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Edition 3, 2022
It was 1976 when Carolyn stood in the kitchen with her two children at the time and heard a call on the radio for foster parents.
“I think God spoke to me in that moment,” she explains. “I knew I liked staying home and looking after kids, so I thought, ‘that’s something I could do’.”
Four decades later, Carolyn and her husband David have now cared for 75 children – as well as raising six children of their own and supporting 26 grandchildren. Their home has become a safe place for so many children in need. At one point, they even had nine children living under their roof.
“I didn’t plan to foster so many children but felt like I had a gift for caring,” she says.
Since 1989, Carolyn and David have partnered with Wesley Dalmar, Wesley Mission’s out-of-home-care provider. As emergency and short-term carers, Carolyn and David’s days are often unpredictable. They’ll suddenly get a call to take in a newborn or young child. And sometimes they’ll care for someone for just five or six days. Other times, it’s months or even a few years.
The need for care is often prompted by a family crisis or intervention by the NSW Department of Communities and Justice, where a child or young person has been removed from their parents while their long-term needs are assessed. At the end of temporary care, the child may return to their family or be placed in long-term care.
Over their years of fostering, Carlyon and David have cared for newborn babies up to 17-year-olds. But 75 per cent of their placements have been babies and toddlers. They’ve continued to fill a growing need for more fosters carers to temporarily support children in the early stages of their lives.
Sadly, many babies Carolyn and David have cared for have been addicted to drugs. Carolyn says she’s spent countless nights wandering her living room settling babies to sleep, supporting them through the drug withdrawal process.
While the challenges at times have been steep for Carolyn and David’s family, the reward is often greater.
“The couple of years or the time we’ve got with them, just to give them that little bit of stability and love. We don’t know what the end result is, but we feel that it’s well worth it,” David reflects.
And through the difficult times, Carolyn and David says having the support of their Wesley Dalmar caseworker, Maddy, makes all the difference.
“She’s the best one in probably the world, I say, fantastic case worker. She does a wonderful job. There’s never any questions left unanswered. Maddy, she’s all over it,” Carolyn says.
Carolyn describes David and herself to be “ordinary people”. But, they’re far from it. They’re extraordinary people who’ve given their lives to caring, loving and supporting babies and young children who need a safe and nurturing environment, so they can thrive.
And now they’ve received an Order of Australia, being recognised nationally on the 2022 Queen’s Birthday Honours List for their immense generosity, sacrifice, devotion, humility and ability to continually love and care for so many young children most in need.
Maintaining relationships with birth families is important for children and young people in foster care. Positive interactions provide a sense of connection and can reduce anxiety, self-blame and feelings of loss.
Over the past two years, Wesley Dalmar has partnered with the Research Centre for Children and Families at the University of Sydney to explore how we can better support children’s connections with their birth families during long-term care.
Fostering Lifelong Connections is a research study involving the NSW Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ) and eight out-of-home care agencies in NSW. Funded by an Australian Research Council Linkage Grant, it aims to develop and disseminate practices that support children to build and maintain positive relationships with their birth relatives.
Wesley Dalmar’s participated in the study. For two years, they supported birth families to interact with children while giving and receiving real-time feedback. Every month, they met with caseworkers at CatholicCare Hunter-Manning, DCJ Maitland and university researchers to reflect on their practice.
The team received several awards in recognition of their commitment to participating in the study.
Emily Degenhardt received a merit award for displaying excellence in hearing children’s voices. Daisy Gandazha received a merit award for supporting her casework team. She also recently spoke at Pathways to Permanency: A spotlight on guardianship and adoption webinar hosted by DCJ.
As a result of the study, several resources were developed and researchers are now recruiting children and young people and their birth families to participate in interviews. Researchers will also offer training for caseworkers based on learnings from the study later this year. For more information about the study, contact the Fostering Lifelong Connections research team.
We’d like to thank our Wesley Dalmar foster parents who care for more than 650 children and young people every night across New South Wales. Since 2013, we’ve grown from providing care for 247 children and young people every night to nearly 700. And we’ve expanded primarily in regional New South Wales opening offices in Maitland, Gosford, Taree, Coffs Harbour, Grafton and Ballina.
And through innovative and unique programs, such as Wesley Dalmar Treehouse Farm and Wesley Dove café, we are meeting a growing need to support young people transitioning from foster care to adulthood.
At Wesley Dalmar’s Dove Care in Ballina, young people in foster care can obtain a Certificate II or III in Hospitality, while still at school, under the guidance of a fully accredited chef and trainer. And Ballina-based foster carers, Lisa and Gary, have a 25-acre property where young people can transition from foster care to independence at their own pace while developing practical life skills.
So once again, thank you to all our foster carers for opening their homes and providing opportunities to help children and young people thrive!
The Wesley Dalmar Education team knows it takes a village to raise a child. As qualified teachers, they’re passionate about supporting children and young people to achieve their academic potential, in partnership with their case managers, foster carers and schools.
“Education doesn’t just happen in school. It’s also about developing skills that enable people to contribute to our society as a whole,” says Anneal Goodier, Education Manager.
As part of their role with Wesley Dalmar Education Hunter Central Coast, our Education consultants review school documents, reports and tests, such as Best Start, NAPLAN and school reports, to track educational outcomes. They also recently completed a policy and procedure overhaul to refine team processes and ensure they reflect current needs and trends.
The team is most proud of successfully maintaining online mentoring and educational support for the children and young people in foster care during COVID-19, because many of our children struggled to participate in online education.
Thank you to our Education teams and for doing all the good you can in all the ways you can, because every life matters.
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:
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.
To learn more about foster care, here are a few resources that you might find helpful.