Barnardos Mother of the Year makes it all look easy

MARIA Worner has lost count of the number of foster children who've come into her home over the years. Sometimes they stay for months, sometimes it's just for a couple of nights.

She has a 13-year-old girl in her care now who's been with her for almost two years, the longest stretch she's fostered someone, an "unplaceable" girl who's become part of the family.

"Just the other day she stood up to one of my daughters and I was like, yes, that she felt comfortable enough to have a normal sibling fight with one of my girls, was a great moment," says Worner.

Worner's daughters Sharni and Nikki were just four and two when their mother took in the first foster child, starting off with respite care for other foster parents who needed an hour, a night off.

Sharni is now 20, working in childcare, and Nikki is 18, in the United States on a basketball scholarship. It was Nikki who nominated her mother for the 2019 Barnardos Mother of the Year.

"Mum makes it all look easy," Nikki said in her nomination. "Our house is built on honesty and respect for one another. We have never been a rich family, but nor did my sister or I ever go without."

On Tuesday, April 16, Worner, 50, was named the ACT winner and will now head to the national titles in Sydney on May 9.

The ACT nominee has never won the national award in its 24-year history.

"We tried to think about all the kids we've fostered over the years, and I say we because my daughters are a very active part of this.

"Part of this award for me is making sure they get recognised as well, it was their childhood that was changed, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse."

Worner remembers the children who've come and gone, seeing them leave is always hard, she says.

Young children who have been exposed to domestic violence, drugs, alcohol.

She had one traumatised young boy who had witnessed a murder, another young girl who was so malnourished she wasn't on any percentile chart.

"She was only a toddler but her first breakfast here she ate four Weetbix, two bananas, a bowl of yogurt, she thought all her Christmases had come at once."

She talks of children who would stockpile food, hide things in their bedrooms, because they'd come from an environment where they never knew when their next meal would come from.

She talks too of the shortcomings of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, "it's a total failure", and how more research needs to be done on the effects of trauma on growing brains, on the effects of drug and alcohol in utero.

She's seen so many children with developmental problems, she just knows there has to be a link.

But it's not about the political. It's about providing a safe refuge for children.

"I've been doing this for 15 years, what I've learned is that whether they are two or 16, you have to be honest with them, you have to set boundaries ... sometimes you just have to hold them."

 

(This story first appeared in the Canberra Times).

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