Experienced foster carer, Laura Baxter has found fulfillment in providing love and support to young people who need a safe home to grow as individuals, but it doesn’t come without its frustrations. Laura clears up some common misconceptions and provides an insight into the joys of being a foster carer.
The Thrifty Philanthropist: What was your motivation behind wanting to become a foster carer?
Laura Baxter: I worked with young people living in residential units, and complained for years about a system that doesn’t respect them or raise them right. I felt hypocritical complaining about the very system I was a part of. So I got out and started fostering.
The foster care system also has its challenges but at least we are in control of what goes on in our house and how we treat our kids. I know our kids will grow up in a much better environment and with much better outcomes than if they had lived in residential care. It’s a small difference overall, but to our kids it’s everything.
TTP: Can you tell us about some of the most rewarding moments you’ve experienced through being a foster parent?
LB: I wouldn’t even know where to start. There are so many!When a kid stops correcting their teacher or coach for referring to you as their mum; listening to a kid dream about their future for the first time; watching the wonder on their face when you take them on a plane for their first ever holiday; I could go on forever here!
TTP: What is one question you are tired of getting asked about being a foster carer?
LB: “How do you say goodbye to the kids at the end? I could never do that. I would just want to keep them forever.”
While some foster kids stay forever, it’s never the goal and this question misses the point of foster care completely. If what you really want is to add to your family permanently, then consider permanent care or adoption. With foster care, you are there to love, spoil, support and keep the kid safe until they and their parents are ready to be reunified.
Yes, it hurts when you have to say goodbye, but that’s a good thing. It means you loved and connected and gave them exactly what they needed from you. How could you say no to that?
TTP: This is a website where we talk about thrifty philanthropy, but there are obviously significant costs involved with adding another member to your family, even temporarily. Can you explain what financial support is available for any readers who might think they can’t afford to be a foster parent?
LB: This is a pretty contentious issue. Some uninformed people often assume we make a tidy sum off fostering. There’s a misconception (largely dated now) that foster carers ONLY do it for the money. Having an extra kid costs money and you do get a tax-free reimbursement from the government.
Each kid is assessed individually to work out the appropriate level of reimbursement. For example, a kid with a disability may be reimbursed at a higher rate as they have medical appointments to be transported to, or require their carer to quit their job to care for them.
Don’t expect to make any money from it and understand that you might just lose a little too, but not all that much. I would always say you MUST be financially stable before you consider foster caring. Because at best you will break even, sometimes not.
TTP: Any other myths about foster caring you want to bust?
LB: Teenagers are not too hard. They are not all violent and aggressive and dishonest. They are fun and engaging and yeah, sometimes moody! They can identify and talk about their feelings, but they might not want to. They can be a part of the decision making process in their own journey. Teenagers are different to younger kids. No better or worse just different.
TTP: What do you see as the most important change that needs to happen in the foster care system?
LB: There’s a big push for extending the care to age 21, and I wholeheartedly support it. Kids these days aren’t ready to leave home at 18 and the outcomes are pretty disastrous (mental health, homelessness, crime, pregnancies etc).
Yes, there’s an added cost to the state to take this on, but this cost would easily be recouped by savings in medical and homeless services alone. The Home Stretch campaign is having a lot of success and some states are trialing the extension of care until age 21, which is fantastic. You can sign up at their website http://thehomestretch.org.au/
But I actually think there is a more important issue – permanency. These kids are being bounced around between too many homes for too many years. Recently, new laws have meant that once kids are out of the care of their parents for two years, they should be going on to a long term order or to a long term family. This increases the stability for the child and is the right way to head.
The problem is that when kids who bounce back and forth between their family home and foster care, the two years are reset each time they return home. So you can have a kid who is 16 and been in and out of care for 12 years, but still not in a consistent home because it’s only been three months since they were last living with their parents.
That is NOT fair on the kid and can completely change the direction of their life. We need to do better for those kids, the ones that slip through the cracks.
TTP: You have a biological child now as well, can you tell me about some of the benefits of him having a foster sibling and vice versa?
LB: This has been such an amazing experience for our youngest that we never anticipated. We have always fostered teen boys, before our own little guy came along. We have had two teen boys living with us since he was born and he truly loves them both.
They are just brothers to him and nothing else. He looks up to them, copies their every move and annoys the hell out of them too no doubt! His favourite thing to do it climb up on the boys as they lie on the couch watching TV, and perch himself on their ribs and sit up high watching TV with them.
TTP: If someone reading this has been thinking about, what is the first step?
LB: Go to an information session. To do that, you’ll have to find out what organisations provide foster care in your area. The easiest way to do that is through Fostering Connections. Contact them and they will put you in touch with a couple of organisations.
Ask them how long they’ve been servicing your area for and how long their current tender is. You want an organisation that isn’t going to fold on you in a couple of years. Go with established, national services where you can. Do your research.
TTP: Whatever your motivation, if this is something that you have been thinking about, you can be assured that there is a child who will be forever grateful that you took that first step. As Laura puts it, “If you have thought about fostering, you’ve already got what it takes. Give it a go, what have you got to lose?”