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Bringing family together, no matter the distance

Edition 1, 2023

Parents hold baby's hands. Happy family in park evening

“A year ago, you couldn’t have pictured the three of us sitting at our kitchen table. And here we are,” says Caitlin*.

Finally, this family of three are together. Caitlin and Nolan* are Sarah’s* aunt and uncle. But they’re also Sarah’s kinship carers. And they almost can’t believe Sarah’s finally at home with them in Ireland. Because it’s been a long journey to get to this point.  

Born in Sydney, Australia in February 2021, Sarah was initially placed in the care of her assumed grandmother, Sophie*. Sarah’s mother, Shannon*, sadly has faced many challenges over the years. So, when Sarah was born, legally, Shannon couldn’t take her home.

But the long journey to become kinship carers began when Nolan lost contact with his sister, Shannon in 2019, who’d been living in Australia for the last 10 years. And it wasn’t until mid-2020 that Nolan and Caitlin discovered Shannon was pregnant.

After Sarah was born, Nolan and Caitlin were excited to receive photos of Sarah from Shannon. But that quickly changed. By May 2021 they’d lost contact with Shannon completely. So, when they found out Sarah never left with Shannon from the hospital, Nolan and Caitlin contacted the NSW Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ).

This is where Wesley Dalmar, Wesley Mission’s foster care program stepped in. In June 2021, DCJ transferred over the case and for the first time, Nolan and Caitlin were asked whether they wanted to become Sarah’s kinship carers. That’s when Nolan and Caitlin brought forward their doubts about the father’s paternity.

Suddenly they were in a race against time. The Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia was only a couple of days away from making a final ruling on Sarah’s custody in Sophie’s favour. So, Nolan and Caitlin decided to go for it.

“We just didn’t want her growing up thinking that no one cared about her from her family,” says Nolan. “We just wanted her to know that we were willing to fight and do whatever we could to get her home.”

And the court agreed. “Because we were unable to get DNA testing confirmed, the magistrate was therefore happy with the idea of endorsing the assessment of Nolan and Caitlin,” Katie explains.

While Nolan and Caitlin ticked all the boxes to become Sarah’s kinship carers, for Katie it was their devotion to Sarah that stood out.

“They had her best interests at heart. They just kept saying over and over, ‘We’re not doing this for us. We’re doing this for her’,” says Katie.

While Caitlin and Nolan waited for the court to rule on Sarah’s case, they made several life-changing decisions to prepare for Sarah’s arrival, including selling and buying a new home, upgrading their car and Caitlin left her job to manage the transition.

“We thought we’re just going to have to act as if she’s coming because we don’t have time to do it all when we get the court order,” Caitlin explains.

A process that normally takes years, took six months. The judge too admired Nolan and Caitlin’s dedication and ruled in their favour. “This is unheard of in a case like this,” says Katie.

In February 2022, Nolan and Caitlin flew to Australia to meet Sarah for the first time. And it was joy at first sight for this family.

“We just kind of connected straight away and she was very comfortable with us,” says Nolan.

While a difficult transition for Sophie, Nolan and Caitlin are thankful for how well Sophie prepared Sarah for the change.

Nolan and Caitlin were amazed at how quickly Sarah settled into her new home in Ireland. And now this bubbly young girl has changed their lives for the better. Sarah has even started calling her kinship carers, Mummy Caitlin and Daddy Nolan.

“She just brings so much joy to our home,” Caitlin says as tears well up in her eyes. “And even with everyone she meets. She’s touched the lives of so many people.”

Nolan and Caitlin agree that they’ll be ever grateful for Wesley Dalmar and Katie’s support. Along with helping to bring Sarah home, Katie also supported with bringing Shannon back to Ireland, so Sarah can have a relationship with her birth mother.

“Katie has changed our lives,” says Caitlin. “This has been the toughest experience of our lives and the most rewarding. And every step of the way, you were with us. And that means the world to us.”

Katie too is thankful to have been part of this family’s journey. “It was honestly such a privilege to work with Nolan, Caitlin and Shannon. If every foster carer or family member could be like them, I think we’d live in a very different world.”

*Names and photos have been changed to protect privacy.

Lifting foster care age supports independent living

Did you know that within a year of leaving foster care at age 18, 35 per cent of young people will experience homelessness?

Tamara used to be one these statistics. When leaving foster care, Tamara bounced between living at friends’ places or in her car.

“I was living day-by-day, not knowing where I’d sleep at night,” Tamara shares.

But thanks to Wesley Take Charge of Your Life, Tamara now has a home and the life skills to confidently stand on her own two feet.

“If I didn’t go through this program, I would probably still be out on the streets because I wouldn’t have been able to get my life together,” says Tamara. “It’s everything that you need to live independently that they help you with.”

That’s why we’re celebrating the NSW Government’s decision to extend the option for leaving foster care from 18 to 21 and to provide additional supports, so more young people, like Tamara, can become independent.

The NSW Government’s new Your Choice Your Future package will build on already existing supports and provide care allowance to support more young people who wish to remain with their foster carers until their 21. The Aftercare Allowance, a fortnightly payment for any young person who doesn’t remain in their foster carer’s home and needs assistance, has also been extended until the age of 21.

Discover more about how Wesley Take Charge of Your Life supports young people leaving foster care.

That’s a wrap for 2022!

For Wesley Dalmar, 2022 has been a year of milestones and growth as we’ve continued the meet the changing needs of foster care.

This year we achieved our long-term goal of gaining accreditation as an adoption agency – a significant milestone!

Wesley Aunties & Uncles celebrated its 12th anniversary as part of Wesley Mission. We’ve now matched 100 children and young people in foster care to an ‘aunty’ or ‘uncle’ mentor.

We expanded our Supported Independent Living program to 30 placements across Sydney and the Mid North Coast of NSW. This program supports young people aged 16-18 in foster care, for up to two years, with a safe place to live and to also develop life skills.

Our Keeping Connected program extended into northern NSW and overall, we now facilitate up to 31 visits every day between children and young people in foster care and their birth families.

As floods impacted the Northern Rivers and Far North Coast regions of NSW, we supported approximately 10 foster carers and their children with temporary accommodation and emergency supplies, including dry clothes, bedding, personal use items, vouchers and other essential items.

Find out more about the impact we made over this past year in Wesley Mission’s 2022 Annual Report.

Cover of Wesley Mission Annual Report 2022

Getting to know you…

Tina Henderson

What’s your role and what do you do day-to-day?

I am the Program Coordinator with Wesley Dalmar foster care in Grafton. My responsibilities are to support my team of three foster care case managers. I also work closely with the NSW Department of Communities and Justice for court purposes and to build up our relationships. I also review documents, induct and train new staff and assist with finding placements for children and young people.

At the moment, due to our high number of placements, I also hold a case load of six children and young people. Two of which are restorations, three long-term and one close to adoption. There is a lot of work to be done with these types of cases, but it is so rewarding to see the positive outcomes.

How long have you been working for Wesley Mission?

Three-and-a-half years.

What’s most important to you personally?

I like to spend time with my dog, my husband and have face time calls with my family. Family is very important to me, and the majority of my family is overseas in Canada. I have not been able to go home in six years due to COVID, finances and other commitments. I am hoping that I will be able to travel home next year.

What would you like people to know about you?

I love working for Wesley Mission. I am passionate about what I do within my work and for my community.

Tina Henderson (on right) and colleague celebrating Jacaranda Festival

What’s one accomplishment you’re proud in your role at Wesley Mission?

One accomplishment I am proud of is my collaboration on the most important event in the Grafton community, the Jacaranda Festival, which Wesley Mission is a major sponsor. 

Jacaranda time in Grafton is beautiful and I wish that everyone could come and see it. Wesley Mission participated in and attended events like the Colour Run, Retrofest, the Crowning, Float Procession and the Ball. Wesley Mission also had an information stall on Jacaranda Thursday, which is the biggest day of the event.

This event would not have been the success it was without the support of the entire Grafton office, the Coffs Harbour foster care team, Wesley Mission marketing, media and the Jacaranda committee. Thank you to everyone who made this event so special.

Next info sessions

If you’re thinking about becoming a foster carer with Wesley Dalmar, or are curious about getting involved, register for an Online Information Session to find out more and ask your questions.

In the one-hour session you’ll discover:

  • Introduction to Wesley Dalmar
  • What do foster carers do?
  • Types of care
  • Why become a foster carer?
  • How can I become a foster carer?

There will also be an opportunity after the presentation to ask our friendly team your questions.

Book your spot at Thinking about becoming a foster carer? – Wesley Mission. We hope to see you there.

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