For everyone Part of the family: the joys of interim foster care

Left to right: Miles, Kim, Dan, Cormac, and Raf, with dog Bronson. Photo: supplied

The barriers to foster care are low and the rewards are high, as LOUISE SWINN discovers when speaking to assistant principal and foster carer Dan Sullivan.

Children end up in foster care for a host of reasons, and Anglicare Victoria’s goal is always reunification of the child with their family. In the past year, Anglicare organised for more than 1,600 children to live in out-of-home care.

Interim foster care provides a safe place for the child while their parents and caregivers work towards making home a safe place again. It could be that there is a risk of the child encountering violence, neglect, or abuse, or it could be the result of illness, disability, financial issues, or an unexpected change of circumstances.

With a background in education, AEU members are well suited to foster care work. The Victorian Government Schools Agreement 2022 offers up to two days paid leave on up to five occasions per child for employees who are the primary caregivers providing short-term foster or kinship care.

Dan Sullivan, AEU member and assistant principal at Copperfield College, along with wife Kim, has been a foster carer for four years. Tom stays with them regularly, providing respite care for his regular foster family. The teenager slots in nicely with their three sons.

“He’s just part of the family and they interact with him like any of their brothers. They hang out and have a really good time together. It’s just very normal to them, there’s a routine to it now. It’s like having a cousin over.”

“These aren’t kids who are asking for a huge amount.”

Dan Sullivan

Respite and emergency care, explains Dan, “help support longer term placements for kids, and it helps the families. It’s also really important for the kinds of kids in foster care – they don’t have a deep bench of extended family they can rely on, and respite forms that for them.”

As well as Tom, the Sullivans sometimes offer emergency care. It can mean the difference between a warm bed and sitting on a bench in a police station overnight, Dan says. “You need a spare bedroom, and you can be in it for long- or very short-term placements – most people can fit them into their life, I think.”

These kids are not asking for a huge amount, Dan adds. “Just take them grocery shopping, have a chat, listen to music. It’s just helping a kid feel at home. My kids will play Lego with them or play board games, or Mario Kart – it doesn’t have to be this difficult thing; it’s very rewarding and good for the kids, too,” he says.

“Sometimes foster kids have had to live in a bunch of different situations, so lots of them are very adaptable and happy to go along with whatever’s going on. It’s not like we have to plan a bunch of special stuff – normal family life is good.”

“Patience, compassion, some steady guidance, resilience, a little bit of playfulness, and providing a safe place to stay is all it takes.”

Anglicare CEO Paul McDonald

Anglicare Victoria is one of the state’s major foster care providers. “There’s a lot of perceived barriers to foster caring which, really, aren’t barriers at all. You can be single, working full time, have other children, or not,” says CEO Paul McDonald.

“People are often surprised to find it can fit in with different lifestyles, work and family situations, from respite care and short-term placements like the Sullivans, to providing a child a safe place for the long haul.”

Paul says there are only a few things you need in your toolbox to foster a child – “and we know teachers make great carers because they already have those tools. Patience, compassion, some steady guidance, resilience, a little bit of playfulness, and providing a safe place to stay is all it takes.

“Teachers already know how important a stable home life is for kids to properly engage in the classroom. Foster care offers an opportunity for kids that have had few up to now,” Paul adds.

Once they complete the required training, carers can specify the frequency and type of care, and the age groups they are willing to take on. The Sullivans have been providing respite care for Tom for two years now. “I don’t imagine that will stop when he’s 18 and can move out of home,” says Dan. “He’s part of our family now.”

Anglicare Victoria runs regular information sessions, and the team can visit your workplace to talk about foster care with staff or a group. Go to or call 1800 809 722 to learn more.

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