Meet Tara and Chris – Short and Long Term Carers

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Care professionals such as teachers, social workers and health care workers already possess many of the skills and motivation necessary to be great foster carers. Read Tara and Chris’s story:

Tara had always thought about fostering at some stage in her life, even before she met her husband, Chris.  As a social worker and psychotherapist who had worked within the child protection field in Queensland and in New South Wales, Tara knew that there was a need for good quality foster carers; she had always envisaged becoming a foster carer after having children of her own but life had other plans. 

Through Tara's work she met a family who were struggling to look after their three children; these children were eventually placed in care.  Watching this heartbreaking process motivated Tara and Chris to reach out to the Stretch-A-Family agency and begin the journey towards becoming respite carers for this little family.

Tara and Chris were eager to begin caring for kids as soon as possible and were surprised when the assessment process took 6 months, which was longer than they had expected and longer than normal due to the special circumstances of their situation.  While they recognised and appreciated that there are many aspects to be covered and checked before carer approval can be granted, the process was challenging on an emotional level.  Reflecting on the assessment process, Tara speaks to prospective carers when she says, “You need to know you are ready. If you just think this is something you want to do, then you are not ready. We learned a lot about ourselves and each other through the whole foster carer approval process."

The first child Tara and Chris fostered was a little boy with a range of challenging behaviours, so they were very grateful for the support they had received from Stretch-A-Family and for Tara’s own professional background. As Tara says, “These kids come with difficult stories and life experiences.  Usually no-one knows what that is until they are living with you. You need to be ready to accept anything that comes your way. You don’t know when the kids might disclose abuse, change their behaviours or try to block you out."

Next, Tara and Chris cared for girls as a short-term foster care placement and were once again thankful they had as much agency, family and community support as they needed. Tara suggests, Let everyone know what you’re doing. Fostering is impossible without the support of family, friends and work. Tell your work colleagues as you need them to be flexible."

Becoming foster parents has changed Tara and Chris' life immeasurably. After initially having their two girls with them as a short-term placement, Tara and Chris made the decision to be assessed to make the arrangement long-term. After being approved as long-term carers they became an instant family whose extended families have embraced having nieces and grandkids.

When the couple got married, their foster daughters (whom they refer to simply as their daughters) were part of their wedding celebrations. Chris and Tara are now expecting their first biological child, but in their minds it is their third child, this coming October.

In spite of this, Tara says, “There are no guarantees when fostering long-term placements. Yes, there are final orders. Yes, they are settled and we have them long term. Yes, things can happen and that can change. Parents change. They get older and wiser and they make changes to their lives which can mean they can be a position to care for their kids again."

Tara has some sage advice on the challenges and joys of being a foster carer if you are considering giving back to society in this way, “Don’t expect to play happy families, be prepared to give everything and then some, and not always get what you expect in return."

But the rewards of fostering have made it all worthwhile for Tara and Chris. Explaining their joy at having made a difference in that first little boy’s life, Tara says, “He changed so much with us. He had so much one-on-one attention and it meant he expressed feelings appropriately and when he sang nursery rhymes with me I almost cried.”

By fostering, you not only make a difference in a vulnerable child’s life, but you also experience love and personal growth as Tara says, “I know being a parent is a learning process. You never really know how you will react to something until it happens. What it has added to my professional practice is also pretty invaluable."