Unconditional foster love has its benefits

Lauren Chelman has a 14-year-old, 9-year-old, and a 2-year-old. Living in the Lower Hunter juggling school, work, appointments, and the experiences of teenage, ’tween and toddler years all at once, the family is like many in our region.

But there’s a unique and special relationship among her children. Sarah*, aged 9, is adopted. CatholicCare Social Services Hunter-Manning has supported Lauren since she began fostering Sarah when she was just six weeks old.

“I felt I had love to give,” Lauren says. “I wanted to give another child a home, give them love, security and help meet their needs. I often hear people say to me that it’s selfless, but I think I am the one who is so lucky. Sarah has brought so much joy to my life.”

After fostering another child for about seven months, Lauren was asked to care for Sarah when she was born prematurely and could not live with her parents.

It was only two years later that Sarah was diagnosed with cancer. Following treatment, she received a diagnosis of epilepsy and then in 2018, a second recurrence of cancer.

But in 2019, Lauren adopted Sarah and she is currently loving life, has a brave outlook and continues to be a fighter. Lauren admits it’s not your average foster care and adoption story.

“It’s been such an important journey and I’ve honestly found it so rewarding,” she says. “You don’t have to give birth to a child to love them, that’s for sure.

“I was shocked when Sarah became sick, I had some people say to me, ‘Are you going to give her back?’ and I would just look at them and say ‘No way, she’s a member of my family. You wouldn’t hand your own child back.’”

This unconditional love and care are the very qualities that drew Lauren to become a foster carer.

“My mum’s friend had been a carer for as long as I can remember,” she says. "Seeing her as I grew up, foster care is always something I wanted to do – even when I was a teenager, I knew I would do it. My mum’s friend had a range of different experiences; supporting children in emergency care, helping kids with additional needs and longer-term foster care children, and it really opened my eyes.

“I would recommend anyone be a foster carer or consider adoption. It’s such a rewarding experience. It’s not just about providing care – I mean Sarah is loved and secure and safe, but that’s so meaningful for me too.”

Lauren explains an open adoption means she has guardianship of Sarah, but her birth parents are still part of her life.

“We still see her parents and grandparents,” she says. “We still connect at times like Mother’s Day, Easter and Christmas and have other regular visits, often in neutral locations.

“The family are important relationships in Sarah’s life. She has a half-sister too and it’s so important for Sarah to know her family, know her past and have those connections.

“It’s been amazing to learn of those connections. Even though she’s been with me since she was six weeks old, there are parts of her personality that completely mirror her biological family – a love of reptiles and her creative side. That’s made me realise how important an open adoption and these relationships are.”

Lauren has the benefit of a family-like support network through CatholicCare.

“They always listen,” she says. “The caseworkers are really good and always help us out. The team has been so supportive of me through the adoption process, which is quite lengthy and challenging at times. I relied on their support and understanding.”

CatholicCare's extended Carers Support Network enables Lauren to talk to other carers and learn from their experiences and similar challenges.

Despite the special relationships and the complex health journey through which Lauren has supported Sarah over her nine years, as with most families she says she just wants all her kids to achieve what they want in their lives.

“I want them all to be happy and content,” Lauren says. “For Sarah, I hope she will grow up healthy and happy, and know she is well loved. It’s the joy I get from all my kids that matters to me.”


*Name has been changed.

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