Suffer not the children


Making a difference: Foster carer Larissa Stevens-Smith with her daughter Shaniice (14) and one of her foster children in the background.
Making a difference: Foster carer Larissa Stevens-Smith with her daughter Shaniice (14) and one of her foster children in the background.

A crisis foster carer since 2011, Mrs Stevens-Smith provides a safe landing place for the countless innocent victims of neglect and domestic abuse.

A chance 2008 meeting with a child in foster care – befriended by Mrs Stevens-Smith’s daughter Shaniice – convinced the mother of three to open her home and heart.

“When we moved to Perth (from Darwin) in 2008, my daughter became friends with a child who was in care,” Mrs Stevens-Smith said.

“The child got moved around all over the place in the space of just one year and she used to cry and ask if she could come live with us and it tore us apart.”

“My husband and I can’t have any more kids, adoption is so much money with no guarantee of a child and the surrogacy laws were just coming in at that time, so we decided to look at fostering.”

It was then that Mrs Stevens-Smith discovered Wanslea, a not-for-profit, community-based organisation providing a range of care services for children under 18.

After completing the training, paper work and background checks, Mrs Stevens-Smith and husband Gareth received their first foster child in 2011.

Occasionally, the children have broken bones. Often they arrive with nothing but the clothes on their backs. They always need love.

“Every child has trauma and the severity ranges from child to child,” Mrs Stevens-Smith said. “But they’re normal children who often just don’t understand the situation that they’re in and you just have to help them understand and give them cuddles and show them love.”

At any given time, and in addition to their own young family, the Stevens-Smiths will be caring for up to four foster children – with little to no downtime in between.

“I had two kids leave earlier this month and two days before they left I got a phone call to ask whether they could swap more children in once they leave. Normally they are coming straight out of a situation with a police escort or something similar – it’s crisis care.”

Children stay for anywhere from a couple of days to a year or more. Mrs Stevens-Smith is hoping to obtain a special guardianship order for a 17-month-old boy she has had in her care since he was seven weeks old.

“The first preference is to get the child back to their parents,” she said.

“The second option is to find a suitable and safe family member. Unfortunately in some cases there is no one that is considered safe so he will be staying with us.

“After he has been with us for three years permanently we can apply for an SGO which is basically adoption.”