One of Australia’s most remarkable foster carers

When many of us are grumbling about the amount of work a couple of kids create, it’s certainly humbling and inspiring to meet Meryl Adams. Meryl started fostering children 12 years ago, when her four kids were aged 10 to 17, and since then has fostered 91 children!

“My parents were foster parents to pre-adopt babies so we had many newborns in the house, back when there were a lot of babies up for adoption, and I just loved it,” exclaims Meryl. “It led me into my career as a mothercraft nurse. My husband, Phillip, and I always knew that we wanted to be foster parents and share our family with children in need.”

And share it they certainly have! During the process of becoming foster parents – which involves information nights, applications, police and house-safety checks and training – Meryl and Phillip decided to do short-term fostering including emergency and disability care for babies and pre-school aged children.

“I could be at home with them so we were fine with babies but some people who work prefer to foster primary or secondary-school aged kids.”

Since then, Meryl’s had some children come in just for a night, generally before a court hearing the next day (to decide where they’ll be placed), through to a five-week-old baby who came for 18 months before going home to his mother.

Such a length of time as someone’s carer raises the question of how difficult it is to say goodbye. “The hardest part can be letting them go, both because you’re emotionally attached to them and because you sometimes worry about where they’re going next,” says Meryl. “You have no control over that but we trust that while we’ve had them we’ve given them experiences that will help them in their future life.”

Thankfully, when the children go on to other foster parents it’s possible to keep in touch with them, explains Meryl. One of her most difficult and memorable fostering experiences has resulted in staying in close contact with the subsequent adoptive family.

“We had one newborn baby boy who was born drug addicted and nearly died at birth. At six weeks he was also found to be profoundly deaf so needed to wear a hearing aid. He was extremely difficult to feed and for the first six months it could take seven hours a day to get him to drink from a bottle – in addition to his nasogastric feeding tube. By eight months, though, he had developed into a gorgeous, happy, confident little boy who was developing normally. He went on to be adopted by a loving couple and we still see the family regularly.”

Putting up her hand to take in children with high emotional and physical needs has meant fostering some children who have endured extremely difficult experiences, but Meryl says the rewards far outweigh the difficulties every time.

“We had two little boys who were two and three who had no speech and would sleep most of the day because they’d learned that was just safer. They were very sad, traumatised little children. We had them for six months and the difference by the end in those children was just amazing.”

Meryl says that while navigating the complex needs of some children can be challenging, there is lots of ongoing training and support for foster parents. “When you do your initial training they cover a lot about how trauma can present in children and offer strategies for dealing with that. There’s also ongoing training in everything from attachment therapy to sign language,” explains Meryl.

“There’s 24-hour backup and support from your agency, which in our case is Anglicare Victoria, foster parenting playgroups you can join, and access to appointments with specialists, such as psychologists and speech therapists. It’s really important to have that community and network of support.”

Meryl reports her own children responded incredibly well to sharing their parents and their home with such a revolving door of kids in need. She says that while of course they had their moments fighting for mum and dad’s attention, their sense of empathy and community was enriched, and all four of her kids have gone on to work in health and welfare fields, including one of her daughters who is in a wheelchair and works in disability.

“We were actually told that she wouldn’t live to 14 but she’s amazing – she’s gone on to compete at national level in wheelchair basketball, she works with people with disabilities, talks in schools and has just finished a social work degree,” reveals Meryl, proudly.

Meryl says she was careful to never put her family at risk and had to send back one foster child who her kids were nervous about. “You should never feel guilty or ashamed if you have to end the placement – the workers completely understand that. The balance of what is good for your own family and for the child always needs to be there.”

Having said that, Meryl stresses that high-needs, complex cases will, when possible, be given to people with relevant skills (such as child care workers, disability workers, medical staff, psychologists and experienced carers) and not new carers.

“For the most part, all that is required is being prepared to open your home and take care of someone. The amazing thing is that these children come to you and they have somewhere safe to be. You don’t have to be some sort of Wonder Woman or super mum,” says Meryl.

After hearing about all she’s done in the last 12 years, we’re suspecting that’s exactly what Meryl is.

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