Fostering children takes every ounce of love, energy and patience you can give — and more. It’s not for the faint-hearted.
Until six years ago, I had not known anyone closely involved in foster care – neither on the caring nor the “cared for’’ side.
In many years as a journalist, I had seen all manner of life, including deeply dysfunctional families and homes in crisis, but at arm’s length. Then I became a Pyjama Angel, a volunteer reader with the Pyjama Foundation, and my eyes were opened.
The Pyjama Foundation was started in 2004 in Brisbane by passionate advocate for children in care, Bronwyn Sheehan, who wanted to optimise their educational opportunities by boosting their literacy levels. A nurse and mother of three, she was alarmed to discover that of the then 21,500 children in care Australia-wide, 92 per cent of them had a below average reading ability by the time they were seven.
Wonderful as the care is from foster parents, most have multiple children in their homes and are too busy for one-on-one reading time. So Bronwyn recruited an army of Pyjama “Angels’’, who spend an hour to an hour-and-a-half a week reading with a child in their foster home. The program has been extended to include educational games and work on numeracy skills. More than 1000 Pyjama Angels operate in Queensland and New South Wales, reading to more than 1300 children.
I’m still uncomfortable with being called “Angel’’. It’s me who gains most from going to Kerri and Kevin Keller’s home to read to three foster children each week. It’s my privilege to see up close the love, energy and patience shown to these children by the Kellers and I silently thank God for them when I speculate on how these youngsters’ lives might play out without them.
I also see that fostering is much more complex than meals, bed and shelter.
Kerri and Kevin care for six foster children, aged from eight to 17. In an average week Kerri contacts four agencies involved in their care — officials who all question them, observe them and report on them. Then there are carer support organisations like the Pyjama Foundation to liaise with. She must also organise contact meetings with parents, grandparents and siblings and attend school meetings.
She says foster children are accustomed to adults constantly dropping in and then out of their lives. Many have been “let down’’ by adults, with broken promises and disappointments. The Pyjama Angels are constant, reliable, non-judgmental, “friends’’ to them — often the only ones they have — as their social skills can be severely under-developed.
Kerri’s mother was a foster child and she also took in children in care, so it was not unexpected that Kerri and Kevin began fostering 12 years ago when their own youngest child, Kristy, was 11.
The first children they took in were siblings, both under three. “They had no routine in their life and never went to bed,’’ Kerri says. “They were used to roaming all over the house at all hours. Kevin and I did not sleep at the same time for three months.’’
The Kellers have had 15 permanent foster placements and provided frequent emergency care to children “in crisis’’.
Her biggest shock on becoming a foster parent was that many children had never heard a nursery rhyme or had loving closeness. One child in her care took six months to allow her a hug, eventually giving Kerri a pat on the back.
Kerri loves watching children in her care develop into people with confidence while the negatives, like school suspensions, fall away. She says her life has been richer for fostering.
“I love what I do,’’ she says. “I love to see joy in the children’s lives.’’
To enquire about becoming a Pyjama Angel, visit thepyjamafoundation.com or call 3256 8802.