Lily (not her real name) was 17 months old when she came to live with CareSouth foster carers Carolyn and Ian. The Shellharbour couple dreamed of weekend bike rides and friends’ birthday parties for the bubbly youngster. But first they had to help her reach key milestones like walking and talking.

The couple also had to teach Lily how to hug.

 “When she came to us she didn’t know how to connect,” said Carolyn. “You could pick her up and she would just leave her arms hanging.”

They spent countless hours showing Lily how to wrap her arms around their necks and squeeze tight. The family called it a koala. Now Lily asks for a koala each morning.

“I have to sit on a chair now to give her a koala because she’s just too heavy,” laughed Carolyn.

Once Lily had learned how to hug the family set out to teach her how to walk and within a month she was off and running. Lily has now come full circle and has mastered riding a bike without training wheels. Carolyn acknowledges it has been a long road from those first toddling steps to seeing Lily flying around the footpaths on her bike. But the journey has been worth it.

"The children that come into care, don’t come into care because of who they are they come into care because of a situation they’ve been brought into and it’s not their fault," said Carolyn. "This isn’t about blood, it’s about caring and families can be beyond blood as well.”

There is an estimated need for at least 660 new foster carers in NSW and Carolyn is well aware of the number of children out there who need a loving home and has urged anyone interested in becoming a carer to take the plunge.

“Somewhere everybody can make a difference,” said Carolyn. “It’s about sitting down with your family and asking ‘what could we do?’ Could we just do something on a weekend and help a family that doesn’t have much support. Maybe it’s short-term care or fostering to adopt. It’s about being willing to give and willing to learn, because it’s sure taught us a lot.

“We wanted to make a difference and we started off doing respite care for a couple of sibling groups. It was a way for us to dip our finger in the water and try it out for a weekend. We could see the difference it made to these children’s lives and we wanted to do that long term.”

There are many ways you make a difference to the life of a child or young person in your community through fostering. Do you have room in your home and space in your heart?

CareSouth needs local foster families to become emergency, respite or restoration carers who work with us to get children back home. Foster carers are also needed who will consider the open adoption of children in care. CareSouth provides training and ongoing support, along with an allowance.

For more info, call 1300 554 260