Meryl Adams removes a plush toy from the stroller’s under carriage and begins to play peak-a-boo with the toddler snuggled in the front seat. A real warmth fills the room as she dotes over the giggling tot. It’s a delightfully familial scene, but there is no familial relation. Nor is Meryl a baby sitter, nanny, or other hired childcare professional. Meryl is a foster carer, the bubbly child her most recent ward and just one of over 85 she and her family have cared for over the past 11 years.
18th January 2018
Meryl’s experience with foster care goes even further back though. Growing up in a home that welcomed many foster children over the years helped shape her desire to make a difference later in life.
“It’s always been something we thought we’d do when we had our own family,” she explains.
“[T]hat was something we wanted to do, that we had the opportunity to share our family and to be able to care for other children who might not have been in such a fortunate position as we were.”
Meryl’s Christian faith has also played a decisive role, not only in shaping her attitudes but also in providing support in both a spiritual and material sense.
“Obviously God loves children and he wants children to be cared for and loved, and for us to be able to do that is a real blessing – to go and be God’s love to these children. To be his arms cuddling them. To be able to provide all the care that he wants for the children,” she says.
“We’ve got the support of a church family behind us. Every child that we get has got the prayers of our church community behind them. They’re always being prayed for. If we need support from the church, it’s always there… When it gets to the difficult times, to the challenges, to know that we’ve got a heavenly father only a prayer away is really important to us.”
Meryl fosters children referred to her by Anglicare Victoria, which currently places more children in out-of-home care than any other organisation in the state. In 2015 alone the organisation made over 2000 placements, or about a quarter of all placements in Victoria.
Foster care placements fall into four categories; emergency care, which might be a night or two at short notice; respite care, which might be a weekend every month; short term care, which can vary from a few days to a few months, and; long term care of two or more years. Anglicare Victoria Intake Worker Amanda Drake says that the average length of care varies, but most stays are around three weeks at minimum. Currently they’re seeing an increase in referrals of teenagers and sibling groups, but Amanda makes the point that children of all ages are regularly in need of foster care.
“It could be a newborn all the way up to 18,” she says. “Children and young people coming from different backgrounds, different environmental neglect issues, family issues, home issues.”
With four children of her own, Meryl has generally aimed to take younger foster children, but notes that it’s highly dependent on each family’s circumstances.
“People [who aren’t working] prefer younger children because they don’t need to work. Others who are at work prefer older children so they’re at school [during the day]. It just fits in with your family situation, and obviously Anglicare make sure the children are going to be in a situation with you that’s going to be beneficial for them.”
Given the situations of many of these children, Meryl says that sometimes foster caring can be a challenge but that the ongoing training and 24 hour support offered by Anglicare Victoria has been invaluable. She also notes that despite the challenges, being a foster carer is extremely rewarding.
“I think a major, major joy is being able to make a difference in the life of a child, being able to give them that safety and security and love that every child deserves. I guess we take it for granted that children in our community have all those basic needs; that they’ve got a warm place to sleep, they’ve got food on the table, they’ve someone who is caring for them and looking after them and loving them… and that’s just not the case,” she explains.
“So many of these children come, and sometimes it can take one week, two weeks, just to get a smile… Being able to get that cuddle with them, the smile, and to start to see them start to trust is huge. It’s just amazing to be able to see these children developing and growing and giving them the opportunity to reach the potential that you know every child has.”
“It’s not that you’re amazing [because] you’re doing foster care. It’s the fact that you’re prepared to open your home and your heart and give your love to a child that means you’re amazing to these children… You’re amazing because you’re prepared to make that difference.”
You can help vulnerable children achieve better tomorrows. To donate to Anglicare Victoria’s Foster Care Appeal please click here.