Mount Evelyn family helps ease foster care demand but more people needed in east

Across the eastern suburbs a need for foster carers is growing and it’s families like the Pirie’s from Mount Evelyn who are showing it doesn’t take much to have a huge impact.

Having lived overseas in both Cambodia and Ethiopia for a number of years, Rebecca and Malcolm Pirie had always wanted to one day foster children themselves in some capacity.

“It has always been on our hearts. Seeing the need across the world in different countries, even when we lived in New Zealand as well, in the schools we were teaching at there were kids who were in foster care full time,” Rebecca said.

“We developed the heart for it, seeing there was such a need and that perhaps we were in a stable enough position to provide a safe, comfortable place for kids to come into and it just grew over time.”

Returning to Australia with their three teenage children, the Pirie’s discussed the possibility of fostering children and Rebecca said her two daughters were especially encouraging of the idea.

“They were really passionate about it, they were like ‘mum and dad, we should really do this, we should make sure our home is open to kids that need it’.

“We all discussed it and we actually made that decision as a family. We wanted them to be on board and to be part of that decision and what kind of care we did. So we all decided that respite would be the best way that would fit with our family.”

Joining Anglicare’s fostering service, the Pirie’s set out on learning and training to open their home on weekends to children in out-of-home care who needed some respite from their situation.

“[The training] opened our eyes to how difficult it could be and the experiences and the backgrounds these kids were coming from. So we were prepared for it to not be easy and for there to be difficult bits,” Rebecca said.

“But I think we were more surprised, especially with the kids that we had multiple times throughout the year, that was a really enjoyable experience for our whole family and in a way, maybe it was not as difficult as we had expected it to be.”

For the Pirie kids who are 16, 14 and 11, Rebecca said “not everyone’s always super enthusiastic” about sharing their weekends but afterwards, it’s always a positive experience for her children.

“When they get here and we interact with the kids, when they leave [our] kids are always reflective of what a great weekend that was and how much they love those kids that have come.

“They’ve developed really special relationships with them and they all interact in different ways.”

Whether it’s jumping on the trampoline or playing soccer at the park, Rebecca said her children have really enjoyed being part of someone else’s life and sharing what they have with others.

Giving to others also has its benefits, something Rebecca said has been particularly nice to see within her own children.

“Fostering has made our kids aware of what life is like for lots of different people. It has really opened their eyes to what some kids are going through.

“These lessons have given them more compassion and understanding of their classmates and those around them. We’ve been able to have conversations with our kids about the fact that not everyone is as fortunate as we are.”

Providing a loving and supportive environment for the regular children the Pirie’s open their home to, has seen them blossom.

“It’s been a real joy for us as a family to get to know the two young children who come and stay for respite care. Every time they’re here for a weekend, I feel so thankful we’ve become carers.

“I’ve seen these kids grow in their relationships with us and develop trust. They enjoy coming to our house now, they burst out of the car and run down the driveway – I am so happy we’ve been able to create a space where they feel comfortable doing that.”

Anglicare Victoria Out of Home Care Eastern Region Program Manager Tarni Haywood said there is a growing need for more foster carers in the east.

“We currently have close to 120 active carer households in Melbourne’s Eastern Metro suburbs and surrounds, but we desperately need more,” she said.

“To ease the current pressure in our local region, we’d love to recruit another 30 carer households to provide homes for children in need.”

With the start of the new school year, Tarni said it can be even more important for a child to have a stable and loving environment as it can make all the difference in a child’s emotional and academic wellbeing.

“Settling into the school year is often much easier for children in a stable foster placement,” she said.

“Communication between the school and foster family is more open allowing for any learning challenges to be addressed and it often has a positive effect on a child’s learning and ongoing development.”

Anglicare also saw an increased number of children entering emergency foster care over the Christmas period and heading into the new year, every type of foster care will help a child in need.

“So even if carers can only help out for a weekend, or the odd day here and there, it really does make a difference,” Tarni said.

As someone who took the leap into foster care, Rebecca said people can often think they don’t have the time or capacity to take it on but offering just a little bit of time is actually not as daunting as it may seem.

“People often think we’re not in the right space or it’s not the right time, or we’ll wait till. I don’t think there’s ever going to be a right time or enough space in our lives.

“We’re always super busy and our lives are always really full. So you just have to, if it’s in your heart or something you’ve always thought about, you need to take that step and sign up.”

By Mikayla van Loon

This article was originally published in the Mount Evelyn Mail on 2nd February 2023.

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