Foster care stories from our team

Interview: Julie Wassell
Julie comes with a wealth of experience – not just in the sector, but in life. In a previous one, she was a hairdresser. She has dyed the hair of the drummer for Pseudo Echo (yes, we immediately went and googled images of them) and cut the hair of clients with disabilities ranging from cerebral palsy to blindness. Julie always knew she wanted to have an impact in the community services sector so eventually made that leap and changed careers. Let's see what Julie has to say for herself…

Julie always knew she wanted to have an impact in the community services sector so eventually made that leap and changed careers. She has a strong sense of social justice and started making sure everyone had a home to go to at Christmas time as a young girl when she appealed to her mother’s Christian faith and negotiated a good outcome for all – a habit she never let go of.

Tell us about yourself?

I’ve been working in the community services sector for about 23 years with a focus on family services, child protection, out of home care and disability in a variety of practitioner and leadership roles. I have three children aged 22 – 35, both biological and non biological, and have been married for 7 years. I have been a foster carer to a young boy with medical needs and disabilities. I have a wicked sense of humor, love a laugh and love to read and do craft activities!

To borrow a question from one of our assessments: if you had to describe fostering to someone what would you say?

Fostering is an opportunity to provide a child or young person with experiences that promote their self esteem, development and building of trust to help them along their journey of life. It's not about the quantity of time that you are in their lives, but the quality of the experience you are able to provide. It involves every feeling and emotion you can imagine… it is joyful, fun, challenging, frustrating and makes you feel like you are giving someone a great start in life. There is enormous reward in that. It was an amazing experience and I am grateful for my time with my foster son.

Your best words of advice to a new foster carer?

While foster care is temporary, you are an important piece of that child’s life forever as they move through their journey. Make sure the child has photos, drawings and other mementos of this time so when they look back at their life they can remember those positive experiences and wonderful memories with you and your family.

How long did you foster for and why did you choose to do it?

I fostered for approximately 18 months and it brings me joy knowing that I was able to assist my foster son in building attachment, increasing his physical and cognitive development and helping him to continue his journey.

I am passionate about the care and safety of children and feel all children deserve trusting, safe relationships with the adults in their lives. I feel strongly that emotional regulation is paramount to living a fulfilled life, and I love assisting parents and carers with both this and other parenting and communication tips.

Tell us about a stand out moment from your foster caring experience?

When I first met my foster son at two and a half years old he was living in hospital and had been there since he was approximately six months old. He was one of a set of twins and they were born with a medical condition that was corrected with surgery. His twin’s operation was a success but he had an infection and due to not getting medical attention in time, sustained a brain injury and needed ongoing medical interventions. He was unable to be fostered prior to me as the agency was unable to find someone to address his very complex needs. The process to have him come home with me was long as I needed to be trained in sterile medical procedures, which involved living in hospital with him for 6 weeks. While we relinquished care after about two years, he was able to find new carers to take on the role, after seeing that my family had been able to do it so well already. We demystified and destigmatised his medical and disability needs, and showed it was possible to care for him in a family home. I feel proud that I was a part of his journey in life and know that he has been thriving. He will be 20 years old this year.

The Meaning of Traditions
I was reflecting on my Christmas this year and whether I could count on this one being successful. Being an immigrant, traditions and celebrations are very important to me. Not being surrounded by my family meant that I decided very early on that I would start my own traditions. However, having little children and now teenagers, my rose-coloured, tradition loving glasses have well and truly been taken off.

Looking back, I can see I was trying to follow a tried-and-true formula of how I thought Christmas should be. As a result, I was sorely disappointed. Through a few trials and tribulations I can see we have made some wonderful memories that have turned into “our” sort of traditions. For example, one year when I was trying to do a picture-perfect evening of tree decorating, my toddler daughter stood on a bauble – which led to a prompt hospital trip to get stitches in her foot.  While waiting those long hours in the ED, we made paper decorations for the tree and read The Night Before Christmas.

Although the kids are much older now, we still bring out the well-worn story book every year and take a trip down memory lane of the many disasters and antics the kids have got up to over the years. They still love to hear them and still insist on certain things being done certain ways.

This made me ponder – why are traditions so important to people? Associate Professor of social and political sciences at The University of Melbourne, Lauren Rosewarne says “much of life has a sense of repetition and sameness to it. Special holidays and traditions create a break from the ordinary and are a deliberate effort to create special events that are something to look forward to as well as reflect on in later years”. I feel it goes further than that for me.

Having no one there for those special moments and times of the year, someone that knows me well, that knew me all of my life was – and is – hard. This is where dreaming up my own traditions has helped to create new memories.  I put myself in the shoes of the children in care and can strongly empathise with the importance of memory creation and life books for these young people. No one knows all of their story – not even them. No one has been there continuously throughout their lives and as a result there are gaps throughout those years that can’t be filled in.

Establishing traditions and core memories are vital to a child’s happiness. Christmases and family holidays can be a very hard time for all the reasons I’ve mentioned, and many more.

So how can you as a carer help?

One thing I can definitely attest to is that you don’t have to follow any set pattern.  You aren’t looking for the picture-perfect, Hollywood Christmas. You’re looking for memories that can be talked about, laughed over and cherished. Photographs that can be saved, mementoes that can be kept. These are what make traditions, these are what make a life whole. I was looking through my Facebook memories last week and I came across a quote I’d used. It doesn’t say who it was from but it summarises my thoughts perfectly:

“Memories need to be shared. The past beats inside me like a second heart. Humans, not places, make memories and character.”

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