Debbie and Steve

Making a difference – Debbie and Steve's story

“It's about opening up your heart, your home, your lives to these children.”

Debbie and Steve are accustomed to a busy household. As well as raising five children of their own, they have been fostering for more than two decades.

Steve grew up as an only child and never expected to have a large family, or to foster. “It’s been a big life change for me, but it’s been one for the better,” he says.

The couple have fostered children of all ages, from babies through to teenagers and provided various types of care, including emergency, short breaks and both short-term and long-term care.

“You get that phone call [from the foster care agency] and you hear about their life,” says Debbie, “and you know it’s going to fit in with your family, it’s like, let’s give it a go. We want to be the ones that make a difference in this child’s life.”

“There’s many reasons why kids come into care,” explains Steve. “We're not there to take them away from mum or dad, or nan or pop. It's just because of the situation they're in at this time.”

“We’re there to look after the child and provide for them a nice environment, spend time with them, do things with them, take them out, give them a nice warm bed and plenty of food.”

Steve says it’s about doing regular things with them, as you would your own children. “If they’re into soccer or football, go along with them, watch them at school or if they join a club,” he says.

“Teaching them what goals are and if there’s something they’d like to achieve – even if it’s how to ride a bicycle, or how to overcome a fear. It’s to be with them and make them feel reassured and safe.”

Before accepting a new placement, the couple always discuss it with their own kids. “Our children share bedrooms, share the toys,” Debbie explains. “I need to know they’re okay in taking a child on.”

“Seeing our own children grow up in this environment – it's been an amazing experience for them too,” Steve adds.

Over the decades they’ve been fostering, Debbie and Steve have learnt that some children come out of their shell more quickly than others.

“We did have one child,” says Debbie. “She would be in a corner and that’s where she’d just stay continuously. Any time you tried to engage with her, her hands used to go over her face and just hide.”

While it was hard for Debbie to see this behaviour, she persevered.

“I used to sit on the floor and just bring toys to myself. And I didn't engage, I didn't talk to her, I just played with toys by myself. And then each day, I went closer and closer to her and then I said, ‘Are you able to pass me that?’ – [referring] to whatever toy was beside her. And then she'd pass it to me and then I’d say, ‘Would you like to play with me?’ And then slowly, I just saw her creeping closer and closer to me until finally, we got to play and she just came out of her shell.”

“It’s just understanding their bubble and you can sort of break through,” explains Debbie. “But in their timing, and when they’re ready.”

“As long as you’ve got that love, that care, that compassion and patience and time, you can become a carer.”

Debbie and Steve are both shift workers, but they have the flexibility to ensure someone is always there for the children.

“When you put your name down, you do put in your preference of ages”, explains Debbie. “So, if you are a working mum, working dad or working couple, then you know your limits of the age group that you can take on, which is possibly children that go to school.”

Steve says short breaks care is another option if those thinking about fostering can’t offer full-time care. “It could be fortnightly, monthly, every two months, whatever you can give of your time.”

“[There’s] definitely a lot of training,” says Debbie, whose advice is to always be honest and ask your foster care agency when you think you need more training on certain topics.

“The fostering agency is very much a great support to us,” adds Steve. “If we’re having particular needs that we need met based around this particular child, then we can approach our fostering agency and the department together so they can all work in unison with us.”

The main concern Debbie hears from potential carers is that they’re scared of becoming attached to the child in their care – but she felt the same way.

“It's just a natural reaction that you would have,” she says. “Don't let that stop you from thinking about becoming a carer because you have to remember what impact you can put into that child's life. You’ve got to say to yourself, ‘this is a positive thing’, that they are going back to their biological parents as long as it's safe to do so.”

“It's not about us, it's about what's best for them,” adds Steve. “Our whole aim is to support this little child through this chapter in their life.”

As a nurse, Debbie has always wanted to foster children with complex medical needs. “My children actually came to me and said, ‘Mum, if this what you really want to do – let’s do it,’” she smiles.

Debbie spoke to their agency who confirmed there was a definite need for carers who could care for children with high needs. A child was placed with them and Debbie loves being able to give them the security of a family environment.

“Out of the whole 21 years, we wouldn’t change anything,” says Debbie. “There's always been ups and downs, but overall, we've just loved every experience that we've had and every child that we've had in our care.”

Steve agrees.

“It's not about jumping in there, thinking you're going to come along and save every little child. It's about opening up your heart, your home, your lives to these little children,” he says.

“Let’s help one at a time and let’s do the best we can do.” 

Debbie wears a purple shirt, reading glasses and has long reddish-brown hair below her shoulders. She is smiling while caring for a child with high needs. She is holding the child's hand and the child cannot be identified.