FOSTER carers in Port Stephens have one simple message for anyone who has ever contemplated fostering a child:“ Make the call.”

Sadly, due to a shortage of foster carers in this region, many abandoned children are being forced to live in temporary accommodation, including serviced apartments.

The need for more carers to come on board is being highlighted as part of Foster Care Week (September 9-16), and echoed by carers Jenny (whose surname is suppressed for legal reasons), from Raymond Terrace, and Nelson Bay’s Jacqui Lingard.

While the women have taken on the role for different reasons, both Jenny and Jacqui say it has been “life changing” and something they truly treasure.

For Jenny, a grandmother, foster caring came late and it involved three to four telephone calls to different providers before settling on one of Australia’s leading foster care organisations – Barnardo’s.

Jacqui, on the other hand, made the decision with husband Steve to add three children to their extended family after just one call to Hunter-based Allambi Care.

“I think the seed was planted in my head 10 years ago after reading a book about child abuse and foster care,” Jacqui said.

“I discussed it with Steve and we decided to wait for our children to finish their HSC before taking the leap. So five years ago after an intensive three month training period we welcomed three siblings – aged three, eight and 12–into the family.

“It has been a real roller coaster ride and at times challenging emotionally, but very rewarding at the same time. “It is fulfilling to see how they have settled and fitted into the community and the accomplishments they have achieved. There is no better feeling then providing a better life for a child.”

Jacqui said that the family was grateful for the support and respite they receive from Allambi. Allambi’s foster care director Tim Reed said that people could sign up for respite, short or long term care. “There is a perception in the community that foster care is a permanent responsibility, so we are raising the awareness that people have options when it comes to care,” he said.“Allambi is very flexible and for anyone not sure they can register to care for one child, one weekend per month. “All foster carers receive the standardised training and assessment processes and carers can be singles, parents or same sex couples.” After raising three children – now aged 30, 27 and 24 - Jenny from Raymond

Terrace made the decision to look into foster care to satisfy an itch she had wanted to scratch since childhood. “I rang around a few places before I spoke with Barnardo’s… I was on the phone to the lady for about an hour and immediately I knew I was doing the right thing,” Jenny said.

“I come from a family of six children including four younger siblings and I now have two grandchildren of my own. I guess I have always been the nurturing type so fostering young children seemed right.”

Jenny has been a foster carer for three years. She looks after children under the age of five for up to 12 months at a time. Currently she has a boy and girl siblings who have been in her care since April. Previous toddlers in her care have been aged from between six weeks and three years.

“The hardest part is leaving, it’s heartbreaking. No matter how much you try and prepare yourself it’s difficult.”

Jenny said that the support from Barnardo’s and her biological family, including her three adult children and two grandchildren, had been tremendous. “It was a little nerve wracking at first and there was a time when I was asking myself if I was doing the right thing because I felt like I was being judged by outsiders. “But I am far more comfortable now with my decision and nothing can take away your love for a child. I would recommend it to anyone who has ever thought of being a foster carer.”

(This article first appeared in the Port Stephens Examiner).

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