SHARING MORE THAN A CUPPA: Rivers Watson with foster carer and role model Denis Berry.

By VINNIE RODI

SUNRAYSIA’S foster carers will be celebrated next week as part of Foster Care Week.

The vital role that foster carers play in our community, and the need for more people to volunteer as carers, will also be discussed, with local activities planned throughout the week.

Running from September 9 to 15, Foster Care Week aims to raise awareness about foster care in the wider community, celebrating the nation’s pool of carers and the contribution they make to the lives of vulnerable children, young people and the community.

One local resident who knows all too well the positive impact a foster home can have on a young person is Rivers Watson, 19. Rivers grew up in foster care, and spent 14 years in the local system.

He currently lives independently, is employed locally through Glow Nutrition, is a boundary umpire, participated in the 2015 MASP Youth Mentoring Program and is a strong advocate for encouraging more people to become foster carers.

“I’ve lived in Mildura for most of my life, and moved here when I was five or six and placed into foster care,” Rivers explained. “I lived in three different foster carer homes, with each offering a positive experience.

“As a young kid who is used to being with their mum and dad, it can be very daunting arriving in a stranger’s home.

“In terms of having a more secure future, it was the best move for me, and I can’t thank the people who took me in enough for what they have done.”

Rivers credited his third and final carers, Judy Brinsmead and Denis Berry, for “how I turned out.”

“I stayed with them for three years… if it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be who I am today,” he said. “I certainly encourage people to consider becoming a foster carer, it’s certainly something I want to do later in life.”

Judy and Denis also spoke highly of Rivers, and their role as foster carers.

“We treated Rivers as part of our family, and in everything we did,” Judy said. “You only get out of foster caring what you put into it. 

“It’s not an easy job, but you get great rewards. You get to see a child advance, which is the reward.

“Every child deserves food and a warm bed, they did not choose their life.”

Locally, several organisations will mark Foster Care Week, with Mallee Accommodation and Support Program (MASP) Foster Care recruitment worker, Sam Rogers, saying it provides an opportunity to thank current carers.

“It also allows us to let the wider community know about the ongoing needs of some children and young people,” she said. “Our small team of current foster carers are extremely valuable to our agency, and we hope that more community-minded people contact us to explore the possibility of becoming a foster carer.”

MASP’s foster care model provides home-based accommodation and support for young people aged 0-18 who require an out-of-home care placement. Foster Carers provide a caring and supportive home environment, along with 24-hour support provided to those who find themselves in situations that may require extra assistance.

“To inquire about foster care is quite simple, and is open to everyone over the age of 21,” Ms Rogers said. “The role is open to couples, families, single people, those working or retired, and we encourage people from a range of backgrounds to find out how they can become foster carers.

“The aim remains the same no matter who you are – to provide a safe environment.

“Once someone interested in becoming a foster carer gets in touch with us we meet with them and take them through the steps involved – this includes performing police and working with children checks. There is also training and assessments involved.”

Ms Rogers said the role of a foster carer was considered extremely rewarding – evidenced by Rivers and his positive experiences. 

“There are numerous rewards, not the least of which is providing children with a safe home and assisting them meet their potential,” she said. 

“Carers also have the opportunity to build networks with other carers, and it’s a role that may open up different doors.”

MASP will mark Foster Care Week on two fronts next week. The first will engage the community, with MASP to discuss its foster care program at Mildura Central on Thursday, September 13.

On Friday, September 14, MASP will host a carers morning tea at Nash Lane Coffee Shop to say thanks to local carers.

Meanwhile, Ms Rogers said the need for accredited carers locally was “huge”, and encouraged those interested to contact MASP on 5021 6500 or email fostercare@masp.org.au to find out more.

“We can’t have enough carers on our books,” she said. “The need is always there and it’s always great.”