Tahnee and Shailen

It’s worth it – Tahnee and Shailen’s story

If you can change the life of one child, it's worth it.

Tahnee and Shailen were so inspired by their friends who were foster carers that the couple, who had no children of their own at the time, decided to apply to become foster carers too.

After growing up with her own mum regularly welcoming in the neighbourhood kids and being an aunty to five by the time she was an adult, Tahnee says fostering feels like it’s been her destiny all along. “And my husband’s along for the ride,” she jokes, adding “he loves it as well.”

“Fostering has definitely changed my life,” says Shailen. “Having that level of responsibility actually helps you grow as a person.”

“We’ve had a range of different care types,” he says. “From respite (short breaks care) to emergency placements and longer-term placements. Our family is currently made up of our two biological children and three foster children.”

Tahnee recalls when their first foster child, a baby, was brought to their home, she had a little panic over the enormity of the situation. Her biggest concern was whether she would wake up to the baby as it cried during the night but says caring for him just came naturally.

The couple didn’t take on any children they weren’t sure they could handle. In fact, Shailen says foster carers can select the age range of children they want to care for. “You need to make sure that you are comfortable.”

When welcoming a new child into their home, the couple help the child familiarise themselves with the house and toys, ensuring they feel safe in the space. “Anything we can do to ease the transition and provide creature comforts,” says Shailen. They also find their own young children help with welcoming the foster child too.

“Before ever being placed with children, there’s a significant amount of support and training provided,” Shailen continues. “It goes through all sorts of things like teaching you different parenting tactics and making you aware of how you need to care for children who may be suffering from trauma.

“We have a really good support network around us,” he adds. “We’ve got my wife’s family, my family, but we’ve also got a lot of friends who are really supportive and able to help out where we need.”

The couple also work outside the home, with Tahnee working part-time and Shailen full-time, and they’ve found that their employers are very supportive.

When it comes to managing challenging behaviour, Tahnee and Shailen are careful to apply a consistent standard of parenting with all children in the house, whether it’s their own biological children or their foster children.

“I don’t have any special talents, just a little bit of patience,” says Tahnee.

Shailen also recommends patience as an important skill when working through any difficult behaviours. “When you do help children to overcome a certain challenging aspect of their life, it is really rewarding to be a part of that,” he says.

Both the department and the couple’s foster care agency provide ongoing support.

“Anything I need,” says Tahnee, “Whether I call [their agency] after hours, saying, ‘Hey, this happened, what should I do?’ They always pick up or they’ll send a message saying, ‘Can I call you back?’ We’ve had our needs met over and above what you would expect.”

Tahnee adds that the department provides therapy for the children in their care, as well as financial support to help cover the costs of raising the children.

“There are different allowances that you can get depending on your child,” she explains. “For us, we have three children. We get basic allowances for them, but we do get an additional allowance for one of our children, because she does have a disability.”

Although neither of them has a medical background, Tahnee and Shailen willingly took on a baby with a disability. From the start there was a lot of medical intervention, but Tahnee says, “we were trained in all of that by the hospital. They provide any training you could possibly need and are always happy to help.

“She’s defied a lot of odds. And it’s been a lot of teamwork to get her to where she is today,” says Tahnee, referring to the hospital’s connected care program, their agency, and the department.

The department helps manage the child’s National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) plan, provides mobility equipment for the child, and its complex support needs allowance can cover ongoing support required, such as medical appointments and improving the accessibility of their home.

Tahnee and Shailen also provide emergency care for children with medical needs. And with a little community of foster carer friends, some who also care for children with disability, the couple find they can lean on the group’s collective experience for additional support.

The couple is motivated to continue family contact between their foster children and their biological families. “Watching kids interact with their families and still being able to maintain that relationship and that bond and being part of seeing them interact with family is really important,” says Tahnee.

Shailen acknowledges one of the barriers stopping more people from fostering is seeing the child leave their care.

“Reunification is the primary goal of fostering,” he explains. “We go into it knowing that at the end of the day – we’re all human – there will be attachments formed. But if you take that step back and really think about what’s in the best interest of the child, you manage to process that.”

Tahnee agrees, saying it’s easy because it’s so rewarding when after working so closely with a family, you can see the progress the child makes, but you can also see the progress the parents make to be able to become the parent that child needs and deserves.

“We’ve watched some kids grow up,” she adds, “And to just be like, oh my god, I was a part of that, and now you’re back home, you’re happy, you’re healthy, you’re thriving. It’s really good to see.”

“I would take on a million children, but I’m not allowed,” jokes Tahnee. “I thoroughly enjoy being a foster carer. If I could stay at home and take in ten more children, whether it be for emergencies, or for a short amount of time, I would.”

Shailen says the thing he loves most about fostering is the positive impact he has on a child’s life – no matter how small it is.

While the couple are keen to continue fostering, one day they plan to sit their own children down once they’re old enough to have an open conversation about how they feel about mum and dad fostering other children. Until then, they know just how many children need a safe, stable home.

“The plan is to continue to change the lives of children and support parents with reunification,” says Tahnee. “Even if we're a bed for a night or a meal for a night, then that's fine by me.”

“It is rewarding to have that positive impact, even if it's for a really short time,” agrees Shailen.

“Whether you can only care for one child or you can care for ten children, you're going to make one child's life different,” adds Tahnee. “And if you can change the life of one child, it's worth it.”