Single Mum and foster carer Helen Fox recently won the prestigious Robin Clark Protecting Children Award for her tireless efforts to advocate for children in her care.
The Robin Clark Protecting Children Award recognises those who have shown hard work, commitment and dedication to protect children and families. The Carer Award was presented to Helen in September. Now in her 29th year of foster caring, we asked Helen a few questions about her life as a carer.
What was foster care like at the start?
Speaking to Helen over the phone, she revealed, “From the start, things were a lot simpler.”
Helen pauses as little voices shout in the background. “Well, they’re not…” she remarks. “Oh, now he’s got his pants on his head. A pair of leggings.”
“I’ve fostered little ones, teenagers and now I’m back to fostering little ones again.”
“But I loved it. I loved having the teenagers. I’ve had 15-year-old boys twice my size patting me on the head saying, ‘I’m going to bed now Helen, goodnight!’”
She chuckles and continues. “It’s a lot more complicated now. Back then, when you got a placement they were 95% voluntary – I looked after kids while their mum was having another baby or sick. It was more like support work.”
What is foster care like for you today?
“I’m a domestic engineer,” Helen laughs. “That’s a stay at home mum.”
“I’m still at it 29 years later. I still love it. I still get butterflies when I get a call and think, ‘Oh maybe it’s OzChild!’ That never goes away.”
As well as her three biological kids, Helen is fostering twin girls, two little boys, and recently achieved permanent care for an adolescent girl.
What’s it like caring for all those children?
“Sometimes the house gets into a right mess, but you get on top of it when you’ve got the time,” Helen says.
“All the kids do Little Athletics and swimming lessons. With the little ones under 3, I have to get into the pool which I’m not too fussed about these days – I’m no pool mermaid!”
“It gives them that bit of confidence, they get trophies and awards each week, and it’s encouraging for them. They love it!”
How did you come to have permanent care of your foster daughter?
“Her father and mother had both passed away,” Helen explains before being interrupted by a small voice in the background again.
“You want toast? I’ll get you some,” Helen says gently, and continues.
“But it made a difference to our whole family. She knows she belongs, she knows she’s not going anywhere.”
Can you tell us more about your twin foster daughters?
Helen has been fostering two twin girls since they were 11 months old. Now the twins are in their teens, which presents new challenges.
“They’re beautiful girls and I love them, but they can test me!” Helen says. “They’re in that teenager phase. I’ve gone through it four times.”
Luckily, Helen isn’t alone.
“OzChild have been really good, my worker in particular. We’ve been having round-table conversations with a worker and senior worker. Then we have counselling to get a few ideas, and that’s working.”
“The support has fantastic because my worker knows me and the girls, and I can tell her anything. And, you do need to get used to my sense of humour.”
What about your two foster boys?
The two boys have only been with Helen for less than a year and are now going to live with their aunt.
“It’s lovely, it’s a good outcome for them,” Helen says proudly. “They’ve got a very dedicated aunty who’s keen to have them.”
“When they first came here, they were angry but we fell in love with them straight away and they’ve improved so much. I can pat my family on the back and say, ‘we’ve done a good job’.”
How have the Pyjama Angels helped you?
The Pyjama Angels are volunteers who come once a week for an hour. “They go over their homework with them or just play games that help improve their focus,” Helen says. “They’re a great organisation. It’s a huge help to me and the kids look forward to them coming.”
What would you say you’ve learned as a foster carer?
Being a foster carer can be challenging, but Helen’s philosophy is pragmatic.
“All I can do is be supportive. I can’t change everything, so I care for the kids and hope for the best outcome.”
Helen has also found good allies through foster care.
“Your case worker is the most important part. If you have a worker who knows you well, they can support you and make decisions very quickly for you.”
What is your advice to new foster carers?
Helen’s advice is to focus on the kids and don’t try and go it alone.
“Go to carer dinners, go to morning teas to meet other carers. You have to be able to talk to each other.”
“When I did my training, something stuck in my head, “understand these children are not ours. We are here to nurture them, love them and care for them while we have them.”
“And that’s always been my motto. Some children really pull at your heartstrings – I’ve got three of them! – but the aim is to get these children back to a better situation.”
One of the little voices asks something again. “Want me to open that?” Helen asks. “Okay, darling.”