Three years ago Slater and Gordon’s Liverpool senior legal assistant Kate Young made a remarkable decision that has not only changed the course of her life forever but the lives of five indigenous children who had been removed from the care of their biological parents.
Back in 2010 Kate was contacted by the Kari Aboriginal Resources Centre to see whether she would be interested in fostering two Aboriginal girls. Kari is an organisation set up to manage a culturally appropriate out-of-home care service for the local Aboriginal community in South Western Sydney and is the largest agency of its kind in New South Wales.
Kate’s husband at the time is Aboriginal and she felt a close affinity to their culture and an empathy for the hardships many of them endure in our community. After spending some time with the girls she decided to accept the responsibility as being their carer.
Later, after discovering that the girls had two brothers she agreed to foster them as well. She was then told that the mother was pregnant and before she knew it she had fostered five indigenous children up to the age of seven; she just couldn’t bear to see the siblings separated.
Since entering care the children have had little contact with their biological parents, which unfortunately is not uncommon, ‘It’s a very sad and difficult situation not only for the children but the parents too’, says Kate. ‘The three-old girl in particular has only ever known me as being her mother, having cared for her since she was three months old. The reality of it all will have to be dealt with later on.’
Kate goes to great lengths to ensure that the indigenous heritage is instilled in these children, that they learn who they are, where they’ve come from and are proud of it. This is a requirement of the Kari centre on all foster parents, and one in which Kate has whole-heartedly embraced.
‘This is something that the kids and I are learning about together,’ says Kate. ‘It may involve taking them to a gallery of indigenous art or a local festival celebrating indigenous culture with markets and dance classes. At home sometimes we put on a CD of didgeridoo music and the kids show me a dance they’ve learned.’
The local primary school in which the kids attend has been a great advocate of the indigenous community, says Kate. A parent committee meets every couple of months with a few of the teachers to discuss what they can do in the school to raise awareness of indigenous culture. For example, they are looking at starting up a dreamtime garden and putting in some totem poles to acknowledge the traditional land owners of the area.
The school has been particularly accommodating to Kate’s youngest boy, who has a developmental delay and behavioural issues, in helping him settle into kindergarten and getting the best possible results out of him.
‘Being a foster parent during the past three years has opened my heart and taught me to be more giving and caring towards others,’ says Kate. ‘These kids have so much love to give and have a very strong sense of family. It has been so rewarding to watch them grow into happy and healthy children who no longer have to worry about the serious stuff. They’ve each developed their own individual personalities and are really just great kids.
‘I consider myself extremely blessed and fortunate that my kids are settled and happy with life. In this situation it seems easy for children to become cold and detached especially if they go through numerous placements. ’
Juggling being a carer to five children and working full-time has been a huge challenge. Kate has been grateful to Slater and Gordon for granting her a transfer to its Liverpool office to be closer to home and allowing her flexible hours so she could attend to her foster-care requirements. She has given 14 years of loyal service to the firm, 10 of which have been spent working in the Sydney office.
Since this article has been written Kate has fostered a sixth child, a 13 year-old boy who has now joined the family.
Donate to the Kari Aboriginal Resources Centre
Across Australia one-third of children in care are aboriginal or Torre strait Islander. There is a displacement rate in the aboriginal community of 51 per 1000 children compared to 5.1 per 1000 children for non-aboriginal children.
There is a large indigenous community spread across the wider Liverpool area and the service the Kari Aboriginal Resources centre provides is in much demand.