Giving children a fresh start

Foster Carers with Berry Street

All children deserve a home environment that allows them to feel safe and secure. When a child lives in an unsafe environment, the effect of the trauma suffered can be devastating on their brain, emotional development, ability to learn and wellbeing. Across Australia there are over 50,000 children who cannot live safely at home^. And, each year, more foster carers are needed.

Siblings Tim* and Sarah* were finally removed from their parents after years of physical abuse, family violence and severe neglect. At eight years old, Tim had suffered significant trauma, but also felt responsible for his younger sister because he had been powerless to help her.

At six years of age, Sarah was still in nappies, unable to use the toilet and drinking milk from a bottle. She had no language, and was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Global Developmental Delay.

We were able to find a home for Tim and Sarah with two of wonderful foster carers Leah* and Jan*. The children faced many complex challenges, so Leah and Jan needed a lot of support in their role. We organised weekly speech and occupational therapy for Sarah, and a clinician helped Leah and Jan plan activities that would nurture her development and minimise stress. With these supports in place, Sarah has shown great improvements: she can now engage, comprehend and communicate what she needs, follow instructions and show affection to the special people in her life.

The focus for Tim was to let him be a child and not feel responsible for his sister. Leah and Jan encouraged Tim to join the local football club and become part of a team. He is starting to make friends for the first time, and was so excited recently when he was invited to not one, but two birthday parties! None of this would have been possible without the love, care, attention and commitment that Leah and Jan provide.

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At Berry Street we recognise that love makes a family and what is important is the quality of the care that can be provided, the emphasis on the child’s needs and the ability to provide a secure environment, not the gender or sexual preference of carers. As Victoria’s largest independent child and family services organisation, we acknowledge and celebrate the diversity of our carers. They are people from all backgrounds, cultures and experiences - married, single, or same-sex couples, with or without children, divorced or de facto.

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^Child protection Australia 2016-17 Report, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

*Name has been changed in the interest of privacy. The models and volunteers pictured are not connected to the case study.