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A little love goes a long way


Demand for foster carers in South Australia is at an all-time high as more and more children are identified as ‘at risk’ by the authorities. One Adelaide couple doing their best to give these children a better start in life is Lyn and Roy Matthews. They spoke to JENNY BRINKWORTH about the rewarding experience of being part of Centacare’s foster care program.

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As Lyn and Roy Matthews talk about the children who have been in their care over the past 10 years, the love they have for them is unmistakeable.

Roy smiles broadly when Lyn mentions one of their names and immediately he recalls a special moment or funny thing the child has said or done. They proudly show photos of children holding one of their three pet rabbits, swimming in the pool or at family gatherings.

More importantly, they talk about the trauma these children have suffered and the huge difference that a little love and kindness can make in a relatively short time.

Lyn spoke about noticing a ‘startle reflex’ in one of the children they provided care for and later found out that it was directly connected to the child’s trauma history. “They try to hide it,” she said. “That’s the hardest part.”

The child they cared for came to them as an early adolescent and was misdiagnosed with behavioural and learning issues. After Lyn and Roy’s care the child ended up completing secondary school and since transitioning from their care is currently doing a business course.

Lyn said this was an example of how fostering ensured that the child was able to have the best chance at achieving success in life.

“I couldn’t believe it when I went down to the school,” added Roy. “The child was in a class where kids couldn’t speak. There was no way in a million years they (the child) should have been there.”

Lyn said advocating on behalf of the child was an important element of being a foster carer. With the current child in their care, they are in discussion with the school about providing extra help, so the child can increase their reading level.

“The mind shuts down with a lot of these children and they can’t learn because they have so much else going on,” she said.

That morning, Lyn had plaited the child’s hair and put it in a bow before Roy drove her to school. When he dropped her off, a classmate came up and said “don’t you look nice”.

The Matthews have eight adult children and step children between them and their nine-year-old granddaughter spends three nights a week with them. They said their granddaughter made friends quickly with the other children and had “learnt a lot” from them.

Ten years ago Roy was forced to stop working as a builder due to illness. Lyn had been employed in the disability sector and was aware of the need for foster carers.

A keen lawn bowler who coaches school children in the sport, Roy said he had always loved children and Lyn pointed out that he was “a lot healthier if we have children in the house”.

Through Centacare Catholic Family Services’ foster care program, the Matthews have fostered three children and provided respite care for eight youngsters over the past five years.

Lyn praised the Centacare program for the support provided to carers and for allowing foster carers to meet with birth parents, saying it helped them discover important information about the child.

“You learn so much more from birth parents than child protection agencies and psychologists,” she said.

“And the child sees that we get along with the birth parents, there’s no division.”

Roy admitted it was hard “letting go” and although they maintain connections with children who have left their care, they feel they need to distance themselves after a while.

Another child they cared for found it difficult to believe and receive compliments. “That self-shame, that self-denial, (the child) was totally neglected,” Lyn said. She added that the child would try to care and look after herself: “It brings you to tears.”

Lyn and Roy cared for that child for six months before she was placed with a “beautiful family in rural South Australia”.

“She’s grown up so much,” said Roy. “She’s role modelling off the other kids, they’re awesome.”

Lyn wrote a letter to a younger child who left their care so she would understand when she was older the part they had played in her life:

You came to us a frightened little girl. You showed your fear, but you were only asking for love in the most unloving ways; the kicking, biting and screaming. I tried to feel your pain, understand your story. I sat with you through the difficult times, sometimes unsure of what to do. We got through it….Now you have the most wonderful family. Family isn’t always about blood.

It’s the people in your life who want you in theirs. The ones who accept you for who you are. The ones who would do anything to see you smile and who love you no matter what. They are the ones who cherish you and you should cherish them in return.

We have kissed you goodbye and there is distance between us but we will carry you within our hearts.

Lyn said the training that Centacare provided was “amazing” and a social worker visited them regularly to monitor the child’s progress. They were also able to call the program at any time if there was an emergency or if they needed permission for medical treatment.

Lyn and Roy both said they were surprised more people didn’t become foster carers. Their advice to others was “go to an information night, find out what’s involved and talk to the whole family about it”.

“It’s so rewarding, to give these children a starting place,” Lyn said.

“They really respond to love and care, to routine and regularity.

“My theory is if they leave here with confidence, independence and resilience, we’ve done our job.”

To enquire about being a foster carer, email or phone 8159 1400.




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