Meet TFCO Carers

Meet Treatment Foster Care Oregon (TFCO) carers Christian* and Peter*

Christian and Peter have been together 16 years. For the best part of eight of those years the couple have been caring for some of NSW’s most vulnerable kids.

Authorised as foster carers in late 2012 Christian and Peter have cared for more than 20 children and young people. Some placements have been short term others long term, and they remember the very first child they cared for like it was yesterday.

“We were told he was going into long-term care, so we became very attached to him,” remembers Christian. “That first child, you form a very close attachment to, so when he was returned to his birth family that was tough.

“I guess we learnt very early on in our journey to always remember the kids won’t be with us forever, and that’s why we never take a moment for granted.”

Christian and Peter started their foster care journey after realising they both loved having kids around.

“Christmas with nephews and nieces was special, kids make Christmas special. Without them it just felt like any other day, that’s when we decided we wanted to have kids around us, all the time. We wanted to give kids in need opportunities and the things we didn’t have growing up.”

Having been general foster carers for some time, Christian and Peter recently became authorised as specialised foster carers within OzChild’s Treatment Foster Care Oregon (TFCO) program.

TFCO is an evidence-based, internationally successful program providing an alternative to residential care and getting kids with complex behaviours back to a stable, family life. The two main goals of TFCO are to create opportunities for children and young people to successfully live in a family setting and to simultaneously help parents (or other long-term family/kin/foster carer we call ‘destination family’) parent effectively.

“Thinking back to that first placement our hearts were broken when the child went back home. With the TFCO program you know the plan for the child is restoration to birth family so there is no sense of loss at the end, just celebration,” says Christian.

The couple say having a supportive network around them contributes to their success as carers. And open communication is key when it comes to the partnership you form with the TFCO team.

Peter says the support from workers within OzChild’s TFCO team has been terrific. Having a dedicated team who are available 24/7 makes the world of difference, “there is a lot of support around us, and the program is so structured we know exactly who in the team is there for whatever challenge we are facing.”

Thinking about their role as foster carers they are also are very deliberate in the way in which they include birth parents in their lives.

“It would be easy to be judgmental and put your walls up when it comes to involving birth parents, but that serves no purpose, especially for the child,” says Christian, with Peter adding “It doesn’t matter who we are or where we’ve come from we all want the same thing.”

With this attitude the couple remain in the lives of a few of the children and young people they have fostered, playing the role of an Uncle, providing a positive role model for the kids and family.

For the child in their care, Peter and Christian say TFCO was a game changer. Prior to being placed in their care Marcus* had been in a long-term foster care placement, when that broke down, he bounced around a bit before being placed in an Alternative Care Arrangement.

During this time Marcus was not attending school, he was destructive, destroying property and displaying a range of challenging behaviours.

Since entering the TFCO program Marcus’ behaviour has improved out of sight. He is now attending school every day; he is polite and completes tasks when asked to. Having a consistent routine, the structure of the program and rewards to work toward motivates Marcus to do well. As soon as he entered the program, he started accumulating points for his good behaviour.

Marcus responds well to rewards such as go carting and horse riding, or staying up for an extra half hour, but what he really loves is spending one on one time with Christian and Peter.

“Every morning Marcus and Peter walk the dog; he really looks forward to that. And we value down time at home, watching movies together or playing video games, Marcus has developed a love for the television show The Nanny, so that is fun,” says Christian.

TFCO has a length of typically nine months but can be shorter. This duration is long enough for the TFCO team and foster carer to provide intensive support and coaching to the child or young person, and family, preparing them with the attitudes, behaviours and skills they need to return to live in a stable family environment.

Peter and Christian have learnt that self-care is just as important as caring for the kids. Early on in their care journey they didn’t utilise respite care a lot, which saw them lose themselves to the kids, and withdraw from each other.

“Being a carer is often a juggling act. Occasionally having to put yourself ahead of the kids can be hard, most carers don’t look after themselves.”

They now make sure they have one weekend off a month and a few days during school holidays.
During this time Marcus spends time with authorised respite carers, “and we just spend time with each other, we order Uber eats, and just chill out in front of the TV, something we don’t often get to do together,” admits Christian.

The couple have learnt a lot during their time as carers, which is why they offer this advice for anyone considering becoming a foster carer, “take it slowly, we don’t have kids of our own so starting out as respite carers was good for us,” says Christian.

“And make sure you identify your support network early on, having people to support you makes an incredible difference. So too does having an experienced carer, a mentor available to call on in the beginning, having someone to talk openly and honestly with is important,” adds Peter.

“Being a foster carer is a wonderful life changing experience, while we have had our ups and downs the ups far out weight the hard stuff.”

Seeing the kids grow, and their potential starting to shine through has been the best part for Peter and Christian, “and we love being able to give the kids positive experiences, taking them places, even simple things like playing games.”

*Names changed to protect identities

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