Insights into the Challenges of Being a Foster/Kinship Carer and the Importance of Carer Support

Introduction

For the last 15 years, I have been working with kinship and foster carers to care for some of the most vulnerable children in our communities. At the ACT Group, part of my role is counselling foster and kinship carers across Victoria, NSW, and the ACT. I am passionate about providing therapeutic support to carers in the out-of-home care system. Carer support is critical in ensuring positive outcomes for children in care.

The Importance of Self-Compassion

Self-compassion is crucial for carers, who often face immense challenges. One foster carer I support has found Christine Neff’s writings on self-compassion helpful in permitting herself to take time for self-care.

Elements of Self-Compassion (as defined by Dr. Christine Neff)

  1. Self-kindness vs. Self-judgment:
    • Recognising that nobody is perfect and engaging empathy for ourselves in moments of challenge.
  2. Common Humanity vs. Isolation:
    • Recognising you are not alone in your difficulties.
  3. Mindfulness vs. Over-Identification:
    • Noticing and holding space for our feelings without feeling dominated by them.

We are often our own worst critics. Acknowledging that we are fallible, can make mistakes, and sometimes feel overwhelmed by our caring roles allows us to permit ourselves to slow down.

Caring for a Young Person with Trauma

When raising children who have experienced trauma, we are often pushed to the limits of our patience. Putting ourselves last harms us or the children we care for. They need us to be patient, calm, and caring. However, it can be incredibly challenging to find time for self-care when dealing with children who have a pressing need for attention.

We must permit ourselves to feel cranky, tired, and fed up on the bad days. We often ask the children we care for to talk about their feelings but rarely give ourselves the space and time to acknowledge and sit with those feelings.

First Steps to Self-Compassion

Engaging in self-compassion can be a helpful way to permit yourself to take time for self-care. Here are some steps:

  1. Simple Acts of Self-Care:
    • It might be as simple as having tea or coffee in your favourite chair or listening to a podcast.
  2. Commit to Daily Self-Care:
    • Commit to spending time each day on self-care, even if it’s just 15 minutes. Sometimes, we feel so short on time that we put ourselves at the bottom of the to-do list.

Remember, we all have down days; you are not alone, and it is okay to focus on yourself.

Conclusion

It is a privilege to hold space for carers to debrief and work through their feelings. Supporting carers to come to a place where they actively take time for self-care is incredibly rewarding. Through self-care, we increase our capacity for patience and understanding and, in turn, our capacity to care for others. This can only benefit children in care.

Natalie Ryan – Social Worker