If Lucy Cassar had her way, she would be mum to 10 kids, but for now she is more than happy being a full-time foster carer to “the best child in the universe”.
Growing up in a loving family, Lucy said she always wanted to care for a child and that fostering had been on her radar for a while.
“But I thought you needed to have a husband and family before you could consider it,” she told The Southern Cross.
However, when COVID hit, the former business owner and wedding manager for a party hire company said it put everything “into perspective” and she decided to pursue her dream.
After attending an information session she quickly knew this was for her. She commenced her training with the Centacare Foster Care Program and 18 months ago quit her job to become a full-time long-term carer to a gorgeous little girl who is now four.
“She is a specialist care child as she has autism and developmental delay,” Lucy explained.
Lucy (main picture) said it was amazing to witness the child’s personality growing and their development. Some major milestones that have brought “tears to her eyes” have included her foster child giving her a “big bear hug” and making eye contact with her for the first time.
Agreeing it was a big adjustment for everyone when she took on the role of a foster carer, Lucy said she couldn’t have done it without the support of her extended family.
“My siblings are the best aunties and uncles in the universe and my parents are the best grandparents…they are all obsessed (with her), so I’ve had to put some limits on the Christmas presents,” she laughed.
Celebrating Christmas is important for the large Maltese family and Lucy is making sure it is a special time for her foster child.
At home they have put up a tree which the child has decorated with butterflies and the obligatory photo with Santa was taken weeks ago.
On Christmas day her foster child’s biological sibling will also be part of the celebrations.
“It’s hugely important to have contact with the birth family and their sibling is coming on Christmas day, so that will be exciting,” Lucy said.
The two siblings get together once a week and they enjoyed making gingerbread houses together in the lead up to Christmas.
Reflecting on her experience in the foster care program, Lucy said the initial information session was “very helpful” in answering her many questions and when she signed up, the support from Centacare was “amazing”.
“Foster care is a team situation. You are working with the Department (for Child Protection), with Centacare and the birth family so everyone goes in with empathy – and everybody’s interest is
100 per cent for the child,” she said.
“As a long-term foster carer you need unconditional love, have a good support network and a good team around you and self-care is also important.”
For two northern suburbs sisters, becoming foster carers has changed their lives ‘for the better’ and they are looking forward to celebrating the festive season with their family, which now includes two young children.
Supported through the foster care program run by Centacare Catholic Family Services, Jo and Deb McGuiness say becoming foster carers has been the best gift.
Deb welcomed a foster child into her life in 2019, while Jo became the foster carer of a five-month-old boy in 2020.
Both are long term carers for the children who are now nine and three and well into the spirit of Christmas!
Speaking with The Southern Cross about her experience, Deb said becoming a foster carer had been on her radar for a while and when she decided to buy some land and build a house, she thought the timing was right.
She said it was an “adjustment” becoming a parent for the first time to the then four-year-old girl.
“It was a learning curve for both of us,” she admitted. “But she’s very kind, very curious and sassy. She’s very much a character so it’s been a real joy to watch her develop interests and try a range of activities and to get to know my family. It’s been very sweet.”
After witnessing Deb’s involve-ment in the program, sister Jo also put her hand up to become a foster carer and underwent the mandatory training sessions with Centacare in 2020 – all online due to COVID.
In December 2020, she welcomed her “little man”.
“I’d always been thinking about being a foster carer and I saw Deb’s experience and the timing was right,” the childcare worker explained.
“He’s changed my life for the better, he’s such a beautiful little boy.”
The two children – who now refer to each other as ‘cousins’ – have also enjoyed the support of Deb and Jo’s parents who love being ‘foster grandparents’.
“My family embraced them with open arms and they spoil them rotten,” Deb said. “The children have a range of experiences and a lot of fantastic relationships with other trusted adults in their lives.”
Deb and Jo said the ongoing assistance from their Centacare support workers was “wonderful” and there was always the back-up of 24/7 phone support.
They said navigating the various government and health systems could be “difficult” at times, but the support workers always went “above and beyond” to assist them.
Their advice to others considering becoming foster carers was “just do it”.
“It won’t always be an easy road, but you have a network of carers around you,” Deb said.
Alicia Remedios, Assessment manager from the Centacare Foster Care Program, said that families such as Deb and Jo’s play a crucial role in providing a stable and nurturing environment to children in care, offering them opportunities to develop healthy relationships and a chance to build their resilience and thrive. She added it wasn’t uncommon in the program for members of the same family to become foster carers.
“They often see how the others are making a difference to a foster child’s life and they put up their hand to also be carers,” she said.