COUNTRY South Australian mum Michelle was juggling work commitments and caring for her three children as a sole parent when she decided she still had space in her heart and home to fulfil her childhood dream of becoming a foster carer.
Today, her career is on hold, but her house is full of love, colour and sometimes a little chaos as she commits to caring for six children, including three in long-term foster care arrangements.
“I have no regrets at all since becoming a foster carer - it can be a challenge at times with six children in the house, which can be hectic and chaotic, but I wouldn't give up seeing their smiles, happiness and how far they have all come with each of their own milestones,” Michelle said.
“Seeing the faces of the children that come into your life, watching them grow and making a difference in their lives is worth everything - it's the most rewarding experience to see them happy, content and settled.
Michelle became a foster carer with ac.care in 2020 after being interested in the role since she provided babysitting as a teenager.
“I always loved kids and wanted to be there for vulnerable children and foster care just seemed to be where I could help,” she says.
“I discussed it with my children and they were on board straight away, so we started the process and here we are with three little kiddies in my care, in addition to my own three children.”
After completing the rigorous assessment process to become a foster carer, Michelle welcomed a four-month-old baby into her home, with a second child arriving for an emergency placement a few months later and a third joining the household after two years, with all three now in her long-term care.
“They are just part of our life and family now and it is hard to imagine life without them because they are so much a part of our lives,” Michelle said.
The dedicated foster carer also continues to welcome two girls once a month for a weekend of respite foster care in her home, in addition to the three foster children in her long-term care.
She also assists at times as an emergency carer for other children.
Michelle said she was well supported by ac.care through regular visits from a support worker, training and social events to connect with other carers, but her own network of friends was also vital.
“They love the kids as much as I do and there's always someone to lend a hand.”
Meanwhile, her older children enjoy looking after and playing with the younger members of the household.
“Everyone just pitches in and helps - the kids are all like siblings and always there for each other,” Michelle said.
“Family is everything and seeing all the kids happy and all being together is amazing – you don't need to be blood-related to be family because family is what you make it and I treat all the children the same - they are all loved.”
However, Michelle also recognises the importance for the children to maintain links with their birth families, which continues through contact when it is possible and safe to do so, with support from the Department for Child Protection.
“It is important the children know their story and where they have come from, so we have connections through extended family and birth parents.”
Although Michelle is employed by the Department of Education, she is currently not working, opting to spend her time supporting the six children in her home.
“I am focusing on the children and being the best mother to them that I can, helping them with all their needs,” she said.
After joining ac.care’s network and becoming aware of the dire need for more foster carers across country South Australia, Michelle encourages other caring adults to consider opening their hearts and homes to vulnerable children.
“If you have room in your life, a big heart and have thought about it, then just call ac.care and get some information,” she said.
“Once you have a child come into your life, any doubts fade away - you just love them as if they were your own because you are mum to them while they are either waiting to go back to their own parents or with you long-term - to them, you are the person they look up to, so you just love them as if they were your own.”
To find out more about becoming a long-term, short-term or occasional foster carer in the Riverland, Limestone Coast, Murraylands, Fleurieu Peninsula or Adelaide Hills, visit accare.org.au or call ac.care on 1300 ACCARE.