Ruth is a genuine, warm person who cares for 8 and 10 year old sisters, who clearly mean everything to her. Their house is decked out with family photos, as well as dolls houses, dress ups, three little dogs and one cat.
She is an early childhood teacher with a love for children, but it was her own adoptive mother's care for her that inspired her to become a foster carer. "She always made me feel like I was part of the family, so she's inspired me to think that if she can love someone else's child then I could too," Ruth said.
With her stepdaughter grown up, Ruth knew it was the right time. "I was [initially] worried that with my work hours if I was going to be the right person to do this..., or whether I could juggle both," Ruth said, "The more questions I asked and more answers I got, it was something I could do."
Ruth initially provided short term care, before the 8 and 10 year old girls became part of her family. She smiled as she spoke about the day they first arrived. "I got a call to say they were going to arrive that afternoon at 4 o'clock and I just couldn't wait to finish work to get home," Ruth said. "They were holding on to each and other and a bit scared and a bit excited at the same time."
Ruth described how she tried to make them feel comfortable straight away. "I didn't want to overwhelm them with questions or anything else because too many adults asking questions can be a bit overwhelming and daunting.
"Just getting to know them, what things they like, what they want to do, what they want to eat– and just showing them around and letting them know that they can come to me when they want to – and making them feel comfortable."
"Now, it feels like they've always been part of our family," Ruth said. "It's quite a large family, so anything, any birthdays, mothers day, any Christmas events, it's a big thing for the girls and they love it. They just get so much attention and they love being a part of anything to do with the family."
Ruth said that she and the girls have shared so many special memories together. "The best thing would be all the first times. All the things that I've been able to share with them that they hadn't done before that I was able to make happen for them."
"We've shared learning to ride a bike... the girls had never been to the beach before when they came to me, so going to a beach and chasing a wave, that was a really good experience, sharing that with them. So many things," she smiled.
But of course there have also been difficult times, particularly at first. Children who have experienced significant trauma can find it difficult to trust that adults will be there for them, and that can take the form of challenging and aggressive behaviours.
"When she [the older girl] realised I wasn't going anywhere and no matter how angry she got, no matter how many things she threw around the house, I wasn't going anywhere. And while I remained calm, consistent and reassuring, I started to develop that relationship with her where she could trust me."
Ruth said that the support and training that Life Without Barriers provided, especially how to care for children who have been through trauma, helped with this.
Ruth is so proud of how the girls have grown and developed since being in her care, "The older one, she would not show any affection, and now she will hug people she's grown to love and trust. The younger one, she wouldn't talk at all. Her older sister would always do all the talking, and now she has a voice. She will speak up, she will stand up for herself... it's been amazing to see the change in them."
Ruth also knows how important it is for the girls to remain connected to their birth family. "It's very important that the girls see their dad," she said. "Even though they're not with their dad, it's so important because they're part of dad, they love dad. So if it makes them happy to see dad, I will always support it.
"Whether that be at a sporting event, or just a visit at the park, whether it's for a couple of hours, an outing where we might go out for lunch for dinner, we always make sure that it works because it makes the girls happy."
Ruth is an Aboriginal woman and the girls in her care have also recently discovered that they are Aboriginal. "When they found out they were Aboriginal, they were so excited!" Ruth said. "Knowing that I was [Aboriginal] as well, it's a journey that we can do together, and it's been really good, a really good experience."
"It's so important for the girls to connect with their Aboriginal culture because it's part of them, it's their identity and it something that shouldn't be lost, it should be supported through their whole childhood and as they get older."
"We have a cultural support worker from Life Without Barriers who comes to the house every fortnight and works with the girls and myself on learning about their culture, their people, what's going on in the area that can support them learning more about their background."
Fiona and Michael
Long term carers for a one year old child.
Melbourne couple Fiona and Michael have been foster carers since they were 30 and they estimate they've cared for at least 50 children since then.
Tracey and Darren
Long-term care for kids of all ages
When they moved to Australia, Tracey and Darren wanted to do more for the community. Caring for children with complex needs gave them a real sense of purpose and enjoyment.