Emergency foster care is something any family should consider doing, advocates say


Every night Angie Tsuro goes to bed with her phone on Do Not Disturb.

It means only two categories of people can actually call: Close family members, and Wanslea, the West Australian child welfare agency for whom she and husband Gilbert Tsuro are emergency foster carers.

When Wanslea calls in the middle of the night, it is because somewhere in Perth, there is a child in need of emergency foster care.

A mobile phone lies on a bedside table near a lamp.
When Angie Tsuro gets a call in the middle of the night, it is often because somewhere in Perth, there is a child in need of emergency foster care.(ABC News: Hugh Sando)

And the Tsuros, who have two sons aged 10 and 13, are ready and waiting.

"Sometimes there's not a lot known about the child … often what we will do is if it's in a safe place, a police station or something, we'll go pick them up, so that we're the first face they see and they don't see lots of strangers," she said.

"I'll kind of, as I'm coming home, let them know [our sons are] in the house, and you know, 'They're asleep now, but in the morning, you'll see these people.'"

'There are going to be challenges'

The children the family takes in come from complex backgrounds.

Kids' blankie comfort toy at Angie and Gilbert Tsuro's house
Ms Tsuro says offering love and cuddles can lessen a foster child's anxiety.(ABC News: Hugh Sando)

"Some of them come and they're quite anxious," Ms Tsuro said.

"But generally, if you give them some love and some cuddles you can get past that.

"We have no expectations, [except] that when they come there's going to be challenges or it's going to be really difficult, and that's why we only do short term emergencies, because we work and we know we can give everything if we do that."

Sometimes, the Tsuros are asked to look after children because their parents cannot be found.

The Tsuros are both full-time shift workers and careful about accepting certain children, if only one adult is at home.

"I'm at work and Gilby's at home with the boys and it's a female placement and she has got a history of any sexualised stuff, that would be unsafe for us to accept that without me being in the home and both of us being present," Ms Tsuro said.

Children 'dazzled' by family home

The family lives in a spotless new home in Landsdale, in Perth's northern suburbs.

It's not a mansion but Ms Tsuro said some of the foster children they had cared for had been dazzled by it.

A positive message on a wall hanging at Angie and Gilbert Tsuro's Perth house.
Ms Tsuro says children with chaotic and traumatic backgrounds love boundaries and routine.(ABC News: Hugh Sando)

"It's just our home, like it's materialistic stuff, it doesn't mean anything," she said.

"Sometimes children walk through that door and they they go, 'Wow'.

"I love sitting there watching them walking around our house and going in the fridge and just being comfortable. That's really nice to see that they feel safe and comfortable and they feel at home."

A close up of Angie and Gilbert Tsuro holding hands.
Angie and Gilbert Tsuro have had to learn when to say no.(ABC News: Hugh Sando)

She hoped interacting with foster children had given her children perspective.

"We always say to our boys, 'You just don't know how other people have it and you need to learn to appreciate those things.'"

Gilbert Tsuro believed his boys had benefited from having foster children in their home.

"We'd just come from the UK and we came here not knowing anyone and the kids that actually have come into our house, they've added a bit more, like we get to know them, our kids learn how to make friends, then learn how to mingle with different people," he said.

'You can't fix the world'

But the Tsuros conceded fostering children did come with challenges, from sleepless nights nursing infants, to a school-aged child who would not settle.

"He had a significant trauma background," Ms Tsuro said.

"The biggest thing to remember is that nothing's personal, it's not about you. It's about them and you can't fix the world."

She said the child kept calling out for his mother and that lots of children were keen to know when they could speak to their parents.

"We just reassure them, 'Mummy or Daddy love you very much and they're missing you as much as you're missing them, and people are working on getting you back together.' We kind of try and reassure them in that way."

The Tsuros said another challenge was becoming too attached to children.

A blue dinosaur soft toy sits on a bookcase in front of children's books.
Angie and Gilbert Tsuro have had to work on not becoming too attached to the children they care for.(ABC News: Hugh Sando)

"Our first short-term placement was six months, because we were like, 'No, we'll keep him because we don't want him to go to lots of different carers,' or you know we want him to go to his forever home from us. And I think we had this little rainbow vision," Ms Tsuro said.

"You get attached."

But the couple said they had now learnt when to say no.

"When we first started being carers we kind of just said … whatever we're doing they're [the foster children] welcome to join us, and we took them on holiday with us.

"Then I think as we got used to being carers a bit more we said, 'Oh ok, we probably need to look at our boundaries a bit more,' and so now we have our family holidays and we don't take [foster] children with us. That's our time as a family."

She said the couple also had a policy of not taking children when they were tired.

"We're used to being busy, life here is far more chilled out than in the UK," she said.

"[But] if Gilby's feeling tired and we get a call, he will say, 'Actually, I'm feeling really tired', and we'll say we're not available."

You 'remind them that they're children'

Mr Tsuro said when foster children were in the home, they had the same routine as the couple's two boys.

"We try to give them the same boundaries as our kids, especially when it comes to bedtime, like because if they're around about Oliver's age, he's the youngest, we'll say, 'Ollie, you're going to bed and you have to go to bed as well,'" he said.

Kids' bedroom at Angie and Gilbert Tsuro's house
Some children are "dazzled" by the Tsuro family's home in Perth's north.(ABC News: Hugh Sando)

The Tsuros' children do chores, including unstacking the dishwasher, vacuuming, and walking the dog.

When the opportunity arises their foster children do chores too and are rewarded with pocket money and a trip to the shops to spend it.

"Our boys don't do chores of a weekend, so when they come and it's just a weekend, we don't [give children chores]," Ms Tsuro said.

"Sometimes they want to get involved with the cooking and they want to help you.

"We've had children come and they've had younger siblings and they want to be the carer for their younger sibling and you kind of support them to say, 'Look, I'm here, I'll do anything you want.'

"I don't want to take over and take that away from you but you kind of try and do stuff for them and remind them that they're children."

'We don't shout … we'll give them space'

Ms Tsuro said she and her husband did not raise their voices at foster children and found other ways to discipline them if they acted out.

"We're very feelings-based … our youngest child has ADHD. We don't shout," she said.

"We'll give them space and time to calm down and then … we talk to them about how we are feeling.

"Sometimes they'll do something just to get that reaction and so when they're sitting on the sofa and they're just watching telly, you just go past and you just rub their arm and you go, 'Are you ok?'

"And they like that, they like that someone's reassuring them. And they'll walk past or they'll come near you and they want a hug, [so] you just give them a hug.

"I think as long as you do that, then the other stuff kind of fizzles out, because actually, they just want your attention."

A trampoline in Angie and Gilbert Tsuro's backyard.
Angie and Gilbert Tsuro find providing emergency foster care "incredibly rewarding".(ABC News: Hugh Sando)

Gilbert Tsuro said he highly recommended emergency foster caring to anyone interested, while Angie Tsuro said anyone with a spare room should put their hand up.

"I think it's incredibly rewarding. I think that it actually does teach you and benefit you more than people realise it does," she said.

"It's a community and we should all be kind and be looking out for each other … no matter who you are and no matter what position you're in, you're only one wrong decision or one something away from maybe being in that position yourself.

"We always say to our children, if anything ever happened, wouldn't you want to go to somewhere nice where people love you and care for you and give you that safe home?"

(Source)

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