Annette, or Nanny Nette as she is affectionately known, shed a quiet tear as she placed the latest picture on her wall of love.
The wall, a photo gallery that runs the length of her hallway, is a tribute to the 73 children she has welcomed into her home, and heart, as a short-term foster carer for the past 23 years.
The photo captures the most recent cherished moment on Nanny Nette’s foster care journey - a first birthday celebration she shared with a child she has loved and nurtured since birth.
The baby came to Nanny Nette straight from the hospital. The seasoned carer, with the help of the two family members she has raised for the past nine years and calls her grandchildren, spent countless sleepless nights soothing, feeding and nurturing the newborn.
He is a now a happy, healthy toddler with a gummy grin who loves nothing more than a cuddle and a bedtime story.
“My 11-year-old grandson struggles to sit still but he would sit quietly and read to the baby every night,” Nanny Nette recalled fondly. “And my granddaughter is so good with the little ones. She’s 13 and thinks she’s too big for cuddles with me, but she’ll happily sit for hours cuddling the babies.”
Nanny Nette and her grandchildren were there for the baby boy’s first smile, first word and first step. When she was given the news that he had found a “forever home” and would be adopted, she was overjoyed. But she had one simple request; to celebrate his first birthday before the transition to his adoptive parents was finalised.
“It was important to celebrate his time with us and share that really important milestone with him,” she said. “We threw him a party and invited his extended family. It was such a lovely day.”
The 64-year-old is frequently asked if her heart breaks every time a child moves to a permanent home.
“The short answer is yes,” said Nanny Nette. “But we always say goodbye with a smile and talk about the happy times they have had with us. One of the things I love most about adoption is that we have relationships with all four of the families of the children we’ve cared for who have been adopted. We go to birthday parties and still see the children and their families, even if it’s only a few times a year.”
Annette and her grandchildren recently visited the baby boy and his new forever family for the first time since his transition.
“My granddaughter was worried he would forget us,” said Annette. “But he didn’t. And I don’t believe any of the babies ever forget that they had a place where they were loved and treasured. And I remember each of them, they all hold a special place in my heart.”
Annette says becoming a foster carer was the best decision she’s ever made.
“It’s the most rewarding thing you could ever do,” she said. “Even though it’s really hard saying goodbye and it breaks my heart, I know that they’ve been loved and you need to focus on the difference you’ve made in their lives and the difference you will make in the life of the next child who comes into your home. There are so many little people out there who need to be loved, hugged and nurtured.”
She has called for anyone in the community considering foster care to take the leap of faith. It can be a life-changing experience, not only for the child but also the carer.
“I love being with CareSouth because it is an organisation that cares not just about the children, but the birth families and the carer families,” said Annette.
“I could never have children so my husband and I looked into fostering but he was too old. When he died I thought that was the end of that. I didn’t know then that single people, older couples and same sex couples could foster. I wish I wasn’t needed, but it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.
“People say to me you’re wonderful for doing this but it’s really a very selfish thing to do because of all the cuddles and hugs you get. I love to be hugged and I love to give hugs. I’m a hug therapist,” she laughed.
“For some kids affection might be associated with abuse, so when they feel safe enough to accept a hug – and I always ask permission – then that’s a wonderful thing. You can never give a child enough hugs.”
As the Government’s Permanency Support Program rolls out with the aim to give every child a loving home for life, short-term carers like Nanny Nette are more vital than ever.
“When I started doing foster care, there was a great need for short-term and emergency carers and so I made the conscious decision to do that,” said Nanny Nette.
“Short-term care is a really good way for new carers to decide if they want to do long-term care, guardianship or adopt a child. It’s so important that more people are willing to give children a stable, loving home. I’ve had some children who’ve had nine placements before they come to me and it just breaks your heart. But when they find a forever home it’s so rewarding.”