Early in 2016, the murder of eight-year-old Bradyn Dillon prompted an urgent review into child protection systems and, with that, something else changed in the Canberra community.
People became more aware and more conscious when reporting children in situations where the parents were unable to take care of them, says regional manager of ACT Together, Rebecca Jeffrey.
While awareness is a good thing, it has led to a foster care crisis in the ACT, with 628 young people out of care and not enough carers.
ACT Together, a consortium led by Barnardos Australia, provides services for children and young people in out-of-home care and is urgently seeking foster carers to diminish this crisis.
Eighty new carers are needed to provide crisis care, care for babies, including permanent care, long-term care and care for teenagers to help support them in becoming independent.
Rebecca, who is also a carer of five children, and husband Paul noticed the need for foster care 10 years ago when they were looking into starting a family.
“It’s the hardest thing we have ever done, but it is the most rewarding,” she says.
“It’s one of those things that you would never change for the world.”
At ACT Together the first priority is for children to go home to their birth families when possible; because of this, a lot of people become reluctant towards foster care.
“A lot of people say that they couldn’t do it. But we’re the adults, we can handle it, it’s kids that can’t,” says Rebecca.
“There’s a natural process of grief there, but if you didn’t care you wouldn’t be a good carer.”
Rebecca believes that there are a couple of issues at the moment that are also contributing to the rise in need of foster carers.
“As a society, we don’t value family as much. We often talk about families as having to be willing and able to care for children. A lot are willing but not always able. It needs to be a combination of the two.
“I think, as a society, we can be very naive to the needs of the community.
“We’re in a crisis, we need people to ask, ‘could I be part of the solution?’”
Rebecca says that ACT Together isn’t looking for saints, they’re looking for anyone who is able to care for these children.
“Foster carers don’t even have to be a husband and a wife, they can be single, gay, married, there’s lots of different family dynamics in our society now,” she says.
“There also seems to be some myth that all foster kids are bad. But they’re not, they’re good kids and everyone has a responsibility for them.”
Rebecca’s first foster child was a five-year-old boy who was in her care for four months.
“At the end the boy said: ‘I’m going to go home and teach my dad how to be a parent’.
“We made an impact on him and his future.”
Rebecca says that was one of the most rewarding moments that she has experienced through child care.
For more information at 1300 933 678.
(This article was first published in the City News.)
Photo: Carer of five children Rebecca Jeffrey… “There’s some myth that all foster kids are bad. But they’re not, they’re good kids and everyone has a responsibility for them.” Photo by David Beach.