News

Foster Fatherhood One of the Best Experiences of Mark's Life

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
30 Aug 2013

Many children of all ages will delight spending time with their fathers on Sunday

Father's Day was celebrated a few days early this week when four-year-old Katie's pre-school held a cupcake afternoon for Dads. Sydney businessman Mark* had no intention of missing such an important occasion and taking time off work, joined in the fun with Katie and all the other dads and their kids.

"Katie loves pre-school and has made some great friends there," he says and proudly recounts how his daughter can already write her own name, count up to 10 and is showing a real talent for drawing.

"Her motor skills are really good," he says.

The father of 12-year-old Caitlin as well as Dad to outgoing young Katie, Mark makes no distinction between his two daughters. As far as he's concerned they are both his girls, and with unconditional love, humour, laughter, kindness, commonsense, the ability to listen and when needed, to step in when one of them crosses the line, he is raising them to become strong, independent well-educated young women.

Mark's wife Melissa is equally devoted to her daughters and has created a warm, stable and happy family home where they are both thriving and growing in confidence and ability.

For Katie home has not always been this secure or this stable. Her birth parents may have loved her, but their ability to care for her and their other three children put Katie, her twin sisters and her older brother's emotional and physical wellbeing at risk.

"Most parents love their kids very much but for complex and different reasons find they are unable to take care of them," says Andree Borc, CatholicCare's Manager for the Professional Support of Children.

While every effort is made to return children in out-of-home care to their biological parent or parents, when this is not possible, kinship alternatives are examined to find out if they can be cared for by aunts or uncles or grandparents, she says.

But in some cases this may not be an option and for Katie and her siblings, the NSW Children's Court ultimately decided the four youngsters should be placed into permanent out of home care with dedicated and committed foster families.

Which is how Mark and Melissa became Katie's "Mum" and "Dad" and how two other families who are also part of CatholicCare's foster family program, took over as loving parents to Katie's twin sisters and her eight-year-old brother.

Like Katie, who is the youngest of the four, the children will remain in foster permanent care with the same families until they turn 18.

"But we hope she'll stay much longer than that and that Katie will be part of our lives for the rest of her life as well as ours," Mark says.

While three different families are now raising the four youngsters, the children see each other on a regular basis.

"We were all together to celebrate Katie's brother's eighth birthday this month and we get together for days out as often as possible to ensure Katie and her brother and twin sisters can share their lives and grow up together as part of one big extended family," Mark says.

CatholicCare, the welfare agency arm of the Archdiocese of Sydney, has more than 84 dedicated foster families across Sydney who provide out of home care to vulnerable children. Some of these children who range in age from babies and toddlers to teenagers are in need of emergency or temporary care. Other foster families offer mid-term care of a year or so while others such as Mark and Melissa offer permanent care to youngsters like Katie, raising them from childhood through to adulthood.

Foster fathers as important as mothers when it comes to out-of-home care

Trained by CatholicCare, closely monitored and supported, these families not only open their homes to children in need but their hearts as well.

Although most of us think in terms of foster mothers, Andree Borc points out the role played by fathers in out of home care is equally important. A significant number of children in foster care come from dysfunctional or broken homes or single mother households where they have had few if any strong and reliable male role models, she says.

But foster families don't only need a strong supportive Dad but a Dad who is as committed to foster care as his wife.

"There has to be a dual commitment and the couple's own children should be involved in the decision as well," Andree says pointing out that it is not enough that the mother in the household wants to do this and that everyone in the family has to be on side."

Mark agrees with her and his advice to any family thinking of becoming an out of home carer to a foster child or children to consider the decision very carefully first and to find out all the information they can.

"This must be an educated decision with everyone in the family consulted," he advises.

The family should also discuss whether they will offer emergency and temporary care, short to mid term care or like he and Melissa offer to take on foster care of a child or children on a long-term permanent basis.

Katie joined Mark's family on 29 June 2012, three weeks and one day after her third birthday and the 14 months since her new Dad insists "have been one of the most rewarding and fulfilling experiences of my life."

Despite this, Mark and Melissa's decision to become a CatholicCare foster family came about more by accident than design.

"After we had Caitlin, my wife experienced a couple of complications which meant we could have no more children of our own. We'd always wanted more children so in 2006 we put our names down at CatholicCare to adopt a baby. After five years of waiting, there was a change in foster care with permanent out of home care approved for certain children to ensure long term stability and to stop them being bounced from family to family. We put out names into the CatholicCare foster family pool as well," he says.

The idea of adopting a baby had long since given way to a young boy or girl to love, care for and raise as their own.

"We were in our 30s when we put our names down to adopt and in our 40s when Katie arrived and I think the fact she was three years old, if anything was a help," he says,pointing out that she was not only almost toilet trained but there were no broken nights of bottle feeds every four hours or the other challenges of a newborn.

Since her arrival, Katie has brought joy to the entire family, he says and has developed a great relationship with her big sister Caitlin."The two girls get on really well together but like all siblings, one moment they're schmoozing and cuddling and best of mates and the next arguing and disagreeing over something and pushing one another away," he says laughing.

Children of foster parents frequently form strong relationships with the new addition to the family

Next year Katie will follow in Caitlin's footsteps with a faith based education, first as a  student at the local parish primary school and then at the area's Catholic high school.

Katie's transition into her new family has been remarkably smooth, doubtless helped by the fact Melissa took a year off work to care for her new daughter as well as the continuing relationship with the little girl's twin sister and elder brother. But her evident happiness, constant laughter and curiosity is also due in a large part to her Dad who is immensely proud of his two daughters and their achievements.

But while Mark is a devoted Dad to his girls, don't think for a moment he's a push over.

"I've ended up as the family disciplinarian," he says explaining that the role fell to him because at a height of six foot one and a big deep voice "I can pull them into line a bit more easily when they need it."

This Sunday Mark will spend Father's Day with his own father, his father in law, together with Melissa and the couple's two large extended families. And front and centre of the celebrations will be outgoing Katie and her adored big sister Caitlin.

To find out more about CatholicCare's foster family programs call 02 8709 9333 or log on to www.fosterkids.com.au

Katie's name and Mark and Melissa's surnames have not been given to protect their privacy.