Ten children and counting ...

The ‘wonderful heartbreak’ of foster care

My husband and I had always been busy with work and ministry, so after our first biological baby arrived, I was looking around for a ministry to do that I could bring into the home.

I have always loved other people’s children, so it made sense to call Anglicare and see if we could foster.

We were given our first foster child – who was 23 months old – when our first biological son was 18 months old. We cared for him for nine months. It was a perfect fit and we had a blast.

We are Christians, and so already have a profound understanding of our humble and beloved position before God, that we were “dead in our sins” when he chose us and adopted us.

We are convicted that God can strengthen us to do likewise – to find the orphan, find the unwanted, and show them family and a place to call home.

The days turned into weeks, and my new children fitted in like they’d been mine forever.

We knew that if we were to welcome a child into our family, then we could only naturally behave as though they had arrived like any biological child. We would not be babysitters. And so, much like any major decision, we considered the finances, the work juggle, the effect on siblings.

And as our biological children grew older, it wasn’t difficult to invite them to partner with us, as they had witnessed firsthand the benefits to both the child and to us.

We have now had ten children pass through our home, all on a short-term basis ranging from just a weekend to several months.

About three years ago, Anglicare offered us two children to keep for a year, maybe longer. Laura* was nine and Angus* was seven. One week later, they walked timidly into my house, and my heart stretched to a brand-new size.

The days turned into weeks, and my new children fitted in like they’d been mine forever.

Having seven children of my own depend on me, even with all my faults, was hugely satisfying. The happy memories I have of that time are endless. Angus’ wide smile, Laura drawing at the craft table constantly. Angus running to me (me!) with his first scratched knee.

The time I heard my two little boys, both seven, chatting nearby. The blond one said, “Oh, I just realised, you’re Chinese!” Or the time a few weeks later when I overheard one little son tell the other, “You know, friends can become family.” And I saw the other one nod sagely.

And the night when Angus was put to bed by only my husband. Soon after, I heard a little voice gingerly calling out “Is Sally going to hug me goodnight?” From the back of the house, I leaped into his room in a single bound!

I have never been so stretched in my whole life, but the feeling was marvellous.

These breakthrough moments when we’ve learned to love each other, really love, send a very physical, painful stab of joy through my heart.

I had children at four schools. I had year one, year two, year three, year four, year six, year nine and year 12. I have never been so stretched in my whole life, but the feeling was marvellous.

The possibility of permanently keeping our two newest children was very real.

But after only six weeks, the phone rang and the social worker explained the children would be returning to their previous situation. She was upset; I cried my eyes out; my husband was in shock; we only had a week left. But I had all their presents under the Christmas tree already!

Our last days with them will always be like crystal-clear photographs in my mind.

People often tell me that they couldn’t foster because it would break their heart to return the child after the crisis is over. I tell them that my heart breaks every single time, but that the rejoicing is far greater and deeper. I got the job done! I loved a child and they learned to love me. And through that, they just might have learned to love God. What a wonderful heartbreak!

Sally Swan is an Anglicare pastoral carer. She and her husband Tim have fostered ten children. 

Anglicare is urgently seeking more foster carers. To find out more visit their website.

*Names changed for privacy reasons.