the medal hanging up in his bedroom. We’re trying to get him to focus on the future and that it can be good, regardless of past trauma. Fostering is definitely so rewarding, knowing you can offer a child a good life. You have to be the epitome of stability, of love and compassion, as that’s just what those children need. They are relying on you to keep it together when they can’t. GIOVANNI FABRICIUS & PARTNER, JOHN took on two siblings through Key Assets Fostering Agency. They also offered short-term care to an 11-month-old baby GIOVANNI When I was 19, my aunt and uncle passed away. They left two boys, Bruce and Arno, my little cousins. As they were orphaned, I was left to care for them. My father was against it at first, but I wanted to honour the promise I made to my auntie. All these years later, John and I decided that we were at an age where it was time to give back. Not enough people are fostering. In New Zealand there’s about 6100 children who need foster care. Even though by fostering one child we are only making a small dent to that number, we feel good that we can make a difference to that child’s life. I also have two biological children, two girls, to a lesbian couple who live in Wellington. One of them worked for the ‘Key Assets Fostering Agency’ and she said to me, “You need to think about going into fostering because you’d be great.” We started to go along to workshops about fostering and we learnt so much. Now here I am, I’ve been fostering for ten months, and I’m still learning. I’ve discovered that in order to be good and successful, you have to be compassionate, tolerant and most importantly, you have to love kids, even when [they make it hard to]. When we were going through training, most of the foster parents already had children of their own. We were told that yes, we’ve brought up children, but these foster kids are different, they have been through so much trauma. They’re different. We all thought, “Yeah, sure, it’s just love they need,” but they were so right. It’s so much more than that because you have to try and figure them out. You have to be ready to give love. The funny thing is, the more love you show, the softer they get. Then the aggression and the anger fades. The two kids we foster, Felix* and Kate* are only a year apart, but because of what they’ve experienced, the age gap seems huge. It’s fantastic to see them doing so well and moving forward. They will never be reconciled with their parents, so we know they will be with us long term. We hope they will be because we love them. The little boy, he wants to be hugged every night, hugged through the day, and when we go shopping he’ll hold my hand and say, “You’re the best daddy I’ve ever had.” I have to say, “Mate, I’m not your daddy but I’m going to help you.” Kate* has grown so close to John and she loves him. She helps him out in the kitchen and they will cook a lot together. You want them to be able to grow up as normal as possible, to have a happy life. They respond really well to affection and kindness. We also had a little baby boy here, 11 months old, in respite care. We knew what to do as we have looked after our grandchildren. We know the routine and how to manage him. Having that little baby was an example of a little kid that needed love. He responded well, he was so affectionate. We would pick him up and cuddle him. He loved to be loved. He never cried, he was a happy little mite. There will be days where you feel like you’re going back 20 steps, but that’s all part of it. It’s not always going to be smooth sailing. They’ll test us now and again. Kate* will especially test me or John to see how much we can take before we both explode. So we’ve got to have loads of tolerance to tell her that she needs to calm down and when she’s in a nicer frame of mind, she can carry on with what she was doing. The biggest rewards are seeing the kids settled, happy and laughing. From when they first got here, to where they are now, seeing them just enjoying being little kids has been the best part.
“YOU HAVE TO BE THE EPITOME OF STABILITY, OF LOVE AND COMPASSION, AS THAT’S JUST WHAT THOSE CHILDREN NEED” – KIM “THE LITTLE BABY WAS AN EXAMPLE OF A KID THAT NEEDED LOVE. HE RESPONDED WELL, HE WAS SO AFFECTIONATE” – GIOVANNI
EMMA TOVEY currently lives in Christchurch. She has fostered on her own since 2015 EMMA I worked in the community with kids and teenagers for years, so I was used to coming into contact with children who had high needs. A friend of mine was also fostering at the time, so I experienced it firsthand. Due to this, I realised fostering was where my heart lay and was interested in learning more. Sarah* has been with me for three years. She has high emotional needs and doesn’t have a stable education as she struggles to fit into group and social environments. She is really attached to me. We have a close bond and I’m really starting to see her settle. Yes, we go backwards every now and then, but she has come a long way. People think that because I’m single, it would make it difficult, but I think fostering has been a real gift. I’m not really sure a relationship would have survived the journey I’m on at the moment. I highly recommend single people to become foster parents because they often have extra room in their lives. Getting to see the impact that attachment and stability can have for a child is the most rewarding part of fostering. It allows them to become emotionally well. The longer they’re with us, the more we get to see them grow through counselling and the various other programmes we get to partner with. They begin to show their personality and see us as trustworthy. Being willing to tell their story can be huge for some of them. They also change in terms of how they relate to others because for a lot of the kids, the backgrounds they come from have taught them unhealthy ways of interacting with people. However, the challenges are massive. Kids who have attachment issues will attach really strongly and quickly to you, it’s quite intense. But you also get the opposite of that where they will pull away and attack you verbally. It’s all part of the trauma they have had in their lives. That’s why the most important quality for any foster parent is resilience. You get pushed further than you would ever imagine, so you need to be able to heal from that over and over again, in order to keep going. Not everybody is able to do that. I was always quite determined to be one of the people that could stick to it, because I know that having one person who stays through is the difference between being able to move on or not. If you can manage to stick it out through the tough times, then you start to see them become more honest and more aware of their own behaviours. They are able to look at themselves and decide, “This is what I want for myself,” and, “This isn’t what I want for myself,” which is progressive and cool.
“A LOT OF CAREGIVERS GIVE UP BECAUSE IT’S SO CHALLENGING. I WAS QUITE DETERMINED TO TRY STICK THROUGH IT BECAUSE I KNOW THAT HAVING ONE PERSON WHO STAYS THROUGH, IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BEING ABLE TO MOVE ON OR NOT” – EMMA