TREASURED: Foster carer Barb Sinclair with a treasured gift from one of the many children she cared for in her Mount Gambier home.
GRATITUDE: ac.care Limestone Coast foster care program manager Dani Atkinson thanks Barb Sinclair for nearly 10 decades of welcoming children into her Mount Gambier home.
A WELCOMING FACE: Barb Sinclair outside her Mount Gambier house, which has been a safe and nurturing place for many children in need of a temporary home.
MORE than 100 children have benefited from the care provided in the safe and nurturing home of Mount Gambier woman Barb Sinclair.
For almost two decades, ac.care has often called on Ms Sinclair at short notice to provide a bed for a child with nowhere else to go after being taken into state care by the Child Protection Department.
Some of those children have only stayed a few nights or weeks and then moved into long-term foster care placements or been reunited with family, but in other cases they have remained for years with the woman many know and cherish as “Nana Barbie”.
Ms Sinclair first became a foster carer after her children had left home and she was widowed at the age of 45.
“Those children I have welcomed into my home bought a lot of love into my life,” she said.
“Some of those kids arrive with nothing and no sense of self-worth … some have had a hell of a life, so you have to recharge them and learn about their experiences.
“It is a hard calling, but it's worth every hour, it really is for the love of a child and to offer them a better chance at life.”
She initially provided foster care in Melbourne through national agency Ozchild, welcoming two siblings, including a young boy battling cancer, into her home for two weeks while their mother was unable to care for them.
This was followed with two sisters who remained in her care for more than four years, including travelling with her to Queensland and Canberra to visit her own adult sons.
“They were part of the family,” Ms Sinclair said.
However, in 1999 she returned to Mount Gambier to care for her ailing mother following the death of her father.
Initially hoping to take the girls with her, arrangements were instead made for the children to remain in Melbourne with their grandmother.
Sadly, her mother died a few months after Ms Sinclair’s arrival in Mount Gambier, leaving her with an empty home again.
“I saw ac.care was in need of foster carers and thought ‘oh well, here we go again’,” she said.
The first child she took into her care in Mount Gambier in 2000 was an 11-month-old boy, who remained with her for around a year.
Over the following 18 years, she fostered children for a single night through to a few weeks and some for nearly two years.
“When you provide one-on-one care in a foster setting, you can share and teach children a lot and it is also valuable for them to have their own room and things,” she said.
“I've had kids come with just a backpack of smelly, dirty clothes that didn’t even fit them - one little girl that was here for 18 months came with just a backpack and they had to bring a van to collect all her things when she left.”
Ms Sinclair said she did not mind purchasing items for youngsters in her care as she treated them no different to her own children.
“If I was at the grocers or down the street or anything and somebody would say ‘is that your grandchild?’ I’d say ‘yes’,” she said.
“I've never referred to a child as a foster child to anyone else and I dressed them as I would have dressed my kids and educated them as if they were my own.
“I had one girl here for two years and everything had to be pink, so we bought a pink pipe bed and she had pink towels and a pink blanket on the bed, just whatever I could do to make her feel at home.”
Her loving approach to nurturing children has clearly made an impact and she has celebrated small milestones as children in her care have developed and learnt life-skills, sometimes with progress as simple as sitting at the table and sharing a family meal.
“I've had kids aged five and six who can't use a knife and fork and don't know what a plate is for – it was a shock at first,” Ms Sinclair said.
“You've got to gently encourage them to watch you, what you do or what another child does.”
Despite the challenges, she said it was rewarding to contribute to the development of children.
Sadly, she had to retire from foster caring this year due to ailing health.
However, she remains active in the community and has contributed as a Lifeline counsellor for 15 years, served as secretary of the Boandik Lake Terrace auxiliary and volunteered years of service to Meals on Wheels.
Nana Barbie remains dedicated to two sons, one granddaughter, four grandsons and two great granddaughters, while other children who have benefited from her big heart still drop by from time to time or keep in touch in other ways, reminding her of her legacy.
“The other week I was at a school and a little boy I had cared for called out to me and ran over to give me a big cuddle,” she said.
ac.care chief executive officer Shane Maddocks praised Barb’s long commitment to taking in children in need as a foster carer for close to two decades and urged others to follow her inspiring example.
“People like Barb really are the true unsung heroes of our community,” he said.
“We need more people like Barb so children can develop and grow in a safe home in a warm environment where they know they are going to be cared for and that they can grow up knowing there is hope for their future.”
Sadly, there are always more children in need of care than foster carers available in the Limestone Coast to provide safe and nurturing homes.