ECHUCA-MOAMA Aboriginal children who have been removed from their parents are having to be re-homed away from their family because of a lack of local foster carers.
The increasing demand for more foster carers has seen Njernda Aboriginal Corporation put a call out across Campaspe Shire and Murray River Council.
“The demand for foster carers continues to be high,” Njernda Family Services manager Hazel Hudson said.
“Unfortunately, there are many children in out-of-home care that Njernda receives placement requests for, but we are unable to provide a placement for them all locally due to the low numbers of carers accredited to our foster care program.
“This means that placement of our children is located in other townships, outside of Echuca and away from family.”
Njernda’s foster care program has been running for just under two years, with four Aboriginal children housed with Njernda-accredited carers as of last week.
“We have six accredited foster carers at the moment and they range from respite care, short and long-term care and emergency care,” Ms Hudson said.
“They care for our Aboriginal children who range in age from babies to 18-year-olds and in different stages of the care system.
“Some of our children are on longer-term placements and other children are on temporary placement while Child Protection is in the process of locating family members to be assessed as kinship carers.”
Mrs Hudson said the inability to attract enough foster carers could be due to time constraints.
“I think everyone has so much on their plate, it’s hard to open it up for a child in need,” she said.
“It takes a big commitment. It’s a long assessment for training over a three-day period, then you have to allow people to go in-home and you might need to do some self-reflection on your own trauma and change your home to make it suitable. They’re big asks for individuals to do.”
But this is for good reason and worthwhile in the long run, according to Njernda foster carer Janene Peterson.
“It’s a very rewarding to be a foster carer and give a vulnerable child a loving home,” she said.
“Our foster carers love what they do and they’ve got a great connection with the kids.
“We don’t want to have kids being pushed around the system because we can’t find carers. They need stability and permanence. Most of these kids are quite vulnerable and have been through family trauma. It’s important they have stability, care and love within a home.
“Housing a child in need is very rewarding and can make a difference to these kids. Providing a loving home and doing everyday family things like taking them to school and shopping with them helps build relationships and their quality of life.”
Mrs Hudson said foster caring was one of the most rewarding opportunities someone could provide for a child.
“The role of the foster carer is to provide a safe and nurturing environment in their own homes that meets each child/young person’s cultural, social, emotional, and physical needs,” she said.
“You can provide a home that gives a vulnerable child/young person an experience of consistency, care and safety which can make the world of difference to their life.”
Mrs Hudson said carers did not have to be Aboriginal as cultural awareness training would be provided, as would financial assistance to help raise the child.
“We offer lots of training. A lot of our kids come into the system with lots of trauma and some people classify their behaviour as naughty, but they’re not naughty children. They’re children responding to the trauma they’ve seen. It’s about differentiating that and developing tools to work with that,” she said.
“We’re a multi-discipline centre so we’re able to connect the kids not only into the family services area but also into medical and our counselling systems.
“When we’re out of COVID there’s usually events we invite carers to that will foster a better understanding of the Aboriginal community that they live in and the culture they need to connect their children to. We also have youth and holiday and sporting programs. When family services run events, the whole family is invited.
“It’s been my experience that our foster carers tend to get attached. They become part of the family and vice versa. Our foster carers become part of our extended family and we consider them part of the community. They’re a vital resource.”
Mrs Hudson said Njernda was looking for respite, short-term and long-term carers.
“When people are accredited, they go on for six months as a respite carer which is short term. It might be a weekend, a week or two weeks, depending on the primary carer of the child,” she said.
“That then gives them some idea of what they’ve actually opened their doors to and whether it’s going to be a good fit for them. It might be that they’re only available for respite care. Which is great for us because we need a lot of respite carers as well as permanent long-term carers.
“It takes a wonderful quality of person to do it. They go in because they understand they have an opportunity to provide a child with a future. And that’s what happens in foster care. Providing kids who, for no reason of their own, are unable to stay with their parents, with a promising future.”
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