Listening to foster carers Deirdre and Barry talk about the babies they look after, it is easy to think the world is a very dark place.
Babies born addicted to ice whose muscles are so tense it’s difficult to move their legs to change their nappies. Babies who need to be given morphine every four to six hours to bring them down. Babies whose fathers violently abused their mothers.
But in Deirdre and Barry’s Penrith house, the world is kind and loving.
The couple, who became great-grandparents for the first time last week, care for the youngest and highest-needs children coming through the system. Seventy-three-year-old Barry carries a six-month-old from the nursery to the lounge room, while Deirdre, 70, coos at a smiling eight-month-old fed via a tube through her nose and cuddles a fussy four-week-old.
“We still have people say, how could you have someone else’s child in your house all the time? [And] a lot of people think they couldn’t hand a child back,” Deirdre said. “But they are never your kids. They are just like grandkids, an extended family.
“These little people are safe, they are getting fed, they are getting loved. Some don’t get fed, or changed, or loved because their parents are on the floor out cold.”
The couple began fostering 15 years ago after their three children had grown up, their eight grandchildren went to school, and Deirdre started preschool teaching. Seeing the number of preschool children in care made the couple realise they could make a difference.
They took on respite care, which turned into full time care for one baby. Then two. Then three.
The need for foster carers in the Penrith area is desperate, with a staggering 400 children going into Out of Home Care in Sydney’s west last year alone. Next year, the number of children in Out of Home Care across NSW is projected to reach 22,400 – up from 6,000 20 years ago – a figure that would fill Penrith Stadium to capacity.
Deirdre and Barry alone have cared for more than 60 babies, providing them with a stable, loving start to life they would not have otherwise received. Deirdre recommends respite care for those thinking of fostering, as it isn’t as demanding as full time caring.
She also dismisses rude questions concerning the potential difficulties caring for three very young babies in your 70s.
“I don’t think of age, I hate age,” Deidre said, by now kneeling on the floor and pulling out another activity gym to lay a child on. “The only pill I take is a vitamin tablet, and it’s because of these little people. We find it very rewarding.”
To find out more about foster care, call Fostering NSW on 1800 236 783.