When Val Hutchings’ cousins were put into an orphanage because no one could care for them, it turned out to be a pivotal moment which would shape her adult life.
Val, now 67, from Armidale, married Charles Hutchings from Parkes, had their own children and lived a typical suburban life, settling in West Pennant Hills.
“And I said to Charlie, there’s got to be some way that kids that are being thrown around like this can get some support, some stability, home life,” Val said.
Charles, a year older than Val, is an orderly at Westmead Hospital, who for years has shared an incredible journey with his partner, looking after other people’s children.
Charles and Val are two of the 20,000 authorised foster carers in New South Wales, and over the past 22 years, have fostered 150 kids, adopting three.
“They are our children,” Val said.
The couple eventually adopted foster children – two boys and a girl – bringing the family to a grand total of three boys and two girls.
“We always made them feel they were part of the family,” she said.
Foster carers take in children and young people who are unable to live in their own home.
In NSW, there are 46 designated foster care agencies, with half of all carers registered with the State Government and the other half working for NGOs.
Charles and Val started through Anglicare, and they are now mentors and coaches for new foster parents.
“Heaps of joy, makes you feel great,” said Charles.
“It just makes you feel happy you can help somebody get out of a situation which they could have been lost in the system.”
Charles and Val first took in three foster children – twins aged one and a two year old.
Since then, for more than two decades, they have cared for seven children at any one time on top of their own littlies.
A foster child might stay for a week, others up to four months.
“Families would get back together, I’d go to work and there would be two children left at home, come home around six, seven o’clock at night and there’d be another house full of seven to eight boys and girls, ” Charles said.
Of the children they have taken in, 95 per cent have been boys.
Some had never seen a book, arriving with their possessions in garbage bags.
“Facing the challenges of a child that at the age of 10 can’t even shower themself, has no idea how to turn a shower tap on,” Val said.
Through it all, it’s been a rewarding journey.
The Hutchings have put their foster children into the school across the road from their home, and into sport, dance and community activities.
“They were our kids, while ever they were in my care, they were my kids, you do whatever you can for them,” Val said.
NSW Government statistics show the number of authorised foster carers is increasing by about 450 per quarter across the state.
“You don’t have to be rich to do it, you’ve just got to have a lot of love for kids, a lot of care for kids,” Val said.
“And a lot of spare time,” added Charles.
Are you a Western Sydney Local Health District staff member with a secret life? Share it with us by emailing WSLHD-ThePulse@health.nsw.gov.au or call 8890 9923.