“Seven years ago, a friend suggested I look after kids, and that has now become a big part of my life,” says carer (foster care parent) Ada Hill. She and Michael went through a rigorous process for becoming foster carers. Although they received acknowledgement they had been approved, it was a long time before she was contacted about looking after children. It came out of the blue. “One day I got a phone call at 4:00 in the afternoon, ‘Ada can you have four kids?’”
New Zealand-born Ada and her partner of 30 years, Michael Tapa, moved to Kalgoorlie, Australia, 20 years ago. Michael found a job in mining, and Ada, who had previously been a journalist, changed professions and moved into social services. “By sheer fluke, I got the chance to work with highly disabled Aboriginals, from there I went to working in the prison system, then I started working in victim support,” says Ada, who is now a metal health advocate. She and Michael are approved carers for up to four kids at a time, with the Western Australia Department of Communities.
Ada and Michael have cared for over a hundred children, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal. Michael works away for two weeks and is home for one. Because of that, he doesn’t always get to meet the kids in emergency or short-term care. They get children who have been neglected, are victims of physical/sexual abuse or where there are concerns for the child’s safety.
Photo of Michael Tapa and Ada Hill with two of their foster kids
“Eighteen months and older, the kids are generally traumatized,” says Ada. “Even those who come in from birth can have trauma.”
“That’s the baby we had,” says Michael showing a picture of a wide-eyed baby on his phone. “We lost (went to family) her just before Christmas. But she went to a good family, a real good mum.”
Between 1910 and the 1970’s, many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were forcibly removed from their homes in Australia by the government, welfare agencies and churches. (U.S. agencies similarly removed Native American children to live in the white world). Because of this, many of those children lost their culture, never fitted into the white world and found it difficult to return to their original community. They were known as the Stolen Generation.
Ada explains that it is difficult to find enough Aboriginal homes for the children who come into the care system. In Australia, children in the care system cannot be put up for adoption, and due to the law, there is a push for Aboriginal children to be with family or Aboriginal carers so they can maintain their culture. But Ada believes allowing the children to go to a good loving home regardless of ethnicity might also be a good option. She continues, “There is a way they could link them (Aboriginal children) with their culture, such as having regular meetings with elders from their respective communities who could teach them their language and culture.”
Many of the kids the couple have cared for have been with them for a number of years. Ada talks about how she deals with letting them go, especially a young girl she is currently caring for who has been with her since birth. A family has been found for her, and Ada has been told her departure is imminent. “I believe I’ve got a lot of resilience, but when you get older, that gets chipped away.” Ada says, “I’ll cry buckets over this one when she goes.”
However, she says there is a lot of enjoyment in of watching the kids grow and thrive. One of the children Ada and Michael currently have went into their care when she was five. ‘’She was wetting the bed at night time and she would just grunt at me. She came from a really traumatized background. But she’s come a long, long way since those days.” Ada continues, “Part of the satisfaction of being a carer is knowing the kids are safe. But the hard part is not knowing if they are going to be safe when they go. People have talked to me about not having the children because of the emotional trauma it causes me when they leave. But I can’t imagine my life now without the kids.”