Every child deserves a safe place to call home; especially during a national pandemic. But sadly, with COVID-19 lockdowns affecting people right across the community, it’s those who are most vulnerable who suffer the most. Some of the most vulnerable are children and young people who are in foster care separated from their biological families.
“You have to show any child you’re caring for that you’re in this with them; that you have their back and they can rely on you,” says Fiona Matthews, a foster carer from regional NSW. She chose to become a foster carer in 2020 during the first COVID-19 lockdowns and after going through the approved checks and training, began foster caring with Anglicare at the end of last year.
“Initially I was a short-term and emergency carer. This is a good way to start as it eases you in to life as a foster carer,” explains Fiona. “But now I care specifically for one young person who is in her early teens. Teenagers are already going through massive changes in their lives, and for young people in care, those changes can be even more traumatic. That’s why, no matter how hard a situation can be, I’m committed to being there for the young person in my care.”
Fiona was inspired to become a foster carer after seeing her grandfather open up his farm as a place of respite care for young people. “Growing up I saw the difference that being on the farm made in their lives. There was a lot of kindness shown in that place,” says Fiona.
Now in her 40s and living without a partner, the reality of not being able to have her own biological children made Fiona look elsewhere. “I decided that even if I couldn’t have children of my own, if I could help just one other person, it would be worth it. I know that the young person I care for is not my daughter. Your family is your family and no-one can change that. That’s why it’s important for her to still have a connection with her biological family. Anglicare helps to facilitate that in a way that keeps her safe,” says Fiona. “But I care for her like she’s my own. My dream would be that in the future she’d have a family of her own, and perhaps I could still be there to help her on that journey, even after she’s reached adulthood and left my care.”
Fiona’s own mother passed away from cancer when Fiona was just 15 years old. The tragedy she experienced, and the love and support she received from people in her own community made her see that care can come from many places. “These people aren’t my blood relatives but they feel like it because of the love they showed me. It’s these same people; this same community who came alongside me after my mum died who are now helping me support the young person I care for. Everyone has experienced some sort of trauma in their life, but for a young person in care, often that trauma can be quite deep,” says Fiona.
While she admits that some days can be rocky, Fiona knows to celebrate every win, no matter how small. “The young person I care for is a really great kid who just needs someone to be a stable person for her. When other people notice how great she is and they say something to her, or to me, it makes me so proud.”
Fiona encourages anyone considering becoming a foster carer to really understand the importance of being that stable person. “I figure I set out to help one child,” says Fiona, “so sometimes I turn to her, and I tell her, ‘I’m pretty certain you’re my one.’”
Other children and young people need carers like Fiona. They need a stable home where they can heal and feel safe, especially with the uncertainties of COVID-19. For more information about becoming a foster carer, visit anglicare.com.au/fostercare