Uncle Allan and Cheryl

Every child matters — Uncle Allan and Cheryl’s story

History shows that cultural connection is very important. We care and truly believe every life matters. We all matter.

Uncle Allan and Cheryl aren’t new to fostering.

The couple — now both retired and in their 70s — have provided care for hundreds of children and young people since they first began fostering in 1998, after recognising the need in their local area for carers. 

“We volunteered around kids most of our life, so it was just a continuance of this,” Cheryl explains.

“If you’ve got the home and the space, there’s always a child who needs your attention, and needs your care,” she says.

A proud Yuin Elder of the Walbanjah people from the south coast of NSW, Uncle Allan is particularly passionate about providing care to Aboriginal children to ensure they grow up in culture — a passion shared equally with his wife.

“Cheryl hit the nail on the head when she said: ‘It’s not just about boomerangs and spears. It’s about the feeling that you get from being your culture.’ It’s yours, it’s your culture, an identity. A lot of people without their culture haven’t got a real identity,” Uncle Allan says.

“Some of the Aboriginal kids don’t know where they came from and that’s a big thing — to know where you came from and to be able to set your course for where you’re going.

“There’s that song: from little things, big things grow,” he says. “If you tell them something, they think about it and go out and ask another Elder to explain what they’ve already been told. That’s a progression of what culture is about.”

Cheryl is also committed to the cultural wellbeing of the kids in her care.

“Whether they’re Indigenous or not, the journey with me is the same. We try to show them where they came from and who they are by cultural connection,” she says.

“Some of the kids don’t know a thing about their culture, so all we can do is give them what we can by staying in touch with their community.”

Some of the children the couple fostered are now adults with children of their own, and they visit Uncle Allan and Cheryl regularly.

“Uncle Allan and I have been lucky to still remain in good contact with foster kids from the past,” Cheryl says.

“They’re in their 20s and 30s now, and they’ll come to visit us and bring their kids — they’re all our grandkids just like our own.”

“They have lovely jobs. They have lovely families. It’s just been a great journey to look back over these years and see the people they’ve become. We’re proud of all the things they’ve achieved,” she says.

A testament to the strong connections they’ve forged over many years, Uncle Allan has even walked two of his foster children down the aisle.

“When I was asked, I said ‘I’d be proud to walk you down the aisle’.

“My daughter was a bridesmaid,” Cheryl interjects proudly. “My own daughter.”

“They become family — even the short-term placements. You get to know the young person and they just become family,” he says.

And while Uncle Allan and Cheryl are proud to provide parental support, love and attention, the couple are steadfast when it comes to ensuring the kids still know they’re an important part of their own families.

“We were always nana and pop right from day one. We have never been mum and dad because that belongs to mum and dad,” Cheryl says.

“I think it’s important for Aboriginal children to stay as close as possible to family, wherever appropriate for them to do so.

“We have fostered many Aboriginal children and gone on that journey of discovering who their family is with them. We have always told them who is who — who is aunty, who is uncle, who is nan, who is pop,” she said.

Another aspect of providing care that’s important to the couple is spending quality time with the children — particularly with those who may have experienced trauma in the past.

“Getting down and talking to the children and listening — when you get that two-way thing going, you start to really understand what their story is,” Uncle Allan says.

“I think the most important thing in welcoming someone into our house is to make sure they feel safe and know where everything is,” Cheryl adds.

“Little people love to be read stories. It’s not about taking them here and taking them there — it’s about spending actual good time — sitting down and reading a book or playing some cards,” she says.

Uncle Allan is adamant about sharing his story as an Indigenous carer to encourage others to step forward and do what’s right for the community.

“I’m really glad that we did become foster carers, because it has been a life experience for us, and I really love all the things that have come through what we’ve been doing,” he says.

He urges any Aboriginal peoples to get into the foster system, because there is a “lack of us” and a real need for children to have their culture.

“The slightest bit of culture will point these young people to the truth,” he says.

For Cheryl, the elation she gets from providing care continues.

“I wouldn’t change our years of fostering, or we wouldn’t be still doing it,” she says.

“It doesn’t matter what age you are — it’s a journey and I’m not ready to retire yet.

“If you can afford the time and want to still be active and volunteer to do this, it’s a good challenge,” she laughs.

“You certainly won’t be bored.”

Allan and Cheryl