Published: 10/12/2014
Discipline – and a big washing machine needed

Retirement has turned out to be anything but quiet for Ron and Chris.

The couple, often known as ‘‘Nana’’ or ‘‘Granddad’’ by the children they look after and who did not wish their surname published, are caregivers for foster care organisation Youth Horizons Kia Puawai.

The organisation is a nonreligious NGO which provides alternative homes for children aged between about 10 and 16 years referred by Child Youth and Family. Based in the Te Ara Hou Social Services Village at 100 Morrinsville Rd, it is keen to find more couples willing to act as foster caregivers.

Ron, 71, is an automotive parts manager and Chris, 60, recently retired after 27 years with Pathlab, were first attracted to the idea of becoming foster parents in the mid-1980s when they were living in Britain.

‘‘When we lived in Britain my sister fostered two little boys instead of having her own kids. I adored what she was doing and could see the value in it. The idea had been to get into the position where we could also foster children.’’ Fast forward three decades and Ron and Chris have their own children and grandchildren and are living in a nice big family home near Otorohanga.

The couple took on their first child only four weeks after Chris retired – providing weekend respite care for a boy looked after by other caregivers – a common way new foster-caregivers are introduced to the challenges of looking after children who often come from backgrounds of deprivation and abuse.

At the outset Ron was a bit dubious.

‘‘But we had a little boy with us for a couple of weekends and another two children in emergency care and all my misgivings became null and void.

‘‘They were just figments of my imagination. You do have to be very aware of what the kids are doing – but that’s the same with your own children or grandchildren, it’s just part of normal sensible caring.’’ After 19 months of acting as foster caregivers for five children and several respite care and emergency placements, Chris says her first advice to any couple considering becoming a foster caregiver is to ‘‘buy a huge washing machine’’.

Chris and Ron have found the experience hugely rewarding and been able to provide a range of activities and experiences to the children including tramping, climbing, snowboarding and going to the beach–- things many of the children had never enjoyed before.

‘‘One little girl had never been on an elevator before. We were in a shopping mall, we’d bought her a hot chocolate and all she wanted to do was go up and down,’’ Chris said.

Chris said the foster environment aimed to establish a sense of routine, stability and being part of a family – and discipline ‘‘my word is law’’.

‘‘They have to do things that are an effort and they do get treats as rewards. Many of them respond well to discipline,’’ she said Foster caregivers are not abandoned to their own devices as Youth Horizons staff are available for advice and back-up whenever necessary.

Youth Horizons regional services manager Rachel Haswell said the 18-year-old organisation currently has 13 children in fulltime care in the region and was keen to boost the numbers of foster caregivers as it was expanding its service. It currently has five staff in its Waikato regional caregiver team and six located at Te Ara Hou.

Established in 1996, Youth Horizons is a non-profit organisation, which works with young people who are at risk of poor life outcomes because of complex behavioural and mental health needs, including conduct disorder and antisocial behaviours.

Any couples who feel they would be interested in learning more about becoming foster caregivers are encouraged to call the Youth Horizons Kia Puawai Hamilton office 07 838 3671.

By GEOFF LEWIS, Hamilton Press