For more than 30 years, Westcare, run by the Salvos in the western metropolitan region of Melbourne, has provided caring home environments for young people like Nigel Hunt. Now in his mid-20s, Nigel tells Faye Michelson how important it was that Don, his foster guardian, was around for both the good and bad times.
How old were you when you went to live with Don and his family and how long did you live with them?
I was 17. It was 2009 and I had just started my final year of high school and was struggling to get a grasp on what I wanted to do after I graduated from school. I was arguing a lot with my previous carer and to make sure my final year at school wasn’t too interrupted I moved to Don’s in February. Through all the turmoil and triumphs I’m still living there today and I’m 24.
Can you recall how you felt when you first arrived at your new home?
When I first moved into Don’s household I thought ‘Here we go again—I’ll be unsettled and be moving around all the time.’ However that didn’t happen. I was nervous and didn’t really say much at all, but gradually things started to become normal and I felt like things were fine and that I could continue there and study hard for my final year of school.
How were you welcomed? Did you and Don hit it off straight away?
Nah, not at all. I was in my own little world and didn’t really want to be there. I was there just because I had to be. One of the better things to come from this, though, was that I matured slowly and by doing so I was able to get myself into a good rhythm and wanted to continue going to school.
How did your relationship with Don grow over the years?
I see him more as a good male role model who I can talk to. He has taught me many things—budgeting, money, life goals, and also everyday tasks I need to survive.
Were there areas of conflict while you were growing up?
Yes. A majority of them had to do with a curfew, and lack of. Also using a computer. We shared it and being in my final year all I wanted to do was socialise with my friends instead of study so that caused quite a few rifts. Sometimes, my room also got pretty messy, too.
What are some of the life lessons you have learnt from Don?
Working, cooking, and if I put my mind to it I can do anything I want to achieve, as long as I have patience, hard work and persistence.
How do you think Don has influenced you to be the man you are today?
He taught me some really good morals to go by and, for the most part, I do. By doing this I’m a lot happier, feel safer and able to sustain a job.
How important do you think foster care is to the lives of children and teenagers who are unable to live with their families?
One of the most important things I found with being in foster care was the support and not having to feel alienated at all times.
Yes, some days it was hard, especially back in the day when it was really difficult to have to wait till the 12th hour for things to be approved which made me become a bit on edge. Overall, though, as long as it’s possible that the person in foster care gets to be heard and feel welcomed, they should be able to have their own say, and also be able to see their siblings, regardless of whether or not the parents are in the picture.
Some of the greatest times I’ve had in my life, Don was around for. My 21st was extremely important to me. He was the first person invited.
It’s been good to be able to build so much rapport with him over the years and that he’s able to help me if I’m struggling or just need to have a chat.