A foster family's first Christmas
It's been a long time since Christmas for the Barclay family meant waking up early to the happy sounds of young children. But this year will be very different with two new family members under the age of ten.
“In my immediate family, we’re all adults, although you wouldn’t know it if you met my older brother! But this year he will have to share his Lego and we couldn’t be more excited,” says Rebecca.
2019 was a significant year as this experienced primary school teacher began her parenting journey as a foster carer through Wesley Mission. “It has taken years to get to this point... it was something I considered doing for a long time,” she reflects. “Becoming an approved foster carer requires you to do training and make preparations at home, with family and life in general to be ready.”
At the same time, two young children were removed from their family because it was unsafe for them to continue living at home. Sadly, stories like theirs are not uncommon with almost 18,000 children in out-of-home care in New South Wales. In the last year, Wesley Dalmar supported 665 children on average each day from across the state in foster care placements.
“Once I was accredited, there was a wait for a match. A few options were presented to me by the Carer Recruitment and Support Officer but waiting for the right match took about a year in the end,” says Rebecca.
“I think it took longer because my preference was for a long¬term placement that could lead to adoption. I prayed regularly for patience and the Lord’s guidance that I would know when it was right. Two Christmases went by from the time I started the application process.”
Details of the two specific children, siblings who needed a carer were shared with Rebecca, and as a single person, she discussed everything with her close-knit family. “It was a difficult decision to make. I received a description about both children and it seemed like a good match, although there were some details that were concerning. Of course, that is to be expected considering the scenario,” she explains.
“My family were behind me, and I knew as a primary school teacher that all children experience different challenges. So, I said yes.”
The first few weeks were full of surprises as everyone got to know each other. “I had never seen two small children eat so much. I was happy that they were eating though, and it didn’t matter if it was just simple food. I wanted them to feel secure and know that there would always be plenty to eat with me.”
Decisions about bedtime and sleeping arrangements, schools and medical appointments were all discussed with the Case Manager from Wesley Dalmar. A team formed around Rebecca and with her family’s support, everyone helped the children to settle in.
“We went on a camping trip for a few nights away with my extended family. The children enjoyed being with others of a similar age. And even though it was still early on in our journey, I was able to cope well, and I had become a parental figure in their lives. I was already committed to them, but now I knew we could,” she recalls.
Rebecca’s sister-in-law fondly remembers the camping trip where new family memories were created. “It was a great opportunity to get to know the children better in a low-key environment. We rode scooters, played board games, sang songs and fed farm animals,” says Lauren.
“There was a big trampoline where we were staying, and all the kids kicked their shoes off before going on to jump. There was a moment of hesitation when the older of the two siblings pressed their new shoes into my hands and, looking concerned, pleaded with me not to lose them. They were just regular kids shoes from Kmart, but they were a prized possession. Moments like this helped me to realise that they will need some support and encouragement to experience life in the carefree way that we hope all children get to live.”
The year has gone by quickly, and family life has been full with school, extra-curricular activities, church and getting to know all the neighbourhood playgrounds. It was the older of the two sibling’s birthday first and planning their birthday party was a family affair.
“We selected a venue, wrote party invites, planned games and chose a cake from the Australian Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake Book that my brother and I grew up with. I shouldn’t have been at all surprised when the train cake was selected, of course they chose the most difficult one! But when I realised that it was the first cake or birthday celebration they had had, my Mum and I willingly accepted the challenge,” laughs Rebecca.
The party brought another moment of realisation for Rebecca. “I looked around as the children celebrated, laughing and dancing to a song from their favourite animated film. We were surrounded by community—family, church friends, people we knew from school, after-school care and sports— and it had all happened in the space of a year.”
“Life is far from perfect, there have been and will continue to be some significant challenges to navigate, but we’ll do it together. I love them.”
They say it takes a village to raise a child and as Rebecca tells their story, her parents, now affectionately known as ‘Nanny’ and ‘Grandad’, play a critical part. A role that will no doubt come into its own on Christmas Day.
“I prayed regularly for patience and the Lord’s guidance that I would know when it was right.”
“We’ll start the day with our church family, celebrating Jesus’ birth,” says Nanny. “We’ll have lunch with one side of the family and then my son and daughter-in-law will come for dinner and probably bring their dog too. Between waking up early, church, family, lunch, swimming in the pool, presents, dinner and the dog... our first Christmas together is going to be one to remember.”
*Names and images have been changed to protect privacy.