For the love of the children

Posted on June 30, 2016 by Iosis

Child's drawing of a familyAttending a foster care information evening on a whim has led Anona and Graham down a path they never expected.

In their 40s, with no children of their own, and happily settled in their do-as-we-please lifestyle, the couple did not have any burning ambition to be foster carers.

However when Anona spotted an Iosis advertisement announcing an information evening about fostering, she was curious enough to go along and listen. When she came home she told husband Graham, “That was quite interesting. We’ll go for it.”

Their intention was to be respite carers only, and to look after pre-teens and teenagers. However, about four months into their foster care experience they got a call that would change their lives forever.

“We know this is not your age group,” said the Iosis social worker, “but we’ve got an emergency placement, just for four nights or so, for a five-year-old.”

Those four nights unexpectedly turned into weeks, then months and years. Now the ‘placement’ is permanent because recently the Family Court appointed the couple Gemma’s* ‘Home for Life’. This means the girl, who is now nine years old, is no longer in the care of Child, Youth and Family (CYF). Although she will retain links with her biological family, she will be in the official care of Anona and Graham for life.

During their time as Iosis foster carers, the couple has had 10 or more children stay with them, mostly for respite care. And, after first having a short break to allow for house renovations, they plan to foster more children in the future.

Their commitment to development as carers, their advocacy on behalf of the children in their care, and their professionalism in resolving issues was formally acknowledged in March 2016, with an award presented at Government House.

Fostering Kids New Zealand, which trains and supports foster carers, has run the ‘Excellence in Foster Care Awards’ since 2007. Now partnered with CYF in the awards, Fostering Kids accepts nominations each year. It was a CYF social worker who nominated Anona and Graham.

The couple says they were flabbergasted to be chosen, especially when they heard of the contributions made by fellow award recipients. For example, one woman at the ceremony had been a carer for 45 years and looked after approximately 200 children over that time.

“We don’t think we have done anything excellent,” says Anona. “I know so many carers out there who have had so many vulnerable children through their door, and done such excellent jobs, against me and Graham who have just done like a handful, it seems to us.

“We’re still trying to think what we did that no one else would do. We just brought up a child as we would bring up our own child, and gave them the situations and experiences any child should have. But it is like Linda Surtees [CEO of Fostering Kids] said, it is not about how many, it is what you have done even with just one.”

It is that potential to make a difference that has driven Anona and Graham to persevere with fostering, despite the frustrations, disruptions and heartache that seem inherent in the role at times.

“Giving up wouldn’t have been an option really,” says Anona. “There’s only been one that we’ve had to ask to be removed. That was a really hard decision and it took me ages to come to terms with the fact we weren’t the right place.

“There have been a lot of professionals visiting us, our house, and our family. That’s been very hard to adjust to. You’ve got the child’s lawyer, counsellors, social workers from two different places. What has got us through is probably dogged determination, and not wanting to let the kids down.

“The people who do fostering, do it for the love of the kids and wanting to make a difference. Gemma is not the same child who came through the door three-and-a-half years ago. I’m quite proud of the fact that, together, we have managed to get the right services and things in for her, to make her this very confident child. That’s what you wish for. And that’s what I want to continue doing, so that’s why we are still doing it.”

*Name changed to protect privacy

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