Real Life

Kiwi super mum: My 50 children

South Auckland foster parent Emma Berry always had a hankering to mother the motherless.

"I was in care as a teenager myself, from the age of 14 through to 17. It wasn’t through Child, Youth and Family – it was just a breakdown of my own family.
I guess that sowed the seed of wanting to help children who are going through difficulty.
I met my husband Ashley when I was 18 and married him the next year. He’s a business process manager. I trained as an early childhood teacher and went on to manage a community-based kindergarten, and for the last eight years, I’ve owned a home-based care network.
We have three biological children, Hannah (22), Laura (21) and Isaac (18). I’ve always tried to manage work so I could be around for them.
Five years ago, the desire to be a foster parent was ignited when I met a woman called Ursula Elisara, who has since become a close friend. She told me that she fostered and I said, ‘That’s something that I’ve always wanted to do, but I can’t convince my husband!’
She had a great talk to him and within a few months, we were training to become foster parents. We’ve been fostering for almost four years now and in that time, we’ve had more than 50 children in our care. Many of them have been short-term and we’ve had quite a few sibling groups as well.
Our first placement was an 11-year old who’d been in foster care since he was one. He had many placements, but for all of that he was quite a well-adjusted young man. From the moment he stepped through the door, Isaac, who was 14 at the time, made a connection and had him outside on the BMX bike showing him tricks.
When our foster son got back to school, his teacher phoned and asked, ‘What have you done to this kid? He’s totally different.’
Recently, we made the move to South Auckland to live and work in a children’s home. You need a lot of patience. Some children in care express their hurt through anger and violence. You need to learn strategies to help them through those times.
The transformations I’ve seen got me thinking, ‘If we can make this difference for children, how many other families can provide the same environment?’
I spoke to Ursula about it and from there we formed non-profit Immerse – Fostering Hope.
Some people say, ‘I could never do what you do because I couldn’t say goodbye.’ My response is that it’s actually not about us. Yes, there is a sense of grief when you say goodbye to these children but that shows there’s been an attachment.
I have no cognitive memories at all of my mother, but my father recently shared how my own mother fostered. That’s been a really special thing to find out. I feel like I’ve taken up the baton for fostering without even being aware of it.”
As told to Alistair Wilkinson