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Playgroup helps foster carer keep children connected with their mum

They say it takes a village to raise a child. In this family’s village, it’s taken one excellent foster carer, the support of SHINE for Kids, and lots of quality time with mum.

Foster carer Megan* has two lovely children in her care, a baby girl and a bubbly four-year-old boy. The siblings have a growing bond with their mother, who is currently in custody, and while it hasn’t been an easy path, they are now both settled, happy and thriving.

Baby Tabatha* was only one day old when she came into Megan’s life.

Megan’s first impression when she met Tabatha was that she was very little, even for a newborn, “I thought, wow, she’s such a tiny little baby. She wasn’t feeding well, and it was a challenge.”

Luckily, however, the pair quickly settled into a rhythm. At just over four months old, Tabatha is feeding well and hitting all her developmental milestones. “She’s very strong for a little baby and is just beautiful,” Megan says.

Tabatha also benefits from frequent, quality contact with her mother, Sara*, who is in custody at a Queensland correctional centre.

Every week for two hours, Megan takes Tabatha to a special playgroup for parents in custody and their children, Stay Together, Play Together, which is run by the national children’s charity SHINE for Kids. 

It was also during one of these playgroups that Megan first met Tabatha’s older brother, Tommy*, an energetic, social four-year-old. The siblings bonded immediately, and it’s been to everyone’s delight that Tommy has since also come into Megan’s care.

Tabatha enjoys cuddling with her mum during playgroup, reading together, and singing nursery rhymes. Sometimes, she’ll nap in Sara’s arms, showing just how comfortable she is with her mother.

“He is a beautiful little boy, so excited and with a lot of energy!” Megan says.

His transition into Megan’s care went smoothly, and she says he’s a wonderful older brother, often lying with his little sister on the mat at home, playing with her and showing a lot of love and care.

Playgroup has become a weekly highlight for the entire family.

It’s not only a chance for the siblings to spend quality time with their mum but also for Megan to check in with the SHINE for Kids team about how she’s going and pass on information about the children to their mother.

“The staff are very welcoming and greet families with a smile. If we are having a rough morning with a child, the SHINE staff are always there to support me and have suggestions to help the situation,” Megan says.

“I appreciate what SHINE for Kids provides for the children and families … they help ease a hard time in their lives.

“Tommy is eager and more excited to attend playgroup than his other visits. [He comes home] all excited, talking about the fun things he got to do with his mum!

“I have seen a positive change in his life and a more gentle side to him [since playgroup] … his behaviour has changed for the better.

“Tabatha is developing well and is able to build a connection with mum because of this time she gets with her.

“It is great to see the activities they provide for the children and how they cater to their needs. Children interact through play … [so they] feel more comfortable with the situation they are in while they visit their mum,” Megan says.

Tommy loves to spend the session creating craft masterpieces and playing sensory games. This being a special program and not a regular visit, the two can also roam the Activity Hall together, searching for insects or playing string tennis.

For many children in care who have a parent or both parents in custody, finding opportunities to bond can be difficult.

Visit areas are not set up for children and are intimidating, and often everyone needs to remain seated at a table, a challenging task for young active children!

Ensuring that children have a child-friendly space to be and interact with their parent in means that even though they are no longer living together, they can still form and nurture their relationship, benefiting all.

Playgroup also means that visiting parents in custody is a positive experience, not a stressful one further compounding negative experiences families may have already had.

Tabatha enjoys cuddling with her mum during playgroup, reading together, and singing nursery rhymes. Sometimes, she’ll nap in Sara’s arms, showing just how comfortable she is with her mother.

Tommy loves to spend the session creating craft masterpieces and playing sensory games. This being a special program and not a regular visit, the two can also roam the Activity Hall together, searching for insects or playing string tennis.

When mothers need it, the SHINE for Kids staff are on hand to support them so that they can make the most of this time with their children. An additional benefit is that research shows parents in custody are less likely to re-offend on release if they’ve maintained a connection with their children.

Like a regular playgroup, Stay Together, Play Together is also a chance for mothers to share experiences and children to play together with other children.

“I can see the benefit children get from interacting with other children in a similar situation,” says Megan.

Seeing that other children have a mother in custody helps to reduce the stigma they may feel, especially as they grow older and become more aware of where their parents are.

Megan’s commitment to ensuring Tabatha and Tommy stay connected with their mother is admirable. It doesn’t end with playgroup and visits; she also allows phone calls from Sara and makes sure the children’s bedroom has photos of their parents on display.

Even on the days that Tommy doesn’t feel like talking, Megan encourages him to just listen to his mother’s voice on the phone so that he can be reassured that she’s still a part of their lives.

“I hope that having this time together [helps] the children to build a stronger relationship [with their mum], and I will continue to support their relationship with their parents.”

*Names are changed to protect participant’s identities. 

This story was originally published in the QLD Foster and Kinship Care newsletter. 

Thank you to Queensland Corrective Services for supporting this program. 

Please support our programs and donate today. Every bit counts. 

Playgroup helps foster carer keep children connected with their mum

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