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Fostering some new family dynamics

NEYSA and Mu Sutherland are thrilled they have been able to offer a little bit of care to several foster children over the past year.

The young Portland couple became foster carers with Brophy Family and Youth Services last year after thinking about giving it a go for several years beforehand.

While taking on foster care has been a big learning experience for them both, it’s something they don’t regret, and Mrs Sutherland is now urging others to find out more about becoming foster carers too.

She said being able to offer a home that is safe and caring for as long as you can is a tremendous gift to a child.

“I’ve been thinking about being a foster parent since I was a teenager,” she said.

“My mum had a real open door policy and we had lots of people come and stay with us on and off when I was growing up.

“When Mu and I met we struggled with fertility for a while and spoke about fostering.”

The couple were able to conceive - and they now have two energetic young sons, Ryder, 3, and Hudson, 5 - however that didn’t stop their interest in foster care.

They spent several months – around their paid work and personal lives - going through the preparation and training process before they officially entered the foster care availability pool last year.

“You can make (the process) fit in around your life,” Mrs Sutherland said.

The couple initially told Brophy they wanted to care for children on a respite and short-term basis, and were seeking children about the same age as their sons.

They took on two young siblings and were thrilled at the changes they were able to see in the pair during that time, however felt that having so many children in the house aged under four (at the time) was too much for them.

“After that we reassessed a little bit and decided maybe children that were a little bit older would be a better fit.”

Months later, the family have hosted several other children and said they were enjoying their time with a 12-year-old at the moment.

“The dynamic has actually worked out to be amazing,” Mrs Sutherland said.

“It’s all learning for everybody, and you have to be open to a lot of things that you may not have been: we have learned a lot about ourselves, our capabilities and our limits.”

Mr Sutherland said he had grown up in a house where cousins and family were always visiting, so those memories of a full, caring household and his wife’s enthusiasm convinced him it was a good idea for them to become foster carers.

“We have been reminded about simple things you take for granted,” he said, noting that eating a meal with utensils or enjoying playing outdoors in a park had been something new for some of the children they had looked after.

“You know you are actually helping and giving comfort to a child.”

“That’s right – it’s not about the big things, it’s about things like a child feeling safe to have a conversation with you and knowing lunch will be in their lunchbox when they get to school,” Mrs Sutherland added.

The couple both do paid work as well as caring duties, with Mr Sutherland working full time and doing different shifts, and Mrs Sutherland operating a home-based business as well as working part-time at a local retailer.

They said the caring role still functions well around that, with Brophy staff supporting them by arranging outside school and other care when needed.

Brophy has also supported them in numerous other ways as well, and they said they were pleased they could speak to their support worker frankly.

In addition they felt comfortable to say no to a caring opportunity if it didn’t suit them at the time, such as if their sons weren’t “in the right mindset.”

They also have no regrets that they may develop a bond with a child and then have to say goodbye when they return home or go to live elsewhere.

“Wouldn’t you rather know that that child experiences safety and care and love? The first years of life are amazing in terms of the bonds that are formed, so if you can show that it will affect a child for life.

“I would love people to be open to the idea of learning about foster care. After that you can decide if you want to continue on with the process.”

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