When a young Mildura couple heeded a desperate call for more regional foster carers, they had no idea that their unique collection of professional and personal life experience would make them a perfect fit for the job.
- Sarah and Matt say anyone willing to learn can become a foster carer
- They say working with kids who have special needs is especially rewarding
- The shortage of carers in regional Victoria, particularly for children with special needs, remains acute
Sarah and Matt foster two children who require additional care because of their individual physical and developmental disabilities.
Sarah is a teacher at the Mildura Specialist School and Matt works for Mallee Accommodation Support Program (MASP), coordinating out-of-home care for adults, families and youth who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.
Both Sarah and Matt agree that their professional experiences influenced their decision to become carers.
"We both knew a lot about out-of-home care and the need for more carers," Sarah said.
Love to give
The decision to open their home was a natural response after years of unsuccessful attempts at starting a family of their own through IVF.
"We decided to stop going down the IVF process," Sarah said.
One of the teenagers Sarah and Matt care for is non-verbal and they have found ways to communicate using image prompts and photo cards.
"Before they came into our care, we learned everything we could from their previous carers, their school and our foster care agency about what their needs were and how they best communicate," Sarah said.
"We use visual prompts such as holding two pictures up and they can choose which one they want."
'The little things'
Sarah and Matt say fostering children has enriched their lives.
"It's the little things that make fostering great," Matt said.
Sarah and Matt became involved with foster care through MASP.
"The team at our foster care agency MASP has been vital," Sarah said.
"They support us to navigate the NDIS system and other supports available for the child.
"If we can't find the answer, our agency will find it for us."
Carer shortage continues
Foster carers continue to be in short supply in regional Victoria, particularly for children living with disabilities.
Agencies are seeking people with relevant experience such as childcare and disability workers, medical staff and psychologists.
Matt says fostering children with a disability is possible for anyone who can create a safe, consistent and supportive environment for the child and is willing to learn.
"There are so many people out there with different skills and experiences that would make great foster carers for children with disabilities," he said.
"Sometimes it's the littlest things that make a huge difference.