“It’s messy, heartbreaking but so rewarding”: A foster mum shares her story

Posted in Family.

Shannon Dixon and her partner Shayne have two gorgeous daughters aged five and seven. They’ve also been fostering other people’s children for the past six years and have no plans on stopping anytime soon. Shannon shares an insight into just what she likes so much about being a foster carer. 

The foster dream

I’ve always known, since I was a child, that I would one day foster children.

As a seven or eight year old I remember one of the students in my class being placed into care after his father had murdered his mother. I think that may have been the catalyst.

Then as an adult, I was training as a registered nurse and travelling to some remote communities. I witnessed the utter neglect and abuse of so many poor children. This sealed the deal for me (so to speak).

I’ve worked in emergency departments throughout the state and it was always apparent that we have kids out there in crisis, also suffering terrible neglect and abuse by the people who brought them into this world.

Becoming foster parents

Luckily my partner Shayne was also keen to foster. We’re both 40 now and have two beautiful daughters of our own who are seven and five, but we’ve also been foster parents for six years.

When our eldest was a newborn we attended training and have been fostering ever since. 

The initial training to become a carer really only takes one weekend away from home, in a formal training setting with some follow up assessment and interviewing, approval of a blue card and then yearly modules. There are options to do nightly training sessions as well.

Home assessments are conducted by your allocated Foster Care Agency and although some parts of the initial assessment are time consuming and intense, I would have to say it was a pretty easy process for us. You’re also well supported by the agency you’re attached to.

Heartbreaking and rewarding

The whole foster parent experience is indescribable. It’s messy, heartbreaking and hard at times but so rewarding.

We provide mainly emergency care and have had 70 or so placements. Our very first placement was two little boys who we had for two weeks. I still think about them all the time. They came back for a Christmas break after that placement, shortly after that though they moved interstate to a relative with their other siblings. I think there were seven kids all together. I remember one time having four babies all in the bath aged one, two, three and three and a half and thinking how nuts it was, but also how much fun.

We’ve fostered lots of newborns, who often stay with us a month or so until they’ve been found a more long-term placement. We’ve also picked up many children from the hospital or department offices who we’ve cared for until a more permanent placement – or one with family – is organised.

Shannon foster kids

Shannon’s daughters with several foster kids in their care

Not without its challenges

I work four days a week and my partner works six so we’re challenged with the logistics of it all – school runs, contact visits, etc. But we do what we can. The other challenges of fostering though can be overwhelming. You get a lot of kids who have experienced and witnessed trauma. Some have never slept in bed, some with heads full of lice, many turning up with a plastic bag with (if they’re lucky) one clean outfit.

There are some children who have never learnt to rest overnight, or ones that can only sleep when they are utterly exhausted. They often have attachment issues and behaviours. They can be scared. So scared.

But our job as a family is to welcome then in, make them feel safe and loved, and try to get them to smile while we are together. My daughters do an absolute wonderful job at being inclusive and showing our visitors around, they are incredible little carers already.

Shannon Dixon

Shannon, Shayne and their two daughters

Always on my mind

Although we’ve seen many children come and go, we are fortunate enough to stay in contact with a few of our little visitors. It’s the best feeling ever to see a baby you looked after as a newborn be placed into a loving placement and thrive.

Some children we see about at various events, and we stay in contact with nearly all of our teenage visitors on social media. And even though I may not see some of them again, I do think of them constantly. 

It’s not about you

My advice to other people who are interested in being foster carers is just to jump in!

It can be a whole lot of fun and you will never regret loving and caring for a child. Yes, the heartbreak can be difficult to reconcile, but that’s the thing about fostering, it’s not about you. It’s about providing children with love and care because they deserve it.

Fostering will always be a part of our life, and we will continue to do so for as long as we can.


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