The Foster Carer
Photos and words by Savannah Van der Niet.
Rachel is a former full-time foster carer who lives in the outer suburbs of Brisbane, Australia. She is a hidden gem, unaware of her naturally giving and humble disposition. Having opened her home to over ninety foster children in her thirteen years of caring, her house is built to raise children. It’s built of brick and surrounded by an orchard, a vegetable patch, chickens and beehives. But inside the walls of her home echo stories of hope and heartbreak.
‘I love reading, and in Jo’s Boys by Louisa Alcott, Jo had a boys’ home. It was from that moment on that I wanted to have a lot of kids, and fostering eventuated from that.’
In her own time, Rachel pieces together huge puzzles - her pride and joy is a 9,000-piece Tower of Babel which is hung by the
front door. She also travels into the city once a week for ballroom dancing. A bright array of handmade ball gowns weigh down a clothing rack in her room.
‘I use animals for kids as much as possible. When I got this one boy, he was desperate to be around other kids, but he’d
been traumatized. This dog sensed his need and every night he’d sleep on his bed with him and I had no trouble getting
the boy to sleep. Once he was in bed the dog stayed with him all night. He was just fantastic for this kid. Which made it really hard when, with 24 hours notice, they came and picked him up.’
In the cupboard are bottles and jars with various concoctions. Fresh honeycomb harvested from the bees is divided into plastic containers, ginger beer and handmade elderflower champagne sit clothed in dust.
Children are admitted into foster care by voluntary or court order placements. Until she recounts their stories, I don’t fully comprehend the severity of what some of Rachel’s foster children have been through; recovering alcoholics, drug addicts, children who have been traumatised by abuse. She has had to deal with these sorts of issues in the children’s past, and within her own home.
‘You’d be surprised at the stuff that happens. You try and stop bad things happening but sometimes you can’t.’ Through all of this though, there is hope. Rachel takes us upstairs. She points at a wall of pictures, her finger gliding from one child to another as she recounts their stories and where they are now. Some are married, some have children of their own.
Rachel puts it simply: ‘what I get out of fostering is seeing the change.’