Dean Davies never planned to become a full-time foster parent with Te Waka Kotahi, our specialist foster care programme for young people aged 12 to 17 in the care of Oranga Tamariki.
But after spending a couple of years providing mentoring 4-hours a week to a young person being cared for by a full-time foster parent, then providing respite care every third weekend to the same young person, he realised he was ready to step into the waka fulltime.
He’s been working as a full-time foster parent, providing one-to-one foster care in his home in the Wairarapa, since late 2018. And while it can be challenging – “It’s not all rainbows and unicorns, it’s hard work” – he says the rewards are worth it.
“It’s so good when you can see that a young person really gets it. Often it’s the little things that give you the greatest satisfaction like, after nagging them for days on end to not leave their wet towel on their bedroom floor, you glance into their room and see the towel hung up.”
Lots of laughs
It can be a lot of fun too. “We’ve had a lot of laughs watching TV together, or at the movies. Last summer we went swimming a lot at the local river.”
Dean, who worked in the hospitality industry before becoming a full-time foster parent, says it doesn’t matter that he’s never had children of his own. What’s more important is being able to enjoy the company of young people, being patient and consistent, and being able to spot a young person’s strengths and abilities while also having realistic expectations for them.
“By the time these young people come to Wesley they’ve usually moved from foster home to foster home to foster home, and some have had horrendous things happen to them. You can’t expect to be a hero – it’s not a permanent thing and you’re not providing a home for life. Your job is to try to make a difference to a young person’s life and help them gain some skills to take into the future.”
Like most teenagers, the young people in the programme know how to push boundaries and Dean says it’s important not to lose your cool.
“You need to learn to walk away – as soon as they know what makes you angry they know what pushes your buttons.”
Support available 24/7
He appreciates the advice he gets from the Wesley Community Action social worker assigned to support him. There’s an after-hours service as well if he needs to talk to a social worker outside working hours.
Dean gave up his hospitality job to take on the role, which is paid. Most young people in the programme attend school or – occasionally – a training programme. That means foster parents are free during school hours, though they must be contactable during the school day. However, they need to be around most evenings and two out of every three weekends. Each young person spends four hours a week with a mentor and every third weekend in respite care with another foster parent (or a whanau member).
“Don’t even think about a social life,” laughs Dean.
But while being a full-time foster parent isn’t always easy, he’s in it for the long haul. “I really think I can make a difference. I just want these kids to see what a normal house is like, to be respected normally and to be loved normally.”
Find out more about being a foster parent with Te Waka Kotahi