Even as a young girl, Kellie Grady knew she wanted to be a foster carer.
At 18-years-old she moved in with her partner Mitch Raven. Three years later the pair bought their Shoalhaven home.
The now 24-year-old paediatric nurse knew what she needed to do with the spare room.
“For as long as I can remember I always thought ‘when I grow up I want to be a foster carer’,” Kellie said.
“At the time my knowledge of foster caring was still basic and I thought ‘it’s full time or nothing’ but then I found out about this thing called respite care.”
With Mitch, 29, throwing his support behind the move, the pair began the foster care process and around 10 months later they met with 11-year-old Sarah (name changed) through CareSouth.
Sarah began joining the couple for one weekend a month, a time Kellie coined ‘respite weekend.’
“Everyone who choses to do this has a reason why and our why is to give Sarah fun childhood memories so that when she grows up she can look back and think ‘life was fun’,” Kellie said.
“Everyone who choses to do this has a reason why and our why is to give Sarah fun childhood memories so that when she grows up she can look back and think ‘life was fun’.Kellie Grady
Kellie and Mitch have kept a photo album since August 2016 of their adventures with Sarah.
The pages are filled with bike rides, trips to the pool, Mogo Zoo, dolphin watching at Jervis Bay, horse rides and visits to Kellie’s family property.
Along pages of happy memories, Kellie and Mitch also started a vision board for Sarah, which they hope will help her look forward to the future and everything she has in store.
“We’re focusing on building her self esteem, self confidence and self trust,” Kellie said.
Sarah also spent Christmas with the couple last year. While it can be a hard time of the year for foster children, the couple made sure it included plenty of magic.
“We decorated the tree, we made Christmas cards and Sarah posted them to everyone she wanted.
“We made reindeer cupcakes and looked at Christmas lights – we even visited the RSPCA and gave the dogs a Christmas bone,” Kellie said.
“Recently we went to Sydney because Sarah had never been and we went to Luna Park, had lunch on the Opera House steps and got the ferry across to Manly.”
Sarah now spends one night a fortnight with the couple, but she’s never far from their minds.
Kellie and Mitch send Sarah a letter during the week they don’t see her, just to let her know they’re thinking of her.
Foster Care Week runs from September 10 to September 16.
The annual event is coordinated by the Association of Children’s Welfare Agencies (ACWA) and aims to both celebrate and acknowledge the work of NSW's foster carers and raise awareness of the need to attract more foster carers.
Kellie hopes that by sharing her story, she can inspire others to welcome a foster child into their life.
“I really want to inspire other people to give these opportunities to kids because the current stats around kids in care, the outcomes aren’t as good as they can be,” she said.
“It all comes down to opportunities, if you provide them, they will thrive. If they’re not given the opportunity, how can we expect them to grow?
“I can honestly say that being a foster carer, a mentor and a friend to our child is the most satisfying and rewarding thing we have ever done. Knowing that you are helping empower a child’s life for the better is beyond rewarding.”
Kellie and Mitch will continue to open their home to Sarah for as long as she wants.
While she finds foster caring extremely rewarding, Kellie advised others thinking of starting their own foster journey to be realistic in their expectations.
“When you choose something to do something like this, you have to look at what fits your lifestyle,” she said.
“For us, full time just wouldn’t have worked. Two days doesn’t sound like much but it’s made a huge difference in our lives and in Sarahs.”
Two days doesn’t sound like much but it’s made a huge difference in our lives and in Sarahs.-Kellie Grady
For more information or to become a foster carer, visit Fostering NSW via www.fosteringnsw.com.au or call 1800 236 783.
Through its NSW statewide Fostering NSW campaign, ACWA is looking to recruit new foster carers to help cope with the rising number of children entering out-of-home care.
Foster carers are an integral part of a team, working with the caseworker and at times a child's birth family to support the child or young person to be the best they can be.
Child protection is everyone’s business, and with almost 20,000 children in NSW unable to live at home, there is an urgent need for many more foster carers who are able to support restoration of children to their birth families, offer immediate or respite care, or move towards guardianship or open adoption of children in their care.
Fostering is a jumping off point to achieve different forms of permanency for children who have had upheaval in their lives. You can foster in order to support change in a family so kids can get safely back home, foster to adopt a child or foster with the intention of becoming a life-long guardian for a child.
There is always support available; out-of-home care agencies provide foster carers with ongoing support, training and mentorship to assist them in providing the best care they possibly can.
It is estimated that 660 new foster carers are needed over the next 12 months in NSW across all types of care including emergency, respite, long and short term carers.
Everyday people can provide care, from single people, young or old, married and same sex couples and caring professionals, to empty nesters and people from different cultures and religious backgrounds.