Stewart and Rebecca Henderson say fostering a baby girl was the best decision they ever made. (ABC News: Ian Cutmore)
After finding out they could not conceive children, Rebecca and Stewart Henderson opened their hearts and home to a foster baby with special needs.
“Being a foster mum is something that’s been in my heart since I was a young child myself,” Ms Henderson said.
“We were told that she had really severe disabilities on the phone … we had to sit down to discuss and decide if that was something we were able to take on.”
But the Canberra couple said fostering the baby girl was the best decision of their lives.
“She’s gone from being a child who was a little bit withdrawn and not very confident, to being this little girl that’s really happy and joyful,” Ms Henderson said.
“That’s what this whole journey is about: the gift of being able to take these kids in and love them the way they really should be.”
Previously, those wanting to become foster carers in the ACT faced prolonged training and cumbersome approvals processes.
But in a bid to make things easier and attract more people like Mr and Mrs Henderson, ACT Together — the organisation responsible for foster care in Canberra — has streamlined its training courses.
“We used to run [the training] over 12 sessions and we’ve reduced it now to three days, knowing that we have really good ongoing support and training,” Rebecca Jeffrey, ACT Together regional manager, said.
What does it take to be a foster carer?
Rebecca and Stewart Henderson would like to foster more children in the future. (ABC News: Ian Cutmore)
Ms Jeffrey said the top priority was to find carers like the Hendersons, with nurturing and loving qualities.
“It’s for single people, for people who are married, who are gay, who are empty nesters, or who have a full house,” she said.
To be eligible as a foster carer, you must:
- Be over 21 years of age for short-term care, or 25 years of age for permanent care
- Be able to provide acceptable accommodation
- Have finished any fertility treatment
- Have undergone mandatory training, assessment and background checks
- Be a non-smoker
Unemployed, retired and casual workers are also eligible to apply, as long as they can provide financially.
Before the Hendersons could become foster parents, they had to undertake specific training to prepare them for looking after the complex needs of children with troubled pasts.
“Trauma is a very big part of what their story is likely to be,” Ms Henderson said.
“There’s a lot of training about how to acknowledge trauma, especially in young children.”
Carers needed to address long waiting lists
Ms Jeffrey does not just run the program, she lives it.
She fosters five children of her own and wants other Canberrans to experience the rewards of foster parenting.
She said more than 800 children were in out-of-home care in the ACT, with a further 60 on waiting lists.
And Ms Jeffrey said those with a disability, sibling groups and teenagers were most in need of homes.
“We’re really encouraging people to come forward to have the conversation with us about whether they could be a foster carer,” she said.
The Hendersons themselves look forward to growing their family through the foster system.
“We would love to foster more children,” Ms Henderson said.
“You just want to open the door and let them all in.”