It’s a rainy afternoon in Tauranga and Cindy Duck has just done the school pick-up – the wet weather always snarling up the city traffic, making the run-around more hazardous and time-consuming.
The kids gladly spill out of the car, head upstairs to dump bags and sort themselves with afternoon tea. Two spar over whose turn it is to wash the dishes, one has a cuddle with the baby, another helps with a nappy change. With food on plates, they bundle around the table to chat, squabble and muddle through their homework. With five kids, it’s a busy, bustling household doing normal family things.
The difference with the Duck family is that two of their clan have come to them as foster children – a teenager, and a toddler who has been with the family since birth. For Cindy and her husband Malcolm, becoming foster parents was a no-brainer. They had wanted more children but knew they could also give love to other children who were living in challenging family situations. In 2014 they completed a training course through the Open Home Foundation and then fostered their first child for a short stay. Two other children followed before the baby arrived. The Ducks have permanent guardianship of the young child in what is known as ‘Home for Life’. Apart from major decisions, such as relocating to another city or country, where the biological parents would need to give consent, the foster parents provide a permanent family home and make all day-to-day decisions relating to care. The child has contact with its biological family, particularly siblings, and Cindy says it’s important to keep nurturing those relationships.
“Becoming foster parents was always about being part of a child’s family, not about taking that child away from those relationships,” says Cindy. “Children love their parents and their siblings dearly. We wanted to provide a safe home to give kids a loving, stable family.”
The best job
She acknowledges there are inevitably challenges along the way but reckons she’s got the “best job she’s ever had”.
“I don’t see the extra children as more work; not as work at all. Loving them and giving them a warm home environment is not work, in fact it can be a lot of fun. The positives definitely outweigh any challenges.”
Sometimes they have welcomed children to their home who have had particularly difficult behaviours and Cindy says at times it is challenging when things don’t always work out, or when foster children don’t interact well with the other children in the household. Often, there are also hidden traumas and layers of emotions to find a way through.
“It’s like a ball of spaghetti to unravel, and can take patience and time to reach through to the child. The best way is by giving constant, unconditional love. Sometimes I suck at it, and sometimes it’s a thankless task, but their actions speak louder than words and being here for them is always worth it.”
She also believes fostering has a positive effect on her own three children, in addition to the close relationships they form with their foster sisters and brothers.
“Sometimes they have struggled too, like when children aren’t following the family rules, or when they see us going through a challenging time, but it’s good for them to see our frustrations and how we react to that, and also how to handle change”.
In many fostering situations placement is temporary and the child will return to their own home once social services have spent time supporting the family and working through parenting, environmental and safety issues. Saying goodbye can be tough though, especially when strong attachments form, but Cindy says you just have to let them go, knowing you have loved and cared for them at a particularly challenging time in their young lives.
She urges other families to consider fostering, or, if they don’t feel fostering is right for them, to consider helping out other foster parents with things like babysitting or other help they might need but not ask for.
Caring for kids in our communities
The Open Home Foundation of New Zealand is a child and family support service founded in Wellington in 1977. Fourteen service centres operate throughout the country and, in the Bay of Plenty, around 40 foster families currently care for children from Katikati to Opotiki.
Christian-based, it works alongside all denominations rather than being affiliated to any one church. Client families are not necessarily Christian. The Foundation also runs a respite service, called Oasis, for families with children who have Autistic Spectrum Disorder and/or an intellectual disability, and additionally, provides social work services aimed at helping families stay together before a situation deteriorates.
Bay of Plenty Practice Manager Sarah Lewis says there is a huge need for more foster families and the Foundation is always looking for people who are willing to open their homes to children in need. All kinds of family combinations are welcome – families with their own children, couples with children who have left home, single parents and grandparents. Apart from being able to offer a child their own bed, the main requirement for a foster family is being able to provide a safe and secure home environment and lots of love. She says foster parenting, while challenging at times, is rewarding and fulfilling, and suits tolerant, patient people who are able to understand what is going on for a child.
“Any kind of abuse or neglect causes a trauma to the brain, even removing a child from home or moving between foster families is a form of trauma,” Sarah says. “Our foster families love and nurture the children, and through that care, children are able to heal. Relationships heal the brain.”
Following a thorough assessment, the Foundation trains new families and gradually introduces them to foster care with short, respite placements. Trained social workers assigned to each family provide ongoing support and mentoring and a 24-hour support service is available. Foster families receive a small amount of financial support to cover expenses.
“Our first priority is to keep families together. Children do best with their own family and we have seen really good results with our social work services in being able to wrap support around a family. When a child cannot live at home, we work to facilitate the relationship with the foster family and stay involved until everything is running smoothly.”
For more information and to find out more about becoming a foster family, or offering support, please contact Sarah Lewis at the Open Home Foundation, 07 579 2840, or visit www.ohf.org.nz