She arrived with her life in a small pink bag, a confused look on her face and a simple, hand-written note that read: “I don’t eat red meat and I need to be woken up at 1am each night to go to the toilet”.
Apart from that, little Rosie was a complete mystery.
The tiny blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl didn’t know anyone who lived in the house or how long she’d be there … but what she did know was for the first time in a long time she felt safe.
As hard as it is to believe, six-year-old Rosie is one of the lucky ones.
Every night in NSW there are hundreds of children from newborns and upwards desperate for somewhere to call home.
The state’s “secret generation” of children can spend weeks, months even years looking for a family while some never actually find one.
Stays in short-term housing while waiting for permanent placements can vary and could see children jumping around night to night between different locations.
The older they get the harder they are to place. Not because of their background or the trauma they have been through but purely because of their age, incredibly, at age eight, boys in particular are considered “too old” and have very little hope of being fostered.
Similarly, teenagers aged 15 and up tend to have little interest in being placed in care and would rather couch surf or crash with friends than stay in a system which they believe has failed them.
Last month it was estimated there were more than 200 requests for assistance, with approximately 50 per cent for long term care; 30 per cent for short term; 10 per cent for immediate and 10 per cent for respite carers.
Most care sought was for boys and the majority of children requiring care were aged 11-15 years, followed by six to ten years. Family Spirit, a foster care and adoption agency, is currently at capacity with 100 children in their care.
Looking after children as far afield as Lithgow in the west, Hornsby to the north and Campbelltown–Heathcote in the south, the agency is urgently looking for carers to help with the huge numbers of young people in need of somewhere to live.
With 55 foster care agencies in NSW, Family Spirit’s point of difference is its focus on Catholic social teachings and Jesus’ rebuke to the Disciples “let the little children come to me and do not stop them for the kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these”.
CEO Jason Oldridge said the huge numbers looking for someone to care for them is nothing short of heartbreaking.
He said they are limited only by the number of carers available: if they could attract 50 more carers, they could place an additional 50 kids in a nurturing environment.
“These kids are in this position through no fault of their own and need patient, caring adults to provide them with a positive family experience,” he said.
“Every day we see broadcasts going out to various agencies desperate to find homes for these kids, and sadly quite often we know it will never amount to anything because there just isn’t enough carers.
“Just yesterday a plea went out for a home for siblings aged three and five who are unable to live with their family, but we had to decline the request, how does that happen?
“I have no idea if and when they will find a family as we just don’t have carers to take them.”
In 2018, the NSW Government re-prioritised foster care in the state with the aim of getting double the number of children into safe and permanent homes by 2023 and changing the landscape of the sector altogether.
Research has shown children have better outcomes staying within the family unit despite there being challenging circumstances, so agencies now need to spend more time attempting to repair family units leaving some children vulnerable for longer.
Significant risk of harm, abuse or neglect needs to be proven before a child is removed.
And sadly, no matter how bad their home life, children will always prefer to stay with family than be placed in care.
“With the Premier’s priorities we now have to complete intensive work with mum, dad and other family members to demonstrate if a child can be restored, as well as caring for the child and the carer as they establish a new family,” Mr Oldridge said.
“And no matter how bad things are, at the end of the day children will usually want to know why they can’t stay with their mum and dad.
“It means that kids seem to be entering care at age five rather than three so enduring difficult conditions for longer in the hope the situation can be repaired without state intervention.”
A veteran of the sector, Mr Oldridge considers the wait for a stable family at times can be more damaging than anything done to them prior to coming into care – therefore the need to have carers available and ready to connect with these children is a priority.
He said the story of eight-year-old Olivia will stay with him for a lifetime.
“An experienced foster care couple came to us expressing a real desire to foster a child, so after 18 months of meeting potential children decided on Olivia, whose parents had conceived her in a psychiatric ward so going home was never an option,” he said.
“Just six weeks after welcoming her into their home they turned up at my office with her and all her possessions in tow telling me they didn’t want her.
“Little Olivia just sat and sobbed unable to understand what she had done wrong and as it turned out it had nothing to do with her, it was all about them and their lifestyle.
“Imagine telling an eight-year-old who was not wanted by her parents that her foster parents didn’t want her either.
“There’s no blame on these kids because they are the victims of their parenting and usually told their whole young lives they are not important.
“Sitting in that room hearing that just reinforced what she had been made to feel her whole life.
“I have heard some pretty devastating stories in my time but this is one I will never forget.”
Mr Oldridge said anybody over 18 years of age is eligible to be a foster carer. The decision is a serious one and you need to be ready to work in partnership with Family Spirit. Foster care can be difficult but it can also be more rewarding than you ever dreamed. For more information contact Family Spirit on 13 18 19.
TYPES OF CARE NEEDED
Immediate Care: A few days, often at short notice
Part Time Care: A few days, overnight or regular weekends to give long-term carers a break
Short-term Care: From a few months’ duration to two years until a child can safely return home, or is placed with a long-term carer
Long-term Care: May be until a child reaches 18 years or a Guardianship or Adoption Order is granted from foster care
Kinship Care: Where children are looked after by a relative when they cannot remain at home
This article was originally published in the 30 August 2020 edition of The Catholic Weekly, the news publication of the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney. Reproduced with permission.