Family values: Auckland couple receives Excellence in Foster Care Award
With over 4000 Kiwi kids living in foster care, the sector plays a huge role in the wellbeing and development of
children living apart from their families. Whangaparoa parents Ursula and George Elisara have recently received an
Excellence in Foster Care Award for their efforts in caring for children over the past twelve years.
Held on Friday 7th November, the awards marked the end of Foster Care Awareness Week. Presented by Child, Youth & Family and Fostering Kids NZ, the awards recognise the dedication of those from all over New Zealand, who offer their
love, time and resources as foster parents.
“While all foster parents deserve recognition, Ursula and George have been exceptional,” says Fostering Kids NZ
Communications Manager Andeana Pilalis. “They’ve had extensive training, provided care for many kids and are active in
encouraging more foster parents to get involved. Fostering helps children heal, and the awards recognise those who
display excellent qualities while making a difference in children’s lives.”
Ursula and George have fostered children through Lifewise for the past seven years, utilising what Ursula describes as
their “naturally strong nurturing instincts”. Through their Family Services programme, Lifewise works closely with
foster families, offering them support and resources to provide children with the best care possible.
Moira Lawler, General Manager of Lifewise, says “Ursula and George are an inspirational couple and the entire Lifewise
team is delighted that they have been recognised with this award. Foster carers such as Ursula and George play an
incredible role nurturing children who have been through a lot in their young lives, giving them stability and a loving
home. Lifewise couldn’t do what we do without amazingly warm hearted, and committed, people like Ursula and George.”
The Elisara household is a diverse one. Ursula and George have three biological children; sixteen year-old Keziah,
thirteen year-old Javan, and eleven year-old Zaccari. Eden, now two years old, came to them at just three days old.
Under the 2010 Home for Life initiative, she will be part of their family permanently.
The initiative differs from adoption, and allows Eden’s birth parents the right to see and spend time with her. Ursula
and George act as legal guardians, and custodians of Eden’s wellbeing, ensuring she has a safe, happy, and permanent
home. The Elisaras also provide long-term care for another child, who is another integral part of their family.
Over their time of formal care-giving, the Elisaras have fostered many children with high emotional needs, who may be
difficult, demanding or so-called “naughty”. It’s important that these children don’t get put into the too-hard basket,
and fostering, especially as young children, provides them with a safe environment in which they can develop healthy
behaviours that will carry on into later life.
Ursula and George have fostered a total of nineteen children. While Ursula says her parenting style doesn’t differ
between her biological children and those she fosters, her levels of awareness do.
“I am especially mindful of my foster children’s behaviour,” she says. “They haven’t had so much experience of our
family’s culture or expectations, so I pay a lot of attention to encouraging healthy behaviour. They’ve allowed me to
develop a much greater capacity for understanding.”
Ursula and George were delighted to receive the award, and are looking forward to the opportunity to raise awareness of
fostering in New Zealand. “I am passionate about encouraging more educated, caring families to provide foster care for
at-risk children,” says Ursula. “Fostering is an opportunity to really change a life.”
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Lifewise - editors note
Lifewise is an Auckland-based social development organisation, who develop new ways to solve challenging social issues,
and work with families, older people, people with disabilities, and people at risk of homelessness to help people live
well. Lifewise’s roots trace back over 150 years ago within the Methodist Church of New Zealand, and has since changed
and developed to meet the needs of Aucklanders as the city grew.
Focusing on the principle of interdependence rather than independence or dependence, Lifewise are recognised for their work providing sustainable solutions to
social issues, rather than focusing on simply meeting immediate needs, in an attempt to address the root causes of
social isolation and disadvantage. Lifewise offer services and support for individuals and families to imagine a better
future and build their capacity to achieve that vision.
In order to make a tangible, long-term difference to issues surrounding homelessness, Lifewise works to an
internationally acknowledged ‘housing first’ model, and is working to influence homelessness intervention practice at a
They also run Merge Café, located on Karangahape Road, providing affordable, nutritious food for everyone. Merge
encourages people from all walks of life to share food and conversation, and all proceeds raised go toward supporting
people who need housing support. . The café acts as a one-stop-shop for people in need to access Lifewise’s staff and
services, and provides a safe environment that embraces choice, dignity and respect.
Lifewise aim to be a ‘go-to’ organisation, through which media can access accurate, balanced and constructive commentary
on issues including:
- Parenting support
- Good outcomes for children in care
- Support for families under stress
- Providing quality early childhood education
- Mental health and addiction support services
- Older persons care
- Services for people with disabilities
- Ending homelessness