Ten years ago, Kerri and Dion decided to embark on a new journey that has seen them care for 18 children and young people from a range of respite, short-term and long-term placements.
Kerri, who has a nursing background and Dion, a firefighter, have two birth children each from previous marriages, but always knew they wanted a large family. “Once we became a couple, we knew we weren’t done with raising children. We were very keen on exploring all our options, such as trying for a child ourselves, fostering, or even adoption.
While raising their four children, the couple reached out to an adoption agency. Soon after arriving at the agency, the couple instinctively knew within themselves something was not fitting, resulting in them holding off from the process for another three years.
It wasn’t until one day at their son’s rugby match, Dion turned to Kerri and said, “We are three years older from when we started this journey, we need to make a definitive decision, is it fostering or adoption?”
“Fostering” was the reply, yet it was not from Kerri but the voice of a person next to them, Geff. Now one of the couple’s best friends, Geff who is also a foster parent, exchanged numbers and spent the afternoon talking about fostering to the couple. Little did they know that this was actually the very start of their fostering journey.
Right from Kerri’s initial call with ISP to the first few meetings, the experience and process was upbeat and came very natural to the couple, confirming this was the right path for them.
“After going through the process, you come to realise that certain people are born to be foster parents, but they just haven’t made it to that point yet. It takes just that slight bit of encouragement from someone else to make you realise.”
“Reservations happen but it’s part of the process.” Openly admitting that after struggles to have their own child, one of Kerri’s reservations was that she didn’t want a child to feel like they are a replacement child.
Reflecting over the past decade, the couple are still in shock at just how quickly that time has gone. “It does not feel like 10 years have passed at all, it has flown by. When I sit and think about all the things we have done, the memories we have made, it really hits us. We wouldn’t change it.”
“On our TV we have a rolling picture of all the years, including all the children we have looked after. Each one has shaped our lives in a different way and the memories will always be with us.”
One of the most rewarding moments for the couple is seeing the 360-degree change in a child’s behaviour. It wasn’t until after attending a school show, where their first child won an award for ‘Most Improved Student’, did Dion realise the change. “I remember sitting there absolutely in awe of him because it was at that point, I realised how far he had come over the years.”
With the highs, come the lows. Dion explains: “While it may be the greatest day for you that you can help these children, you have to understand that it could also be the worst day for them. So many children don’t realise the impact of their past and watching them come to the realisation of that is the hardest for me. You have to let them process it in their own way.”
Distance makes the heart grow fonder. For Kerri, one of the hardest things to come to terms with was taking respite care. Kerri said: “You work so hard to become a foster parent and it’s that thought of letting go which was very difficult for me. I know it’s only for a short period, but they are my children at the end of the day, I always want to be with them.”
Having raised their own and fostered many teenagers over the years, Kerri spoke about fostering teenagers, she said: “There is a stigma around teenagers and a sense of over-analysation of their behaviours because they are in care, but we have found that teenagers are almost more appreciative of the time and attention they are given.
“Granted they can be more flamboyant, but they are also independent and can actually use their words to express how they feel. With younger children, it’s almost a guessing game, but we have found it is so much easier to rationalise and understand the way teenagers are feeling.”
Being together is essential for the family. In the midst of a third lockdown, the family have found that in many ways it’s brought them closer as a unit. “If there is anything we can do together, we will. Whether that be going for dog walks, movie nights, independent cooking evenings, or even silly things like hiding from the salesman at the door, we really try to make it a group activity. Anything about the “togetherness”, the children strive off it."
“For us, it works. I can see it might not work for everybody but to live and breathe it, there is no feeling quite like it.”
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