National Families Week: Strengthening communities

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By Chloe Hudson-Smith

THE strength of a community can be measured by the strength of the families within it. Thursday, May 15, is the first day of National Families Week (May 15-21) in Australia and a great time to reflect on our own families and friends, and get back in touch with those that mean the most to us.

It’s a time to celebrate not only with loved ones, but also with the wider community.

Nicole Misurelli is a devoted mother of two, and is also been involved in respite care through the child and family services organisation, Berry Street. For the past six years, Nicole, along with her husband and two children aged 12 and 13, have looked after two children for one weekend every month.

Jack* and Nadine*, are brother and sister, which she says is “a pretty rare situation”, in a system where siblings are split up all too often.

Nadine explains that she had been proud to watch her foster children grow up from prep schoolers to adolescents. “The family has had a lot of laughs and a lot of good times over the years.”

Nicole sees respite care as a supplementary role, “I’d recommend it to everybody. I absolutely recommend it. We are given an opportunity to provide struggling parents a bit of a break and to expose their children to things they wouldn’t see otherwise”.

There was an occasion when she realised head lice treatment had stopped happening at their home, and she recalls one of them saying, “Mum said you do it better, so she’s not doing it at home”.

Nicole convened a meeting between Berry Street and their mum to discuss the clash in family values, and the end result was that the case worker was able to provide information and assistance to Nadine and Jack’s mum. In another instance, Berry Street also assisted with managing bed wetting in the early days.

These seemingly small parts of raising children are integral to their development into healthy adolescents and adults.

Respite care has given Nadine and Jack the opportunity the advantage of swimming lessons, math tutoring, regular library visits and bike riding.

“They pack their bathers, whether there’s rain, hail or shine – they just love swimming”, Nicole said.

It was an early intervention situation where their mum is a single parent and their younger brother is severely ill. There was an occasion where Nadine and Jack weren’t attending school, “I was a bit worried about the kids missing out on school, and I thought, I really should step in here.”

But what Nicole realised was that their mum wanted all of her kids present at home during this hard time. “I’ve become a lot more open-minded and learned a lot from kids and their mum about their indigenous culture. It’s been really enriching,” Nicole said.

Around the time Nicole became a foster carer, she realised she had a passion for helping children and families in need within her community. Nicole resigned from her full-time job to invest more time in her passion for foster care and youth wellbeing. She is now also the president of the Foster Care Association of Victoria (FCAV), after just six months as the vice-president.

“The irony is that foster care is such a cost-effective and value for money model,” Nicole said. According to figures she has seen, it is far cheaper per year than residential care every year.

Nicole and her husband have had to absorb some of the extra costs. “From time to time we were able to take them to swimming lessons, and help out with buying school uniforms; the things that they didn’t have access to at home,” she added.

The understanding and support Nicole and her family provides for one family in their community reflects the mutually beneficial relationships from respite and permanent foster care. Nicole’s efforts and passion which led to her professional involvement in the sector are no less than commendable.

People like Nicole show us that by helping just one or two people in need can help to build a stronger and more engaged community.

Source: Berry Street