Foster carers recognised for vital role in supporting at-risk children

Dedicated: Kurt and Simone Pahl have fostered more than a dozen children over the last decade and currently care for eight children, including their two biological kids.
Dedicated: Kurt and Simone Pahl have fostered more than a dozen children over the last decade and currently care for eight children, including their two biological kids.

Having grown up in a difficult environment, Simone Pahl knows exactly how difficult it can be for children and young people to adapt to life's challenges and to deal with trauma; which is why she is so passionate about her role as a foster mother.

In a team with husband Kurt, the Strathalbyn locals have successfully raised over a dozen foster children plus two of their own, as part of a vocation they describe as "magical and fulfilling".

Family-based carers like the Pahls, perform a vital role in ensuring at risk children are given safe and stable homes to have the best chance at success in life.

In South Australia, more than 3500 children and young people are currently receiving hands-on support from foster families, who are being recognised as part of Foster and Kinship Carer Week, running between September 13 and 19.

Minister for Child Protection Rachel Sanderson said the week offered a chance to recognise the ongoing efforts of the "dedicated carers who provide unwavering support to children and young people in care".

"The love and support of carers makes a remarkable impact on children and young people and ensures they are given every opportunity to reach their full potential," Ms Sanderson said.

"The dedication and resilience shown during this year's challenging times are a testament to the wonderful efforts of these often unsung heroes of our community."

More than 100 new family-based carers have put up their hands to provide safe and loving homes for some of the state's most vulnerable children over the past 12 months, with an additional 82 primary foster carers having also been recruited.

However, there will always be a need for more carers, and Ms Pahl said that while it was a role that could be challenging, nothing was more fulfilling than seeing the changes in their children, such as a first smile or laugh.

"As a child growing up around abuse, I saw miracles happen before my eyes in the home of my best friend, who's mother was a foster carer," Ms Pahl said.

"From that young age I knew it was what I wanted to do and that I wanted to be part of the solution. I absolutely love being a carer.

"It's definitely a living experience and I learn more each and every day... getting to witness the healing that happens among children is wonderful.

"Once a new child comes into our care, it's magic. The children who are already part of our family bond together more than ever before and work as a team with us to support that child.

"To see children who have experienced trauma simply be happy and relaxed in themselves is such a huge achievement."

Ms Pahl said the most important thing for prospective carers to consider was commitment.

"Commitment is definitely key... the training can stretch out for a period of time, but it will take about 12 months to become a registered carer," Ms Pahl said.

"Sometimes it can get frustrating waiting for that next piece of training, but all of what we do is about patience.

"I would encourage anyone interested in foster care to do as much research as possible and to make sure it's not a sideline thing... this is the life and having the children in your life really becomes your job.

"You have to take every opportunity and every day as a learning experience and don't take anything for granted."

Mr Pahl agreed. "It can be hard to say what will be right for everyone," he said.

"The way we live is so different to the norm, but you just have to go with the flow... every kid is individual and requires different needs."

"For us, it is something we do happily and willingly," Ms Pahl said.

"Making sure children are safe and feel that safety helps them calm and then develop."

"You then start to see a transformation," Mr Pahl agreed.

"As they grow and evolve, children realise it's a person that's the trauma, not a particular surrounding or trigger. After a certain amount of time, they grow and learn to deal with what has happened to them.

"Watching their eyes go from dull to lit up is very special."

A vital role within communities

More information on becoming a foster carer is available by calling: 1300 2 FOSTER or visit: fostercare.sa.gov.au

Minister for Child Protection Rachel Sanderson thanked carers around the state for their dedication.

"Thank you to all our wonderful foster and kinship carers who open their hearts and homes to our most vulnerable children and young people, whether that be for a short stay, long-term or respite care," Ms Sanderson said.

"I would encourage any South Australian who is willing to contribute to our community to consider foster care - it could change your life, and make the world of difference for our children and young people, as well as bringing immense benefit to our community as a whole."

Department for Child Protection Chief Executive Cathy Taylor said foster and kinship carers had the ability to make a positive and lasting difference to children, young people and families.

"This week is an opportunity for everyone in our community to acknowledge and celebrate the selfless work carried out by foster and kinship carers," said Ms Taylor.

"It is also an ideal occasion to raise the profile of fostering and show how it can transform lives and make the world of difference.

"More carers are always needed, particularly those who are willing to care for sibling groups, children with a disability, older children and adolescents."

New program launched

As part of National Foster Care Week, one of the State's leading secular community support services, Junction, has launched its new foster care program calling for South Australians from a range of backgrounds to "Be There" for our most vulnerable children.

Junction's carer assessment criteria is not determined by sexuality, gender, relationship status, race or religion. Carers are selected based on the best interests of the child, with a focus on the carer's ability to provide a secure home and the best possible care.

Following the organisation's 15 year history of providing housing and care for children who, for a range of reasons, cannot live with their birth families, Junction's new Family Based Care program is the next step in its journey to connect young people with a safe, stable home and caring family.

Junction CEO Maria Palumbo said foster care can go a long way towards shaping the lives of more than 4000 children in State care and helping them to lead their best life.

"At Junction, we want to ensure people from all walks of life and backgrounds who are willing to put up their hand to undertake this vocation, are welcomed into our program," Ms Palumbo said.

"Families come in all shapes and sizes and represent a wide cross section of our society. Foster families can - and should - be exactly the same."

If you have a stable home and an open heart, Junction would love to hear from you. For more information visit bethereforme.org.au or call (08) 8203 5736.