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Same Sex Parenting - from respite foster care to permanent care with gratitude and connection.


David and Michael are a same sex couple who formed their family after a long term respite foster care relationship developed into a permanent care relationship. Their two children, two brothers, were 2 and 3.5 years old when they would come for respite care from Friday night to Sunday night every second weekend. Those two children are now young adults. We have a wealth of information to learn from David and Michael about gratitude, how a strong emotional connection can lead to great things and how to navigate care in the LBGQTI and broader community with keeping expectations high.

00:00 - Start 01:10 - David and Michael's journey 02:38 - Managing multiple relationships 05:39 - Continuity with family 06:55 - Explaining same sex parenting to the children 09:23 - Being upfront with other families 11:40 - Connected parenting and gratitude 15:19 - Berry Street and the respite care offered to David and Michael 19:56 - Counselling services 20:56 - Important supports 24:33 - Issues to consider in same sex and LBGQTI parenting 29:32 - A wonderful experience


This is Sonia Wagner, representing PCA Families in one of our recordings that capture lived experience and best practice evidence based learning that assist kinship, permanent and adoptive parents/carers in supporting young people. PCA Families has a zero tolerance of child abuse. I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet and pay respect to Elders past and present and express our intention to move together to a place of justice and partnership.

Being able to learn from peers and connect with those who may help us is particularly important. Today we are discussing permanent care, respite care and same sex parenting with David and Michael. Welcome!

David and Michael are a same sex couple who formed their family after a long term foster care relationship developed into a permanent care relationship.  Their two children, two brothers, were 2 and 3.5 years old when they would come for respite care from Friday night to Sunday night every second weekend.  Those two children are now young adults. We have a wealth of information to learn from David and Michael about gratitude and how a strong emotional connection can lead to great things.

01:10 Welcome David and Michael. Can you tell us a little more about yourselves. Maybe some information about your backgrounds, family life and professional lives before forming your family?


Michael and I have been together for about 35 years.  About 20 years ago we got involved in foster care. We had an empty bedroom so we got involved in respite care. We did an 8 week training course, then interviews, to eventually get involved in respite.


At the time we thought that respite care every 2-3 weeks on a weekend seemed like a big challenge. We didn’t realise how big a challenge that would be in the end!  But you do kind of settle into it. Originally on Sunday nights we were exhausted.  We would have dinner and go to sleep because there was so much going on.

02:38 You had a long journey from foster parents to permanent care parents. Can you tell us a little more about that journey: who was involved and over what period of time and how did you manage and maintain all those relationships with biological parents, grandparents, the children and caseworkers and support services.

Michael - When we started we did 6 months of respite care with children that needed a night, a weekend or one teenage boy needed a week or two break. Then we started this relationship with our two boys where we planned to have them every two to three weekends. They were 2.5 and 3 at that time and as time went on the family needed more and more support. So it became every second weekend, then every weekend, then weekdays. After about 2.5 years the parents had split and the mother was hospitalised and unable to look after the two boys. So they needed foster care so they came to us full time.

David - The good thing was that over the years of respite you develop a great relationship with the boys which was lovely and the parents so that was really nice. So by the time they came to us, they knew us so well, we knew them and their parents so well. It was good for the boys in a bad situations.

Michael – At the time when it happened and they needed to quickly find a home for the boys it was an easy transition for them and us as they arrived Sunday afternoon and they were back at school Monday. We had everything in place for them with schools and had a strong relationship with them so it wasn’t stressful for them to stay with us. We did foster care for another 6 months extension until permanent care was raised and that went on for about another 3 years until it was recognised that we

David - You would get a timeline of the boys being back with either parent at some stage.

Michael – After about 3 years it was recognised that the boys would not be returned to their parents and that’s when we went to court and became their permanent guardians.

05:39 What about continuity with biological family. Were there challenges there and how did you manage them? How did you manage that?

David – During foster care they would see their parents regularly. When permanent care we encouraged their contact with their biological parents. Unfortunately their father has passed. They still see their mother regularly and we still invite her to family functions so she is like extended family and they still see her.

Michael - The agreement when we became permanent carers was that they would visit their parents at set intervals. As long as the boys wanted to be there. The boys could opt out.

06:55 What sort of things did you do to support your children in understanding your relationship as differentiated from other couples or families, recognising the many forms in which families come. There must have been questions along the way?

David - It was funny because we were talking about this last night and Michael remembered this story.

Michael – They were about 6 or 7 years old at that time and were talking about all the girls that they could get married to. And then they said to me when did you get married. I said Im not married and who do you think I would marry. They said David of course. This is back before marriage equality. I said oh no two men cant get married. He was outraged and said this is unfair. So we never really had the discussion they just understood from a young age.  They were the ones that talked about us as their family. With foster care you want them to feel like their family but you never feel right to use that terminology as you never know whats going to happen in a few months time. So that was kind of nice and accepting.  Also the thing I got out of fostering children was to see how they start to see the Worl and how they observe the world without being told what to see.  They observe the world and see the story for what it is.

09:23 I know when we talked earlier you mentioned that you were fairly up front with other families that you encountered at your children’s schools, for example, when children would come for a sleepover. Can you tell me about that and any other strategies you adopted to navigate with other parents.

David – We were upfront we would say to parents by the way we are a same sex couple. Pretty much every time the parents would say yes is there a problem so that was fantastic and accepting. There was only one parent who preferred to have the boys at their house. That was said through a boys friend. So really very fortunate and no prejudice and very accepting. We still see parents around and we are still on very good terms with a lot of parents still. 

Michael – The boys were early teens at that stage so they understood not everyone is as accepting. So fortunately we haven’t experienced much of it to date.

11:40 The other thing you mentioned to me David when we first spoke was the sincere gratitude you have for being part of a family that you never imagined possible. You spoke about the privilege afforded to you.  What struck me about how you speak is how warm and connected I can only assume you were as a parent.  Can you tell me more about your parenting style?

David – I always would have loved to have had a family but thought it wouldn’t happen. But it has happened. So I always felt it was an incredible privilege for us to have this experience.  Its been rewarding, enriching and frustrating at times. That phrase “its my right to have a child” hasn’t always sat well with me. Maybe, but its also an incredible privilege to have a child and an incredible responsibility. It’s the most incredible and rewarding thing to happen to us gradually over the years as initially it was foster care. Now having experienced life in their 20s as young men its great to have the continuity in the boys lives which we should continue to have throughout the boys lives.

Michael – We were always aligned under one ship in our parenting and as things came up we would discuss how to approach it and present a united front. One of the boys said David was easier on them and I was the disciplinarian. David working part time and I was working teacher hours. So David had more time with them and with school drop offs and after school (and cutting lunches). It was nice as they got into the teenage years they were always comfortable bringing their friends back home. Particularly on a Friday night as they were at a school that had children from all over the city so the fridge would get readily emptied on a Friday night with their friends! It was like a football team descending on the house.

15:19 I understand you had amazing support from Berry Street as part of this process and that in fact a respite care system was setup for yourselves so that you might have time for yourselves away from the boys.  I know how very important it is for self care and time out and you were so lucky to have had Berry Street put that in place. Can you tell us a little more about that arrangement. How it worked. What ages were the children. Where did they go or where did you go?

David – Initially the workers were incredibly supportive so they wanted the placement to work so they suggested it for us.  It was really nice for us to go to the theatre or out for a movie or dinner.

Michael – The family they went to for respite care they were wonderful and offered them different experiences. It was once a month in late primary school.  I cant remember being anxious dropping them off. They enjoyed it so much. They would say you must stay for dinner so we would. IOnce we becamse permanent carers the respite finished. It was ok but people need to be aware that that is what happens. IF they stayed in foster care. Also stopping all that support at 18 would have been hard but we understand that has now changed to 21. 

19:56 Did you access any counselling or other specialist services and what recommendations might you have in this regard for others?

David – For the boys there were times when we talked to people but even just talking to other parents, opening up to them. So there are general adolescent concerns. At time we did get a little bit of support.

20:56 Was there additional support or trauma informed practices you adopted to support your children or your family along the way. I know you are musical David, did that play a big part in your parenting and helping your boys emotionally, socially or otherwise? Im not sure Im asking this question clearly, but I am trying to understand more about what it is that helps, that others can learn from.

David – They had every musical opportunity known to man and they both have an appreciation for music. Every now and again we hear them singing. They may not play piano. They know if someone is good or not good. I must say the eldest one at primary school did a lot of singing and got a lot of opportunities to sing at various venues around Melbourne and was the lead in the musicals.

Michael – With my science background other than teaching them to count and the mentos and coke

David- Also they had a lot of sport tennis, football, baseball, soccer and hockey. So lots of friendships came from those sports. Some of them were part of school sport and then some additional non sport activities.  

24:33 Other families I have been discussing parenting in the LBGQTI community mentioned other things that they found challenging, in being a same sex couple. Those things included:

  • school selection: they wanted to ensure their children were surrounded by like-minded families – that it was a real visible situation with other families, not just lip service and terminology
  • they mention the lack of identifiable transgender parents in these communities for example. I’m unaware if there are any in Australia (if there are please contact us)
  • they mention how helpful it was to have a case worker that was also gay: that created a living example of their world already for the children and helped with acceptance and understanding
  • they faced odd requests such as the need to have an AIDS test when being considered as permanent carers, despite perhaps being the only option for the young children in their lives
  • or they were hypervigilant in not feeding into inaccurate perceptions of same sex male couples: for example this impacted how they interacted with their children: instead of sitting in the bed under the covers with their children, they would sit on top of the bed covers, creating separation
  • at times they were also secretive about their relationship or were asked to turn up to school events one at a time.

Perhaps your experience was different. But I wonder, if you don’t have a sense of challenges you encountered, perhaps you could cast your mind to the things that might have made things easier for yourselves?

Michael – I don’t think we really ever encountered that and certainly were never asked to undertake an aids test. We were never asked by the boys to come separately. I don’t think we ever met same sex couples from our school. Once we met another guy who was fostering his child and he hadn’t had any contact with same sex couples. At school we didn’t really go into whether there were other couples there but probably should have and as it turned out the schools we were at were very supportive.

David – We were suggested that boys never get into bed with us for example newspaper in bed ona Sunday morning. But that was back inearly days of respite care (foster care). It was kind of crazy because your child is 2 years old where your helping them shower or get in the bath, but then you cant. As far as choosing the school, really it was location. We did meet with the school principal and we explained the situation. The school was very inclusive and sees itself as inclusive of all different types.

29:32 Is there anything else you would like to comment on that we haven’t discussed today?

David – We wish everybody the best as it’s the most wonderful experiences. It has been the most wonderful experience from being able to travel around the country and introduce them to things they wouldn’t otherwise see. Its been a great experience for us. Sometimes you hear from people how lucky the boys are but we are so lucky to have them  in our lives. It certainly works in two ways.

Michael – We were particularly lucky because we were able to have this long term relationship. It would be much harder if we fostered for a few years and then they were removed from our lives.

Thankyou Michael and David

To anyone making the time to listen to this recording, thankyou for giving up your valuable time for the benefit of the young people in your life. 

If you are a kinship or permanent carer or parent needing help or support please contact PCA Families 03 9020 1833. 

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Until next time have an amazing week.