Living In Foster Care
What it means to be in foster care
Sometimes, when young people can't live with their own families they live in foster care. Foster care is when you join another family, either for a short or longer time. It is different to residential care, where you might live in a shared house with workers who take shifts looking after you, or kinship/family care where you might live with other members of your own family.
When you ‘foster’ something you help it to develop or grow and take care of its needs. Every young person deserves to be with a supportive and caring adult who will foster their growth. This is usually the role of parents or family members, but if that isn't happening for some reason, then you need to live with someone who WILL foster your growth and help you feel safe and loved.
There are a number of reasons for living in foster care. For example, if parents:
- aren't able to keep their child safe and secure
- are hurting their child in some way
- are in jail, or
- have a problem such as a serious addiction or illness that stops them focussing on their child's needs
Foster care and case workers
A case worker is a person who you will be in contact with, wherever you are living. They will help link you into your foster family and develop what is called a case plan with you, to determine where you will live and what needs to change at home for you to be able to go back to and/or visit your parent/s. It's very important you speak your mind when developing your case plan with them because the information you put in will help direct what you need and want.
What you might be feeling
Taking care of yourself is always important, inside and out. If you are in foster care, or have been told you will be moving into foster care, there are lots of different things you might be feeling, including:
- sadness or grief
- happiness or relief that you are moving towards being an independent person
- tired or confused from everything going on
Remember, there is no right or wrong way to feel and there are lots of people you can talk with about what is going on for you. Talk to people you feel comfortable with and that you feel you can trust, like a friend, teacher, counsellor, your case worker or a relative. Sometimes, people feel more comfortable talking about very personal things with someone they won't see day after day, like a phone counsellor. This can be a good first step to test out opening up and talking about what is happening for you, until you are ready to trust telling people around you as well. If you need someone to talk to, you can call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Be mindful that, at times, it can feel uncomfortable opening up and you might feel bad afterwards, like you are left overexposed, vulnerable, or even overwhelmed. This can be a normal side effect of talking about personal stuff, and does not mean you have done anything wrong at all. It just means you were strong enough to open up to someone - and that is actually a really tough thing to do!
Questions about foster care
You may have been in foster care for a while, or foster care might be new to you. Either way, you are probably going to have lots of questions like:
- When will I see my family next?
- Can I see my brothers/sisters if they are in care too?
- Do I have to change schools?
- Am I allowed a mobile phone?
- How do I ask for women's personal items? (tampons, etc)
- Who can I talk to about physical ‘stuff’? (sports clothing, what is happening with my body, etc)
- Do I get pocket money?
- Do I have to do chores?
- What do I do if I don't like my new home?
- Do my carers know ALL MY stuff? And what do people already know?
- What about my friends?
- What about my part time job?
- What about my piercings, can I keep them in?
- What about religion? Do I have to follow my foster carer's practices? How can I express my spiritual side?
The answer to many of these questions may depend on where you will be living. If you are close to your family home, it will be easier to see friends, go to the same school or keep your part time job, however, even then, things may be different for a while.
If you have any questions about living in foster care, ask your case worker, and they will either be able to answer them, or you can work out how to find answers to these questions together. You might want to write a list of all the questions you have so you don't forget them along the way. You or your case worker could then write down the answers so you can look back over them later if anyone forgets.
You might also like to ask your foster family any questions you may have, soon after you move in. That way they will know what your concerns are, and can work out ways to help you feel comfortable and safe. It is important to pick the right time to talk - it helps to find a time when things are calm and not too busy. You may need to make a time beforehand that fits in with everyone's schedule. When you do talk, write down a list of your questions and take a pen with you so you can write down anything you feel you need to.
Getting to know your foster family
Understanding a bit about your foster family can help you adjust to living with them. Things that you may like to find out about include:
- Why are they doing this?
- Who are they?
- What are the house rules?
- What happens if I don't agree with them?
You can find out the answers to some of these questions by talking to your foster family, and you may find out answers to other questions as you get to know them and their routines. Remember, if you are unsure of anything, it is important to talk to your foster family or case worker so that you feel comfortable and safe in your new home.
Your rights in foster care
Each state has rules about the standards of care a young person is entitled to when they are in foster care. These standards are different across states and territories, but as of July 2011, there will be one set of standards throughout Australia. The new system is built around 13 standards of care you can expect. You can find out more about these standards at: National Standard
More information on the standards can be found on the FACSIA website.
Getting ready for independent living
Part of your foster carer's agreement to look after you is that they help teach you ‘life skills’. Life skills are things you need to know to be able to live on your own (often known as ‘independent living’). There are guides and plans around this, and again there are some differences between the names of life skills. Your case worker will be able to give you guidebooks that are specific to your state or territory, but remember there will be just one booklet from July 2011 when the changes come in.
The guidebooks aim to help you know what to expect as you get ready for independent living. There is also a guidebook for your foster carer, which includes the same type of information.
It is really helpful to start working on these skills so you can get a head start on what might be needed when you are ready to live on your own. If you are unsure about this process, ask your case worker about your options. Don't worry though - the process of helping you become independent is not one that happens quickly, and it doesn't mean you will be out on your own.
So what happens after you turn 18?
The answer to this depends very much on your situation, and is something that your case worker will discuss with you. When you turn 18, the government usually stops being responsible for you as you are considered an ‘adult’. At this point, if you are ready to live on your own, you can. If your foster family offers for you to stay, you can also take them up on this offer. If this happens you might need to talk around new rules and expectations once you are an adult. If you cannot or do not want to stay with them, but don't feel like you want to live on your own yet, your case worker can help link you up with support.
If you would like to talk some more about foster families or just need to talk to someone about what's happening for you, you can call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week or use our email or web counselling services. We will listen to you and help you work out what might help
For more information you can also do a web search of your state/territory and the words ‘community’, ‘services’, ‘foster care’, or just call us and we will try to help find the information you need.
Published: 24 May 2011