My happy place: Ursula Elisara, foster parent

Ursula Elisara is a foster parent to Eden, 21 months. Photo / Getty Images
Ursula Elisara is a foster parent to Eden, 21 months. Photo / Getty Images

My happy place is being a foster parent. Eleven years ago I was 27 and pregnant with our third child, and my husband George and I got a phone call from Child, Youth and Family, asking if we'd take a whanau placement of three children. We said, "Yes, absolutely." I'd always had it in my heart that I wanted to do something like that.

Since that first placement we've had 18 children through our home, for anywhere from a night upwards. Our baby, Eden, came to us when she was 3 days old. She's now 21 months old, and she'll be with us permanently - a home for life.

I really honour her birth parents for having the bravery to make such a difficult decision. Our goal, collectively as the two families, is to ensure she grows up knowing she was wanted and loved, but because of the circumstances she was unable to be with her mum and dad.

A human relationship can be an incredibly powerful, healing thing. It's not about what the kids see on television, or what they think is theoretically possible - it's what they experience.

The outcomes for these children can be really different if they've had just one significant adult in their lives in those early years. For some people that's one great teacher, or one grandparent - just one adult relationship where someone met all their human needs.

No matter how long you've got the kids, it makes a difference to them. It's about being present for them and giving them what is needed in that moment - not necessary about fixing anything. That's what has the most significant effect in changing behaviour and encouraging them to make better choices down the track.

Last year, a 5-year-old girl and her 2-year-old brother came to us on a Friday. We spent that first weekend at the beach with the six kids, playing, and on Sunday night I walked past the bunkroom and the 5-year-old was bawling - that really heartbroken kind of cry. I asked what was wrong.

She said, "You're the best mummy in the whole world, and I just wish my mummy was like you, but there's something wrong with her brain and she can't put it all together ... I just don't understand."

In one weekend she'd discovered that something different was possible. I'm confident the care she received over the next 10 months changed that little girl's life.

With fostering, you get to be there in those moments where you see another person's life change for the better, and you know it's because of your sacrifice and your time and your belief that it's possible.

- as told to Bronwyn Sell

- Herald on Sunday

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