Sunday Canberra Times: Mother's Day for a foster child and her mums

Payton and her foster mum Bel

Payton and her foster mum Bel. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

When 10-year-old Canberra girl Payton wakes up today, Mother's Day, she will be thinking of both her foster mum Bel and her birth mum Jo.

Payton has been in the care of Bel since she was seven months old, her placement organised by Barnardos Australia.

Over the last almost decade, the two mums - foster and birth - have worked together to ensure Payton's welfare is the priority. She is fiercely loved by both women.

"I just reassure her I'm always there for her but she can't live with me," Jo said.

Payton is in the permanent care of her foster parents Bel and Matt, who are her legal guardians. She will be with them forever. Adoption is not likely as Payton is an Aboriginal child and the ACT government discourages their adoption because it has echoes of the Stolen Generation.

Bel and Matt accept that, but it makes their love for Payton no less.

"A piece of paper or a court order is not important to us. What's important is having Payton in our life and for her to grow up with us. At the end of the day, we're responsible for her, we're her guardians but there's no adoption," Bel, 38, said.

Both foster and birth mum expect to have a life-long relationship. "I believe my daughter should always stay with Bel. She's safe, she's got everything she needs and at the moment it's something I can't provide," Jo said.

Bel and Matt applied to be foster parents when they couldn't have their own biological children. They came to realise there were children in the Canberra community who needed a safe, stable home; but that did not mean they were unloved by their birth family. The couple are also raising another foster child, a girl, eight, who has been with them since she was four days old.

"It's a privilege and an honour that's not lost on me, to raise another woman's child," Bel said. "That's a massive driver every day. You're responsible for the jobs another woman would love to do."

Jo says she sees Payton every 13 weeks. There are always kisses and cuddles. Bel also sends her photos between visits.

"I do appreciate what Bel is doing for Payton and she's Payton's world. I could never take her away from Bel, at all," Jo said.

Bel says it hasn't always been easy. "There's been some back and forth. There was some time when we didn't see Jo. But I think if I can uphold her importance in Payton's life, that makes it much easier to work with her."

On Mother's Day, Payton calls Jo and gives her gifts. Bel also texts Jo separately, realising it can be a tough day. "I just tell her I love her and I really respect her role in Payton's life," she said.

Payton says Mother's Day is special. "It means you can spend time with both families and love them at the same time," she said.

Bel feels conflicted about Mother's Day. She does regard herself as a parent. But she feels the day is more about honouring her own mum, sisters and grandmother. And the mothers of her foster children. But that doesn't stop Payton from making her breakfast in bed. 

"I think it is a tragedy that a child can't live safely with their parents, but it would be more tragic putting them with someone who referred to them as their carer and kept them at arm's length," Bel said.

"I want to enjoy and support and delight in the children, just like a parent would. So I absolutely refer to myself as a mum."

Jo, meanwhile, is proud of her daughter, "my angel, my rock".

"I appreciate what Bel and Barnardos have done for Payton. They've made her one awesome little girl," she said.

This article first appeared in the Sunday Canberra Times.

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