Hearts of Gold: Reflecting on Foster Care Week 2023

Oct 2023

Written by Jessica Wright

Foster Care Week, observed from September 10-16, is an annual celebration acknowledging the incredible contribution our volunteer foster carers make to the lives of children in out-of-home care.

The theme for 2023 was “Hearts of Gold”, a theme that reflects the type of person it takes to commit to welcoming someone else’s child into their home.  

In my role as a Therapeutic Specialist, I support therapeutic foster carers within the Australian Childhood Foundation’s Circle Program in Melbourne. In my work, I often reflect on the dedication, deep love, and commitment that the foster carers I work with give to the children in their care. While these carers are rewarded by the loving connections they develop with these children, they also face many thankless tasks fraught with hardships and challenges.  

A carer recently shared with me an affirmation they have found helpful, based on a quote from the author and poet George Eliot:

“The highest form of knowledge is empathy, for it requires us to suspend our egos and live in another’s world.”

In my experience, fostering a child who has experienced abuse, trauma, and loss often requires a carer to suspend their own ego, needs, and wants, not only to meet the needs of the child, but also to navigate issues such as reunification, contact with family members, and adversarial court processes. 

Children in out-of-home care have often had adverse early life experiences of care that can make forming new bonds extremely difficult.

These experiences might come with trauma-based behaviours directed toward the carer. These children require a carer who can demonstrate unconditional love, respond to their needs in the moment, while setting aside their own difficult feelings to focus on strengthening the bond between them and the child. Meeting a child where they are at in terms of forming connections is much easier said than done. I have watched a carer endure over six months of a child’s anger, upset, confusion, and fear – a journey that exhausted the whole family and could have ended the placement. 

Sharing your home with a child who is angry, sad, fearful, and confused, while keeping your heart open and remaining optimistic, is both challenging and rewarding. A family I worked with were able to accomplish this. They met the child in their care with understanding, acceptance, and a gentle love that did not overwhelm, allowing this child to heal from their experiences. There were countless hours of debriefing, guidance, and validation from the Care Team supporting them. However, it was the carers’ intentional and therapeutic parenting that allowed the child to feel held, to begin the journey toward recovery, and to experience felt safety in a relationship, perhaps for the first time. 

In this joyous week dedicated to celebrating the incredible carers we support and work alongside, I had the humbling experience of being nominated for the Foster Care Association of Victoria’s Commitment to Support Carers Award. I was fortunate enough to be selected by the panel of carers for the Outstanding Support in Exceptional Circumstances Award. I am extremely proud of the work I can do in the Circle Program, supporting exceptional carers whose dedication, commitment, and love for the children in their care goes above and beyond. As Bronfenbrenner said:

“Every child needs at least one adult who is crazy about him or her.”

The carers I work with exemplify this.

I have reflected with colleagues that it is not often we are able to celebrate wins in our work, as we are often urgently shifting our focus to the next challenge or difficulty. So, these moments become all the more important to stop and savour. To participate in the celebration of foster carers through reflecting together over a shared meal was a privilege.  

My call-to-action for those reading this blog is to set an intention: take a moment to stop, recognise effort, and celebrate even the smallest wins with those around you before turning to the next matter.

Exceptional work happens at every level of our service sector, and acknowledging this work is an important and needed affirmation of the valuable contributions that each of us make to the lives of children in care. 

You may be interested in: Care teams Foster care Organisation

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