Synopsis

 

A Child at Heart
The story of a foster-child
by Chris Baxter

As every child knows, you grow up and have children of your own. But like many professional couples in their late thirties, the author and his wife found otherwise.

‘Too old’ to adopt, they applied to become foster-parents. They intended to ‘ease into it’ gently, perhaps by providing weekend respite care. However, things didn't work out as planned.

The social worker knew that the author and his wife had never had a foster-child before, but this was an emergency. Five-year-old Marie needed a home for ‘only a few weeks’ while her single mother was in a mental hospital.

With less than two weeks to get ready for full-time parenthood, preparations in the author's house were intense. It was a case of securely battening all hatches for what, as soon became apparent, was to be a real storm.

A smouldering beauty, Marie was passionately outgoing, used to ruling the roost, and unaccustomed to even the most rudimentary socialisation. And she bitterly resented being so abruptly separated from ‘my Mum’. Like a tidal wave, her arrival submerged the comfortable and ordered lives of the author and his wife.

One of the first things they discovered was that Marie was not yet toilet-trained. But that was perhaps the least of their worries as they fought to rein in the worst of Marie's excesses and faced the threat to their own relationship posed by Marie's skilful manipulations.

The ‘few weeks’ stretched into months, then years. Meanwhile, almost imperceptibly, things were changing. It became evident that Marie's mother might never be able to care for her again. And a new family was emerging. Warfare gave way first to an uneasy and exhausted truce, then, finally, to an enchanting co-existence of deep and mutual love.

A delightful child—previously repressed under the weight of premature responsibility, uncertainty and anxiety—emerged through fantasy and play. Hers became a charmed household of children's tales and make-believe into which the author and his wife plunged willingly. It was a dreamlike existence set against the harsh background of an uncertain future. And like all dreams it could not last.

The end came suddenly. Just as Marie had come into the lives of the author and his wife with just two weeks’ notice almost three years earlier, they had only a fortnight to prepare for Marie to leave for ever—to be adopted by a family living in another part of the State. It was a time of numbing shock, soul-searching, heartache and grief. Then she was gone.

It was time to start trying to pick up the pieces.

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A Child at Heart includes a detailed directory of Australian foster-care resources.

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Praise for
A Child at Heart

By the end of the first chapter I was spellbound and, like the Baxters' cat, terrified. But this story of a tantalising little girl, who came for a 'short stay', is as endearing as it is turbulent!
Senator Bob Brown

Chris Baxter had led an adventurous life; in the mountains, in business and no less so in his home life, as this moving story reveals. It is an antidote for a society afraid to love.
Dick Smith AO

A Child at Heart paints a sharp, sometimes breathtaking picture of the challenges and joys of foster-parents and foster-child. It’s both a moving story and one that quietly demonstrates why greater support for foster-families is urgently needed.
Joan Kirner AM, former Premier of Victoria

Foster-parenting may be seen as a ride on the wild side but Chris and Sue Baxter show us what an amazing ride it can be! Their story is both authentic and heart-warming.
Tim Costello AO, CEO World Vision Australia

Chris Baxter catches beautifully the journey of becoming a family through foster care.
His story made me laugh and made me cry; it’s raw, it's honest, and the pain, joy and irrepressible spirit of a five-year-old girl held me captive. A must read for any parent, carer or child-care professional.
Robyn Miller, Principal Practitioner, Child Protection & Family Services Branch,
Department of Human Services Victoria

…a personal and moving account of a great adventure that the author and his wife Sue, both experienced rockclimbers and wilderness walkers, were taken on when they invited five-year-old Marie into their home. The adventure opened their hearts and minds in all kinds of unexpected ways.
Bob Sharples, author, psychologist and counsellor

Self-help books tell us that ‘only you can change your life’, but God likes to send us presents. Marie’s arrival disrupted the author and his wife’s ordered and comfortable life; it would change their lives for ever.
Michael Law

If this book results in even just one child getting what I got from foster care it will be worth while.
Marie