The best teacher of all
Rebecca, FACS caseworker
There are some couples that turn up and say they want to look after children and you just want to snap them up. Right there and then you just know and you find yourself thinking about the children who would thrive in their care. You sing a quiet song of thanks as you step them through all that is ahead, because you know they don’t come along every day.
My job is to support people to be the best they can be to care for other people’s children. It’s not all about little babies in cute bundles leaving hospital with no past. It’s about children of all ages, brothers and sisters, maybe one, maybe five, sometimes frightened, often confused. But all needing someone to step up and open their arms to them at times and on days that are not neatly planned. It might be children we know very little about except that they can’t go home that day.
And it only works if the people who open their doors to those children can also open their hearts. It’s the biggest of asks – when we say fostering is not for everyone, we mean it.
The first thing that struck me about Emily and Amanda was their competence. They are clearly organised, straight-talking and practical young women. Emily is a prenatal nurse and Amanda has been a nanny for years – now working from home doing insurance work. They said they planned to have a big family and were ready to start it by helping others get on their feet. Emily works at a nearby hospital in a busy maternity ward – she has been there when FACS has had to take babies from their mothers. It got her wondering about the important role of carers. Right from the beginning I liked the generosity of their thinking. As we worked through the assessment steps, Emily and Amanda talked about their beliefs, as individuals and as a couple, and the importance of not judging others. They hoped this belief would guide their approach to the families whose children needed their care and love.
My job was to prepare Emily and Amanda for the reality of foster care as well as I could. All parents have hard days – what keeps them going is the deep love and bond, built on being there from the beginning when those first breaths are taken. I have seen the reserves of the most patient and capable carers tested by children they barely know and are just learning to love. Foster care is full of rewards but it is bloody hard work. I knew Emily and Amanda didn’t need advice about babies or the importance of routines, or sleep or nutrition. That’s the easy bit. I just wanted to prepare them for the unpredictability and for the hard days.
It was late on a Friday afternoon when I called them about Lachie. He was 15 months old and on that day he had no one who could care for him. Emily and Amanda just said yes. I apologised that I didn’t have more information about Lachie but told them to trust their instincts and be guided by him. Lachie talks like a champion now but back then he had no words and he put his arms up to everyone. Amanda and Emily saw that and planted themselves firmly in front of him. We are here for you to trust us, they were saying to him. They were consistent and present and loving at such an important time for Lachie.
Not only have Emily and Amanda opened their hearts and home to Lachie, they have been so supportive and encouraging of his mum Skye. It can be difficult for foster carers to empathise with parents, and to be in their corner. Emily and Amanda are able to do that for Skye and the benefits for Lachie are obvious.
My own instincts turned out to be spot on. Emily and Amanda have been the best kind of carers. The love in their home for Lachie is so obvious and at the same time they do everything they can, in every thought and action, to honour his mum and do their bit to get him back to her. I love my job when I see it work like this.
It’s several months down the track now. Lachie is thriving and his mum is strong. She has taken so many steps to get him back and it’s happening.
Amanda and Emily are having their own baby soon and I know Lachie will always have a place in their hearts and their family. And best of all, I know many more children and families will benefit from their generosity.
Emily and Amanda, foster carers
Emily – I am organised and like to plan. We had a cupboard full of little baby clothes neatly folded and a bassinet ready and waiting. When we got the call about Lachie I had so many thoughts – first that he wouldn’t fit in the bassinet! Then I wondered what he liked to eat and how he liked to be put to sleep. Later we got to talk to his mum Skye about all that but in the early days we were in the dark. We were total strangers to him and he was completely dependent on us, with no words to say what he needed. It must have been so strange for him.
That first night we squeezed Lachie into some pyjamas that were a bit too snug. Amanda went late night shopping for some bigger clothes while I worked out how to put him to bed. I remember looking at him thinking – how do I make you feel safe when I don’t know you or your story? I handed him a dummy – he shook his head. I showed him a bottle and he nodded. As I filled it with milk he gave a little smile. We worked it out together in those early days. Lachie showed us the way.
Rebecca is always there for us. She keeps us grounded and has kept our expectations real. She is honest and pulls no punches about the reality of foster care. That really helped. Rebecca has been a wonderful support and her best piece of advice was to take our cues from Lachie. We are so grateful for that because Lachie has been our best teacher. He has taught us the most real lessons – it’s easy when we look to him for guidance. He needs love and he needs his mum. Whatever happens, we will always champion his right to have the best possible relationship with her and he will always have the most special spot in our hearts.
Amanda – When we first met Skye I felt so sad for her. She looked so young and alone. I wanted her to know we were on her side. I wanted her to know we would never take away her role as Lachie’s mum. I kept thinking what it would be like to be her. We talk to Lachie about his mum all the time and we try to let her know all the things about him that we would want to know.
Lachie is the most beautiful boy. His talking is amazing – every day he strings more words together, he is leaping ahead of his milestones and we are all proud together. We know the best place for Lachie is with Skye; we are all working for that. If it can’t work that way he always has a place in our family but he belongs with his mum. She is so strong and what she has achieved is amazing. Lachie got his loving nature from her.
Skye, Lachie's mum
One of the worst things about your kid being taken is not knowing where they are. I was missing Lachie like it could kill me and I had no idea where he was or who was looking after him. I reckon if I hadn’t met Emily and Amanda in those early days I might have given up and got myself in a much worse place. Straight away I liked them. I went to that first meeting alone and feeling like shit. I was Lachie’s mum, and 19 years old, yet I didn’t have him and I was going to meet the people who did. It could have gone very badly. It didn’t because they were kind to me. You can tell when someone means it. They treated me like Lachie’s mum.
I know Lachie is in the best place for now. Emily and Amanda send me photos every week – not on a phone, but real photos they go and get printed for me. They think of everything – photos that show me Lachie’s bedroom, his day care centre, photos of him having dinner and him sleeping, snug as a bug. And we have a book that goes between us where they write things so I know what’s going on with my boy, the words he is saying, the things he is doing. The best thing is they ask my advice – if he is sick they call me; when his hair got a bit long they asked what I thought about getting his first haircut. We all agree it makes him look so handsome.
Emily and Amanda have always been real with me and they don’t look down on me. One day Amanda told me that she had once been in a relationship with a man who was violent. She told me how hard it was to get away. It helped me know they understand and don’t judge me. It helped me believe they want me to do well so Lachie can come back to me.
They make sure Lachie calls them Emily and Amanda because I am mum. You can’t know what that means to me. It’s helped me believe I can get him back. I have come a long way since Lachie was taken. I live on my own now and I am off the drugs. I have done parenting courses and I understand much more about what Lachie needs. My caseworker at FACS believes in me and helps me with all the steps. We are now starting the plan to get Lachie home to me.
Early on I took flowers and a card for Emily and Amanda. I wrote on it that they are the nicest people I know in the world. I will never forget what they have done for us. I hope they can always stay in Lachie’s life.
Director, Office of the Deputy Secretary, Northern Cluster NSW Department of Family and Community Services
This is an awe-inspiring story of a selfless couple who are willing to give a child in foster care all of the love and security they would give a child of their very own. They do this despite knowing that one day they won’t be the ones to tuck him into bed at night – putting little Lachie’s needs above their own. Emily and Amanda embody all of the qualities you could wish for in foster carers.
What makes this story extra special is that their care and love for Lachie extends to his mum Skye. Through their empathy and respect, they have given Skye a most precious gift – the hope that one day her son can return home. Skye’s courage to put in the hard yards to be ready to once again care safely for her son is crucial, but her journey has been made that much easier, knowing Amanda and Emily respect her role as Lachie’s mum.
The power and strength of these three women and their love for Lachie is inspiring. The work Rebecca did in seeing this, fostering it and supporting the women, while keeping Lachie’s best interests at the heart of their decisions, is the most important work any caseworker can do.