Making Hearts Smile

By Suzanne McKenzie | Posted: Wednesday December 11, 2019

Adversity is no stranger to Katrina Taplin but it’s ignited in her a zealous love of life and a deep desire to give.

Losing a sibling in a firearms accident when she was only six years old and coming out the other side of a debilitating autoimmune disease in adulthood has inspired a zealous love of life and a deep desire to give vulnerable children the opportunity to experience safety, happiness and wellbeing growing up.

“Even in my teenage years I gravitated toward children, especially those with special needs,” explains Katrina. “And I’ve always wanted a big family with six or so children.”

So, when Katrina went along to a Family Works Southland information evening about its Buddy Programme and instead signed up for foster care, it wasn’t a complete bolt out of the blue for her family.

Now for the past 14 months Katrina and husband David, along with their two adult-age children, have opened their hearts and home to children needing care.

“I didn’t have to twist Dave’s arm too much – he’s always known I have a lot more love to give … But the kids took a bit longer to get on the same page,” says Katrina.

While the Winton couple sailed through the rigorous vetting and assessment process and undertook every training and support option available to them, their fostering journey got off to a bumpy start with their first short-term placement proving challenging.

“Our first young boy came from extremely troubling circumstances and had some serious emotional and behavioural problems,” says Katrina, “We tried everything to make it work but, in the end, we had to accept that the placement needed to end in the interests of both the child and our family.” She says it took some time to come to terms with the fact that they were not the right fit.

Never one to give up easily, Katrina convinced her family to give it another go and they’ve gone on to successfully care for another tenchildren to-date.

Currently, Katrina and Dave foster pre-school siblings, two at a time, on alternative weekends and holiday breaks They find this fits in well with their rural lifestyle and means they can dedicate quality time and attention to the youngsters when they stay.

“We don’t really do any special activities per se,” says Katrina, “Just taking part in what we would consider ‘normal’ farm and family life is often a huge change and challenge for these kids.”

Indeed, some of Katrina’s most cherished moments of caregiving come in the form of small acts of trust or achievement: eating a nutritious meal at the kitchen table; taking a shower or bath without mayhem; touching a pet lamb; the holding of a hand without prompting; lit up eyes, first smiles and belly laughs; an ecstatic greeting … an unexpected hug.

Alongside providing a safe and nurturing environment, Katrina and Dave have reaped the benefits of putting in place firm boundaries and house rules and also teach the children that actions have consequences.

“We gain as much as we give,” says Katrina, “They make my heart smile. They fill me up”.

She admits it’s not all plain sailing.

“But empathy, loads of patience, positivity and a healthy sense of humour, will see you through most challenging situations.”

Then there’s always the ongoing training, specialised support and networks provided by the Family Works team.

Family Works Southland Foster Coordinator Nicky Bode says the Taplins, along with the other 33 families on their books, were literally transforming young lives but there was still a pressing need for more carers.

“Carers come from all walks of life and don’t necessarily have to be married couples or families,” says Nicky. “And there are a range of caregiving options available to people thinking of fostering.”

“If the idea has ever piqued your interest, the team here at Family Works would love to hear from you.”

*Read more about Family Works Foster Care here.