In 1976 Carolyn made a life-altering decision. Standing in the kitchen with her two children at the time, Carolyn 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. “And God expects us to use our gifts.”
Making a huge impact in a small window of opportunity
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, Carolyn 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.
“It’s about giving them a chance in the first couple years of their life to know what love is all about, and stability,” David says.
Building resilience during challenging times
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. It hasn’t been easy and has required the whole family to pitch in. Many of the drug-addicted babies require 24-hour care.
In such cases, the whole family has pitched in, with even Carolyn and David’s children taking 15-minute shifts to rock babies to sleep. Carolyn says her family surely has been impacted by these experiences.
“There were times when my own kids probably resented having a baby in the house that was so needy,” she openly shares. “We’d go to the park and the baby would need to go home for a rest. So, we’d all have to pack up and go home.”
But the experience has made Carolyn and David’s family more resilient. “It’s meant that all of them have a very realistic picture of what it is like to have a new baby come into your life,” she shares.
And the whole family cries when each foster child leaves due the pain of separation. But through the challenging 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.
Experiencing immense joy
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.
Recently, Carolyn and David cared for a young girl battling syphilis while withdrawing from drugs. “She woke five times every night for about the first five months,” Carolyn explains. “It’s hard work.”
While exhausting at times, out of pain comes immense joy. After many physiotherapy and occupational therapy sessions, this girl is now thriving.
“They first thought she might have cerebral palsy. Eventually the physio said to me, ‘Carolyn, she’s now performing beyond her chronological age, you don’t need to bring her anymore’. And then I would look around and she’s climbed on top of the dining room table,” Carolyn explains.
While Carolyn and David don’t get to see the children they care for grow up, on the rare occasion they receive a glimpse into the impact they’ve made in their short time with them.
“It’s amazing the memory that these kids have of such a short stay,” says David.
Carolyn continues, “This girl left us just a little bit before her second birthday. But she’d been gone for around 15 months when she came back to our house for the first time.”
David adds, “But when she came back with her foster parents, she said, ‘Daddy come. I’ll show you where I slept, and I’ll show you my room’.”
Rewarding extraordinary people
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 Queens 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.
For 15 years, Carolyn and David have pushed a pram up a steep hill on their daily morning walk near their home. But it wasn’t until their neighbour who noticed their regular morning routine, asked their friend about them, and then decided to nominate them.
While Carolyn and David feel honoured to receive the reward, they don’t seek recognition. For Carolyn and her family, seeing children thrive is the reward for them. And when asked how she feels about the award, it’s clear humility is at the centre Carolyn’s heart, saying the Order of Australia should have gone to a long-term foster carer instead.
“I’d like to give a shout out to those foster carers who take in one child when they’re very little and look after them until they leave school or finish university. They don’t get a break like David and I do in-between our placements.”
Carolyn and David’s servanthood hearts are motivated by one thing – an act of love. Particularly the following line from a hymn, “break my heart for what breaks yours” resonates with Carolyn.
“How do you love someone a little bit?” Carolyn says. “For me, it’s all or nothing.”
Now in their 70s, people around them keep asking when they’ll retire from foster caring. Carolyn’s response befits her life-long calling.
“I say, ‘What does the Bible say about retirement? Absolutely nothing. So, you just keep using the gifts that you’ve been given, until you can’t’.”
Have you considered becoming a foster carer?
For over 40 years Carolyn and David have been foster carers, and they’re still going in their 70s. No matter your age or stage of life, there’s no one-size-fits-all box for foster carers. In fact, we have foster carers from all walks of life. You could choose short-term foster care like Carolyn or David, a long-term placement, adoption, specialist foster care which involves supporting a young person with complex or high needs or respite care where you provide a young person with a short stay to give their foster parents a much-needed break.
So, if you’re interested in helping a young person grow in a safe and nurturing environment, register for an online information session with Wesley Dalmar.