Image: Kylie has looked after 16 children since deciding to become a foster carer in 2013.
Staff Officer Kylie Simmonds APM has been a police officer for the past 20 years. She was recently awarded an Australian Police Medal, the most prestigious medal granted to police officers in the Australian Honours system, for her exceptional service to the Western Australian community. Kylie made the decision to become a foster carer in 2013 after witnessing firsthand the need for safe and supportive homes for children who, for many reasons, cannot live with their parents. She hasn’t looked back from this experience, which has changed her life for the better – along with the lives of the 16 children and young people she has cared for over this time. Kylie talks about her caring journey as part of WA Foster Carers Week.
What initially interested you in becoming a foster carer? Was it a hard decision to make?
Being a police officer I saw so many kids needing a stable home environment, care and love so foster caring was always in the back of my mind. I was so career-orientated in my 20s and 30s that this didn’t leave me an opportunity to become a biological mother. I knew there was always a call for foster carers so when I was in my late 30s I thought foster caring would be a great way to have kids in my life. At the time, it wasn’t a difficult decision to make. The timing was perfect.
How long have you been caring for and how has your life changed as a result?
I started foster caring in 2013, caring for a small boy and sometimes his brother, on weekends to give his full-time carers respite. The little boy actually used to live in my street and would often come over when I got home from work to make cakes and play games. I didn’t see him for a little while and then he reappeared as needing respite care [short break care] when I started foster caring. It was meant to be! He is a teenager now and I still keep in contact with him and his family and he has visited me in Karratha.
My life probably changed more since being in Karratha and becoming a long-term carer. The kids in my care call me Mum and I see myself as a mum now, rather than just Kylie who has no kids or only has kids on weekends. I now consider and include the kids in my life and future plans. My life has changed for the better as the kids are always so fun to be around.
How many foster children have you looked after? Do you focus more on long or short-term care?
I’ve had 16 children all up, 13 of those in the last two years at Karratha – the house is always full of kids and if I get down to one child, it’s super quiet!
Originally I only focused on respite care [short break care] on my weekends off when I was living in Perth and when I moved to Karratha I thought I would continue this but the Department of Communities has supported me in being able to continue my work and have children full-time and long-term in my care.
What impact does being a police officer have on your caring experience? Have you taken on more difficult cases?
I think when families find out I am a police officer, they know that their children are in good hands but also they know that I can help them in a police officer way if they need it.
I often supervise family visits, mostly because I offer to, but also I think I am more able to see alcohol and drug intoxication and remove the kids from situations that aren’t suitable for them to be in. If families also have restraining orders in place, I am more educated on how to deal with these types of situations.
I feel like I can also educate the kids more on alcohol and drugs, violence, cyber-safety, bullying, protective behaviours and personal safety. We also often have quizzes in our house where I ask them ‘what would you do if…?’ to educate them on how to handle situations they might find themselves in.
When the kids find out I am a police officer it makes them realise that police are accessible to them, plus police are nice people and can help them. They love meeting other police officers and going to the police station or looking at the police cars. My oldest child wants to be a police officer and my youngest is obsessed with police cars. I hope that by foster caring in the Pilbara I am building on the relationships WA Police already have with the Pilbara youth.
Is it hard juggling full time work with your caring commitments?
Yes! I still feel the mum guilt trip all the time. Luckily my work is flexible with the hours I work and I can take leave if the children are sick or need me at school. I am also very organised and get up early before the kids so everything is ready to go for the day. I am also fortunate enough to be able to make appearances at the day care and school, to the delight of the children and their classmates – they love looking at the police cars and uniforms.
Over the last two years going from zero kids to four kids to six kids at times, I have really had to learn to take care of myself too to make sure I am mentally and physically able to take care of the children, plus perform well at my job.
I’ve also come to realise that it does take a community to raise a child and children get different things that they need from different people. I’ve been lucky that my friend, who is also a police officer, has helped me out with the children at times, as well as other carers in Karratha. If possible, I always go out of my way to keep the children in contact with family so they know their history, culture and identity. It’s important to the children, as their families have answers to the children’s questions that I can’t always answer.
What’s the most rewarding part about being a foster carer? What’s the hardest?
There are so many rewarding parts – when they say they love you, when they say their day has been the best day of their life or when they learn something new and are so excited. I think the biggest reward though is when they call you Mum – it’s a really big sign of respect, trust and love. The hardest is when they look at me and ask me if or when are they going back to their family.
Are you originally from the Pilbara?
No, I originally grew up in the Wheatbelt, around Westonia and Merredin. However after I left school I experienced living in Mount Magnet and Halls Creek. After I became a police officer, I lived in Broome working as a Constable and spent 13 years in Perth as a Detective. I’ve lived in Karratha for the past two and a half years. I really love living here as there is so much for the kids and I to do – we are always down the beach or outdoors doing things together. Karratha is a progressive city that has so much for the kids to do.
Do you have any advice for anyone thinking about becoming a foster carer?
Do it! You will meet so many beautiful souls that will change your life. There are so many types of care you can offer and even if it is just respite care [short break care] every now and then, it helps full-time carers out so much.
A lot of people say they couldn’t do foster caring because they would get too sad when the kids leave their care; they ask me if I get sad when the kids leave my care and yes, I do! I wish I could keep them all but when the kids go to back to their mum or onto extended family it is the best feeling that for that time they were with me that I gave them a stable home with plenty of love, new experiences and great memories. I work hard with the families during reunification so I know when the kids do go back their families are ready for them. I get to keep in contact with the families after reunification too so I still get to see the kids which is really nice for me, especially when they are doing so well.
Do you have a network of foster carers you can turn to for advice?
Yes, Karratha has a great network of foster carers that I see and get advice from, especially during learning workshops we attend. We also look after each other’s kids at times so all the kids know each other too. We recently got together for a Christmas party which is always a lot of fun and good to catch up.
Communities have also been a great support to me over the last six years and I get along well with all the case workers I’ve been in contact with. It’s a great working relationship we have to achieve our common goal – to make sure the children in my care have the best care they can have.
The Department of Communities is always looking for suitable foster carers from metropolitan, regional, rural and remote locations across Western Australia. To find out more about becoming a foster carer, please visit the Foster Carer Recruitment page.