Yvonne’s warmth and her ability to make people feel comfortable has been part of her success as a full-time, live-in house parent since she moved into the whare with her husband Daniel in January 2017. During that time she’s often found herself on the couch in the living room having a cuddle and a bit of a laugh – or sometimes a bit of a cry – with the rangatahi she has cared for.
But being a good house parent is about more than having cuddles. Yvonne, who with Daniel has left the role this month – making them our longest-serving house parents – says that as with any parenting role it’s also important to set boundaries and stick to them.
“You have to be consistent and have a routine that stays the same every day – even if they don’t want it to,” she says.
Patience helps too. “I’ve always been quite an impatient person, but I’ve mellowed quite a bit. Now people tell me how patient I am.”
Yvonne and Daniel have cared for a total of 12 rangatahi during their time at the whare. All of these young people have experienced significant disruptions in their lives, including multiple previous placements, which have made it hard for them to feel safe and to navigate life with ease.
This can make being a house parent challenging at times. The young people often express their frustration and unhappiness through their behaviour, and Yvonne and Daniel and the wider Wesley Community Action team have had to step up and stay anchored to guide the young people through these difficult periods.
“For most of them, this is the most stable home they have ever had,” says Yvonne. “Even things like their personal hygiene can be a challenge as often they have not been taught how to take care of themselves.”
But despite the challenges of the role there are plenty of rewards. “We know we can’t change the kids completely but it’s really satisfying to see them making changes in their lives. Almost all of the children we’ve cared for have stayed in touch with us.”
Each young person lives at Te Whare Whakapakiri for about a year, and while they are usually out of the house between 9 and 3 during school terms, Yvonne has had to be available 24/7, with every third weekend off when she and Daniel go away and a part-time house parent moves in.
Up to three rangatahi aged 12 to 17 at a time stay at Te Whare Whakapakiri. Yvonne is responsible for the day-to-day running of the house, including doing the shopping and cooking. She’s supported by a wider team that includes social workers, youth mentors, psychologists and external supervisors.
Along with those supports she also attended regular training courses to help develop her skills as a foster parent.
Daniel’s support has also been absolutely vital. He goes out to work, but Yvonne says she couldn’t have filled her paid role without him: just as they did when they were raising their own three children – now all adults – they work as a team.
“It’s really important to have someone else in the house supporting you.”