'We're in your corner' – welcoming vulnerable children into your home and church

You don’t have to be a carer to help foster kids

Robyn Lloyd and her family have been foster carers for eight years, and have welcomed over 25 children into their home.

Like most foster carers, the Lloyd family has never drawn attention to their expansive hospitality. They simply get on with family life, including attending church every Sunday, with an extra baby or toddler in tow each time they get the call from Anglicare’s Foster Care program.

Robyn and her husband Nick first became foster carers when the youngest of their three daughters was seven. The idea was planted while Robyn attended a playgroup with her children which included several foster carers.

“We’ve always had lots of kids and families over to our house as our girls have been growing up, so fostering felt like an extension of opening up our home in this way,” Robyn tells Eternity.

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“I wanted our girls to know that there are others who have far less than us and are in great need.” – Nick Lloyd

Though initially unconvinced, Nick willingly stepped through the year-long interview, approval and training process. Now, he believes fostering to be a vital way to live out his faith. “The Bible says religion that is acceptable to God is to care for orphans and widows,” he says, referring to James 1:27.

“Our family lives in such a privileged part of the world [on Sydney’s prosperous North Shore]. I wanted our girls to know that there are others who have far less than us and are in great need.”

The Lloyd girls – Jess, 18, Lucy, 16 and Anna, 13 – embraced their foster brothers and sisters as extra playmates when they were young, and now eagerly share the caring responsibilities with their parents. Jess – who is in Year 12 – recently became a support person with the Pyjama Foundation, spending one evening a week visiting a foster child to help with homework, read with them and play educational games. Jess has also expressed a desire to become a foster carer herself, although Robyn suggested they postpone this discussion until she finishes high school!

“Our girls have had the opportunity, as we’ve gone out and visited a few of our foster children’s homes while doing transitions, to see different areas of Sydney. I think it’s really opened their eyes to what else is around us in terms of poverty and wealth,” says Robyn.

“I think they’ve also become more aware of generational trauma. Often the parents of foster children were in foster care themselves. It’s such a different environment.”

As our conversation continues, Robyn addresses three main objections that often prevent people from becoming involved in foster care:

1. “The cost to our biological family would be too great”

“There is a cost to being a foster carer,” Nick admits. “It’s inevitable that your attention is stretched further, beyond caring for your biological children. We’ve always said that if it ever got too much for our family, we would stop.” That hasn’t happened yet, he adds.

“It’s definitely been challenging and rewarding,” says Robyn. “Those first few placements were really hard, as well as learning to live with the unknown of fostering. You never know what a child will be like – how much trauma they’ve been through or what their behaviour will be like – or how long they will be with you.

“So there’s a lot of uncertainty. I think we’ve learned to sit with that better over time. When we are called on to take a foster child now we think, ‘Well, they’re here until they’re not.'”

“The joys and rewards will always outweigh the costs, even on those days that are really hard.” – Robyn Lloyd

One cost that Robyn notes is having to go back to being at home for daytime naps for babies and toddlers when their own children were well past this phase.

“There is a day-to-day kind of cost, but I think the joys and rewards will always outweigh the costs, even on those days that are really hard,” she affirms.

“I think there’s something pretty special about being a child’s safe person for a while, and it’s amazing how quickly that happens.”

2. “I couldn’t say goodbye to foster children when it’s time for them to leave”

It always feels a bit like an unintentional insult when people say to the Lloyds, “It must be so hard to say goodbye to foster children when they leave – I could never do that!”

“It’s always had to say goodbye to a child you have had in your house 24/7, who you have cared for as if they were your own,” Robyn shares.

The family recently said goodbye to a baby who they cared for from his very first day in the world – having picked him up just 21 hours after he was born and nurtured for the first eight months of his life.

“When people say they couldn’t do that, it makes you sometimes feel like they think you are coldhearted,” says Robyn. “Yes it is hard, but we knew that we would have to say goodbye when he first came to us.”

She cites research about the importance of attachment for a baby’s brain development, and notes this is particularly important for babies suffering from Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.

“There’s evidence that, even from a really young age, having people love and care for you helps your brain to develop. So, on a really practical level, just doing that for a child for as long as we have them hopefully has long-term benefits for them, no matter where they end up.”

“I know that God has them and their future in his hands. So I don’t need to worry about what’s going to happen to them.”

Saying goodbye to children – along with many other aspects of foster caring – has taught Robyn to rely on God.

“There are times when I say to God, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing here, but you obviously know that this is where this child needs to be right now, so I trust that you can equip me.

“When children do move on to another family or back to their biological parents, I know that God has them and their future in his hands. So I don’t need to worry about what’s going to happen to them. We can keep praying for them, but it’s in God’s control.”

And by God’s grace, there are opportunities to stay in touch with some foster children. “We’re always there – if they ever need support, we are there and we still care for them and love them,” says Robyn. “We always think, ‘One day, you never know who might find us.’ Anglicare has a life storybook for each of the children fostered, so they coud find out who we are if they ever want to.”

3. “I don’t have what it takes to be a foster carer”

As we talk, a stream of messages vibrates on her phone. It’s the sound of a whole church helping foster children. After hosting a foster care evening at her church, Robyn set up a What’s App group with everyone interested in helping families who foster.  Needs from foster families are posted to the What’s App group and, like manna from the Lord, the group rallies to drop off nappies, cots, car seats, baby clothes, meals, etc. This is such a simple, tangible way for churches to care for foster children – and the families who care for them.

“Church can be a great extension of a foster child’s community. The more cheerleaders a foster child can have, the more people who are invested in them, the better,” says Robyn.

She points out that once you start to foster, you’re not locked in forever and you don’t need to accept a placement if the timing is not right for your family. There is also a lot of support through the foster agency (in their case Anglicare) and other support groups.

Robyn’s final word to potential foster carers is, “I think a lot of people have much more capacity and ability to do it than they think they might. I don’t feel there’s anything particularly extraordinary or special about our family that means we can do it and other families can’t.”

More than 46,000 kids are in out-of-home care across Australia, with only around 9000 foster care homes available across the country. Anglicare Sydney is one service currently looking for more foster carers. For more information visit the Anglicare website, email [email protected] or phone (02) 9890 6800.