Ray and Leisa Davies acquired an instant family when they fostered three siblings (from left) Rowan, Coopah and Shaelee. Picture: Jonathan Ng
Adoption is thought to be a cumbersome, expensive and fraught journey in Australia, but more and more childless couples are turning to adoption of children in foster care. With 18,192 children in NSW alone who can’t live with their biological parents, an increasing number of families are stepping up to provide safe and secure homes for these children through adoption.
In a Central Coast pizza restaurant, the impish three-year-old girl leant over to Ray Davies, gently tugged his shirt and softly asked: “Do you mind if I call you daddy?”
It was the moment Ray and his wife Leisa realised they had become parents. The door on the past decade, which was scattered with failed IVF attempts and broken dreams, slammed shut.
Now, Shaelee, the little girl speaking on behalf of her two little brothers sitting alongside her, was knocking on the door to their hearts and asking for a home to call their own. The couple melted.
“It gets me every time I think about it,” Ray, 44, remembers of that first meeting with Rowan, 1, Coopah, 2, and Shaelee, the foster children they wished to adopt in 2011.
“We had tears in our eyes, we thought wow, we’re parents, it was a defining moment,” Leisa adds.
Most people have at least nine months to prepare for the arrival of a baby, but the Davies, after answering a call for would-be foster parents who wished to adopt, had one week to prepare for the arrival of their instant family.
They had successfully completed the training provided by Barnardos, but going from childless to instant family in the space of a few weeks was no easy feat.
The inventory was staggering: two cots, one bed, two highchairs and a booster seat, three car seats, clothes, shoes, sheets, towels, prams, bottles, toys and blankets.
Barnardos helped with a $1000 grant, but that hardly touched the sides.
“I went shopping with mum and we got clothes and shoes, blankets and beds, but we also had a lot of family support,” Leisa, 42, says.
“It was instant family stuff, it was the scenario we had wanted, but it was a shock when it happened.
“We had a population explosion party the week before, that was my baby shower.”
Friends and family rallied behind the couple, joining in on the great hand-me-down tradition.
“They all helped us kit out for our impending parenthood,” Leisa says.
On the way to their new home in the Blue Mountains, the children sat in the backseat, filled with excitement, trepidation and the trust of the innocent.
They had been in temporary foster care for their own safety and security — something they had lost at the beginning of their lives.
Charlotte, the pug-shitzu cross, who they had to be picked up from grandma’s en route, bounded into the backseat and settled everyone’s nerves with licks and cuddles.
“She was a great ice-breaker, they all now call her the hairy sister,” Leisa laughs.
It’s hard to comprehend the change that occurred in the former double-income, no-kids family.
“They had a rough start in life, they had disruptive sleep patterns, but you give children comfort, reassurance, love and security and they start to thrive.”
Leisa, a disability worker, had to give up her job, but as Ray beams, she took to motherhood with relative ease.
“She went from one to the other quite well,” he says.
“It was pretty intense going from zero to three. It was exhausting and a steep learning curve,” he says.
“These kids were little but wild at first and we needed to get them settled into a routine.”
“I thought it would be harder, to be honest,” adds Leisa, who always dreamt of being a stay-at-home mum.
“But they settled in really quickly. They had a rough start in life, they had disruptive sleep patterns, but you give children comfort, reassurance, love and security and they start to thrive.”
Whereas adopting a newborn baby in Australia is rare these days, and international adoption is expensive and has a long waiting list, adoption through fostering is relatively quick, taking just weeks for would-be parents to be assessed.
“You can adopt in Australia, you don’t have to go overseas. We looked into that idea but the financial cost was really high so it was nice to have the adoption option available in our own country,” Leisa says.
Now, the family wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I don’t think I’d change anything, we just love them to pieces and can’t imagine life without them,” she says.
There were 3248 children admitted into out-of-home care last year in NSW, taking the number of children living in foster care in the state to 18,192.
The NSW Child Protection law reforms introduced last November aim to provide more children with stable homes, with open adoption now considered by the courts when determining a child’s long-term care.
“You can adopt in Australia, you don’t have to go overseas. We looked into that idea but the financial cost was really high so it was nice to have the adoption option available in our own country.”
Open adoption means the children can be legally adopted but remain in contact with their birth family.
Barnardos’ Elizabeth Cox, who heads its Find A Family unit, said children craved the stability of a permanent home over multiple short-term foster placements.
“Many children in foster care have had so many moves and most just want that sense of security. We just placed a two-year-old boy who has had five different placements in his short life with a family with the view to adopt,” Ms Cox says.
Ms Cox said Barnardos believe open adoption provides the only real security and permanency for a child who is unable to ever return home after being removed by the courts due to abuse or neglect. Adoption is open to all kinds of families.
“Married couples, de facto couples, same sex couples, it’s about finding the right match for the child and it’s a commitment for life, not just until the child turns 18,” Ms Cox says.
Judging by the family holiday snaps, the Davies are a happy bunch. Ray and Leisa say their family feels like destiny.
“When they give you hugs and kisses and write little notes like ‘I love you mum’ you just feel like it was meant to be,” Leisa says.
(This article was first published in the Sunday Telegraph and was written by Jane Hansen.)