“It’s quite embarrassing being the focus of attention – I usually go about things quietly,” says Lisa O’Malley, the humble Foster Carer and advocate who has just been named joint winner of the 2023 South Australian Foster Carer of the Year Award.
Many who are impacted by Lisa’s work would respectfully disagree that she does things quietly. In fact, Lisa’s courage and tenacity in speaking up on behalf of Foster Carers and those they care for, is what makes her so impactful. It’s work she is proud of.
“For me personally, I think I would be more comfortable about having the extra focus on the advocacy work, rather than me as a Foster Carer,” Lisa adds.
“It’s not about me, it’s about making things better for kids, better for carers.”
Jokingly describing herself as “the squeakiest wheel”, Lisa is a Foster Carer with Lutheran Care, and a co-founder of a 400-strong Foster Carer movement, The Carer Project. The Carer Project supports and advocates on behalf of carers, helping them understand and navigate the child protection system, and helping their voices be heard. The Carer Project was a key instigator of the 2021 independent inquiry into foster and kinship care and continues to advocate for the recommendations to be implemented. The group’s advocacy has resulted in numerous other wins including a successful budget submission to Treasury resulting in an increase to carer payments, and the DCP Policies and Manual of Practice being made available to all carers.
The Carer Project is a small organisation that punches above its weight, led by Lisa and co-founder Joyce Woody with assistance from admins Kelly and Janet. It’s a Facebook-based community, however Lisa and Joyce are regularly meeting and corresponding with carers, sector leaders and government decision makers, and bringing carers together for peer support, too.
The Lutheran Care ‘Village’ of Foster Carers is particularly close knit, and Lisa is often sharing advice and support with fellow carers at Lutheran Care and others in the broader care community. She is also grateful for the support she’s received from the community when she’s needed it.
“They understand when you’re having a bad day,” Lisa says.
“If partners have passed away, or there’s been an illness in the family, we’ll drop in a meal, or have a few meals delivered.
“Only carers understand because we live it.”
Impacting the lives of hundreds of children and young people
In addition to her advocacy work, the direct impact Lisa has had on many children and young people’s lives as a Foster Carer is undeniable, despite her best attempts to deflect the spotlight. Lisa has supported more than 200 placements over her 16 years as a carer, through a broad spectrum of care types, including Emergency, Short-Term and Long-Term care placements. Right now, Lisa is the long-term guardian of two teenagers. The impact Lisa’s love and support has had on the lives of children and young people who’ve been welcomed into her home is immeasurable.
Lisa acknowledges the important role her two now adult biological daughters have played in enabling her and husband Rob to take over 200 placements.
“They’ve shared their parents with nearly 100 children and I don’t doubt that they played a huge part in children arriving and settling so quickly into our home,” Lisa said.
“I truly believe children arriving and seeing our biological and then also foster daughters (of whom we are now guardians) looking so happy and safe helped them feel the same very quickly.”
Lisa was also grateful for the amazing support of extended family, especially her sister, mother, and her late father, who passed away a few years ago.
“There’s probably a couple of hundred children who knew or know them as Nan and Pop O’Malley,” Lisa said.
“They’ve all been incredibly supportive and I’m sure their support contributed to us being able to make a difference to the lives of so many children.”
Lisa also acknowledged the support received from Lutheran Care, with whom she has been fostering since 2019, including Team Leader Pauline who nominated Lisa (pictured with Lisa above), Family Engagement Team Coordinator Tessa and Executive Manager Specialist Services, Karen Harvey.
“Lisa is unafraid to go in to bat for children and young people in care, and other carers too,” Karen says.
“She has a strong sense of social justice and her ability to understand and help others navigate the child protection system’s policies and processes, makes her an excellent advocate.
“We are very proud to count Lisa as part of the Lutheran Care Foster Care Village and we are thrilled that her tireless work has been noticed and appreciated with this award.”
The other joint winners of SA Foster Carer of the Year were Uniting Country SA Foster Carers Maxine and Stephen Bowden, and Sonia and Brenton Smith.
Lutheran Care also congratulates Lutheran Care Foster Carer, Tara Forbes-Godfrey, who was also successful at the Child Protection Awards, receiving the Active Efforts Award for her work with KWY Aboriginal Corporation.
A spotlight on the need for more Foster Carers
Lisa hopes that this award will increase awareness of the need for Foster Carers.
“We desperately need family-based placement for these kids,” she says.
“It’s not going to be fairy floss and roses; I know how hard Foster Carers can do it.
“But they [children in care] need a safe place.
“You can be part of that solution; you can help these kids grow up and positively contribute to society.”
She also hopes the award will help other Foster Carers to be advocates for children in their care.
“Creating awareness, and encouraging people to speak up for kids, speak up for change, for me that’s the most important thing.”
Thinking about becoming a Foster Carer?
For information about becoming a Foster Carer with Lutheran Care, visit: https://www.lutherancare.org.au/foster-care/
Lisa encourages South Australian carers to get involved in The Carer Project by jumping online (via the QR code or Facebook group here): bit.ly/TheCarerProjectFacebook