Superheroes need homes too – a Home for Life dad’s story

With a police career spanning 21 years, senior constable Bryan Ward has his fair share of stories to tell. This is particularly so now that much of his work involves singing and dancing at school assemblies of kids with Bobby his ‘talking dog’ (who Bryan insists is a puppy, not a puppet). But his favourite stories these days revolve around three-year-old Billy (not his real name) – the little boy he and wife Penelope have been Home for Life carers for since Billy was just a wee 16 months old.

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Being parents has always been a dream of the Wards. “We tried to have children – but it didn’t work for us, as it doesn’t for some people. We needed someone to love and we realised there are plenty of kids in the world who need someone to look after them.” Bryan and Penelope decided to become Home for Life parents through Oranga Tamariki. Following training and police vetting (yes, even Bryan got vetted!), it was time for the waiting game.

“We had just returned from a trip overseas when we got the call – a little boy needed a home.” Things set into motion. Three weeks and two visits later, Billy came home with Bryan and Penelope and the Wards became a family. For a couple in their early 40s, the sudden change in everyday life was a challenging transition. “I was still doing frontline shift work at the time and the 24-7 interaction, care and commitment required of me was difficult at first. I had done plenty of work with kids but after being at a school for a couple of hours, I get in my car and drive away!”

However, the delights of this new adventure have far outweighed the adjustments and curve balls, and the Wards are over the moon. “Sunday afternoons used to be for reading books on the sofa but now they’re spent at playgrounds.” Billy has the loving home that he needs, and in the process, has helped meet a precious need in Bryan and Penelope’s heart.

Having had a lot to do with foster kids and their parents over the years, Bryan has had the privilege of observing some of the nuances of the relationship. For example, the dance that seems to happen in the early days as kids and parents seem to circle around each other, sussing each other out. He has also witnessed the resiliency of many foster parents as they have walked with their kids through tough times. “One of the best things I’ve heard a foster parent say to their kid is, ‘Hey, look. I’m here. I’m going to be with you for the rest of your life. This is where you’re going to stay and you don’t have to worry about anything. We’re all good.’”

“Every foster and adopted child goes through a special journey of self-discovery as they learn more about where they’ve come from, who their family is and how things have worked out the way they have.” The unique set-up of Home for Life means while Bryan and Penelope are his guardians, Billy has visits with his mum, dad, and on odd occasion, some of his relatives and siblings. “We’re lucky – everyone gets on quite well, and we are all aware of the boundaries. We are all trying to do the very best we can for Billy.”

But Bryan knows that it’s not always straightforward for everyone. He recalls sitting in a garden under the washing line with a young girl who didn’t want to be in her home. She was being fostered by an incredible couple who had fostered between 30-40 kids over the years. Each of them had a photo hung on a special wall in this home – except this girl who had refused. She was angry and unhappy. “Do you realise you’re the closest thing to a superhero that I’m going to meet today?” Bryan asked. “What do you mean?” “Spiderman, Superman – most of the superheroes we know are foster kids. And you know my iPhone? It was invented by a guy called Steve Jobs, and he was a foster kid too. There’s nothing wrong with being a foster kid.” After a few more minutes of chatting, Bryan and this young girl returned inside and her countenance had changed. She later even agreed to have her photo taken for the wall..

Are the Wards considering fostering more kids? “Yes. But no. My wife and I have agreed that we want to put our best efforts into Billy and help him grow into everything he can be.” And when asked whether they would recommend fostering to others, it was a resounding yes. “The difference you can make in a child’s life is huge. And that difference? It’s the fun, laughter, enjoying each other and time spent together. It’s the sticking with them and wholeheartedly making them part of the family. It’s loving them and helping them explore the world. At the end of the day, isn’t that what everyone needs? I’d recommend fostering to anyone with room in their home and heart.”

To learn more about permanent care/home for life or foster care visit the Oranga Tamariki website or call 0508 FAMILY (326 459)

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