Fostering love - meet Shannon Davis

Listening to Shannon Davis talk about the work she and her team do every day to support local children in dire need of help, and trying to find an easy way to explain it, I can’t help but think of an onion. On the outside, the onion, like the idea of foster care, tends to look a little tough with a thin facade that is ready to crack and peel away at any time. When you dig deeper, it is multilayered. If you cut the onion, or peel back a layer, piece by piece, it will make you cry a little – even if you are in the best of moods.

Yet, when it comes to cooking the perfect meal, everyone knows an onion, treated properly and added at just the right time, to the right dish, can be the key to success. The same could be said when it comes to getting the recipe right for all the people involved it he child protection and foster care process. For Shannon and her team, every day is different. Every family they see is different. Every child they unite with a foster caring family is different, and every foster caring family has its own dynamics and different situation. Put simply, working in the realm of child safety, foster and kinship care, is not simple.

‘If child protection was an easy thing to fix, it would be fixed by now,’ Shannon said. For Shannon, who is a team leader with Integrated Family and Youth Service’s Foster and Kinship Care, the challenges are many and complicated. Her main role is to recruit carers – to find and guide local families that have the massive hearts, desire, capacity, time and patience to welcome a stranger’s child into their home, and do all they can to make their lives better.

When Shannon started with IFYS over 13 years ago there was just herself, two others and a team leader. Now she works in a team of 23 with 190 foster and kinship carers who support about 240 local children. While changes in legislation and processes have been a factor to the growth, Shannon said the emergence of media platforms and a greater education of the challenges some children face in their daily lives has certainly contributed.

‘Child protection used to be a very private thing – we didn’t really talk about it and we didn’t have Facebook pages to message the great work our carers were doing – the only way you heard about foster care was Home and Away with Tom and Pippa,’ Shannon said. ‘Social media has allowed more of a space to talk about child protection and the role everyone can play.’ Sadly, rising unemployment, escalating dependence on drugs and alcohol, and an increase in reports of domestic and family violence have seen more children in need of a safer home. On the other side of the equation, the notion of traditional care and foster families has changed too. In decades gone by, families traditionally had one parent who would work, the other would be at home.

Now, both tend to work and have extra commitments – making the juggle to provide consistent care just a little different from before. ‘When you tell people what you do for a job, they often react with empathy and sadness for the stories we see and hear, but whilst we do see the worst in human behaviour, through our carers we also get to see the best too,’ Shannon said. She said a lot of the challenges for families flow down the line from the upbringing and lives the parents had, and their parents before them. She said for a lot of us, we have support to help us through: friends, family and parents – ‘we’re lucky.’

‘Everyone’s had moments in their life they’re not proud of – a lot of the families we work with haven’t had those support systems there to help them past those moments,’ she said. Shannon said the real heroes in the work she and her team do are the carers who selflessly give of themselves to help others out. ‘Parenting is tough – and to parent in the child protection system is even harder.’ She said finding new carers is a long process – and ‘it should be.’ ‘You shouldn’t rush it through. People need as much time and as much information as they can get, so they know they are making the right choice for their family. ‘It should take time because it is a big decision.

‘These children are being removed from chaos – they need something stable. It’s about being willing to change your world a little and provide a child with time, attention and patience. ‘Our carers are the ones who can genuinely change a life.’ Shannon said as part of their role her team worked hard to support children to reconnect or return to safe family where possible, with the understanding that the connection to a personal history and past could help some children to heal.

She said the ultimate aim was to support the foster and kinship families to try and reconnect children with their own families. This can be particularly challenging for carers who have loved and cared for these children like their own. ’There’s a grief process there…yet our carers know that they are there to support and advocate for the children, and will tell us that’s why they do what they do.’