Experiencing the caregiving journey

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As Oranga Tamariki looks for more caregivers in Central Otago, four caregivers shared their stories with The News

SIMON.HENDERSON

@thenews.co.nz

Sharon Fisher, of Alexandra, became a caregiver 22 years ago.

“My first child was my niece. So that’s how I got into it, because she was needing a home. So I just sort of accidentally fell into it.”

Mrs Fisher was unsure of the total number of children she had cared for, but estimated it could be in the hundreds.

“It’s getting up there. I think I had about 18 last year.”

Mrs Fisher often provided respite care during holidays for other caregivers.

“There’s so much fun stuff to do round here, like fishing, ice skating, feeding the ducks. I always take the kids yabby [freshwater crayfish] hunting, they love that.”

One boy first came to Mrs Fisher when he was 5 years old and stayed for three years.

It was hard when he left.

“I cried. He was getting taken away and I just turned my back because I didn’t want to look, and I was bawling my eyes out.”

But he is still a part of her life, Mrs Fisher said.

“He’s18 now and he still visits me. And if he’s over the other side of the road he’ll run over and hug me. He has a real bond with me.”

Children in care came from a range of backgrounds, with some challenges, she said.

“I think stealing food is a big one. I’ve had a lot of kids that just steal food.”

Mrs Fisher thought this was because children had been deprived of food or had inconsistent meals, meaning they didn’t always know when the next meal was coming.

But as children spent more time with her and began to understand that they would have regular meals, this behaviour lessened, Mrs Fisher said.

Tracey and Lindsay Canning, of Waipiata, began caregiving by providing a home for one of their relatives, an 8-month-old girl who shared a great-aunt and uncle with the Cannings’ children.

Caring for an infant presented unique challenges.

“The difficult thing is, particularly when you get them as a baby, is not knowing what triggers them, what sets them off.

“She was really hyper-vigilant about where everybody is, who they are, whether they are safe or not,” Mrs Canning said.

Small changes, for example a cushion out of place or a picture moved, would be noticed, which was part of a heightened “fight or flight” response, she said.

Sally McChlery, of Arrowtown, became a caregiver 15 years ago, beginning with looking after a 7-year-old girl.

“She stayed with us for two months and she’d go back to her mum in the weekends.

“It was great, and she was lovely, very easy to have.”

Others came in more difficult circumstances, Mrs McChlery said.

“If they are taken in quite a dramatic way – in their slippers, pyjamas, police sirens – its very, very traumatic. So at first it’s very difficult to see them in so much pain, and to comfort them, because you are sharing their pain with them.

“They haven’t got their familiar people, they’ve got nothing familiar. And then you see them coming out of their shell.”

Being able to help children feel good about themselves was very rewarding, she said.

“It is great when you see them thriving.

“It’s building up the trust, from absolutely broken, traumatised, slowly building up the trust. And then you see them start to relax, to laugh and smile.”