Saying goodbye: The pain and pride

Despite the uncertainties and heartache of saying goodbye to a foster child, it is the most amazing feeling to parent them, even for a short time. Photos supplied.
Despite the uncertainties and heartache of saying goodbye to a foster child, it is the most amazing feeling to parent them, even for a short time. Photos supplied.

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After Sally was diagnosed with cancer just over five years ago, becoming foster carers was a path she and her partner, Lyndal, had not expected to take.

Following her recovery from a hysterectomy, the couple decided to become foster carers and have had several short-term placements. They now have three boys in their care, all from different families. Matt, 8, has been with Lyndal and Sally for one year and David, 9, for two years.

At 3½, the third boy, Jason, was in crisis and was placed with Sally and Lyndal by Challenge Community Services in February this year.

Unlike the two older boys, Jason will probably be restored to his family of origin. But it is impossible to know when. It could be weeks, months or years.

Restoration care

Restoration care refers to when a child or young person is placed short-term with a foster family (up to two years). They may move to a permanent foster care arrangement, be adopted or be restored to their original family. Provided it is safe and in the child’s best interests, restoring a child to their family of origin is preferred.

But this can take an emotional toll on the foster carers.

When you’ve been a child’s carer, even though you know it could be temporary, you’re family and you become attached. You love them to bits.

Saying goodbye to a child who has been such a big part of your life is painful and foster carers often go through their own grieving process when they have to relinquish a child or young person.

“The worst thing is not to know what’s happening to them once they leave your care. Having some contact with them, being sent photographs or getting news about how they’re getting on does make it easier,” Sally said.

Being able to get support from the foster care agency is also vital, not least during the restoration process.

When you’ve been a child’s carer, even though you know it could be temporary, you’re family.

When you’ve been a child’s carer, even though you know it could be temporary, you’re family.

“For a successful restoration we need to consider many different elements,” said Challenge Community Services manager casework Patricia Maher.

“When Jason returns to his family of origin we want to help him form healthy attachments with his parents, siblings and extended family. We want to support Jason’s father by helping him develop and gain confidence in understanding healthy relationships and positive parenting skills.

“This is all part of what’s known as the permanency support program. But Challenge also wants to be there for Sally and Lyndal as they work through their own grief at relinquishing a child they have been so committed to caring for.”

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The best job

The children in Lyndal and Sally’s care know they have a ‘tummy mummy’.

But this in no way diminishes the critical role that Sally and Lyndal play in these vulnerable children’s lives.

To the boys, they are ‘Mum’. For now, they are the mums who pick them up from school, the mums they go to when they’re scared and the mums who play endless games of Batman with them. Lyndal and Sally are the mums who clean up the kids’ vomit when they’re sick and make sure they grow to be strong and healthy.

To their local community, Lyndal and Sally are heroes.

When it comes time to say goodbye, these two women can feel a great sense of achievement that they have nurtured these young lives at a time of extreme crisis.

Despite the uncertainties and heartache of letting go, Sally and Lyndal agree it’s the most amazing feeling to parent these children, even for a short time in their lives.

  • Interested in helping a child in need? Call Challenge Community Services on 1800 084 954 for an obligation-free chat about becoming a foster carer. Or download a free e-book Fostering for Permanency: Giving Children and Young People a Safe Home for Life.