• Screenshot from #snapthestigma video. (YouTube)
A touching new short video and social media campaign has been launched by a children's advocacy group to help break the stigma that kids in out-of-home care face every day.
By
Sam Carroll

19 Apr 2017 - 3:47 PM  UPDATED 19 Apr 2017 - 3:47 PM

The new video, produced by the Create Foundation - an advocacy body representing voices of children who have gone through the care system - features eight young people with out-of-home care experiences speaking about how they have been treated differently as a result of their upbringing.

Part of a social media campaign using the hashtag #snapthatstigma, the hope is to alter perceptions and bring about more nondiscriminatory treatment.

19-year old care recipient Brooke appears in the video to tell the world how she was treated poorly by kids at school because she received out-of-home care.

"There was a lot of stigma in school - I got bullied quite a bit because the teachers knew I was a government kid, so you get treated differently I guess," Brooke says in the video. 

16 year-old Indigenous Australian Shanneika also features in the video, telling audiences how hard it was to find people who didn't judge her harshly because of her care situation.

"I am not just another black kid in care," she says. 

"You've just got to not give up on us you know, because the moment you give up, that's like the moment the light switch turns off." 

Why is there a need for foster carers?

Dr Joseph McDowall, executive director of research at the Create Foundation, explains how children came into care and are sometimes seen in a negative light by some of the public.

“Young people are brought into care through no fault of their own but for their own protection and support,” Dr McDowall tells audiences in the video.

"Once they're in care, there seems to be a pretty negative perception of the care system and people in care.

“And we’re really concerned that those young people are having their potential limited because of this negativity.”

Fostering NSW is a partnership developed between the NSW government and non-government agencies managed by the Association of Children's Welfare Agencies (ACWA), who mirrored the comments in a release on their website, detailing how children are often "neglected... by the people who were supposed to care for them”.

The reasons behind this are numerous and might include mental health issues, alcohol and drug abuse and domestic violence within families.

ACWA and Fostering NSW are in need of of 600 new carers in 2017 as the number of children needing care increases. There are currently close to 20,000 young people in care in NSW.

Who can become foster carers?

While there can be challenges in the path to becoming a foster carer, having patience, empathy and love are more important than owning your own home or being in a relationship. Those wishing to become a foster parent can be single, married, in a de-facto or same-sex relationship. They should also be 25 years-old, an Australian citizen in good health, and not have a criminal record.

Fostering is generally done through agencies located throughout Australia, with state-based agencies providing support and advice along the way.

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There are generally five different types of foster care that are offered:

- Immediate or crisis care are emergency placements for children due to concerns for their immediate safety, and can happen at any time, with emergency carers needing the ability to provide shelter at very short notice.

- Respite care is offered when parents and carers need a break from their caring role, and is for short periods of time that may include school holidays, weekends or shorter periods during the week.

- Interim or Restoration Care can be up to six months in duration with a focus on reconciling the child with their birth parents or extended family.

- Relative or kinship care is when a child comes under the care of a relative or someone they already know.

For those children who will never return home, the goal is to achieve greater permanency through open adoption.

"I went for it - it's one of the best things I've ever done"

Glai Dixon has spent six years as a carer with foster care agency, Creating Links, and is currently looking after two sets of siblings. 

"I just saw an ad in the paper about carers being needed and thought I could do it, and thought I had something to offer, so I went for it – it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done," Dixon tells SBS. 

Despite expectations that exist about the difficulty in becoming a foster carer, she described how it was more of a team effort with a case worker, with all decisions made being in the best interest of the children.

"We have a case worker who comes out every month [and] talks to me, talks to the children, any concerns [they have] – I make the decisions but I discuss it with the case worker and the agency – we work together, it’s like a team. It’s all in the best interest of the children."

They’re angry they don’t want to be here – as bad as it is at home, that’s what they know – but over time you can notice a difference.

Acknowledging that placements are rarely without contention in the early stages, Dixon opened up about the initial apprehension children have when arriving in their new home and the effort that is often required to ensure the best outcome possible.

"We talk to them about what has happened, it’s not brushed under the carpet... though some of them do need to go to a psychologist – [for] their health – we get it dealt with. It’s all about love, understanding, incredible patience and being aware of their feelings and trying to put them at ease.

"They’re angry they don’t want to be here – as bad as it is at home, that’s what they know – but over time you can notice a difference - how they change and they like what they’re getting [at their new home]."

“We don’t label them 'foster children' – they’re just 'Glai’s children' – that’s how they’re treated.

Having cared for a total of 12 children, Dixon has built relationships with her kids where doesn’t label them as 'foster children', a connection that has had immensely positive results.

“We don’t label them 'foster children' – they’re just 'Glai’s children' – that’s how they’re treated – all children are treated equal, by myself, the extended family, friends, other foster carers – we’re all the same," she explains.

“Last year for Foster Care Week I was in the local newspaper and my two long-term children and I spoke about how they felt about me going in the paper and having my picture taken and they were wonderful – they thought it was great. They couldn’t wait.

“The children took it to school – and the other children in the class came forward and they said that they were foster kids as well. My children haven’t come across that [social] stigma – I’m not sure whether it’s because of my approach but the kids have never come to me and said, 'I’m just a foster kid, people are picking on me' or stuff like that – whether it’s the way we deal with it, I just don’t know – every child that comes into the house is treated exactly the same.”

Glai became a foster carer through the Sydney-based National Disability Insurance Scheme-approved agency Creating Links.

To find out how you can become a foster carer go to www.fosteringnsw.com.au or call 1800 236 783 and join the conversation on Facebook here.

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