Family shows incredible love for foster kids
Children play a role in taking care of others
Louise and Rick Pekan’s children were aged just three and one when they first began fostering babies eight years ago.
Since then, as their own brood has grown to two boys and two girls, the Perth couple have looked after a phenomenal 40 babies – all of whom have a place in a gallery of photos on the wall of their home in Armadale. No matter how briefly or how long the baby has been with them – from a few days to a few months – he or she has been loved as one of their own.
Providing a safe place for every child in the family has stretched everyone, but Louise says being expected to care for others has made her four children kind, compassionate and super-capable.
As Christians, Louise and Rick started fostering when their kids were small for two reasons.
“This is our family ministry, so it brings us all together.” – Louise Pekan
“We really believe that the Bible and God commands us to take care of the most vulnerable, and this is one way we can do that quite tangibly,” she says.
“The other thing was we wanted our kids to know that they have a role to play in the community and that their upbringing involves taking care of others.
“Our kids are very, very kind and compassionate and very capable and as our kids are getting older it’s getting easier for us because they can help. Rick and I are both in Christian ministry, but this is our family ministry, so it brings us all together.”
Louise says they chose short-term fostering because they didn’t want to build their family but just to be a family. But, in effect, the family has grown to encompass large numbers of children who went on to long-term placements.
“Some families we never would have met if it had not been for this – and that’s whole families and kids that we love and have become a part of our family too,” she says.
With 5000 children in care in WA and about 50,000 nationally – about half of whom are indigenous – there is a huge unmet need for foster carers, and Louise believe it’s a neglected mission field for churches.
“There are around 3000 churches in WA, and I think you can find a token foster carer in most churches. But even in the big churches, you will only find two or three couples who are carers, so it’s certainly something that we don’t talk about in our church world.”
“Right away they’re linked with other carers who have been fostering for years.” – Louise Pekan
Aware of the plethora of Christian support services for foster carers in the US, Louise started searching last year for Christian foster care ministries in Australia. Eventually, she stumbled across ARK – a Victorian-based ministry headed by Heather and Lucas Packett, which recruits and supports foster carers through churches.
After undertaking training with ARK in Melbourne, Louise is now planning to launch ARK in Perth in the new few months.
“The ark [recorded in the Bible book of Genesis] was a place of rescue, so it’s Aussies Responding to Kids’ [needs],” she explains.
In Victoria, ARK not only goes into churches to talk about the need for Christian carers; it also works with foster agencies to retain carers and to facilitate training of new carers in churches. Holding training on church premises maximises the number of interested people who follow through, and ARK has become the largest recruiter of foster carers in Victoria.
“Once they’ve done the training, they put them straight away into these ARK communities so that, right away, they’re linked with other carers who have been fostering for years,” says Louise. “They are supported by people who are experiencing similar things, or have experienced kids coming into care and then leaving again, and dealing with the department [of family services] and behaviours, and all of that kind of thing. So it’s a nice holistic way of doing things.”
Asked how she will fit running ARK into her busy life, Louise says: “I think the beauty of these ARK communities is that they are low weight with high accountability. It’s not about running a training session itself; it’s simply about connecting – inviting four or five other couples who are carers as well along to a barbecue or tacos at your house or to the park and everyone bring a plate to share.
“So it’s done around a meal, really low key. There’s no information being given, it’s just sharing life together; and the high accountability is that you’re connecting with each other on a regular rhythm.
“So our job is to love them, is to make them feel like they’re in a safe place and that they have the strength to move on and to love someone else.” – Louise Pekan
“At this point, it’s only monthly but you’ve someone at the end of the phone or on the end of an email who can check in with you – how are you going with that hard part of parenting that you said you were dealing with? … It’s that peer-to-peer accountability. And it’s Bible based. It’s Christians helping Christians as well, so it’s a different emphasis on why you’re caring or how you’re dealing with children and the scope of what you’re trying to leave them with for however long they’re in your care.”
While not everyone is called to be a foster carer, Louise believes everyone is called to do something to help care for the fatherless and orphans “and in Australia, today’s orphan is the child in care.”
She sees three things churches can do in this realm. First comes raising awareness of the need for more foster carers. Second is the need to support, encourage and pray for those who have taken in foster children, whether Christian or non-Christian, as well as agency workers. Third, consider how to make church more welcoming to kids and families that are broken.
“We don’t prepare for this in our churches because taking a child who’s gone through trauma and a ridiculous amount of life in, say, seven years into a church service and then expecting them to sit quietly or to leave their new carer to go into another place – those things aren’t thought about either.”
“The love that a child gains is much better than the pain that we feel.” – Louise Pekan
Louise often hears people say they would love to be a foster carer but would get too attached to let go.
“And you go ‘no, the whole point is to get attached, that is exactly what we should be doing – but the love that a child gains is much better than the pain that we feel,’” she says.
While saying goodbye is hard, when a baby comes into the Pekans’ home, everybody knows they will not be with them for always.
“So while we absolutely love them and treat them like they are our own child, and build that attachment, we know that up to a certain age that attachment can be transferred. It’s transferred best when the baby has a good attachment to you.
“So our job is to love them, is to make them feel like they’re in a safe place and that they have the strength to move on and to love someone else.”