Having two young girls of their own has not held Kate and Jeremy Thomas back from welcoming more than 20 children into their home over three years as foster carers.
The Mount Gambier couple decided they had enough love to share to support some of the most vulnerable children in the region.
They opened their hearts and home as foster carers with regional agency ac.care after becoming aware of the need for more family-based placements in the Limestone Coast to protect the safety and well-being of children in state care.
The couple will share their story and answer questions at ac.care’s Supporting Vulnerable Children In Our Community Limestone Coast foster care forum at Mount Gambier City Hall on September 9 in the hope of inspiring others to open their hearts and homes to young people in need of care.
Mr Thomas works full-time for Mount Gambier City Council, but said he loved dedicating time with his wife and daughters to nurturing babies and other youngsters in need of a safe and nurturing home environment.
“What you get out of it emotionally is fantastic, but it’s more about what the children who come into your care get out of it,” he said.
“If you go into it with an open heart, you’re going to get more out of it than if you go into it with a closed heart – you have to go in there knowing it’s going to have its ups and downs, but at the end of the day, love that child unconditionally.”
The Thomas family focuses on providing short-term placements while also raising their own children as part of ac.care’s diverse network of 92 carer households in the Limestone Coast, which includes carers who have selected to provide emergency and short-term placements through to long term arrangements, sometimes raising children from birth to adulthood.
Ms Thomas said the couple faced some challenges when they first became foster carers and initially provided emergency placements for children of a similar age to their own daughters.
“They didn’t really understand the whole concept at the time as our youngest was only three, but then we started accepting short-term placements for babies and that just seemed to work for us,” she said.
“As the girls became older, they have been more involved with the babies and they love to give them cuddles, feed and interact with them more, such as sitting and reading stories or putting on puppet plays for the babies, which is really nice to watch.”
Ms Thomas said it was emotionally challenging when babies she had bonded with left her care to be placed into long-term arrangements or were reunited with biological family members, but she valued the opportunity to provide care and stability when it was vitally needed.
“People say ‘I don’t know how you do it. Don’t you get attached?’ Of course you get attached and there is a bit of grief when the placement ends with short-term care, but there’s also a lot of joy in knowing you have given a baby a really good and stable start,” she said.
“It’s really nice to see attachments form with their long-term carers when they go into the right placement, which makes all the sleepless nights worth it just to see them happy, loved and really wanted.”
The couple has cared for babies from overnight to a few months and have not ruled out providing long-term care to a foster child when the time and connection is right.
Ms Thomas said constant support from ac.care staff based in the region, along with their personal support network of family and friends, helped overcome any challenges they faced as foster carers.
“It makes a big difference being supported in the role,” she said.
Mr Thomas urged other caring adults to consider becoming foster carers, even if they could only commit to providing occasional respite care, which could be for occasional nights or weekends.
“If another carer needs a night off because they need their own time, then you can just help out as a respite carer and say ‘yeah, we’ll take them for a night’,” he said.
“More people are needed for all types of care, including respite, which can help ensure longer term carers have the opportunity if they need a break.”
Ms Thomas urged people interested in learning more about foster care to attend ac.care’s forum, where they would have the opportunity to ask questions and find out about the assessment process to join the region’s network of diverse carers.
“There is a saying ‘you cannot help everyone, but everyone can help someone’,” she said.
“It would be great if everyone could work out the way they can help someone and maybe it is through foster care.”
ac.care foster care manager Dani Atkinson said carers transformed the lives of vulnerable children, providing safety and stability.
She said the agency staff were privileged to support a diverse network of carer households in the Limestone Coast, but more were needed to provide family-based placements for the growing number of children in state care.