By COTA NSW
The day COTA NSW spoke to Jenny Pride, a nine-week old baby boy had just arrived at her home. She will care for him for just a few weeks and then he will move on.
69-year old Jenny is a short-term foster carer for children with disabilities. An ex-pediatric nurse with qualifications in midwifery and mothercraft, she previously worked in child and family health at a community health centre in Sydney.
After taking up an opportunity to work at a nutrition centre in Sri Lanka, she ended up fostering a four-year-old girl with severe cerebral palsy. Her daughter is now 24 years old, and although she has high care needs, she is working successfully with the United Nations and is a great advocate for children with special needs herself.
When she retired, Jenny decided to support other children with a disability as well. ‘In these cases the mother may be ill or have died or just not be able to cope,’ she said. ‘She may be very young – some didn’t even know they were pregnant – or have post-natal depression. Or there may be a cultural barrier to having a child with a disability, or just no-one to help them.’
Because of her daughter’s needs, she thought that small babies would be easier. ‘The older children can have trauma-related problems, and require lots of your time. And a toddler might injure themselves on my daughter’s wheelchair.’
Since then Jenny has cared for 33 children. They may stay for anything up to a year, and then they return to their family, move into long-term foster care, or are adopted.
The children’s disabilities range from vision impairment, hearing impairment, cerebral palsy, heart disease, and the effects of extremely premature birth or drug or alcohol addiction. They may need oxygen, respirators and/or tube feeding. ‘In several cases I was told they wouldn’t survive past their first year,’ she said. ‘But thankfully they have all gone on to surprise everyone!’
Sometimes Jenny has the opportunity to find out about the children before she takes over their care. ‘If they’re in hospital, I go there beforehand and find out the situation,’ she said. ‘But sometimes they come in the early hours of the morning with nothing, and I have very little information at all about them!’
Jenny says her reward is seeing how well the children do with proper care. She often remains in touch with them after they leave her care, and the oldest is now 14.
‘Some are not the beautiful babies that everyone wants, and there may be little hope for them. But you should never underestimate any child. All of them have potential, and it’s wonderful when you see them gradually get better, and then go back their family or to another home. In most cases there is someone for every child.’
Recently Jenny has become more concerned about older children, including those who are pregnant themselves, and young single parents.
‘A lot of these kids just need someone that cares about them,’ she said. ‘There’s kids in care and other young mums and dads who don’t have anyone. If people can reach out, even if they only have a little bit of time available, and become a surrogate grandparent or a mentor or a hospital visitor, they can make a big difference. To know someone cares can be a great gift to a young person.’
To find out ways you can support young people in need, contact NSW Volunteering.