Erica – foster child

Erica started off life in a loving, normal household, but at age seven her father suddenly died and life went downhill from there. Her mother, severely depressed, developed Schizophrenia and was unable to care for Erica and her brother, aged two.
There was no extended family as her mother’s family lived in the Philippines and her father’s family were not in a position to take two young children. So Erica and her brother had to go into foster care.
Fortunately for Erica and her brother, that first foster family experience was exceptional. The parents were loving and had four children close to their own age - a ready set of playmates.
Life in the comfortable house on the Central Coast looked like it was going to be fine and it was for five years. Then, circumstances changed as a cousin on her dad’s side decided she was able to care for Erica and her brother, and applied to the courts to have them come and live with her.
Erica didn’t want to leave the foster family, but didn’t have any say in the matter.
As Erica hit her teen years, she rebelled against some of her cousin’s rules and ran away. Eventually she lived with a friend for seven months, which she said was fun, but not at all good for her.
“There were no rules and no routine and I think that children thrive on these.” After a falling out with her friend she went to Community Services and begged them to find her another foster home.
“They said they didn’t have any homes for me. I think the problem is everyone wants to foster cute babies. They don’t want 16-year-olds with attitudes and all the baggage. They told me if they couldn’t find me a home that I would have to go into a refuge.
I didn’t want to live in a refuge. I'd heard so many awful stories like people getting their stuff stolen and getting bashed. I was scared of where my life would head if I went into one.”
A caseworker then asked Vicki and Dennis, experienced foster carers if they would take Erica in. “Vicki was a bit stretched at that point and reluctant to take me on. It was nothing personal. She was already caring for several long-term children, one who is severally disabled.
She and the department tried to find another solution, but no one was willing to give me a chance.
In the end Vicki and Dennis decided to let me stay, which was one of the best feelings in the world, to know that someone still cared enough to take a chance with me. Vicki was loving, but firm. I admit it wasn’t easy settling in, I wasn’t the perfect teenager. I was 16 and knew everything.”
“She had very low self esteem and normal erratic teenage behaviour,” recalls Vicki. “But with a lot of love, patience and good humour on both sides she has become the most beautiful, compassionate girl. She is the model for what a foster child can become.”
Erica laughs when she recalls how Vicki would spray her pillowcase and room with lavender each night. “Lavender is supposed to calm children down and help them sleep. It just wound me up. I would go, yuck, what is that stink? I couldn’t sleep all night. So much for the calming qualities of lavender.”
Erica says she was lucky to have found another caring foster family. “To me, they are my family. I go on holidays, celebrate Christmas’s, birthdays and weddings with them. I share all the highs and lows.”
Erica says foster children can suffer cruelty at the hands of their classmates and parents. “What is hard is when some children won’t play with you because you are a foster child. There is still a stigma about being a foster child ‘that we are all street kids’ that I hope can eventually be broken.
Erica is now 21, happy and fulfilled. She lives with her boyfriend, but still goes home regularly to see Vicki and Dennis. She also keeps in touch with her first foster family and her mother.
“Vicki and Dennis have always encouraged me to succeed in everything I did. They encouraged me to learn how to drive and helped by loaning me the money to buy a car. They also encouraged me to go to university. I didn’t think I was capable of doing anything like that, but with their help I put my head down and worked hard for it,” says Erica.
Erica is finishing off a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Newcastle. Originally she planned to pursue a career in interior design, but she decided her real passion was in community welfare and now has plans to become a caseworker for one of the foster care agencies.
“Hopefully, I can make a difference. I think that it would be beneficial for other foster children to associate with a worker who they can relate to. I can have empathy with them because I know what they will be going through and can support them from a different perspective.
You know, a lot of foster children think the world owes them but I say the only person who can fix your life is yourself.”

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