With three foster children, two adult offspring of her own still in residence, a husband and a multitude of drop-ins who stay for varying amounts of time, Maree Armitt might be excused for looking for a simpler life. What she is actually looking for is a bigger house.
Ms Armitt has been a foster care parent with Wesley Mission Victoria since 2008 and estimates she has had at least 20 children staying with her for varying amounts of time.
Currently she has three long-term placements – two young girls who have been with her for nearly four years and a 17-year-old girl – who share the house with Ms Armitt’s 22-year-old daughter, 24-year-old son and husband Gary.
“We have a crazy house, there are just people everywhere all the time, coming, going, staying, sleeping – so yeah, my house is full,” Ms Armitt said.
“I constantly get phone calls ‘can you take another one?’ and if I’ve got a bed empty, say if one of my children are away for the weekend, I’ll take one on. There are no ifs, buts or maybes. These children need a warm bed and a warm home and we can give both.
“We’re in the process now of looking for a larger home because we know that there are more children out there that need the same as the three we’ve got now.”
Even when the beds are taken Ms Armitt says there’s always an open door for those who have stayed with her.“I have foster children that pop in and just say ‘Hi Ree, what’s in the fridge?’”, she said.
September is Foster Care Month and Wesley Mission Victoria group manager Jerry Ham said the need for foster care households is growing.
“The underlying thing is that people need to have at least a spare bedroom and capacity in their home environment, and their hearts, to accept another person into that mix,” Mr Ham said.
“There’s a wide spectrum of roles, so people with different live-in situations, environments and lifestyles can still become a foster carer.
“We need a little bit of everything to be able to suit the needs of children who get placed into foster care. That might be from short-term, overnights, respite through to longer-term placements.
“We are keen, however, to attract and encourage people who may have the opportunity or capacity to offer something more permanent or long-term.”
Mr Ham nominated the attributes a carer needed to have.
“They’ve got to really love children and have strong empathy and a wellspring of patience,” he said.
“They need to be prepared and understand that the young people who come into foster care have had a difficult start in life, so it’s like looking after children-plus.
“If people are up for that challenge, then the rewards are there as well.”
Mr Ham had some advice for those who were weighing up whether they could be a carer.
“Get in touch because we’ve got staff who are experts in the area and are able to help people work through any questions they may have in mind while deciding if it is the right thing for them,” he said. “If it is, what they then need to do is to take things to the next stage.”
Ms Armitt described the process of becoming a foster carer as ‘fantastic’ because of the training offered and said that she still felt very well supported.
“If I have a problem or a hiccup I just pick up the phone and there’s somebody on the other end understanding what I am saying and what needs to be done,” Ms Armitt said.
“So the support is great and the training is fantastic, honestly. And the continued training, we’re always doing more training to help us along.”
Ms Armitt says the rewards of being a foster carer are in seeing the positive change in children.
“I had one child that came into our house that had no feelings, didn’t cry, didn’t know what a hug was, didn’t know what that feeling of laughter was,” she said.
“By the time he left us –we had him for three years – he knew what this happy warm feeling that bubbles up on the inside is, he knows what that is.
“He’s one of the ones who just walks into my house and says ‘Have I got any mail?’ and ‘What’s in the fridge? I’m hungry’.”
Wesley Mission Victoria supports foster carers across the southern and eastern regions of Melbourne. Find out more at wesley.org.au/children-youth-family/ or contact them on (03) 9794 3000.
For information on being a foster carer throughout Victoria see www.fosteringconnections.com.au. In Tasmania see www.fostercare.tas.gov.au