Help children to find a home

Feeling rewarded: Narellan residents Rhonda and Tom O’Neill have been fostering children for 10 years. Picture: Chris Lane
Feeling rewarded: Narellan residents Rhonda and Tom O’Neill have been fostering children for 10 years. Picture: Chris Lane

If you have a lot of love to give, there are hundreds of children in desperate need of foster care.

Macarthur residents are being urged to consider fostering children as the federal government admits there is a severe shortage in carers.

The government reported in budget estimates that the Department of Family and Community Services has “largely exhausted the population of people who have traditionally been asked to provide care”, and foster carer recruitment efforts were a failure, falling 600 carers short of what is needed.

Narellan residents Rhonda and Tom O’Neill have been fostering children for 10 years.

Mrs O’Neill said children have stayed with them for different periods of time.

“Some of the kids have been here for a few weeks, some for a lot longer and our current child probably won’t be going anywhere any time soon,” she said.

“Even though we have kids and grandkids of our own, we weren’t finished being parents.”

Mrs O’Neill said while the process of becoming a carer wasn’t easy, it was rewarding in the end.

“The assessment process can be time-consuming but it needs to be that way to ensure the home is appropriate for these kids,” she said.

“They all come with their own baggage but when you see them kicking their little goals it is so rewarding.

“You can truly make a difference in their lives.”

In NSW a record 85,000 children have been reported to be at risk of significant harm, with 68 per cent of these children not receiving a face-to-face assessment from a caseworker.

Mrs O’Neill said fostering was ideal for anybody who enjoyed caring for children.

She said it was important to ensure the child felt at home in their foster environment.

“To get anywhere, these kids have to feel like that are a part of a family,” she said.

“My kids have accepted our foster child and my grandkids think of him as a little cousin.

“In fact I think my kids appreciate everything they had growing up more now – and I think I am more patient.”

Isaiah Dawe

Isaiah Dawe

Former St Gregory’s College Campbelltown student Isaiah Dawe, an advocate for children in foster care, grew up in seventeen foster homes.

He said his time at the school and in one of his other homes helped to shape who he had become today.

“Even though these two were a short part of my life, they made the most significant impact because it was where I saw how a real family should act and how love and compassion actually felt,” he said.

“This kept me going as a teenager, as I felt a worth and I saw the big picture to life and what it had to offer outside of foster care.”

Mr Dawe said the tough assessment process also contributed to the shortage of carers.

“The process to get approved is really vigorous and long,” he said.

“I agree that checks have to be made to ensure security, safety and stability will be provided but I’ve heard of people giving up becoming carers because of the process, when actually they were more than suitable.”

Mr Dawe urged Macarthur residents to consider fostering.

“My advice to those thinking of becoming carers for young people is yes please do it – help those who don't have a home or a happy life to live, show them the exact love you felt off your parents when you were young,” he said.

“Enable them to live a flourishing life because most of these young people have suffered enough.

“There will be struggles as these young people might have particular traits and negative experiences on their shoulders but don’t ever give up on them.

“I can say this on both sides of the fence, as I have lived as a foster kid and now I am a respite carer for four young people.

“When I was a kid, I used to call the foster homes ‘placements’ as I never could call anywhere a home, [so] make sure you can bring a child into your home and let them call it ‘home’ too.”