Foster Care Recruitment - Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services (Queensland Government)

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Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services

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  1. Foster Care Recruitment

Foster Care Recruitment

We need more foster carers, like you.

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Foster carers

Foster carers come from all walks of life. But no matter who they are, carers all have one thing in common. Foster carers have a place in their hearts for a child who needs love and understanding. Fostering starts with care. It’s not always easy, but training and support is available. It’s a special job that needs people with extraordinary hearts. People just like you.

Kinship care

Kinship carers provide care in their own homes for a relative, family member, close friend, or a member of the child or young person's community.

For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, a kinship carer may be an Indigenous person who is a member of a similar family group, community, clan, tribe or community that is similar to the child’s clan, or from the same language group.

it’s been a life-changing journey

helping a child become a better, happier person

A Desire to Help— Donald and Millicent's story

Love is the key ingredient for Donald Mathias and Millicent Okoh. “The love we are giving them and the return of love to us.”

Read the transcript

Donald and Millicent began their foster caring journey one year ago.

“Our main motivation is to help out the young kids who need help, who need a home. And that's what we're doing. And we love it, we love it,” says Donald.

The couple were inspired to help children in need when they saw a friend providing foster care in her home and were overwhelmed by the great work she was doing. They knew they wanted to do the same.

The children who join their family are met with an awe-inspiring amount of love and dedication.

“We give them our full assurance that they are safe here, that their problem is our problem, that we will make sure we protect them, and that if anything bothers them they should let us know because we are here for them. And that we will journey with them no matter what it takes,” says Donald.

“What we love about what we are doing is that they are happy and they are safe and they are protected,” says Millicent.

Donald and Millicent grew up in Africa and are thankful they had the opportunity to move to Australia.

“A lot of people, back in Africa, have never had the opportunities that kids here have today,” says Donald.

Having seen people suffer great hardships, the couple were adamant they wanted to give back to the community that welcomed them.

They learned about the foster care process through a Queensland foster care agency. While the training did, at times, make them question if they were up to the job, they have certainly risen to the challenge.

Donald and Millicent took great satisfaction in ensuring one child in their care was given the opportunity to have speech therapy and receive the help she needed to improve her language development.

“We noticed a great improvement in her speech,” says Donald.

Juggling work commitments and the needs of the children isn’t always easy.

“At times, you have to forfeit your work because you have to help the kids. Or you can't go to your work because you have to go to certain places with your kids,” says Donald.

But the reward for the hard work is immeasurable.“In your heart, you know that you are doing a good job, that what you are doing, people appreciate it and it's going to keep you going and even wanting to do more for them,” says Donald.

When a child moves on from foster care it brings about mixed emotions for carers who have formed strong bonds.

“It's hard for us saying goodbye because we have been together a year and we have battled for them,” says Millicent.

“It is very hard when they leave,” agrees Donald, “but our main happiness is, when they leave, they are leaving to live a good life. They are leaving with hope that things will be better. To us, too, that's how we feel. We know that we have done a good job and they will carry on with it in their life.”

Donald and Millicent try to focus on the positive side of children leaving their care. As one child moves forward in their journey, it means they are able to help another child, and they are always ready to open their hearts and their home.

“It is going to create room for other young people who need help,” says Donald, “we will be ready to help anybody that comes.”

The couple hope any child that comes into their lives leaves knowing how much they meant to them.

“What I would like them to remember is the love we give them. They should be able to grow up with it and give love to people,” says Donald.

“What we want them to remember is the way that we care for them,” agrees Millicent.

For this couple, the affection they receive from the young children in their care more than compensates for the hard work.

“You see the good work you are doing in the faces of the children you are taking care of. They feel happy to be with you because of what you are doing in their lives,” says Donald.

“When you see them smiling, we know we are doing good work for them and they appreciate it.”

Rise to the challenge—Meegan and Stephen's story

“If we can change one person’s life then we are doing well.”

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Meegan Reeve first became a foster carer more than 14 years ago, starting in Darwin when she was 19 years old and saw a great need for carers.

“The number of children coming into care outweighed the number of carers,” says Meegan.

“I felt I had quite a bit to give – not only a safe home, and things like that, but the time, and the love, and the support.”

She had already been caring for children for years when she met partner Stephen Labinsky.

“When I first met Meegan she told me she was a foster carer, and I thought the idea of being a carer was great,” says Stephen.

The pair took a while to consider if foster care was right for both of them before Stephen did the training and they took in their first children as a couple. That first placement was a tough introduction for Stephen.

“It definitely wasn’t the fluff and rainbows Steve thought it was going to be,” says Meegan.

“Our first placement was very challenging and I was ready not to do it again,” says Stephen, but they took a break, tried again and have kept going. Stephen has now been a foster carer for six years.

Supporting the cultural needs of Indigenous children in care is very important to Meegan.

“Because of my Indigenous background, we care for a lot of Indigenous children and do a lot of work with the Indigenous community. It is a big part of who I am, so I do like to really help the children discover who they are with their Indigenous backgrounds,” says Meegan.

Cultural support is not just for the benefit of the children.

“It’s important for the child’s parents and family to maintain connections with the child. They still want the great connections when they grow older and when they come out of care and when they are adults,” says Meegan.

Meegan has also found huge reward in supporting the needs of young mothers to help break the cycle of children in care and loves watching their confidence grow.

“One of my big passions is helping young mums become successful, confident parents, helping them with their parenting skills while they’re in care to hopefully avoid their child going into care,” she says.

No foster care journey is without challenges.

“Even though I have been doing it for a long time it still takes time to get to know each child and know how we can support them,” says Meegan.

The couple have cared for children with behavioural issues, medical issues and physical and intellectual disabilities. They also have three children of their own.

“Some of the children come with challenges but we just fit them in wherever we can, and support them however we can, while still supporting our own children,” says Meegan.

Saying goodbye to a child in their care is always difficult.

“You always have to keep it in the back of your mind that they aren’t here forever, and as hard as it is to see them go that’s just part of what we do,” says Stephen.

“We can give them what we can in the time they’re here, which is really important in being able to cope when they move on,” says Meegan.

Meegan and Stephen admit that being foster carers is challenging but the fulfilment of helping children in need keeps them coming back.

“There’s down times too but knowing that you can make a difference to just one child, it’s an amazing feeling and it’s the reason to keep going,” says Meegan.

“Sometimes we have a cry. Sometimes we have a break and then we’ll get back up and do it again.”

“It’s the satisfaction of making a difference. Giving these kids what they need at the time, whether it be a safe home or someone to listen to. It’s the satisfaction of knowing you can do that,” says Stephen.

“To be able to connect to a child on a different level emotionally and know that they trust you is rewarding in itself,” agrees Meegan.

“Just to really stop and see the look on someone’s face when you know that they feel safe is amazing and that’s when you know you’ve done your job.”

Meegan’s mother was inspired to become a foster carer after seeing the great work Meegan was doing. The couple hope others will take the leap and see what difference they can make.

“For someone thinking of being a foster carer, it’s fantastic. It’s not all fun and games but it’s rewarding,” says Stephen.

Caring has always been a passion - Dylan and Natalie's story

Weekend plans for Natalie Scotcher and Dylan Nelson became very different to most young people their age when at 18 the couple first started providing respite care for foster children.

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“Foster care was something of huge interest to me,” says Natalie, “but I didn’t think it was something that was achievable.”

Natalie had always been drawn to caring for others and Dylan had known he wanted to work with vulnerable children, so foster care was an obvious choice for them. The pair initially looked after children needing respite care which allowed them to ease into the experience of providing foster care.

“Usually if you’re caring for a child on a respite basis you might have the child for a weekend once a month,” says Natalie.

This meant they could plan fun weekends for their young visitors.

Now Natalie and Dylan provide long-term care for young children at their large property just outside Brisbane. They recognise there is more to foster care than looking after a child; it’s about connecting with the child’s family, wherever possible.

“It’s a really powerful thing to be able to bring a child into our home. However it’s not just about the child, it’s about the child’s family as well,” says Natalie.

“If we’ve got room that we can offer a child while that family gets back together then that’s a great thing for us.”

From the first opportunity, Natalie and Dylan strive to involve the parents of the children in their care in their lives and start to build a relationship with them. Being parents themselves, they try to see things from the parents’ perspective.

“If I was to have my children in care it would be really important for me to know where they are living and who they’re with and to meet that person,” says Natalie.

“From the time we get that child into our care, we do everything we can to acknowledge the parents, acknowledge this is their child, and that we’ve got them and they’re safe.”

Family and culture is very important to Dylan and Natalie.

“Because of my Indigenous heritage a lot of the children that we get, identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander,” says Dylan.

More than a third of children and young people in care identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. When these children and young people need foster care, the Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services tries to ensure their cultural identity and relationship with their families and communities are maintained.

“It’s really important that children with Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander backgrounds who come into care are placed with culture because there are some things you can’t teach. In our home, children are culturally supported in a way that’s natural for us,” says Dylan, who also works in the Indigenous community.

Natalie and Dylan have been providing care for six years and fostered 16 children. They had their own child this year and are also caring for a two year old, a young baby and a child with a physical disability, who they look after every second weekend.

“Three kids under two is a pretty busy house,” says Dylan.

“It can be a bit chaotic at times,” agrees Natalie. “We’ve got a large support network that certainly can step in and help us when we need.”

Natalie and Dylan name family, friends and their Queensland carer agency as their biggest supporters. The agency also plays an important role in helping them to understand the needs and challenges of the children in their care, as well as providing ongoing training and other support.

While Dylan calls Natalie a ‘natural nurse’, he admits the thought of caring for a child with a physical disability, in a wheelchair, was intimidating.

“But I’ve been given the opportunity to do a lot of training and I’ve become really comfortable with it now,” he says.

Seeing a child move on is always bittersweet.

“Even though it’s goodbye it’s not always goodbye forever,” says Natalie.

Many of the children that have successfully moved back in with family come to visit Natalie and Dylan, a testament to the strong bonds they have created.

Natalie and Dylan know eventually they will face another tough transition.

“We currently have a two year old in our care who has been with us since birth, and we know that at some point he’s going to be going home,” says Natalie.

“It’s really, really hard for us, but deep down we know that it’s the best thing for him to be home with his family.”

“We are a ‘for now’’ home,” says Dylan. “We realise that and we just love them as much as we can while we’ve got them.”

“We hope that any child who comes into our home feels safe and feels loved and feels as though they have a place within our family.”

“I hope that any child that leaves our care will know how much we loved them,” says Natalie.

For Natalie and Dylan the positive aspects of foster care far outweigh the challenges. They find reward in the small things; the child excitedly waiting at the door for them with a smile and a hug, or acknowledgement from parents that they’re doing a great job with the children in their care.

Foster care is just part of their life now and they strongly believe other people should open themselves up to the idea of providing foster care or respite care.

“It’s the hardest but it’s also the most rewarding thing we’ve ever done,” says Dylan.

A life changing journey — Rose's story

When Rose Pearse became a foster carer 11 years ago she never could have imagined the path her life would take.

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A desire to contribute to her community saw Rose take steps towards becoming a respite carer initially and then a foster carer.

“I’d always had a lot of children in my life but I felt like becoming a foster carer was something where I could make a real difference to the lives of children who really needed someone to step up for them,” she says.

With a stable home and job, Rose felt providing respite care to school age children would be a great option for her.

“That was a really good introduction to the world of foster care,” she says, “and as I went along though, I was presented with a range of different opportunities to care for different children.”

Rose was given an opportunity to care for a newborn baby. A decision which she says set her life on a new path.

“That wasn’t something I had planned for myself so I really had to think hard about it because it did mean taking leave from my work.”

Taking that time off gave her the chance to care for children of different ages and backgrounds. Some children stay for a short time, while others, like the baby she was asked to care for, stay for years.

“I always felt like if I want to be a foster carer I want to be able to say ‘ok this child can come here and they can feel that they can be here for as long as they need to be here’,” says Rose.

“When a child comes into my care I really do open my heart to them and I give them whatever I can to help them on their journey.”

The journey Rose takes with each child is as unique as the children themselves. Over a three year period, one of the children in her care was diagnosed with autism. While this has presented new challenges, Rose says it has also made her a better person.

Rose admits providing foster care has its emotional highs and lows. When a child moves on it is undeniably difficult for carers.

“It puts you in a state of grief and loss,” says Rose, “and you have to find ways to go through those processes and recover from them because you’ve still got other children who are in your care and who need your full attention.”

“There’s no question that it’s a heartbreaking process to say goodbye to a child but you have to work that out yourself to put the supports in place to be able to deal with that.”

A few years ago Rose started taking teenagers into her home.

“That’s added a really different element to our little family,” she says. “They have opinions and views on the world and so you can engage in some great kind of discussions about ideas and who they are and who they want to be.”

These teenagers have often had to be very independent.

“They don’t need help so much as they need guidance,” she says.

“That doesn’t mean they still don’t need that loving home and that safe place to come home to, even when everything goes really badly in life.”

Rose sees her role as not only to help the children in her care but to work in partnership with parents.

“We’re in it together. I’m helping you. I’m not just helping the child, I’m helping the family.”

She sees real reward in a family being reunited.

“If that means they can come through this difficult phase of their life and get back together again and go on then that’s a job well done.”

In long term placements carers can form relationships with not just the child’s parents, but grandparents, aunts and uncles.

“It's like two families joining together,” says Rose. “[You] didn't necessarily choose each other, but you're in it together because this is the child or the children who are, you know, they're in the middle of that little Venn diagram.”

Rose embraces this interaction with family.

“They have other family out there who are part of their lives but there’s no set amount of love available in a child’s life. There’s enough for everyone to love them and the more people who love them the better.”

The love that Rose gives to the children in her care is returned with interest.

“I often say I get more out of it than the kids, and kids get a lot,” she laughs.

While she admits it is often a hard earned love, it is a powerful force.

“There’s nothing quite like having a child’s love and I get a lot of that love so that’s pretty amazing.”

Tiny triumphs lead to everyday success—Jim and Renee's story

Jim and Renee Allan say team-work is the key to succeeding as foster carers. “Trust your partner. You have to be so consistent and you have to have a game plan.”

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It’s the little, everyday triumphs that shine for Jim and Renee Allan.

It’s teaching a young girl how to tie her shoelaces or brush her teeth, because she’s never learned how to do these things. It’s taking her camping for the first time, walking along a river or helping her build friendships.

“We’ve only been in fostering for a couple of years, but there’s a great deal of joy in being able to help someone who hasn’t had a lot of help,” says Jim, who runs his family’s IT company.

Taking one of their foster daughters horseriding for the first time, Jim, 37, and his wife Renee, 39, a speech language pathologist, watched her “go from zero to so happy just through being on the back of a horse for half an hour.”

“We do get satisfaction; we get a kick out of it,” Renee says.

The Brisbane couple, originally from New Zealand, married in 2009 and took their first tentative steps toward becoming foster parents about four years later.

“We chose not to have our own children but we still felt that we had something to offer to young people, and that this was something that would enrich our lives so that we weren’t all about ourselves,” Renee says.

They discussed the potential of starting with an Aunties and Uncles Queensland program, where they would have been matched with a struggling local family who needed support. In the end, though, they decided to leap straight into fostering.

Through a Queensland fostering agency, Renee and Jim learned about foster care, the needs, backgrounds and sensitivities of foster children, completed their training and submitted themselves to a review panel.

“We started in 2013 and it took at least a year. We didn’t rush it. We thought about it and talked about it with our families.”

They could have chosen to foster babies, young children or teenagers for periods from overnight to years.

“We chose primary school age, and started out with the five to eight age group,” Renee recalls. “Then we raised the age range to 10. We both work more or less fulltime, although Jim works from home so that helps us with flexibility, and we needed a child who would be in school.”

They had been warned there was such a great need for foster carers that they might receive a placement call as soon as they were approved. Sure enough, within hours of being approved by the Department of Communities review panel, the Allans received a call.

On a day that Jim describes as “very exciting — but nerve-racking at the same time,” the pair welcomed a five-year-old girl who would turn six during her few months with them. Thrilled, Renee ran out and bought an armful of ‘welcome’ items for their first child.

“All the training in the world can’t prepare you for that first moment,” she says, likening it to a couple bringing home their firstborn and thinking: ‘Now what?’

“Ultimately she was quite traumatised, but she didn’t present as quiet and withdrawn. She was animated and active. As time went on that wore off. As opposed to being cheerful, ‘out there,’ animated and chatty, she started to struggle with controlling her emotions. When she was feeling negative, for example after a visit with her family, there were different reactions that you needed to manage.”

Jim and Renee credit strong support from their agency for helping them to understand what was going on with their young placement and work to help her.

“They were just amazing,” Jim says. “They couldn’t have been better. They look after us and make sure we’re okay. If we need respite they sort it out, if we need help they sort it out.”

The couple took a year off between placements, renovating their home, taking a holiday and going through the regular mandatory re-approval training.

Last October, they welcomed their second placement, a 10-year-old girl who will be with them well into 2018. Through traumatic early years, Renee says this “fun, quirky” child has developed extreme resilience, self-reliance and a high level of organisation.

“But these are things that a 10-year-old girl doesn’t need to be,” she says. “She just needed a place to be safe.”

As new foster parents, Renee and Jim have acquired a school-based community of neighbours, guidance officers, special educators and have developed easy relationships with families of school-aged children in their area. They delight in helping their little girl navigate the world of friendships and social groups.

“She’s less watchful now; she’s become more relaxed at home,” Renee observes. “One of her strategies has been to please adults, so she would be agreeable almost to a pathological level. Now she is not necessarily trying to ingratiate herself — and that’s nice to see.”

Renee and Jim have found that the process, from training to caring, has fostered in them a new closeness through insight into each other’s strengths.

Jim, Renee has learned, is calm and virtually unflappable even under the most intense conditions. Conversely, Renee brings her clinician’s mind to bear in child rearing. If there’s research in the field, or pertinent evidence-based results, she’s across it.

“Trust your partner,” she advises. “We didn’t realise the extent to which we work as a team. You have to be so consistent and you have to have a game plan.”

Jim and Renee believe the real joys of fostering are to be found in the everyday: a sense of giving back to their community, making a real difference in the life of a young person who needs love, stability and safety, and the satisfaction in small but significant achievements.

“With our current placement there were a lot of fine motor skills that hadn’t developed,” Jim says. “A good example was tying her shoelaces. She was quite keenly aware that she couldn’t do that and she would just push her shoes on and off because she didn’t know how to tie them.

“Now, to be able to do that is pretty cool!”

Meet Sarah. She’s single, 27, and a foster carer—Sarah's story

Sarah Cox says she really doesn’t want to have kids of her own, but acknowledges that there are lots of children who need a foster carer.

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Sarah Cox was just nine years old when she decided to become a foster mum.

It was the sort of epiphany that fades away for most children, like wanting to be a wildlife warrior or a superhero.

But Sarah grew into a quietly determined and tenacious woman who never faltered in her ambition to provide love and security for children in need.

“I don’t really want to have kids of my own, but there are lots of children who need a mum or a dad,” she says.

So Sarah set about establishing herself in a position to help others. She completed a Bachelor of Science degree in human biology and went to work running clinical trials for a pharmaceutical company.

“I hated every minute of it,” she sighs. “It was in a closed-in room with no interaction with anyone else and it was just not me. So I went back to studying and did my teaching degree.”

Two years ago Sarah felt the time was right. She was financially stable with a good job and a secure home with room for a child. It was time to make the move toward fostering.

Today, at 27, she is in her element, teaching high school in the Queensland public education system while raising her 10-year-old foster son.

She may be a single foster mum, but she’s not alone.

“I have always felt supported,” she says. Sarah’s fostering agency is there with help, training, advice and practical support when she needs it.

“They were really accepting and really supportive,” she says.

Because her agency supports children with intensive needs, Sarah would be taking on a child requiring greater levels of support than most. That often means a background of trauma resulting in frequent, violent meltdowns, anxiety, depression, anger and destruction.

Still, she reasoned, she is a qualified teacher. She has the training and drive to provide the levels of safety, love and scaffolding required. Her main stipulation was that she receives school-aged children; having a fulltime job means she can’t be there for a child during school hours.

“The kids that really make my heart sing are the ones with the worst stories,” she said.

“Kids don’t act out in these ways without a reason. When you get to the heart of that reason you see this vulnerable little child and all they need is someone to love and support them. You become the person that little child needs.”

A snippet from one training session stays with her.

“The closest way to describe what these kids have gone through is as prisoners of war,” she says.

“The same people who are abusing them are the ones giving them food and shelter. They are getting mixed messages in their little bodies and it really messes up their internal maps of how to get love and attention.”

Sarah’s first placement was particularly challenging. Emergency care was needed for a “desperately hurting” 13-year-old girl from a traumatic background, who had cycled through 12 different placements in the previous 12 months.

“Her last placement had fallen through and she was living in unsuitable accommodation at a friend’s home. It was all hands on deck (to try to find her a home),” Sarah says.

“It turned out to be the most challenging three months of my life. I filled in a few missing persons reports and I had to pick her up from the police station a few times.”

Property damage, self-harm and drug and alcohol use outside the home were involved. With agency support, Sarah took care of her foster daughter for three months.

“The reason the placement eventually ended was that schooling was not working out for her and she needed to be supervised fulltime,” Sarah reflected. “It was really gut-wrenching for me when she had to move on, because we had quite a good relationship.

The “mother-daughter” pair had drawn curious glances because of their obvious closeness in age while they had fun at Brisbane’s South Bank or taking road trips to the Gold Coast.

“I think she knew I cared about her,” Sarah says. “I’ve heard from her since she left my care, and she has regularly said that she regrets some of the decisions she made.

“Sometimes the reality of the system is that you’re not the perfect person for everyone, but you are the perfect person for someone.”

Afterwards, Sarah took some time to process her feelings and adjust to the sense of loss. But she is resilient: a week and a half later she called the agency to report that she was ready to go again.

She received a six-year-old boy who was “a real sweetheart — loves his super heroes,” but found herself struck down by a stomach bug that same night.

“What do you do in those circumstances? You call your mum,” she laughs.

Sarah’s mum came and took care of both of them. She bonded quickly and strongly with Sarah’s young foster son, went through the fostering approvals process and ended up taking the boy into her own home.

Sarah now has a 10-year-old son who has been in and out of care most of his life.

“He has some challenging behaviours but he is the sweetest little boy,” she said.

Police arrived on her doorstep one evening after neighbours reported hearing the child’s desperate, ongoing screams.

“He wasn’t happy about what I’d cooked for dinner,” Sarah winces. “But this is what I signed up for. He used to have escalations several times a day; now it’s once a fortnight.”

This placement could be forever, Sarah says. But if her son’s circumstances change and he returns to his family, that’s okay too.

“That’s part of being a foster parent,” she says. “The years you invest aren’t wasted just because they go home. Everything I do is about helping a child become a better, happier person. It makes them better able to manage the challenges they face.”

While most people accept and respect Sarah’s life as a single, working foster mum, a few say they could never choose that path.

“I just reply: ‘Why not?” she says.

“I have the capability, the love in my heart and a spare room. What sort of person would I be if I said no to these kids?”

How one child changed our world - Narelle and Vivienne's story

Narelle Oliver and Vivienne Braddock’s decision to become foster parents sent ripples through their wider circle of family and friends, generating much love and support.

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Their once pristine and well-ordered home has endured a few scuffed walls, sporadic disarray and some wear and tear over recent years.

But the couple have happily traded away a serene, fastidious house for the spirited, loving and often-challenging home they now share with their 10-year-old foster daughter.

“It’s absolutely full of laughter — and sometimes screams and tantrums,” Narelle smiles. “It has enriched our lives. We had the capacity to turn life around for a little girl, a life that was looking pretty bad.”

Narelle and Vivienne figured they had a head start when it came to foster-parenting, being social workers with a combined 40 years of experience. They know Queensland’s child safety system, understand why children from troubled backgrounds act out and have managed difficult behaviour.

Still, when they decided to open their home to a foster child, they planned to test the waters by doing respite care. This would have given them a chance to care for a child for an hour, a day or a weekend while the permanent foster parents had a break.

“But then a little girl with very complex needs came up and the agency thought we would be best placed to help her,” Narelle said.

“We went into it with our eyes open but, having said that, being a foster carer is very different to being on the other side of the fence. It’s very different when the behaviour is in your home 24 hours a day.”

The child had revolved through placements before she was six and remained significantly traumatised.

She is now 10 and has lived with Narelle and Vivienne for four years. Good parenting, love and therapy are a having a positive effect.

“When she started school she was aggressive and withdrawn,” Narelle says. “Now she has a wonderful group of friends. She’s confident, delightful and funny. We think she’s remarkable.

“I just delight in her. She’s a superhero, a phenomenal little girl. No adult I know could have experienced the horrendous life she’s had and wake up with a smile every day.

Narelle and Vivienne’s family has grown exponentially since their foster child’s arrival. Their suburban backyard has evolved into a farm with the addition of beds of vegetables and herbs, a flock of free-range chickens, ducks congregating around a small pond, plump guinea pigs and a young goat called Kid who drinks from a bottle and teat.

All this came about in the years since the couple’s foster child joined the household. The trio sells surplus vegetables and eggs and bond over their love for the animals. Kid is expected to start supplying milk within months.

The couple’s little girl has started to express love with spontaneous hugs and expressions of attachment.

“We frequently find little notes under our computer keyboard saying ‘Mummy and Mumma, I love you to the moon and back!’” Narelle says.

The couple acknowledge that it’s been a long, hard road and the trio still has far to go. With complex cases, Vivienne says, it’s crucial to take on just one foster child and engage closely with case workers.

“We’re a team of equals and we’re all in there for one purpose: to love and support this little girl,” she says. “We have the belief that if we work with one child well we can make a profound difference.

“We try to keep everybody on the same page as to how she’s feeling and what’s happening. A lot of people would see her behaviour as being very naughty, when really it’s a reaction to anxiety.

“It takes constant reassurance that we love her no matter what her behaviour, that she’s a very special little girl and — although that behaviour is not acceptable — we still love her.”

Both fear their foster daughter’s life and prospects would have been vastly different without intervention.

“She would have been in residential care, where you live with a whole bunch of other children, sometimes in a motel, with youth workers coming and going,” Narelle says.

“She would have dropped out of school. She used to say that she didn’t want to be alive any more. She came with this belief that she is naughty and unlovable. If she had not come to us her trajectory would have been really dark.”

Narelle resigned from her job to focus on caring for their child and easing her journey through rehabilitation.

“There have been times when we have had to rock our little girl to sleep like a baby, because that’s what she needed,” Narelle says. “Her behaviour comes from a place of terror, not naughtiness.

“I also think we’ve parented six kids in one because there are days when our child is like a three-month-old and other days when she’s like a 15-year-old.”

Narelle and Vivienne’s decision to become foster parents sent ripples through their wider circle of family and friends, generating much love and support.

“We had four days to get ready, and we had nothing,” Narelle laughs. “We ran around to get furniture and buy clothes and sheets for the single bed we didn’t have. We put the message out on email and our friends and family came running, not only to support us but to support our child as well.

“We’ve always included our extended family in helping, being part of the team.

“It’s made them more aware. I think our nieces and nephew will grow into compassionate and aware adults; it’s expanded their understanding of the world.”

The women suggest would-be foster parents discuss the decision with their families and friends. In the same way that it takes a village to raise a child, new foster parents need a wide and strong network for children’s toys and clothing, support, time out, play dates and, occasionally, tea and sympathy.

“Sit down and talk to your family and friends. Tell them what you’re planning to do — not to ask for permission but for their support,” Narelle advises.

Vivienne believes becoming a foster mum has deepened her professional skills, expanded the lives of their extended families and allowed her to give back to their community.

Narelle says her heart swells to see the positive changes taking place almost daily.

“I’m very proud of the fact that we’ve changed a little girl’s life; I’m incredibly proud of her,” she says. “If you want to make a difference, this is one of the most difficult, life-changing and rewarding ways to do it.

“To expose kids to love, kindness and compassion when they’ve never experienced it in their lives is a phenomenal thing. You do get to make an incredible difference in the life of a child.”

Foster care is a real rollercoaster ride—Chris and Sophiaan's story

It took Chris Pye and Sophiaan Subhan six years to make the decision to become foster carers. It took only a moment for them to know they had made the right decision.

Read the transcript

Parenthood is dynamic.

Just when you think you have it nailed, your child is bound to cartwheel into a baffling new phase of development and turn life on its head.

Chris and Sophiaan learned this indisputable truth of family life soon after becoming the foster fathers of an eight-year-old boy.

The couple spent about six years inching towards this decision. They read widely, talked, asked questions, adjusted, sold their house and bought a new one, renovated and prepared. And late last year they welcomed a foster son into their new, child-friendly home, hoping they were ready for the highs and lows of parenthood.

“It’s a rollercoaster ride,” admits Chris. “We’ll see an eruption of behaviour over a short period and we don’t know where it’s come from or where it’s leading to.

“But when life takes a sharp turn in one direction, it will knock me for a day or so and then I understand how to deal with it.”

But nothing could prepare them for the heart-swelling moments of sheer joy they experience in the ordinary happiness of becoming a family.

“It’s the pure spending of joyful time with the three of us, seeing (our foster son) laugh, seeing him comfortable and relaxed — and seeing a whole new side of my husband,” Chris says.

Chris, 50, a diversity manager at a human services organisation and Sophiaan, 43, a university linguistics academic, are relishing their new status as a family.

“Family has always been really important to us,” says Sophiaan. “I really love children and I do know that, being in a same-sex relationship, our options — when it comes to having children — are very limited.

“My idea of my role is much clearer now. It’s not about adoption, it’s not about having a surrogate child, it’s about providing stability for the child.”

The couple has been together for 10 years and married in Queenstown, New Zealand, in 2015. After years of on-and-off consideration of fostering, Chris and Sophiaan began the process at an information evening run by a fostering agency.

“We came away from that feeling very positive, and we began the registration process,” Chris says. “It moved forward fairly quickly after the assessments began and then we became accredited.”

When the couple were notified that they would soon become foster fathers to a young boy from a traumatic background, they were in the final stages of moving from a small house on a major road to a larger home in a leafy area, suitable for a young child and a dog.

“We were at the tail end of major renovations and were racing against the clock to get it done,” Chris recalls.

“We saw a photo of him and we started to develop an emotional investment. We just wanted him here — yet we still had the kitchen to do.

“It was a crazy process, like the last night before the big reveal on The Block.”

In the end, the two men managed to sweep the tradies out the door with two hours to spare before their own big reveal. They used the time to walk in a nearby park, consciously letting go of the high-pressure rush of the last few weeks.

Both knew they needed to be calm, collected and welcoming when the doorbell rang.

The young boy who appeared with the social worker had already moved through multiple homes. At eight, he had experienced traumatic events and become dislocated from his biological family, but needed to maintain contact with siblings.

“For the first two weeks or so, he was impeccably behaved,” Chris says. “I remember the two of us saying: ‘We were expecting a child with behavioural difficulties’.”

But the youngster was on high-alert, in survival mode, performing to the best of his ability so he could stay with this new family. Eventually, erratic and challenging behaviour broke through the tight-stretched facade.

“It was about ‘tear and repair’, him seeing if we could bear his behaviour without pushing him away,” Chris says.

“We reassured him that whatever his behaviour was like, we wouldn’t push him away, we wouldn’t leave him. That was very important to deepen the relationship. We’re lucky that we’re in a situation that looks long-term, lucky in terms of our connection and (our son’s) stability.”

With a background in social work and counselling, Chris quickly got to grips with their child’s triggers and fears.

“Like a lot of children who have experienced a lack of power and control he is very resistant to new experiences, so we have to look at ways to scaffold him, to get him to let go of his fear and step into a new challenge.”

The couple takes time each evening to discuss the challenges, responses and successes of the day, drawing out valuable lessons for the future.

“We’re both really lucky that we’re in a relationship with a partner who has the cerebral and emotional capacity to do this,” Chris says.

Sophiaan notes that having two dads appears to be a non-issue with their son, who has a close friendship with the child of two mums.

“While we were doing training (with their fostering agency) we met with other same-sex couples,” Sophiaan adds, “so we’re not the only gays in the village.

“One of his close friends said: ‘You don’t have a mum.’ He said: ‘Well, I have a few mums and a few dads!”

Chris and Sophiaan are excited to give their son a future of adventure, a broad cultural education, stability and family consolidation. “In the next few years, I’m looking forward to seeing him grow to become emotionally stable,” Sophiaan says.

Sophiaan is about to take the child on his annual trip home to Singapore, to meet extended family, while Chris is planning a Queensland holiday for the family, taking in the Daintree National Park, the Great Barrier Reef and the Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival in Cape York.

From empty nesters, to foster carers—Joyce and Matt's story

The Twigges believe that “people come into your life for a reason” and that kids come into their lives and they leave being able to count, or say the alphabet.

Read the transcript

Joyce Twigge was heavily pregnant overseas when she first became concerned about children born without the love, safety and stability awaiting her own son.

She was in hospital on bed rest due to a difficult pregnancy, but was helping to wash, dress and care for a newborn baby who would be adopted from the ward.

As Joyce prepared the baby to be shown to potential adoptive parents, she thought of all the others in the same position.

“That planted the seed,” she says. “It just really opened up our eyes to children out there who needed homes. We thought: ‘We could do this. We’ve got a lot of love, even though we were just starting out in life. My husband is amazing — he’s great with kids.”

Joyce, now 48, is from Scotland while her husband Matt, 52, is a New Zealander. The couple moved between their two home countries for some years before settling in Queensland to raise their two children.

When those grown-up children left home a couple of years ago, Joyce and Matt felt they had more to offer.

“We had empty nest syndrome, and I thought: ‘We’re way too young for this’. So I made a phone call one day to find out what was involved in foster caring,” Joyce says.

Matt, a mechanic, encouraged Joyce to leave her stressful job as a health practice manager to follow her heart.

The couple made inquiries through a Queensland fostering agency, representatives came to interview them and within days they were in pre-training sessions.

“They take you through the basics of foster care, why kids come into foster care, they talk about different types of abuse — physical and sexual — drugs, alcohol and all the different reasons why care is needed,” Joyce says.

“We had a fantastic training group with about eight different couples.

“After that you need to do more assessments. That was actually really hard. They ask a lot about your upbringing: what makes you happy in life, what makes you sad. They ask about your anger, how you dealt with it in the past and how you deal with it now. It really tests your mind on how you handle things.”

After home safety inspections and further assessments, a panel determines whether to approve the couple for foster care. Then there are regular mandatory re-approvals and optional ongoing training.

The couple has taken in children of every age from babies to teenagers.

“These kids don’t know what love is. We’ve had kids who have opened the fridge door and gone: ‘Milk!’ The next day they open it again and say: ‘Milk!’ On the third day they open the fridge and are amazed that there is still milk there.”

Joyce believes the most important thing they can provide for the children is safety and unconditional love. The bonus is that everyone learns something in the Twigge home and Matt provides countless moments of hilarity.

“My wife will say: ‘Matt is 52 but he carries on like a two-year-old’,” he laughs. “I love being a big kid. I have a blast! We have a lot of fun with these kids.

“There’s happiness, laughter, smiles. You’d have been tickled under the armpit when you were a kid, or under the soles of your feet, but little Billy-Bob or Mary-Jane have never had that.

“I shout: ‘I’m a crocodile — here I come!’ and we’re running around and the kids are laughing and cackling.”

It’s those moments, when a child laughs for the first time, that start Joyce’s heart pounding, bring tears to her eyes and elicit an enormous smile.

“It’s beautiful to know that, for whatever time you have them — a week, a month or a year — that you can make a difference,” she says. “These kids need to know they can do this. They can turn their lives around, they can go to school, they can learn to drive a car and get an education. They just need someone to support them and help them get there.

“We’ve had a couple of children who have reunified with their families. The children came such a long way in the time frame. They’re really joyous outcomes.”

Setting boundaries is a crucial first step, Joyce says. Children initially rebel against household rules — such as no snacks immediately before dinnertime — but they soon appreciate the stability, security and predictability they provide.

Matt believes more people would test the waters of foster caring if they just understood the range of options available. Carers can choose to accept only babies up to the age of one, or only children of a certain age range, or only respite care — which can be for as little as an hour at a time or one weekend a month.

“It’s a great thing,” he says. “These children have had clothing, food and shelter of some description, but the main thing that they seem to be missing out on is love.”

Matt and Joyce try to see from the point of view of each new arrival. Two hours previously the child might have been taken from their home by social workers and police amid a melee of shouting and tears, then deposited at the home of strangers.

“We shouldn’t be quick to point the finger,” he says. “Dad could have lost his job and it can all turn pear-shaped. It can be a domino effect and in the end everything comes down.

“People come into your life for a reason. God puts people in your path for a reason. Kids come into our lives and they leave being able to count, or say the alphabet.

“For 80-90 per cent of the population that’s easy, a walk in the park. But not for these kids.”

Joyce acknowledges there are bumps in the road. When a child returns from a contact visit is the most common time to act out, emotionally, verbally or physically. Knowing about the abuse or neglect a child has suffered can also be confronting.

“If I was to really go into the nitty-gritty of it, you’d cry,” Joyce says.

“Sometimes I’ve needed help. I was the child’s rock and I couldn’t crumble. I have an awesome case worker who has been so supportive and good for us. If I need more training or research, or I need to just sit and cry, it’s there.”

Matt believes that keeping busy, working hard to help others and feeling the joy can deflect the boredom, isolation and depression that has become common in society.

He takes inspiration from his father, now 82 with two hip replacements, who spends his days riding his bicycle and “chopping wood for the old girl around the corner” in New Zealand.

“I think we’re always better to be doing a bit more than not enough,” Matt says.

“In another two, five, 10 or 12 years, instead of being fulltime carers we might become respite carers. At least for one weekend a month we can still encourage, motivate, teach, show and learn.

“We’ll be in our 60s,” he muses. “Grandparents are awesome.”

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