After volunteering in Haiti and South African orphanages, I started to realise that 'parenting' didn't have to mean having my own children. I was surrounded by gorgeous little children who kept cuddling me and I started to think about adopting a child one day.
I'd never really considered fostering until I heard someone talking about it on the radio. I did some Googling and made a few phone calls and found out that, unlike adoption, where you need to be married or in a de facto relationship, single people can become foster parents. I went along to an information evening and got hooked on the idea, so applied. After 12 months of accreditation checks, I was approved for foster caring in mid-2014.
I started off providing short-term care where I'd have kids for up to one week. It was a good way of easing me into the experience, plus being single and a business owner meant I was quite flexible to take kids at a moment's notice.
The kids often turn up empty-handed, so I take them to the supermarket to get some clean underpants and a toothbrush.
The first girl I had was nine – she had behavioural issues and was suicidal and came to stay with me to give her long-term foster parents a break.
Later I took an Indigenous girl every few weekends to give her respite from an abusive household. Her home life was very chaotic and I taught her some basic life skills, like cooking and ironing, which she'd never done before.
A lot of people asked me how I knew what to do, but I think it comes quite naturally. The kids often turn up empty-handed, so I take them to the supermarket to get some clean underpants and a toothbrush. I don't have to have children of my own to know that they need a bath and some dinner and a safe place to sleep. These kids come from traumatic situations so they're quite vulnerable and you tend to bond very quickly.
I've been to third-world countries and I've worked in public hospitals and I thought I understood what went on in the world, but I've been surprised at how much awful stuff happens in Melbourne.
In 2015 there were more than 8,000 children and young people in out-of-home care in Victoria alone, and every time I hear stories of what these little ones go through, my heart breaks.
I don't have to have children of my own to know that they need a bath and some dinner and a safe place to sleep.
In December I cleared my work schedule so I would be available to care for a baby. One afternoon I got a call to ask if I would be available that day, and when I said yes, a 13-month-old girl Tahlia* was dropped off 45 minutes later.
It was never the way I pictured I would welcome a baby into my life – you always imagine that you and your husband would make the pregnancy announcement and go shopping for baby things together, but instead I found myself shopping at Chadstone with a baby I'd just met in my arms, trying to work out what she might need.
I am a nutrition and wellbeing specialist so I knew how to test her for allergies and what foods she would be able to eat, but I had to Google, 'when should babies be sleeping at one year of age?'.
When it came time to give her a bath, she screamed and wee'd on my lap, so I thought 'Oh well' and got in the bath with her fully clothed so I could cuddle her. Her life had been inconsistent up until then so she was very insecure and needed constant attention.
I found myself shopping at Chadstone with a baby I'd just met in my arms, trying to work out what she might need.
I fell in love with her and witnessed so many 'firsts', like her first trip to the swimming pool and the first time she clapped her hands. There was talk of me keeping her long-term but the court ended up sending her back to her mother after two months, which left a hole in my life – I still really miss her and had to take some time to grieve.
I see so many women in my situation who are desperate for children but for some reason don't think about fostering. Sure fostering comes with heartbreak but I'm single and not in a position to have children of my own at the moment and having little ones in my life brings me so much joy.
*Name has been changed.
Image by David Bleasdale (Flickr).
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