Wellington couple reflect on 21 years of caregiving

Published: May 20, 2022

After 21 years of looking after newborn babies, Wellington caregiving couple Raewyn and Ian McLaren put away the bassinets and bibs for good this month.

Ian and Rae
Wellington Site staff hosted a morning tea for Ian and Raewyn McLaren, who were accompanied by their mokopuna.

After 21 years of looking after new born babies, Wellington caregiving couple Raewyn and Ian McLaren put away the bassinets and bibs for good this month. 

Kaimahi at the Willis Street Oranga Tamariki offices hosted a special morning tea to acknowledge the couple’s significant work, which has included providing a safe and loving home for 113 tamariki.

Wellington Site Manager Cathy Sowden says that, although services these days focus on tamariki and pēpi remaining with whānau whenever possible, the McLarens have provided a much-needed and greatly appreciated service over the years. 

“Raewyn and Ian have provided placements for both Care and Protection, and Adoption services. This includes caring for babies and young children until a more permanent home is available, and supporting visits between birth whānau and adoptive whānau,” says Cathy.  

“They are very humble people, so we didn’t want their contributions to go unnoticed. We wanted to say thank you for their support over the years, and tell them how much our team has appreciated them.” 

This isn't the first time the long-time Wellingtonians have received recognition for their work. Among other things, they received a Queen’s Service Medal for services to foster care in 2013, and in 2018 they were awarded a Local Hero Medal as part of the Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year Awards. 

'I wanted them to have the best of everything’

With four children and five grandchildren of their own, Raewyn and Ian understand the importance of a safe, loving and stable home environment.   

“All of our children have been supportive and involved in our passion of caring and providing a loving environment for the babies while in our care,” says Ian. 

“Raewyn has always had an affinity with babies. With our four boys, she was fussy about everything – she had her processes for a good routine, getting the babies settled and dressed nicely.” 

“I just wanted to do the best for these little ones we looked after. Just try and give them all the love and care we can. I always wanted them to have the best of everything, just like our children had,” says Raewyn. 

“Although long term they may not remember you, you know you’ve given your best in order to give them the best start in life irrespective of where they may go in future.” 

People wanting to become caregivers will find it very rewarding, but Ian and Raewyn say you've got to consider if it’s the right decision for you and your family. 

“You need to have a lot of love to pass on to the children. If you haven’t got a lot of love or passion, you need to seriously think about it because children really need it,” says Raewyn. 

“Although they’re babies, they still need to be able to feel the love, the attention, the nurturing being given to them.” 

Communication is key

In their experience providing placements through Care and Protection and Adoption services, Raewyn and Ian say that social worker support is key to helping families be with their children. 

“The caregiver is an integral part of the care team so it’s important for us to have that communication with the social worker. Even if it’s just a phone call, every caregiver appreciates that communication so that we know what the plan is and can progress,” says Ian.   

“We get to meet and help some really great people. Some even said to us ‘you’ve been a great help to us, I appreciated being able to talk through a plan, a routine,’” says Raewyn.  

“I loved meeting all of the parents. I just treated them like they were one of our family in the long run. Sometimes the house would be like Paddington Station with the mothers, fathers, brothers and everyone visiting.” 

“I’ve loved working with the social workers. The few times there have been differences of opinion, we have treated the social worker right and they have treated us right. I’m sad to be giving it up.” 

'I’d like to keep going and going’

The couple says that retiring from caregiving will be a big adjustment, but now is the right time. 

“It used to be that if people saw us out and about and we didn’t have a push chair or pram, they’d say in surprise: ‘No baby?’ Everywhere we went, the babies went,” says Ian. 

Ian and Raewyn keep treasured memories of all the children they’ve looked after and maintain long-term connections with some whānau and pēpi – including a young person they looked after as a baby who is now turning 21. 

Cathy says this is just one example of how the pair go ‘above and beyond’ to provide care. 

“They’ve cared for pēpi while they were still in hospital, visiting every day and night to look after them, taking them to all their appointments. Over the years, they have facilitated and supervised access for pēpi and their parents and whānau,” says Cathy. 

“I’m sad to be resigning to be honest. I’d like to keep going and going – but I feel now is the time to stop and spend more time with our own grandchildren,” says Raewyn. 

“We will always have plenty to keep us occupied.”