Growing up in a family of 11 girls and 5 boys, Jacqui Davis has always loved being part of a busy, noisy household.
More than 60 years later, that hasn’t changed as Jacqui who has been a foster carer for 41 years, is currently looking after three young siblings, and is loving the equal measure of joy and chaos that they bring to her home.
A chance visit to a fete at St. Joseph’s Babies Home in Broadmeadows as a teenager, was to profoundly influence Jacqui’s life in a way she could never imagine.
“I saw the nuns caring for the babies and toddlers, which was the first time I realised there are children who don’t have families to look after them. I said to myself that day, ‘When I grow up, I’m going to look after babies who need homes,” Jacqui remembers.
Jacqui, from West Meadows in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, felt so strongly about being a foster carer, that she told her future husband, Robert, that this was her plan and happily, once Robert understood more about what was involved, he agreed that they would be able to provide a loving home to children who need help.
Robert and Jacqui had four of their own children and when the youngest was two, they became foster carers. Sadly, Robert passed away 32 years ago and Jacqui, who also worked as a child care assistant, decided that she would continue as a foster carer, because it was something they had both passionately believed in.
“If anything, keeping busy and looking after my kids and children who needed care helped me to keep going. The nuns were also a powerful support and I was lucky, as at that time, I could bring a baby or toddler to my work in child care, so somehow we all made it work."
My own kids were wonderful, it is something they grew up with and as they got older, they were a great help to me and loved having little kids in the house
Mostly caring for babies and toddlers on an emergency or short-term basis, Jacqui has also looked after some children for longer periods of time.
“We joke that there is a birthday to celebrate at least once a week in this house as we have kept in touch with many of the children who have now gone on to be parents themselves. I love to hear how they are getting on and to meet their little ones – I’m like an honorary Nan to quite a few little kids.”
Jacqui is currently looking after three siblings under five, and is a critical support to one of the children who has health issues.
“There are a lot of appointments to go to with the baby, but she is doing great. I’ve taken her to her Gran’s house to meet her Mum, so that Mum can get to see her and get a cuddle. Mum has her own mental health issues to deal with and is unable to look after the children, but she loves them dearly and I feel lucky to be able to play a part in supporting their relationship."
I know it is so important for children to have a connection with their family and it is lovely to see them get to know their grandparents, we are all working together to do what is best for the children.
In more than 40 years, Jacqui has seen many changes in foster care since the early days when she worked with the Sisters of St Joseph to care for babies and toddlers.
“There is so much paperwork now,” laughs Jacqui, “but there is great support from my case manager and the team. It’s so good to know there is always someone at the end of the phone if you need help or have a problem. That support is what keeps me going, along with the cuddles and love I get from all the gorgeous children I’ve looked after."
“I am so glad I went to the fete at the convent that day and realised there was a need for foster care in the community. I feel I’ve been blessed, as my life has been all about caring for children and babies, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”